Every year Charles Anderson takes his daughter on a road trip around his home region, seeing it as a chance to share something special and fleeting with a daughter who is getting bigger in the blink of an eye. For the third such trip of her young life, he tries, and fails, to go camping in the Marlborough Sounds.
We were somewhere on the Queen Charlotte Drive, winding around myriad corners in the blazing sunlight when she started complaining that it was too hot.
She squirmed and groaned and winced. So, I put on the air conditioning. Then it was too cold. So, I wound down the windows. Then it was too windy. So, then Ivie, now two years old, started to wail.
This was the start of a holiday.
Every year since she was born I have endeavoured to take my daughter on a trip around the top of the South Island. So far, we had been to Karamea and Farewell Spit. I saw it as an excuse to show her more of the awesome area in which we were fortunate to live. But also, I wanted to see it for myself – it’s easy to get complacent when these places are on your doorstep. So that way we would both be seeing things for the first time. It was a romantic notion. We would share something.
I had not spent a night in the Sounds since I was close to her age.
Ivie was nearing three years old now and I believed that it could be time to try camping in a real tent.
For days ahead of our departure I extolled the virtues of sleeping in a “special tent”. This was where “big girls” liked to reside, I told her. It was exclusive. It was a big deal.
But as we rounded the coastal curves of the Sounds, surrounded by an aquamarine ocean, thick forest islands and a glinting sun that managed to cast the sail boats in an almost magical light, the screams that reverberated around the car seemed to dull that magic just a touch.
I promised her ice cream and playgrounds.
“Playbwound?” she said with a rising inflection through her tears. “Ice cweem?”
“Only if we stop crying,” I replied.
She nodded, rubbing saline and snot from her eyes and nose.
Yes, I would negotiate with terrorists.
We rolled into Momorangi Bay Campground in the early afternoon. We found our tent site on the water’s edge and said polite hellos to the families who were to be our new neighbours. I was almost apologetic.
I hauled the tent out of the boot and unfurled it. I wrestled with poles and pegs while trying to ensure Ivie did not run into oncoming traffic or into the water’s edge. In the space of about 20 minutes we had our sleeping quarters.
Ivie giggled and ran inside and threw herself onto our sleeping bag. This was going to work, I told myself. I was winning.
Nice work dad.
We swam in the water and splashed through the shallows. She was grinning. She was having fun.
Nice work dad.
“Like Peter Pan,” Ivie said of the scene.
Looking around I thought ‘yes, it is a bit like Neverland’. But reflecting on last year’s trip, I knew that this little Peter Pan was getting bigger. She was running and talking and getting sassier. Time was speeding up.
Once upon a time I would pick her up, rock her back and forth and softly sing Otis Redding’s ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ to her until she fell asleep. It was beautiful. These days I used that song as a weapon. Lifting her was like picking up a bowling ball. She hated to sleep. These days I would sweep her up, taking effort not to aggravate the herniated disc that blew out doing such a manoeuvre a year earlier. Then I would engage the core and rock her back and forth, singing like a maniacal karaoke singer, while she screamed ‘NO DADDY, NO DADDY’.
Before long, her eyes would roll back in her head and eventually, eventually, eventually, she would pass out. Really, it would make me feel absolutely horrible. Like I was chloroforming my kid.
It was the early afternoon and Ivie was getting tired but stubborn. So, I bundled her into the car for a “little dwive” and we rolled onwards through the Sounds. She fell asleep. I kept driving and soon, quite unplanned, we were in Picton and Ivie woke up to see the town’s giant destination playground out of the corner of her eye.
“Playbwound! Pirate ship!”
She was correct. There was indeed a pirate ship and a water park. I was unprepared.
No spare nappies, no swimming costume.
But this was Ivie’s weekend. So, I stripped off her nappy, put her pants back on and implored her not to soil herself.
Then she was off, careering through water features – crazed and half naked. She was excited. She was screaming. She was trying to do everything that the big girls were doing. I was trying to ensure she didn’t kill herself. It was unsurprising then, that the inevitable happened. She soiled herself.
We headed back to the campground, singing Hakuna Matata and leaving her shitty pants back in Picton.
We ate fish and chips as the sun went down. Ivie was mucky with tomato sauce. I got her changed into her pyjamas.
“I don’t wanna go to sleep yet,” she said.
So, we read books. We read her brother’s Star Wars character encyclopaedia, which she insisted we pack. She learned about “Loda” and “Ham Soda” and the extensive George Lucas universe. The sun went down, and we put on the lamp. I told her stories and sang ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ to her for 850th time. These were my go-to techniques for encouraging unconsciousness. My techniques were not working. She wriggled and writhed and crawled around the tent in the semi-dark.
Then she turned to me.
“Daddy, I want to go home now.”
It was late. It was dark. We were in close proximity to several young families. I could have tried to convince her. I could have put my foot down. I could have used Otis Redding as a weapon while the neighbouring families pondered whether I was torturing my child. Instead, I sighed, and put her inside the car while I took down the tent in the dark.
As we drove home I called Ivie’s mother and told her what was going on. I put her on speakerphone.
“Ivie,” she said. ‘What happened?”
“We go home now,” Ivie replied. “It wasn’t a very good idea.”
“Maybe another time?” I asked her.
“Yea, another time.”
Then, she fell asleep.
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