"Mum, mum, we're family on a boat,"
shouted Matthew as he steered our ageing pedalo on a crash
course towards his mum. "So why are we still pedalling then?"
replied Kirstie as her peeling yellow craft span around
in circles with Cameron at the helm. We had hired the boats
from a large man who was very concerned for our safety.
"You're not over 90kg are you?" he asked before agreeing
to the rental, "cos I had a load of heffa's here yesterday
and they nearly sunk them. Had to put that sign up for health
and safety you know." He pointed to a freshly chalked sign,
"MAXIMUM WEIGHT 90KG." We assured him we were safely within
the limit so he stuck some old life jackets on us and pushed
us out to pedal old tin boats around busy, shark infested
Akaroa harbour. We had a happy half hour and resolved to
continue our water based adventures later in the trip but
"No sorry, 12 is our minimum age."
"No, I'm afraid we can't. Not with children so young."
"No, we can't help you if you have under 5's."
It was like we'd developed some
kind of disease. Nobody wanted to deal with us. Because
of the children. Even here, in the land of adventure, it
seems young children can be a barrier to participation in
some kinds of outdoor activities.
After 16 weeks of pedalling, Kirstie
and I were keen to get back on the water and hatched a plan
to take a few days out to drift, paddle and camp along a
safe and gentle river. Back at home we'd taken the boys
out on stretches of canals, lakes and rivers in our time-share
Canadian canoe so figured it would be possible here. But
all the outfitters and guides we contacted either thought
we were crazy or said they would love to help but couldn't.
The rules, restrictions and excuses were endless. "Look
I don't want to endanger my kids, just give them a safe
and different experience of being on a river," I explained
with exasperation to one guide. "I understand," she said,
"You know it's great what you're doing with your kids, showing
them the world by bike. And kids should know about rivers
too but I can't take you. I'd just feel so responsible if
anything should happen…. they're just so young. Sorry."
It seemed the prospect of being with us, guiding us or even
just renting us some equipment was just too risky for those
Family fun is possible on the
river but you need your own gear
I began to wonder if I was irresponsible
taking the boys out back at home? If I'd underestimated
the risks and consequences and was putting their lives at
risk? But I really don't think so. What parent would put
their children in harm's way? Sure there are risks when
you take your kids outdoors, sure the environment is different
and dynamic but the principles of keeping them safe remain
the same. It's not that different to toddler proofing your
house. You do what you can to choose safe environments and
control them, assess what might go wrong, fit everyone out
with the right protective gear and plan how you'll deal
with any problems that occur. And as a parent you live with
the consequences of those decisions every moment of everyday.
With toddlers, life is a continual process of risk assessment
and damage limitation, at home, on the road or on a river.
But, after two weeks of fruitless
phonecalls, I was finally forced to accept that our canoe
camping experience was not to be and our water based adventures
were probably limited to pedalo memories of Akaroa. We'd
planned for a week of canoeing and everyone was looking
forward to a change of place and pace so the hole that opened
up in our schedule was filled with disappointment. Unless
we could find something else to fill the gap we were all
going to be climbing the walls.
"Sure, age is no problem," said
the woman the following morning much to my surprise, "We
take them as soon as they can hold their heads up. Bring
your boys in and we'll get them kitted out."
Matthew and Cameron stood there
bemused by the straps and loops being wrapped and tightened
around their arms and legs. "We're family in a harness,"
said Matthew as Kirstie and I got our gear on. "OK, come
over to the wall," said the woman leading us over to a wall
splattered with holds of every shape, size and colour. Rows
of brightly coloured ropes dangled down the wall, shiny
metal karabiners clanking on the ends. "These blue holds
are easy climbs to start with," said the woman as she clipped
Matthew onto the end of a rope. "Now we clip this end to
you," she said attaching Matthew's rope to my harness. "Pull
like this to remove the slack and lock the rope," she added
helpfully as she showed me how to work the ropes, "and now
Matthew is in your hands. If he falls you catch him." Matthew
ventured cautiously up the wall, stretching his limbs to
reach the blue holds while Cameron watched impatiently while
he was clipped onto a rope and his mum. Then, with a burst
of energy, the little one shot up the wall at lightening
speed, quickly overtaking his brother, seemingly unaware
of the heights to which he quickly scaled.
Cameron and Matthew express their
individuality through their climbing
There are some moments when you
notice a real difference in people's personality, attitudes
or abilities. This was one of those. I think I'd seen it
on the playgrounds - his agility, lack of fear and enjoyment
of movement but this was a more clear cut demonstration.
As they climbed side by side, it was clear Cameron's ascent
was agile, fearless and joyful, a marked contrast to Matthew's
measured, careful and cautious outing. And for Cameron there
was an extra buzz, a joy not just of climbing but at finding
something at last that he could beat his brother at.
And when they reached their personal
top, Matthew a few metres up and Cameron a few metres more,
we'd lower them safely back down to the ground, Matthew
climbing down backwards while Cameron launched himself off,
swinging around squealing, "Wheeee, I spiderman mum."
Cameron savours his temporary
dominance over his brother
The climbing wall was a definite
hit with everyone. An activity carefully assessed and managed
to ensure it was safe, adventurous and fun. The boys climbed
to their limits while we kept them safe. Their life in our
hands, just like everyday parenting.