I Sleep, You Sit: A Toddler’s Perspective On International Travel

“Tonight we are going to sleep on the plane,” I reminded Miss M this morning.

“No,” she said forcefully. “I sleep. You sit. And then we see Nanna.”

And that’s probably the way it will go. When Miss M finally powers down tonight, she will sprawl and kick and wriggle and squirm. But she will sleep. And I will try to accommodate her kicks and squirms, absorbing as much as I can so she doesn’t disturb any other passengers. And I will be sitting, a position I’ve never been able to sleep in. I will be sitting and enduring and yearning to see my baby sister, who may not realise she will be my babysitter tomorrow.

And then we will see Nanna. (Miss M’s Nanna, not my lovely Nanna who died last year.)

I expect our three days in Sydney will be a complete blur as I try to wrangle Miss M and catch up on all that missed sleep. So to me it will probably seem like I sit and then I see Nanna.

But back to the story.

“We will both sleep on the plane tonight,” I tell Miss M, trying to explain international toddler travel to her. “And then we will see Auntie Kat and Uncle Andy. And then we will see some kids and some other people in Sydney. And then we’ll hop on ANOTHER plane and we’ll go and see Nanna.”

“A little plane?” she asked hopefully.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe it will be a small plane, maybe it will be a big plane.”

“I want a small plane,” she said, and stuck out her bottom lip.

I ignore her.

“And when we see Nanna we will give her lots of cuddles and kisses and then Mummy will drive the car home. And Miss M will sit in a special small seat in the back.”

I am trying to explain how things are different in Australia. Last time we went, more than a year ago, she was too small to understand car seats and plane rides and who we were visiting. And it was a horror of a rushed trip, there was no time to explain anything. Dad was dead and we were bolting home from Thailand.

“You know how you have a special small seat when we ride the motorbike?” I explain. “Well, in Australia, when we go in a car, you have to sit in a special small seat. With a seat belt.”

Miss M frowns at me. “YOU will drive a car?” she said, her voice going squeaky with surprise.

“Yes, I will drive a car. I will drive you and Nanna.”

“AH-HAHAHAHAHAHA!” she guffaws. “You will drive A CAR?”

You drive?

This child has been with me night and day for more than three years and she knows so little about me. Sigh.

“Yes, I will drive a car. I will sit in the front and drive and you will sit in the back.”

“Naw,” she said. “We will sit in the front.”

“No, you will sit in the back,” I said again, trying to be firm.

“And then we will go to Nanna’s house and do some cooking. We can cook in the oven. We can cook cakes and biscuits and coloured chips.”

We have no oven in our house in Ho Chi Minh City, so baking is another exotic activity during our two weeks in Australia.

Miss M gasps in delight. “Special small cakes?” She asked, her face glowing with excitement. “For me?”

I assure her that yes, we can cook special small cakes for her.

She is sleeping now, which may not in fact be a good thing. Because I really need her to sleep tonight. I need to to fall into a deep MOTIONLESS sleep so I can endure the night as best I can.

And when she wakes up, she has so much to learn about Australia, the country she knows very little about even though she was born there and has an Australian passport.

It’s going to be a sad homecoming in many ways. Two key members of the family are missing – Dad and his mum (my Nanna). My Mum isn’t very well, either. There’s so much catching up to plan, with sisters, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends in two states.

I’ve also got a bit of work to do. But unlike when I was solo parenting in France, I am confident I can organise child care while I’m in Australia. I can speak the language, after all, and I know people, I can use the telephone and the internet and I know I’ll be able to find some options.  And this is a planned solo parenting trip, unlike the last disaster, when Darling Man was refused a visa for Europe.

And because I know I’ll be able to organise child care and get my work done, I’m planning to treat myself to another surf lesson while I’m home on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. The first surfing lesson I took with Darling Man, many years ago, was a bit of a bust because I could hardly lift my arms after our cable skiing adventure a few days beforehand. (I did manage to stand up, though. But only once.)

We have prepared for our long flight with crackers, colouring books and stickers for the plane. And long sleeve t-shirts and jeans for the “cold” weather we’ll experience in Australia … with night time temperatures forecast as low as 20 degrees (68F). Much colder than the “cold” night’s we’ve been having in Ho Chi Minh City when the mercury plunges to 26 degrees (79F) overnight.

So, see you on the other side, folks, when it will be g’day from Australia, mate.

7 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. karen says:

    If you’re in the area, and you feel like a “mot, hai, ba YO!”, give me a ‘cooee’ (b’day from Aussie land)!

  2. Tiphanya says:

    International travel means “special cakes” and “mummy drives a car”… not sure it’s good arguments to keep in mind to let my family understand travel are great.
    Enjoy your time there.

    • Barbara says:

      Well, Tiphanya, in your case the conversation would probably involve information like “there’s many many MANY motorbikes in Vietnam”, “Mummy and Daddy will speak English” and “we will eat a LOT of rice”. Now I’m back in Australia, there’s so many things I forgot to tell her, things like having hot water in the kitchen and cricket and fast food commercials on television.

      She’s already making comments like “when we were in France …” I think she knows a lot for a three year old. I think all our travel has had an impact on her.

  3. Theodora says:

    Look forward to seeing what she actually makes of Australia. And particularly the rules of behaviour on children, which are stricter there than in most of Asia.
    Theodora recently posted..The Ice & Snow Festival

    • Barbara says:

      I am pretty sure I will turn into a Lioness Mum (as opposed to a Tiger Mom) if anyone says anything negative to my little cub. So far the only weird moment has been a Singaporean goodie-goodie dibber-dobber at Ho Chi Minh City airport who decided that the kids (collectively), who had been at the airport for about five hours because of a delayed plane, were being a bit too rowdy.

  4. Sally says:

    My nieces and nephews think it hilarious that I can drive a car. And go to work. And go to work. And generally do anything “adult-ish” as I am clearly NOT an adult. Obviously.
    Anyway, hope you have a good & safe trip and are able to enjoy everybody’s company and eat lots of special small cakes!
    Sally recently posted..Unbrave Reads: And, Also, My Palms Are Sweaty

    • Barbara says:

      I think it’s hilarious too, Sally!

      We’re still waiting on the special small cakes. (Note to future parents: calling anything special actually seems to work!)

  5. Cute! I imagine there will be lots of funny quotes and stories coming out of this trip.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The Drunken Tree of Buenos Aires

  6. Nicole says:

    Have a great trip! I’m sure Miss M will behave and hoping you both get some sleep 🙂 Miss M is adorable.
    Nicole recently posted..Planning a trip to Mexico with a 1-year old

  7. budget jan says:

    Seeing you are going to be baking you can whip up some Banh Gan and send some up to me. Hope you are managing to drive A CAR and keep Miss M in her car seat!
    budget jan recently posted..Tuesday in Townsville – Hello Lunar Year of the Snake

  8. Laura says:

    Im really interested to know how your little one goes with growing up between the two countries, in terms of building her identity etc, it certainly is a globalised world and I think as a result we can place less emphasis on nationalism and more on belonging to numerous communities as we see fit. Your little one is definitely a good example and I hope I could do the same with my future kids! Where you do plan for her to attend school? I think this is a big part of our identity building, I struggle to think of where I’d (ideally) like my children educated. Keep the stories coming!

    • Barbara says:

      Hi Laura, we are still trying to decide what to do about Miss M’s schooling. We still have three years to decide because the daycare place she goes to now goes up to grade one. And the teachers there really are lovely.

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