Tuesday, December 19, 2006
A confession: we only lasted two nights. We've been back since Saturday. It was great and hard and tiring and not at all relaxing but it did have moments of being fun. The biggest difficulty with camping was actually the fact that Fred found it difficult to always be with us. She's used to having quite a bit of safe space on her own and if necessary she used the television to 'switch off' from family life for a little while (she no longer sleeps during the day as a matter of course though occasionally she will drop off in the car). We really found with camping there wasn't the opportunity for her to do this. We all slept badly on the first night (Fred woke at 11 and spent nearly two hours whispering 'goodnight mummy' and 'i love you mummy' in my ear - she was scared of the shadows) and as a result Frederique was restless and moody - well we all were a bit. It wasn't a problem we antipicated because Fred is quite social and considering she invades my personal space all the time it's easy to forget she can be protective of her own.
One thing we did have that was tremendously successful for Fred was a little book called More Please: the hungry animal book. I picked it up recently for about $3 at our local newsagent and Fred loved it. It's a thick cardboard book that comes in a box with a collection of tiny cardboard food (little bones for the dog, sugar cubes for the horse, carrots for the rabbit etc) that you poke in the animal's mouths. Fred spent literally hours with this book, she came back to it over and over.
Another saviour was Bedda - Fred's imaginary friend (at first we thought Bedda was a girl called Bella but this was simple thick-headedness on our part - Fred has maintained a consistent picture of Bedda, including his black eyes and spiky hair, his little brother, though his age varies between 1 and 4 - we acquired Bedda in Palm Cove in July and he has visited us almost daily since.) Fred and Bedda and all their babies played in the car for nearly an hour while Martin packed up the tent and I took Una for a walk. Often when we go somewhere we can see Frederique earnestly explaing to Bedda where we are and what we're doing there.
We have lots of ideas for the next camping trip, including sketchbooks for all of us, music for Fred (on Martin's pda initially but we're thinking about buying her an mp3 player for her birthday in April), and a big dose of zen for Martin and I - we plan to follow Fred more, let her set the pace and eat what she wants when she wants (within reason - lots of tinned fruit and cheese and ham and yoghurt) rather than sticking to mealtimes - apart from breakfast, she didn't seem at all interested in meals while we were away.
One of the things about any kind of travel with childrent is that it's easy to get a picture in your head of what kind of experience you want them to have. You think you know what they'll love most, what they'll get out of the experience. But of course their experience is theirs, uniquely. We wanted to take Fred to the beach and fly the kite, she wanted to sit in the damp sandy mud of the river bank and dig holes. Letting this picture go of the experience you want them to have (Fred loved the kite, but she would have been just as happy without it and by then we'd hurried her along the river to the beach and she was on the verge of sulkiness) is part of the journey as a parent - it's surprisingly not as easy as you'd think to let them just do what they want to do. We didn't really relax until we stopped thinking about what we wanted camping to be like and just tried to inhabit the moment - but by then we had already made the decision to drive home on Saturday and it was hard to unmake this decision. Besides, Fred was ready to go. Una would have happily stayed forever. She, bless her, doesn't care where we are as long as we're all together.
I am sure Frederique will grow to love camping - she enjoyed playing in the next door's tent with a seven year old boy called Justin and being visited by cheeky parrots. She loved the early morning walks and the fact that as soon as she was up the day began instead of waiting for Martin and I to do all our boring morning stuff. Once she got over her fear of the shadows, she loved the cubby too, and she especially loved sleeping again between Martin and I (we co-slept with Fred until she was 2). As she gets older and can climb a tree and read a book (simultaneously) the hardest part about camping, the relentlessness of family life, will be over for Fred.
Tidal river was a great place for us - somehow I've never been to the Prom before. There was a gentle river for Fred to stomp in, a wild beach (complete with night time background ambient sound), lots of great campsites and a well-stocked, not too expensive shop. A fire went through Wilson's Prom on 1 April 2005 and it was quite eerie considering the fires this summer to see all the burnt trees. But also it was a lesson in resilience and the redemption as underneath the ghostly trees the rejuvenating undergrowth was lush and green.