We’re an “outdoors-ish” family (emphasis on the “ish”) – we love the beach, rivers, bush walks, hiking, playing at the park, jumping in muddy puddles and being out in the garden, but we’re not fans of “roughing it”. We love “camping” in the bush, as long as it includes a four-walled dwelling of some description, with access to plumbing. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise if my kids aren’t champing at the bit to climb Mount Everest or trek across the Andes. But sometimes, just sometimes, I’d like to be able to take the five of us on an outdoor adventure without someone belly-aching about something.
Kid Number One is a water baby. Take her anywhere near water and she’s in her element. When she was little she would to practise snorkelling in the bathtub and is the first one in and last one out of the ocean on any beach visit. But try and get her to place her bare feet on grass? Nuh uh. As a baby she would resist being put down on our lawn, lifting her tiny feet as I went to put her down, clinging on, four-limbed, like a tiny koala joey, until I relented and put her back on the picnic blanket and placed her shoes firmly on her feet.
Kid Number Two is a climber. You’d turn your back on him as a toddler and he’d be at the top of the playground climbing frame, way too high (I mistakenly thought) to get himself back down again. Crawled, walked, ran, jumped and somersaulted early, and loves to hike and climb rocks, but try and get him out in temperatures over 25 degrees and you’ll hear the complaints; “I’m hot! I’m thirsty! Where’s my drink bottle? My hat’s itchy!”
Kid Number Three, where do I start? Born on New Year’s Eve (on what was a 45 degree day) this nature player never feels the heat, but needs a singlet and jumper when the temperature drops below the high-20s. Also, the wind is his nemesis. At the first sign of a breeze, he’s clutching at his hair like a tiny balding man who’s afraid his toupee will fly off. And don’t get me started on getting him into open bodies of water. A river, maybe, if it’s ankle deep in a quiet, meandering brook. Any sign of a tide? Forget about it! When we go to the beach, it has to be one with a grassed area back from the beach, out of eyesight and earshot of the ocean. This means we have to divide and conquer - one parent on the grass with one child and the rest of the family gleefully body-surfing in the waves.
Our adventures in nature usually involve various trade-offs in the levels of personal discomfort of each family member, and last as long as the placating measures put in place hold firm. A forgotten water bottle, stiff breeze or unexpected splash of a wave can upset the apple cart, and an outing may need to be abandoned due to tears, sulks or emotional breakdown (that last reaction is usually mine).
But (and this is a big but), we’re getting better at it. Better at planning escapades with a little bit of everything that we all like, and not too much of the things that some of us don’t. We make these outings short and sweet, with the promise of a treat at the end (yes, I bribe my children).
And we all agree on one thing – bushwalking in Autumn or Spring, on a calm, dry day, when the temperature is between 20 and 26 degrees, armed with several water bottles while wearing well-fitting hats and sensible enclosed footwear is an activity we can all enjoy.