Last week we went camping to Balnarring. Koalas ahoy, right next to the tent (or our cubby as Fred and Una call it). Noisy growly things that they are, switching between insane bear cub noises to evil genius maniacal laughter (the koalas, not Fred and Una. They have their own brand of maniacal laughter, that falls more into the creepy possessed child category). We even saw a baby koala clutching his mama's back and I was as excited as Fred (for you international readers who may not know this, there are no koalas in Tasmania where I grew up, and this was my first encounter with them in the wild). It was a surprisingly relaxing trip, camping is getting easier, perhaps as the kids get older, or perhaps as we gain more experience about what works and what doesn't with little kids (what doesn't work is expecting the kids to entertain themselves indefinitely with sticks and stones, as much as the idea is picturesque, what does work is lattes from the shop). Balnarring isn't exactly a wild frontier, it's a coastal town that is really kind of a suburb (as a Tasmanian it took me a long time to get my head around the Mornington Peninsula as a 'holiday' destination when it still really feels like another part of Melbourne), but the camp site is huge and was deserted - we had it entirely to ourselves and the beach too a lot of the time. We're going back next week hopefully - and this time we want to go down to the beach at 5am (groan) and watch the racehorses practice in the water, with the dolphins diving around them (for serious).
Anyway, Fred has shown some interest in her bike lately and has been terribly frustrated since training wheels are crap on gravel, which we have a lot of around here. So Martin took the training wheels off and we took the bike down with us. She had a few goes on it, reminding us all the time in a very calm voice that she was just practicing. Mostly we held on to her, but once or twice we let go and she'd coast for a few seconds until she turned around to look if we were still holding on, get the wobbles and slam her feet down.
Yesterday, using this momentum, we went down to the school and this time Fred did it, 'all by herselfus' (as Una likes to say). Watching her pedal freely, round and round the basketball court on her almost too small bike made tears well up in my eyes, and I saw, clear as a bell, Fred's baby face when she first learned to walk, and remembered with a jolt how I felt that day - how excited I felt for her lying awake that night, too wired to sleep, thinking about the possibilities the world now offered, the freedom and independence that walking represented.
For what is a bike but freedom? I was later to riding than Fred (about 10, on my sister's hand me down which dad spray painted gold for me). In my twenties a bike was my main form of transport. Now particularly I look back at me, completely contained on my bike, and marvel at how free I was, how little I had to carry around with me, just whatever would fit in my pockets, or in a small bag on my back, coasting between my house and the other inner city landmarks that mattered to me: various venues and cafes and friends' places and parties and Allen & Unwin's Carlton office and RMIT and the supermarket (to buy 600ml of milk that would last all week - ha!).
What impressed me most was Fred's dogged determination. She was so sure of herself, so sure that she'd get it eventually that she was willing to take her time, remindng us that she was 'just practicing' if she sensed we were going to push her further than she was willing to go. And I knew I had to blog about it, because I wanted a record kept somewhere of 'This is you, this is what you did, and this is how I felt about it. Signed, A Proud Mum.'