Friday, 3 July 2015
I said no to birthday parties this year. I needed a break from the food preparation, the planning, and the entertaining of small boys in a small house on a wet winter's day. Lewis asked to climb a mountain instead, the tallest he could find, which seemed a good way to mark 10 years. Setting off from the carpark with backpacks full of cookies and sandwiches, juice and water and lollies and dried fruit, raincoats, fleeces and a restocked first aid kit, it struck me that the planning had been no less. And we had somehow acquired an extra two children, which brought the total to six we were leading up that steep mountain path. But we were all doing something we loved, and I think that made all the difference.
The weather can change quickly on the peaks, and we were well prepared. But it was entertaining to watch the motley crew of hikers passing us on the path. The girls in shorts and tank tops, shivering in the arctic winds that blow in off the Southern Ocean and sweep up the range to gather in billowing clouds that pour down the cliff face like a slowly breaking wave. The bearded backpackers carrying folding chairs roped to their backs, stopping for a cigarette and a can of bourbon at the top. The family walking in their everyday clothes, carrying nothing with them but their mum's leather handbag. Perhaps she had some water tucked inside, or maybe they lapped at the waterfall trickling over the rocks halfway up.
Grant carried Thea on his back and she complained bitterly, wanting to get down and walk with the rest of us. But she settled down after a while and he walked on ahead while I hung back with the boys and ate birthday cake in the sunshine on the scree covered slopes. The older boys wiped off the crumbs and bolted, jumping from step to step in their race to the top. I brought up the rear with Quinn, holding his hand as his little legs took step after step up into the sky. He wanted to touch it, and I think he almost felt like he had when he stood on the topmost boulder and gazed down at the ocean and farmland stretched out below us, the clouds casting a patchwork of sunlight and shadow across the chequered fields.
Coming down was the hard part. My back, still tender from a jarring half-marathon I ran a few weeks' before, was sending searing ribbons of pain down my legs. Each step had to be negotiated sideways, and my legs were quivering with fatigue. Quinn held tight to my hand the whole way down, taking back his backpack, which I had been carrying for him on my chest, and then offering to carry my water bottle and beanie too to get me back to the car.
We ate hot salty chips from the cafe at the base of the range, and I washed down a handful of painkillers with an enamel mug of lukewarm chai from our thermos, then sunk gratefully back into the passenger seat for the long drive home. The next morning we woke early, muscles still aching, to watch Lewis rip open his birthday presents on the coldest day of the year. There was ice on our car windows when he stepped out onto the balcony to find a new mountain bike swathed beneath an old bed sheet. He has ridden to school and back everyday this week; the gears letting him conquer the hill we live on at last. It is the start of a new found independence for him, which we are all celebrating together.