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Dad Talk is a fortnightly column where our guest contributor KC Wong muses on parenthood and being a father to his two children.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I visited Phuket for the weekend. Just the two of us. No kids, and no clue that this trip was right smack in the middle of their year-end examinations. Did we enjoy ourselves? We tried to convince ourselves we did.
First, the facts: this was not a planned trip that we felt we deserved. It was a loyalty reward for customers of a particular hotel chain. We were given the option to choose a weekend out of three available slots, to stay at their resort at one of four destinations: China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. It was a three-day and two-night complimentary stay with full board.
In the end, I chose the one that was most accessible with the cheapest airfare, and yet far enough to have that “out-of-country” feel. If you asked us if we were excited about going away without the “burden” of the kids, we would have said, “Hell yeah! It’s about time!” The last time we travelled as a couple was more than eight years ago to Bali, which coincidentally was also a paid-for trip courtesy of a friend’s corporate reward.
However, the reality was quite different from our expectations.
Breaking the news to the offspring was not difficult. There were the expected protests that grew increasingly feeble when they realised the freedom they would enjoy once we left and their doting grandparents and aunt took over.
It was also easy for us to leave because there had been some ruckus going on in the weeks prior to the trip. Those two had not been putting in the effort to complete their tasks, much to the ire of my wife. As a result, we thought some time apart might be a good break for all of us.
On the day of our departure, my wife printed a few sets of practice papers for them to complete in our absence. After the boy found out his leisure time would be seriously curtailed by the extra workload, he actually teared. Unfortunately, those tears did not win him any sympathy points because the “extra workload” amounted to only two extra papers per day for two days.
Kids being kids, they can be as annoying as they are endearing, and they showed their adorable side when they placed their soft toys in our luggage. Those two furry friends eventually served as proxies during our trip abroad.
The first sign that this trip was going to be “different” appeared when my wife took far too long to leave the house. Up until two hours before our flight, she was still unshowered and issuing last-minute instructions to the kids.
The second sign appeared when, on the flight, she kept reminiscing about the good times when the kids last visited Phuket. “Remember how they much loved the pool? And the kids’ club – and feeding the resident elephant!”
When we reached the resort, I no longer needed to look for signs because she had gone “full ballistic”. The moment we were ushered to our villa, she went gaga – not out of excitement from actually being there – but from the thought of bringing the kids there one day.
“Wow! They’ll surely make full use of the private pool and the al fresco bathtub!” She exclaimed as she whipped out her phone to snap pictures and take videos, swiftly logging on to the Wi-Fi network and sending them to my sister (who was the medium between parents and kids).
The monologue continued as we strolled the grounds of the resort. “They have children’s bikes! And table-tennis on the lawn! Look - there are tourists riding horses on the beach!” Of course, she had to take more photos to send. I gently reminded her of the purpose of this trip – to get away from the kids – but everything she saw reminded her of them.
“I guess you’re right”, she finally acquiesced, but did not put away her phone. Instead, she used it to watch Korean dramas, oblivious to her travel partner. It seemed she had more than just the kids to get away from!
To be fair, I also enjoyed my alone time. I got to watch a couple of movies and a football game on TV. Although I didn’t say it out loud, I realised I actually missed my children the moment I walked out of my front door. I missed the sight of their excited faces when they were about to fly off on holiday, and the sound of their laughter just before they jumped into the pool.
On our last day in Phuket, I finally confessed to my wife how much I wished the kids had joined us on the trip.
“We are really pathetic parents – we can’t even enjoy the good things that life has to offer us without missing our kids!”
“But your two best things in life are in Singapore completing their homework right now, aren’t they?”
I couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic, but the renewed vigour with which she bounced off to the nearby souvenir shop to buy the kids two elephant-shaped travel pillows was undeniable.
KC Wong is a photographer and a father of two. He has a daughter aged 11 and a son aged nine.