I made a quick dash to Sydney this weekend and I made it with special company. Alice. We drove to Sydney together, without Sean, because he’s unwell, and my certainty that we’d be ok was well founded. We did very well and I loved it.
We made the plans weeks ago. Drive to Sydney, visit my sister and have an early-makeshift Christmas since we wouldn’t be seeing each other on Christmas day.
I sought advice from a few parent friends about toddlers and travel and really it was all pretty straight forward and not that different to toddler travel with two adults. Alice is a good traveller, as we learned when we flew to Queensland, so really it was just about managing expectations for both of us. She understood that while Aunty Bells is driving, there really isn’t much chance to have any books/toys/food/i-devices picked up if dropped on the floor.
My sweet girl turned out to be the best possible driving companion. There were long stretches of silence as she read a book or played on the ipad. And when we stopped on the highway at McDonalds for refreshment and playing, she was a good girl who left the playground when it was time to go.
One of the joys of this trip for me was choosing the music to play. Look, I know this was far more important for me than it was for Alice. I’m under no illusion that my Christmas playlist meant to her what it meant to me but she’s a good little singer and where she knew the words or the tune, she sang along or nodded her head in time to the music. We attended Christmas Carols in the park on Saturday night and it was awfully gratifying when, as the opening bars of my favourite carol, O Holy Night, began, she looked up and said ‘we played this in the car!’. Clearly my playlist was in some small way a shared joy.
The Christmas carols, hosted by my sister’s Salvation Army church, were partially rained out. It was an intense night, sitting in the park trying to manage umbrellas, food and excitable children. My image of an evening spent holding a candle (there were no candles!!) and singing carols while knitting a sock and smiling at our small people proved somewhat naive. But it was an enjoyable evening and there was much about the small people to enjoy. Young Mr Willem, my sister’s son, has turned into a sort of pseudo-big brother/cousin for Alice and when he’s not (understandably) frustrated by her endless questions and limited attention span, he’s an adorably loving and protective boy.
We goofed around.
We ate snow cones, jumped on the jumping castle and ignored the rain. Alice got to kiss Santa (a rock star moment!) and the three of us danced together later in the night, waving glow sitcks to hymns and carols with joy. We also sat in spilled food, got sticky and sweaty and at times had to manage bad tempers and the injustice of no more turns on the jumping castle.
Life doesn’t always go according to plan.
And I helped Willem and Alice devour the Gingerbread House my sister made.
This morning Alice and I drove home again. More singing along with a Christmas playlist, stopping for toilet breaks and bemoaning the short battery life of an iphone battered by a toddler with obsessive desires to get to the next level on her favourite game, Spy Mouse.
Eventually I watched her in the rear view mirror, head lolling as she fell asleep somewhere around Lake George. I looked at her and wondered if she would remember weekends like this, telling her friends about her Aunty Bells who sang along to Christmas Carols in the car and interrupted her playing to show her paddocks full of sheep and alpacas along the highway with stories about making things for her from their wool.
I can’t know what she’ll remember in years to come. I know only that we can drive together and talk or not talk as the mood strikes, sing silly songs and that her little smile in the rear view mirror makes it all even more special and lovely than I could imagine. We survived our first road trip and I’m sure it won’t be our last.
A poignant moment I wanted to share took place in McDonalds this morning. With a tv screen in the background showing footage from Connecticut, my heart heavy with the knowledge of the horror, Alice told me that in her head there was Dreamland and in Dreamland there are unicorns who blow bubbles and sparkles from their horns. With that imagery played out against the horror on the screen, I longed for a moment to be in her head where such things don’t happen. She is lucky and only slightly younger than the small victims of that terrible crime. I couldn’t help but wonder and reflect and think of America.