Put on Your brave

Put on Your Brave:  Part One

You can do it”, “Put your brave on Mummy,” Just think you can”, Olivia and Mia coaxed me gently.  I was frozen with fear.  Stopped in my tracks, knees wobbling and unable to take another step.

For as long as I could remember I had been petrified of heights. As a child, this fear had caused embarrassment. As an eleven-year-old, I froze in front of all of my peers half way up an 8ft rock abseiling at school camp. However, as an adult my fear of heights had become easily managed through avoidance.  This approach had served me well until today when Olivia and Mia dragged me from the pool chair begging me to join in their fun on the waterslides at the caravan park.

It had been almost a year to the day that we had left for Western Australia. We found ourselves in Yeppoon, along the Capricorn Coast of Queensland for a quick mid-year school holiday adventure.  Dave and I had recently reflected on what a significant milestone the 12-month mark had been since we decided to travel as a family and the ways we had grown as individuals and as a family.  The biggest growth in the family was by far baby Alice who was now 15 months old toddling around the caravan park like a boss, causing smiles and mischief wherever she went.

Navigating her toddling on the boat in 2metre swells may have been a different story for us on this holiday if our little mariner wasn’t so instantly lured to sleep by the gentle rocking of the sea.

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For the rest of the family, while the day to day had largely returned to the normal chaos, we had all made changes that reflected our hearts desire for the freedom that we had experienced defying traditional notions of ‘normal’.

Six months ago, I had decided not to return from maternity leave to the job I knew and loved but rather start my own law firm practicing in an area I believed deeply in.  To begin with, the flexibility of working for myself meant surfing with Dave in my lunch hour and being able to pick the girls up from school every day.  However, those close to me knew that lately, I had been working around the clock, struggling with the juggling of the demands of work and trying to be a near enough satisfactory mother, wife and friend.  While overall, we had adjusted relatively well, as we approached the end of term it become clear that we were all desperate to reconnect as a family and enjoy each other beyond day to day logistics.

So, here we were on our first day of holidays at a cross road. Would I show my two oldest daughters’ vulnerability and courage or was I just too scared? I backed down the stairs twice returning to my pool chair before I found my brave. Finally, with Mia in front of me and Olivia behind me I slowly crawled to the top of the waterslide stairs screaming at the top of my lungs all the way down. The girls too were screaming too with delight as my biggest cheer squad…our next adventure had just begun.

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Part 2: The Capricorn Coast

Stand up paddle boarding, snorkelling, caving, biking, fossicking for thundereggs had filled nearly every moment of our last five days. With an amusing but failed attempt to make it across to Great Kepple Island on our second day of the holiday (20 knot winds and large swells), we decided to make the most of ‘waiting the weather’. We were not disappointed.  While we had initially chosen the Capricorn Coast in Central Queensland as our holiday destination for the white sandy beaches and warm crystal- clear waters, when the weather turned, we were pleasantly surprised by the natural inland beauty.

We started our wet weather adventure at the Capricorn Caves, where we explored 390 million year old limestone caves. Every little palaeontologist dream was fulfilled as the caves provided a real fossil tour where the girls got to sift through sand and dirt to find real bones of marsupials who had inhibited the marvellous caves hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Our family’s love of playing in dirt and mud was brought to the next level on our second wet weather day when we fossicked for thunder eggs at Mr Hay.  While I have never really been a rock person, I admit that repeatedly sledging a metal pick at hard stone was quite cathartic and became the perfect opportunity to vent those minor school holiday frustrations associated with five people being living inside an 18ft tin can in the pouring rain.  We all found our fortunes in the mud and the excitement on the girls faces as the lovely volunteers cut open our thunder eggs with circular saws revealing the inner beauty of the agate, jasper and quartz that had been formed beautiful patters and colours was very special.

Finally, after the skies cleared, the winds dropped we decided it was time to explore the islands.  While figuring out how to get both a caravan and boat back to Sydney with one vehicle and child wrangling three kids between the two of us on a former commercial fishing boat in the open ocean has caused some logistical hurdles the absolute beauty of the Kepple Islands overwhelmed us.  Within a stone’s throw we had our choice of any number of deserted islands in the Great Barrier Reef National Park.  Surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Southernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef, the girls explored back in their happy place of nature. This transported us all to a state of joy from simple pleasure.  The days on the water filled all of our contentment cups. Dave finally got his peace and quiet and a moment of pride on one of the rides back home with four out of four of his girls fast asleep on the boat.

I truly hope that none of us ever get too busy to stop together enjoying the precious and restorative moments of simply being.

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Bushwalking and Beyond

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Kim:

We completed our longest bushwalk of the trip this week. It was a whole three and a half kilometres, and a significant achievement for the little legs of our family. Despite my sports-filled childhood and Dave’s love for the wilderness, previous to this trip our daughters had become increasingly accustomed to the instant gratification that city life has to offer.

By the time Livy and Mia had reached the age of two, we were rarely a stone’s throw away from an ice cream shop for when they were hot, a babycino for when they were cold, and the ABC iView app for times of boredom, public misbehaviour, or parental desperation. Before embarking on this trip, our reward system for their behaviour had become so out of control that Dave and I regularly joked that they were being rewarded for wiping their bottoms. We had frequently lamented that despite our best efforts, our life had become like a pressure cooker about to explode, or a smartphone running way too many apps and in desperate need of a full recharge. A direct result of this was a mild dose of self-entitled children whose easily-tired legs rarely needed to transport them further than the length of the shopping mall.

The first kilometre of our bushwalk was full of joy as the girls were perfectly content to busy themselves jumping over rocks, exploring new things, and engaging in adventurous games. By the second kilometre, their little legs were growing tired and it was clear that they were looking for a way out of their discomfort. Their expectation was evident: either Dave would carry them, or they would magically grow wings and fly out of the forest just like Tinkerbelle. Either way, their fun was over, and much to our discredit they were not accustomed to being pushed beyond their comfort zone.

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Immersing our family in nature and bushwalking on this trip was an intentional decision to develop perseverance and resilience in our children. We hope these qualities will outlive the duration of the trip. While Dave and I made sure to point out all the world heritage listed beauty spots that took our breath away, it seemed that it was our own attitude towards the situation that shaped their experience the most.

On this trip, there have been no shortage of situations where we are positioned to shape the character and spirit of our children. With all of our instant gratification and bribery tools removed from our parenting belts, we stop checking the clock wondering how to pass the time between four and seven pm, and we become excited to engage in our children to the end of the bushwalk and beyond.

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“being a KiD is amasing”

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Dave:

In seeking to persuade me to write a trip blog (not that she has ever had much difficulty in persuading me of anything), Kim showed me a surprising number of perpetually footloose young Australian families who have amassed extraordinary coverage in the social media universe. However, one thing that immediately struck me, in some cases at least, was how overt and overwhelming the product placement and commercial elements of these ventures were. I’m told that, for those in the know, it can provide a source of income (or the provision of free gear) equivalent to a decent full-time job. Nice work if you can get it, I s’pose.

And so, in the spirit of full disclosure – I too have ulterior motives in jotting down a few random thoughts for Kim to use however she sees fit. That’s because I have made a deal as well. To wit, it has been decreed that for every blog I write… I get to go fishing! Booyah!! There you have it, I’ve sold out. In response to a comment from a good mate (cheers) in a recent post regarding the apparent lack of fishing action on our trip to date, this situation will hopefully soon be rectified with such a hard won enterprise bargain now in place.  

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Shark Bay

But to be perfectly honest, I would probably write this particular entry even without such brazen inducement. It is on a subject close to my heart: the ability for kids to be kids in 2018. I am often deeply saddened by the apparent lack of ability for children today to escape the protection of their parents’ shadow or the structure of heavily organised activity (ballet on Tuesday, gymnastics on Friday, swimming lessons on Saturday morning) and just run amok. To explore, get lost, discover nature and their surroundings, and (gulp) knock up a few bruises and scratches along the way.

I understand there are very good reasons for a high degree of parental vigilance in certain settings. Unfortunately, in my professional life, I see far too much of the constellation of serious harm that can befall innocent children in the absence of proper supervision, monitoring and communication.

Here are a couple of simple experiences over the past few days that have given me more than a pinch of optimism that one of the absolute highlights of this trip will be an appropriate spreading of our children’s wings well beyond that which would be possible if we remained in our ‘normal’ life.

A fantastic piece of advice we received some months before leaving from another set of parents who had done a lot of travelling in their caravan was to get a decent set of ‘Walkie Talkies’ (2-way handheld radios) and teach the kids how to use them. To my knowledge, these sage individuals were not sponsored by any company that markets such devices. Anyone who has spent time at caravan parks knows that squadrons of kids whizzing past your campsite on bikes, scooters and various other wheeled contraptions is an inexorable part of the landscape. So it seemed inevitable that Olivia and Mia, who are both now reasonably adept on their bikes, would soon enough be invited to join such a kids-only bikie gang. When it happened, they were freshly armed with their Walkie Talkie licences and Mia was proud as punch to peddle off with a handset clipped to her T-shirt collar. This gave Kim and I the piece of mind to be able to check in every so often (ok – initially it was more like every 30 seconds) and it was all part of the fun for the kids to respond in their sharply honed radio talk – ‘We’re almost back to the caravan, Dad. Over and out.’

That little slice of independence quickly graduated to an invitation the following morning to join a half a dozen or so other kids on a hike up a private trail to the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse for a whale-watching sortie. Olivia and Mia again left with 2-way in hand. Half an hour or so later, a transmission crackled through that poor-little Mimi had hit her limit on the return march, so I sprinted off up the trail to intercept them. She was fairly out-of-puff by the time I reached them, but her overheating and thirst seemed to be quickly slaked when a 9-year old member of the crew commented that she had never seen a pre-schooler complete such a tough bushwalk all by herself.

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On the road to Monkey Mia

We have been able to share more closely in other ‘kids-will-be-kids’ experiences. Today, on our second travel day backtracking south to Monkey Mia, we pulled over for Baby Alice to have a feed and found ourselves surrounded by the stickiest, reddest and slipperiest mud imaginable. I knew that any attempted admonitions at cleanliness would likely be futile and, sure enough, after only a matter of minutes Mia was knee deep in the wet clay soil and cackling with unbridled joy. Olivia was a little bit more reluctant (in fact she was bordering on apologetic) but after I coaxed her into the action by assuring her that getting dirty was one of the best parts of being a kid, she was soon in the thick of it also. I think the photos tell the story far better than I can. Back in the car, with our upholstery taking a beating, half-an-hour or so later Olivia passed me a note without fanfare. I took one eye off the road for a second or two to read it. As I absorbed the contents of my eldest daughter’s spontaneous communication, this father’s heart was filled to overflowing. It read: “dear DaD being a KiD is amasing”.   

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