Here is our story about our hunt for the exotic and elusive wild platypus while we lived in Australia. This first part is from my husband's perspective. He wrote this recap to my parents the same evening. Since he rarely gets involved in the writing on this blog, I thought it would be fun to hear it first from his perspective. I elaborate a bit at the end.
After our hike to the Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park, QLD, we took a left out of the parking lot to travel through the valley. Up ahead, I saw a sign for a camping location where you can rent out a log cabin. Inside the driveway, the owner approached us and we inquired about any other tourist sites in the area. He provided some brochures and then invited us to park and hike along a trail on the property down to a creek where platypus live. Naturally, this sparked everyone's excitement, except mine. I half-heartedly attempted to wait in the car knowing it was going to be a REAL hike. It was a rocky, slightly muddy, and a gradual descent down. You know that feeling you get when traveling down an unknown road and your gut tells you maybe you should turn around and go back? Well, that's how Stevyn and I were about 3/4 of the way down. Nevertheless, we persisted, only to be rewarded by the absence of platypus, Silas getting both shoes soaked, Stevyn's 'hitchhiker', and the best of all....Morgan had a breakdown. The poor little thing was dealing with a runny nose and was exhausted. She cried for every bit of twenty minutes and we almost needed to have her airlifted out. Fast forward 30 minutes down the road and Stevyn looks down at her hands to see they are covered in blood. "That's bizarre" she says, "I must have cut myself, but I don't feel any pain". She bled and bled until we reached the petrol station. I went in to the toilet and upon returning she got out to help the kids. That's when she noticed the fat leech squirming in her seat....and these are the days of our Australian lives. Troy"
While I love that we did this hike and have this memory, if I was faced with it again, I would not do it. The property owner told us it was a 700 meter walk down the trail to the platypus pond. Keep in mind that we are Americans which means that we had no concept of the metric system and how far 700 meters actually was. To me, it sounded exciting and romantic to see a platypus in the wild, and 700 meters couldn't be that far, right? So we went for it. Little did we know that 700 meters IS far on a trail so steep. Troy called it a "gradual descent" above, but he understated the grade. Check out the rope tied to the trees in the picture above. It was to help pull yourself up! It was steep, rocky, and full of tangled roots to trip over. Add a crying 5 year old and it is not a scene I want to repeat anytime soon. Plus, knowing what I know now about Australian snakes and other critters, I bet there are 30 things hidden in this picture that could have killed us instantly. (shiver) Fortunately, the only critter that got us was my leach.
I will admit that the stream and rock pool at the bottom of the ravine were exquisite (and probably peaceful if Morgan hadn't been crying). Unfortunately, it was either too early in the day to see the platypus since they tend to come out at dusk, or maybe Morgan's bellowing scared them off.
On the way home I found random blood all over my hands, and when I finally found the "cut" between my fingers, I was sure I had a blood disorder since it would not stop bleeding. Little did I know that it was just your friendly Australian LEACH! The picture below is the leach sitting in the seat of the car. Once it got full of my blood, it must have dropped off my hand and wanted a little snuggle time with me in the seat. I never even knew it was on my hand. YUCK! How did I get a leach if I didn't go in the water?
Even though we didn't get to see the elusive platypus, we did learn a piece of trivia during our research. The male platypus is venomous. The males have a spur on their hind leg that injects venom into its victim.
So here are my take aways from this adventure:
I don't really remember you as parents of small children. Yes, I know I lived under your care as a small child, but I only have the limited perspective from my 7 year old self. I don't know very many specifics of how you supported me, disciplined me, or what you fed me for lunch. There are a few snapshots that come to mind, but they are all from my childish viewpoint. As a parent of my own small children now, I wish I could remember you as a parent...from a parent's perspective.
You took me to a junk yard that sold used bikes so we could buy my first two-wheeler. I knew that the bike was a little beat up, but I still loved it. What I didn't know were your thoughts and feelings about getting the bike. Did you feel guilty that I didn't have a bike and that prompted you to go get one? Did you have to work extra hours to afford it? Did you have to come up with rules for riding the new bike in the neighborhood? Did I pester you to frustration asking you to help me learn to ride it over and over? Did you hurt your back holding onto the back of my seat and running alongside, cursing your decision to buy the bike? Did you fight to hold back the words "you ungrateful child" each time that I cried when you told me to come inside or to put the bike away?
When I broke the rules and left the yard, did you struggle with what punishment to hand out? Since I was normally the compliant child, did you consider letting it slide or did you come down hard on me as a warning for future behavior? Did you feel sorry for me and wish that you weren't the parent so you didn't have to be consistent with discipline? When I cried in remorse, did you secretly cry with me?
Lucky charms for breakfast and cold hotdogs for lunch were fine by me, but did you struggle with pre-planning meals or work long hours so you were too tired to cook? Did you stick to my bedtime or let me stay up too late just because you wanted to keep snuggling on the couch? You taught me to swim at an early age, but I couldn't write my own name for the longest time. Did you compare me to other children's milestones and feel proud or embarrassed, or were you confident in my progression despite the "norms?"
I didn't witness your struggle of being a parent. I'm sure it was there, but through my childish eyes, you always did the right thing. You always knew what to do. I never saw you cry in frustration or fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day. What did you try to remember to say to me every night when I went to bed, but forgot to say because you were at the end of your rope? How did you wake me in the morning? Was it calm and loving or rushed and stressed? Did you get enough sleep at night? Did you long for invitations to sleepovers so you could have an evening to yourself? Were you worried about my shyness, proud of the way I brushed my hair, or frustrated with the messiness of my room? How did you mediate our fights over who's turn it was to sit in the big chair and hold the channel-changer for the TV? I just don't know these details. I wish I did. My childhood felt perfect, safe, and loving. How did it feel to you, my parents? The way I parent my children doesn't always feel perfect, safe, or loving from my adult perspective. Will it to my children? Will the struggle be hidden from their memories, like it was from mine?
Despite all of the things that I wish I could remember, there are some parenting moments that I feel that I am still living as I watch you with my children...your grandchildren. I see how your patience outlasts my own when Silas talks about every detail of his dinosaur dream last night. I notice the openness you have for considering the wants and whims of the kids. Morgan won't drink her breakfast smoothie unless you move her arm up and down to 'pump' the shake into her body. Silas wants to wrestle...again. You are always there with a hug, a smile, and special surprises to make them feel loved. You pray for them without them knowing it. You ask to be a part of theirs lives and find little ways to connect with them. By loving them, you are loving me. By grandparenting them, you are still parenting me. But this time I will be able to remember the details. As an adult, it isn't the feeling of perfection, safety, or love that I treasure most from you. Instead, it is witnessing the struggle, through both failure and success, that I value most. At this stage in life, the parenting is indirect, but still relevant and powerful in equipping the next generation. Thank you for continuing to parent me by grandparenting my children.
To all the parents, young, old, grand, step, foster, and spiritual - share your struggles and successes, uncertainty and courage with the next generation. Leave a legacy of openness, growth, and transparency to those of us who will seek solace in your journey as we try to wanderwell through ours. ~ Stevyn
I just returned from my first vacation since arriving in Australia 8 months ago for work. My husband and I, along with our two young children, took two weeks off to visit Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef while my parents visited us from America. As I reflect upon this vacation, my previous suspicion that Americans have a very different view of vacation than Australians has validated. The 6 reasons below paint a picture of the very different attitudes I've witnessed about work and play of the people and employers in Australia compared to America.
1. Full-time employees get 4 weeks of paid vacation.
Australians don't get 4 weeks after they've worked at a job for a few years. They get 4 weeks from the very first year of permanent employment. In contrast, Americans typically get 2 weeks, but some American employees don't get any paid vacation. Because they have more paid leave, Australians will often take 2-4 weeks off at one time which means that they have more flexibility than Americans to become global travelers. I'm astonished at how many Australians have been to New Zealand, Bali, Hawaii, the United States, Europe, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, the Cook Islands, etc. Even more incredible is the number of young Australians in their early twenties who have traveled extensively. I met a young cashier at Target the other day who has been to America twice and is currently planning her third trip. People at the YMCA where I work are always going somewhere exotic, just like Bec and Alana below.
2. Employees are not expected to touch their email or phone while on vacation.
Vacation is seen their time. Others will pick up the slack while a colleague is away, or it will just get addressed upon return. Employees who are on vacation don't check their work email while they are on the beach in the South of France or sitting in a gondola in Italy. They completely sign off. While I was on vacation for these 2 weeks, I forgot all about work and it was such a freeing, restorative time for me. In America, I've been made to feel guilty for taking my vacation. I know other Americans who don't take their time off because they know it will put them too far behind or put a potential promotion in jeopardy.
3. Managers tell employees to schedule their vacation because it's good for them.
I don't know about you, but I have never had a boss in the States encourage me to schedule time off. I may have negotiated time off as part of my work package, but it was still looked at as a necessary evil from the employer's point of view. A general American sentiment seems to be "It doesn't matter if it's good for the employee, it's bad for business!" A general Australian sentiment is "What's good for the employee is good for business." The attitude starts at the top of an organization. My manager's manager told him he should schedule some more time away, and manager demonstrated the same attitude towards me. In fact, I can't find much evidence that even encourages working overtime in Australia. The 'work/life balance' concept is commonly referred to as an encouragement for employees to go home and spend time with their families.
4. Australians get paid extra while on vacation.
I'm still not clear why, but after talking to a variety of Australians and my human resources department, they confirmed that employees get paid at a higher rate while on annual leave. It feels a little like Australia is a kind 'father' giving his kids a little extra cash for their big date so they can be guaranteed a good time. (I'm sure it has nothing to do with the extremely high tax rates here.)
5. After a number of years in a certain position, Australians qualify for long-service leave.
The number of years may vary, but generally 6-10 years will earn an employee extended leave. Long service leave means employees are rewarded with a super long vacation AT FULL PAY for staying with a particular company. It is typically for 3 months at full pay or 6 months at half pay. The job is guaranteed to be there upon return. Australians use this time to tour the world. They don't just go to London for a week like Americans might do. They go to London, Paris, Rome, and Venice. They don't just go to LA or New York for a week. They TOUR the United States and go to more places than most Americans have been. Granted, they typically hit the big tourist spots and skip my home state of Missouri, but at least they have enough experience with America to know Missouri is somewhere in the middle. They use their long service leave to get married and go on two-month honeymoons, or they use it to start a business...all while getting paid. Most employers in the States would laugh someone out of the country if they asked for this perk. Perhaps pastors or university professors can get away with an occasional sabbatical, but it is not the norm for the typical employee. When I was 21, my college roommate and I backpacked through Europe for a month. We didn't know anyone else who was doing that at the time and 20 years later, I still don't run into many mainstream Americans who have had that kind of experience. In Australia, it's a common 'thing' for people to do. They want to travel the world before they settle down and start a family. This requires enough vacation time from work and enough money to finance the travel. Australians appear to have plenty of both.
6. Australian parents don't have to save up vacation time to stay home with their newborns.
Australians typically receive 3 months of maternity leave at full pay or 6 months at half pay. They can even take up to a year off and their job will be waiting for them when they come back. I get looks of disbelief when I tell friends in Australia that the standard maternity leave in the United States is 6 weeks, and that is only for the mother, and it may or may not be paid. They can't believe that daycare centers would actually take infants that small in full-time care or that parents would feel comfortable with it. All evidence points to Australians placing more value on a longer mother/child bonding period as well as a father/child bonding period...enough to finance it. They also don't circumcise their baby boys, but let's save that discussion for another blog post.
Is there something to learn from the Australians? Although, some American employers give their employees 4 weeks of vacation and a few give even more, paid time off, it certainly isn't the law as it is in Australia. Whether it should be law in America is debatable, but I think there is room to put more value on time away from work. Australian workers seem happier and more relaxed to me than their American counterparts. I encourage any American reading this to fight for your right to take time away from work. Vacation provides perspective, offers renewal, triggers creativity, and expands our horizons. Traveling puts our own cultures into clearer focus and teaches us that there are other ways of doing things. We will not only be better employees, but happier and more fulfilled version of ourselves. If you are an employer, consider the long term benefits of implementing more vacation time or even long service leave for your team. What's good for the employee might just be good for business, too.
Well done Australia. Travel on America. ~ Stevyn
My name is Stevyn. I am a wife, mother, and exercise physiologist with one foot in the world of travel and one foot in the world of fitness. Learn more about me here.
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