After pressing play on a new episode of my toddler's favourite show and handing her back the iPad, I glanced into my rear vision window.
Was there enough time to pull out onto the Hume Highway before that speeding truck reached us? I decided there was, and put my foot down hard on the accelerator.
The next thing I heard was the sickening sound of a tyre popping. The loud noise startled Olivia, who stared at me from the back seat with frightened eyes.
I pulled over and leapt out to inspect the damage. We must have hit a rough edge of the bitumen, because the tyre was as flat as a tack. Big sigh.
The sun had begun to dip and we were still an hour away from Gundagai, where a motel room awaited us. I phoned the NRMA and was cheerily informed that someone would be out to help us within two hours.
I contemplated changing the tyre myself and watched a how-to video on Youtube. I decided against it, in case the car rolled on me while I was fiddling around underneath it.
And so the minutes ticked by as my girls and I waited in the car.
Thank goodness that we were safe, as I had been able to turn into a farm driveway. Claire and Olivia were so good – they didn't cry once. I promised one day to take them to Disney Land, because they were proving themselves to be excellent travellers.
To my relief, I was back behind the wheel within 90 minutes. The following morning, I bought a new tyre from a friendly mechanic in Gundagai.
We reached Melbourne at around 6pm, after passing through some beautiful scenery. Our progress was slow due to the many 'micro breaks' we'd taken – such as to feed eight-month-old Claire or change a nappy, or rotate the toys.
Why don't you just fly?
When I'd told my mum friends that I planned on driving to Melbourne to visit my family, they looked at me aghast.
"Why don't you just fly?" they'd asked me. "It's such a short flight."
Since becoming a single parent in October, I had flown to Melbourne with the girls once before; for Christmas. I can't say I especially enjoyed it.
While it may only be a 90-minute flight, it's the parts either side of it that drag on and on. The door-to-door journey had ended up taking over eight hours. I figured that was a longer day's journey than if we drove and spread it out over two days so that I didn't get too tired.
My biggest worry about flying had been losing my two-year-old at busy Sydney Airport. Olivia had recently started doing runners, and I had nightmarish visions of her getting away from me while I was feeding Claire.
I got so worried about it that I bought one of those leashes for kids off Amazon. I kept in my bag, but in the end I didn't need it because I had Voula from Virgin Airways by my side from the moment we checked in.
When I booked my tickets, I had requested special assistance. I wasn't sure exactly what that meant, and I'm pretty sure that Voula went above and beyond her duties. She held Olivia's hand while I carried Claire through the security scanner and unpacked and packed my laptop and things.
She remained with us in the food hall so that I could give Claire a bottle. I even had a coffee. Then Voula walked us over to the boarding gate, and asked that the three of us be given two seats without anyone else in the row (as Claire is under two, she was allowed to sit on my lap rather than needing her own ticket). Having Voula around was just how I imagine it when fantasising about having help in the form of a nanny.
Things went south when we got on the plane. Olivia was no longer on her best behaviour and started being silly. After take-off, Claire grew tired and began to cry.
When a bottle didn't console her, I decided to pace up and down the aisle while jiggling her. But for the few seconds that I left Claire propped up in my seat so that I could stand up, Olivia reached over and whacked her little sister on the head. Claire erupted into screams and Olivia started guilt-crying. I could tell that she was tired too.
Photos: Flying with two under two alone. Thank goodness for Voula from Virgin Airways !Supplied
Heads turned our way. I wasn't that person with the screaming kid – I was that person with two screaming kids. Honestly, if someone had handed me a parachute, I might have jumped.
By the time I reached my parents' house in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, I needed a glass of wine.
Our return flight was delayed by five hours, which meant that we flew really late in the day, and neither of my girls had napped. It was quite a shi*e show.
No matter how you get from A to B, car, plane or train... it helps to be VERY prepared.
Tips for long-distance journeys with little ones
- All about the snacks. Don't let your kids get hangry, because all hell will break loose. I had a huge bag of snacky treats and I passed them behind me with abandon while I was driving.
- Olivia was still in the process of being toilet trained when we drove to Melbourne, so I put a nappy back on her to avoid a dreaded accident in her car seat. This was the right call, as a couple of the toilets we stopped at on the way back to Sydney were those non-flushing, mega-stinking, drop toilets. I hadn't encountered such basic facilities since I'd backpacked through rural China a decade ago. Olivia could have fallen right through.
- Download stuff for the kids to watch on the iPad before you set off, because there likely won't be wifi coverage. Fasten the iPad to the back of the front car seat rather than having your child hold it and accidentally skip to the end.
- I bought a tray table on Amazon specially designed for car trips. Olivia used it for all sorts of things to pass the time.
- Have everything you need at the ready: such as pre-measured serves of formula, wipes, a few new toys as distraction aids, plus snacks, snacks and more snacks.
- When flying, don't arrive at the airport too early, as you will only have to kill time and it gets tedious quickly.
Photo: Family time with grandma is what makes it all worth it