It began simply enough, as significant events often do, with an exchange of gifts between young neighbour-friends on our shared front-lawn before we departed for an early holiday.
It was starting to rain, and we adults were pondering the vicissitudes of the sky, when upstairs neighbour O, the eldest of the clan of kids, appeared with her signature blue gumboots. But instead of putting them on her own feet, she passed them to our daughter E. For jumping in muddy puddles, O elaborated, echoing wisdom imbibed from one of their mutual heroine’s, Miss Peppa Pig.
The gumboots were received with due awe, but it was what came next that really rocked E’s world. In an act of true friendship O entrusted E with the lend of her small but special bag of trinkets and treasures for the duration of the trip. The look on E’s face as she held out her hands said it all. Better by far than bags full of new toys: to be the chosen custodian of one of her favourite friend’s favourite items.
Of course I found the exchange endearing. Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while would know that sharing a garden with five plus other families is a mixture of ups and downs, of harmony and chaos, a microcosm of life in the big garden of the world really. Except there are moments like these, moments of pure gold. Little did I know that such a quaint pre-holiday moment would have such import. Right then I was too concerned with how I would fit my body in the front seat along with the mountain of goods building where my feet were officially supposed to reside (luckily I like to sit cross-legged).
To the tune of exhales (Dr M and I) and a predictable, (if not uber-early) chorus of ‘are we there yet?’ (Kid 1 and 2) we finally pulled out of the driveway. It took us an hour to cross the city in busy Sydney traffic (something about a certain Taylor Swift arriving in Sydney might have had something to do with it) but all the while E ruffled through her bag contentedly, every few seconds pulling out another item to show us. As kids do, she finally settled on her favourite item, showering it with all her intense devotion.
That bag held many things but the thing that held E captive was nothing more and nothing less than a small purple torch, a Dora the Explorer torch, to be precise. Once she held it in her hands, she was a girl enchanted. She shone it on ceiling. She shone it in W’s eyes. Her small fingers clickity-clicked it on and off dozens of times.
Eventually we got her to stop, but only by recourse to the sobriety and importance of such a find. Save it, I intoned, with motherly superiority. You never know when we might want it.
Actually, I asided to Dr M, the brochure for this place did say to bring a torch. One of the reasons I liked the sound of our holiday house was that it was sort of in the middle of nowhere, all green fields and freedom. But it was a cultivated, boutique sort of rustic (a last-minute bargain I’d found on a feverish online hunt).
Really, Dr M raised an eyebrow, why didn’t you put that on your list?
My list. Let’s just say when we go on holidays, I’m no minimalist. No matter how hard I try, the anxious little beaver inside me keeps on muttering just in case until the bare essentials become the elaborate extensives. Of course I was a little annoyed at Dr M’s inference, but I had a ready defence. It just seemed a little antiquated, in the age of iphones, and, well… electricity. I just wasn’t convinced we’d actually need it.
Hmm…Dr M, the eminently more real-world practical of the pair of us, had his doubts.
The car trip extended well beyond the predicted time it should have taken to get from A to B, as trips with kids usually do (someone should seriously make a clock that operates in small kid time —now there’s an idea). We stopped at McDonalds and all marvelled that we could actually see them cutting and preparing vegetables through the new glass windows. We ran into an old friend and caught up. We changed nappies.
Needless to say by the time we arrived at our location the light had long left the sky, leaving only a speckling of stars and a dirt road to guide us to our destination.
As the rain trickled down I stumbled out of the car to open the gate to our holiday property, our ‘farmlet’, taking heed of instructions to close it behind us, lest we let something four-legged out that shouldn’t get out.
I climbed back into the car for the short drive to the building, stifling a string of yawns.
The kids were by now PAST exhaustion, and we their parents had flipped over into some sort of parents-of-multiple-young-kids survival mode, like when your computer has been without power for too long and tell you it’s on reserve battery. All I could think about was getting into that comfy bed I’d read about and letting it all wash away in slumber.
Only first we had to make the bed.
And before we did that we had to unload the car and find the linen. And carry three kids in who had now gone to sleep.
But before we did that…we had to find the light.
That’s when it hit us. The only light shining in the night was that of our headlights. The house was dark. And not only our house, but all the houses around us. Did people like to conserve electricity here, go to bed early or…
Dr M got out and bravely marched up the stairs. I watched him fumble around in the darkness, trying to follow instructions about the safe that held our keys.
He managed to find them, he even, somehow managed to get the door open,but that was just the beginning. By the time he came back and poked his head in the car, I already knew what he was going to say: “I can’t turn the lights on…And the water doesn’t seem to be working either.” I didn’t expect that second bit.
Our rustic experience was going from shiny to rusty.
Our plan had been to set up the beds, and then carry the sleeping kids in, but sometime amid this conversation about our new situation E woke up. Now, our E is many things but she is not a pleasant waker. She has been known to scream the house down when interrupted mid-sleep cycle. And another thing, E is afraid of the dark.
She blinked her big blue owl eyes at us. ‘Are we here? Is this our holiday house?’
E is not the sort of kid that can be bluffed. So we told her the truth. And waited for the fallout.
And that’s when none other than Dora the Explorer came to our aid.
E held up her torch. It’s okay, she said, I have my light.
Together with the two boys who were by now also awake our family of five intrepidly entered that unknown house with Dora the Explorer and our four year old daughter at the helm.
Together our motley crew assembled beds, lit candles, donned pyjamas. And Dora was no one hit wonder either. As long as that little light shone, all was bathed in calm. Catastrophe was averted, the night transformed.
Instead of tears, there was laughter, instead of panic, there was patience. Misadventure became adventure. The sort from which memories are made.
And lessons learnt.
Need I say more?
As long as she carried that torch, our prone to fearful four-year-old with an over-zealous imagination was as cool as a cucumber. As long as she shone that light before her, she did not fear what could come after her.
The light guided her steps, as she put her faith in its power