Holiday in Hokitika

by Mary Beth, written 12/18/2019

The family was going on holiday again. Annie was not happy.

She liked the idea of going on holiday. She had been singing a song about going on holiday in school, and it was a fun song. In the song, she sang about putting a tent up, swimming in the ocean, and eating yummy sausages (her favorite verse). In real life, sausages were yucky, she had never put a tent up or even seen a real tent, and the ocean was way too cold and scary.

Luckily, this particular holiday was not going to involve any of these things. She was glad of this. They were driving a few hours in the car to somewhere called Hokitika, a name which Annie had trouble remembering.

It was sitting in the car that Annie didn’t really like. She had never much liked car trips. And now her tummy hurt.

The day had not started totally well for Annie. Her sister had started crying about an hour and a half before Annie normally woke up. This often happened, and usually Annie didn’t wake up or could get back to sleep, but not today.

And Annie was tired already – the day before, she had gone to her friend’s birthday party. This was a Frozen-themed birthday party. It had a Frozen-themed cake, and Frozen-themed party favors. Best of all, the girls went to the movies to see the new Frozen movie. The birthday girl’s mom drove them. Annie had been looking forward to it for weeks.

This was Annie’s first experience at the movies. She was a little surprised that there was no dancing. She had been to a ballet on two separate occasions and also to a dance recital, so she expected dancing. Instead, as she explained to her parents later, there was a screen that was so so so big. And the movie was scary. It had a monster. The monster was so big, it was even bigger than the movie screen. It threw boulders. Luckily when the movie got too scary, Annie was able to sit on her friend’s mom’s lap and her friend’s mom cuddled her. Elsa and Anna were also in the movie. Annie was otherwise hazy on what the plot had been. It didn’t matter. She had gone to the movie dressed in a secondhand Anna dress which was a few sizes too big for her (Mommy had pinned it up in the front so she didn’t trip).

After the party she had gone back to her friend’s house and ate a cupcake and played and played. And then her mommy and daddy had showed up. When Annie saw her parents walk in the door of her friend’s house, she felt like the world had come crashing down around her. Even though her friend was watching, Annie shed bitter tears. Her parents refused to leave without her. She was devastated.

So it had been a big, exciting day, and even Annie eventually admitted she was tired. As Annie and her mommy discussed, it would have been the perfect night to get a good night’s sleep. But instead Annie was awake very early, thanks to her sister. Under the circumstances, a car ride was not ideal. And her tummy hurt. It often hurt when she rode in the car on the winding roads of New Zealand.

And grey clouds were rolling in overhead. Rain was coming soon. The mood in the car was tense. Cora helped the situation by screaming. She was tired! She had woken up early!

The family managed a hike before the rain came. It was a beautiful hike through the mountains to a waterfall called the Devil’s Punchbowl. Annie did not want to hike. Mommy was tired and grouchy. Annie tried, but couldn’t manage any other tone than a whine. Her mommy was not very nice to her. But daddy was extra nice. He carried Annie through much of the hike. Together, they sang and talked, and looked for things to photograph. They were both interested in the wire netting that had been tacked down to the wooden bridges to prevent people from slipping, which made cool patterns, and so they took pictures of it. This made Annie happier. They even wrote a song together, called “I’m a little tiny rock stuck in Annie’s boot”, which had to be sung in a high-pitched voice. Annie loved this song. It was the high point of the hike. The waterfall was boring and cold, as usual. Annie was not interested in posing for pictures in front of it.

Cora was less pleased than Annie about transportation for the hike. She was strapped tightly to her mother. This was not where Cora wanted to be.

Cora had taken her first proper steps a little over a week before. For the first week after those first steps, she had not regarded walking as a means of transportation. She had thought that independent walking was just a game – you walk back and forth between the two parents, and they clap and encourage you, but then if you actually have somewhere you need to be – if the parents leave the dishwasher open, for instance, and you need to climb into it, or if they leave one of the doors to the house open, and you get a glimpse of freedom and need to make a break for it – in those cases, you crawl. Alternatively you could hold someone’s hand and walk. But you wouldn’t walk independently. You wouldn’t be fast enough. You would fall over and never make it to the dishwasher before someone grabbed you.

It was only in the past couple of days that Cora had started to feel a little more stable on her feet, and to realize the new world opening up to her. She could go places. She could see better than crawling, and there was potential to be fast. It was kind of fun, too, especially when her mother was occupied with Annie. Cora could pull herself up on furniture and then wander out of the room, listening happily for the sound of her mother, frantically chasing after her.

On the hike, she was strapped onto her mother, but this was a golden opportunity for walking. Walking, she could pick up sticks, and leaves, and dirt, and rocks (rocks were her favorite) and eat them. Walking, she could turn around and go back down the trail the other way if she felt like it. Cora knew all the opportunities she was missing. So she spent the trip leaning as far forward in her harness as she possibly could. And whenever her mother walked close to a railing, Cora would grab on and hold on as tight as she could, making it difficult for her mother to continue down the path with her. And whenever there was a steep drop off, Cora would try to lurch forward out of the harness and over the edge. Just to keep her mother on her toes.

The family had fish and chips for lunch after the hike. They had fish and chips because Annie wanted fish and chips. Annie didn’t eat any of it. She had never been a fan of potatoes, even French fries, and she didn’t eat fish because she was a vegetarian. But Mommy, Daddy, and Cora all liked the fish and chips. Annie had half of a banana for lunch instead. After lunch they saw a New Zealand alpine parrot, called a kea, which was very exciting.

Their little house in Hokitika was very comfortable and pretty. It had a staircase, which was very exciting for both girls. Their house in Darfield didn’t have a staircase. Other than in public places like her sister’s dance recital, Cora had not had the pleasure of exploring staircases before. This staircase had short, narrow, slippery carpeted stairs. Annie liked to run up them. Cora liked to climb up them, then turn around and try to toboggan back down, headfirst. She thought this was the funniest game ever. Her goal was to toboggan down the stairs before someone grabbed her. Her mother often slipped on the narrow stairs as she ran up and down the staircase, which gave Cora a slight advantage, timewise.

Annie was also a big fan of the porcelain coasters. Annie had always been a big fan of coasters, her whole life, wherever she went. She liked delicate coasters with detailed painting best, and these coasters met her specifications. Cora liked grabbing the coasters and throwing them – at the ground, or at her mother’s toe; whatever was convenient.

Annie wrenched the coasters from her sister’s hands and handed them out to Mommy and Daddy as menus. As her parents had trouble reading them, she explained that her restaurant had two foods: chicken, and marshmallows. Daddy considered the options and went with the marshmallows. Mommy asked if she could have chicken with marshmallows on top, but Annie, who was acting as waitress as well as restaurant owner, told her that she could not. That would be yucky. As Mommy seemed to be too indecisive, she eventually offered the restaurant’s secret third food, which was cookies. Her mommy seemed to want something with marshmallows on it, so she offered cookies with marshmallows on them, which Mommy accepted. And so the day ended happily after all.

The next day, there was some shopping, which was boring, and some hiking that Annie didn’t want to do.

The family did the dizzyingly high Treetops Walk, 60 feet up, among the treetops. Annie wanted to sit in the stroller the whole time. It was boring. Cora wanted to toddle around, fall down, and climb the steel railings.

The last day of the trip was Cora’s birthday. She very much enjoyed her birthday. Although when her mother had asked her at the end of the day, “Did you like your birthday?” Cora shook her head No.

Cora had learned to shake her head to say No a few days earlier. She was getting better and better at it every day. It turned out to be a very, very useful response to most things. When her mother asked, “Shall we put on your bib now?” Cora shook her head. When her sister asked, “Are you my little cupcake?” Cora shook her head No. It turned out people asked Cora a lot of questions, and Cora found it safest to say No. There were different types of No – the meek No, when her mother asked in a threatening manner, “Do you want to go to your crib right now?” There was the genuine answer to a question, such as, “Do you want more spinach?” But most often it was a defiant No, in answer to a command such as “Lie down right now!” or the follow up, “All right, then I’m leaving!” or other aggressive questions or statements such as “Spit that out right now!” or “Did you just barf on me?” or “Did you just steal the remote?”

Cora really liked shaking her head.

On her birthday, people kept asking her, “Are you having a good time on your birthday?” and Cora would smile and shake her head.

“Do you want some ice cream?” her mother asked later in the day. Cora shook her head.

“Do you want to open presents now?” her sister asked. Cora shook her head.

Luckily, no one seemed to pay any attention to these answers. It turned out she did want ice cream after all, and the presents were nice, too. They were all stuffed into a big bag so Cora could pull them out easily.

Her birthday had started okay, but went downhill quickly before recovering in the afternoon. She had had a nice breakfast, and had gotten a beautiful handmade dress and a hat from her Mimi, along with a small rubber throwing chicken that she liked at least as much as the dress.

Then things went bad. Sometimes Cora was okay with her car seat, but she just wasn’t in the mood today, on her birthday. Her parents might have had plans that involved driving, but she wasn’t interested. She let her parents know that she wasn’t interested in the plans and suggested they make alternative plans. She was quite good at expressing this even without using words. Her parents explained that they were going someplace very nice, the famous Hokitika Gorge, and that the plans were non-negotiable. It took both parents and the car seat restraints to convince Cora. Everyone was exhausted and grouchy by the time she was finally in the car.

It turned out that Cora and her sister were in perfect agreement about the best arrangements for the short hike to the gorge: Annie should be in the stroller, and Cora should be walking. Cora regarded the stroller the same way she regarded the car seat: a straitjacket that restrained her independent spirit. It was even worse than being carried. Walking, she could find more rocks to eat or drop onto her toes, and she could climb anything she wanted to.

The parents mysteriously tried to reverse this perfectly acceptable arrangement, making Annie walk and Cora ride in the stroller. Both girls wept. The walk was only a few minutes but it felt much longer to everyone. Cora could sense her parents were both feeling grouchy. She didn’t care at all. They should be suffering, because she was suffering.

Cora was a little impressed by her first sight of the gorge but not really. She liked the fact that her mother took her out of the stroller so she could see better. It was a long way down. There was water at the bottom of it. Cora recognized water when she saw it. “Wawa!” she proclaimed. This was the same proclamation she gave when she saw a cat, or a person, or a truck. “Yes, you’re right, Cora! Good job!” her parents said. “That’s water! You’re right!”

Annie, who had seen water before, was not impressed at all.

When her parents tried to put her back in the stroller Cora screamed and writhed so effectively that she was able to wiggle her body down under the bar of the stroller and get herself uncomfortably stuck. She succeeded in accomplishing this three times in a row. This taught her parents a lesson.

Her parents liberated her when they reached the swing bridge, which was suspended breathtakingly high above the churning water down below. Cora was not afraid. She toddled out happily onto the swing bridge. She clung to the wire netting on the edge of the bridge and tried to climb up it. She sat down and licked a burl on the wooden planks. She felt content.

While her sister was crawling around on the bridge, Annie decided to explore the path just past the bridge. Her daddy followed her. “Don’t climb up there,” he said, as Annie tried to climb on a mossy embankment, damp with recent rain. But Annie felt a need in her soul to climb the mossy embankment, and so she did. She immediately slipped and fell onto the ground.

“See?” said her father as he comforted her and dried her tears.

Annie felt even more of a need to climb the embankment. She wasn’t going to let it win. She tried again, and fell again, much harder this time, falling backwards so her head hit the ground first. It hit a rock. She started crying again, harder. Her mommy ran over, leaving Cora crawling happily on the swing bridge. Mommy enveloped her in a hug. “Come on, Sweetie, let’s go back,” said Mommy. “Let’s go back home.”

“Nooooo!” cried Annie, weeping even harder. She couldn’t leave it. She needed to climb that embankment. She couldn’t admit defeat.

Mommy stood up, and took her by the hand. “Come on,” she said calmly but forcefully, pulling on Annie’s arm.

“No,” said Annie. “No, no, no!” She collapsed on the ground at the edge of the bridge in a storm of tears.

A group of people appeared at the other end of the bridge. It was a narrow bridge and would really only comfortably fit one abreast, so they waited. Mommy ran onto the bridge, grabbed Cora, and came back to Annie, still standing at the entrance to the bridge.

“Come on, Sweetie, it’s okay,” said Mommy. She pulled Annie again, and Annie took a reluctant step onto the bridge. “Come on,” said Mommy again, putting on her nice-Mommy voice since people were watching.

Annie continued to cry, but took another step, then another. She stared down through the planks at her feet, down down down to the swirling water far below. She didn’t really see it, though. She was thinking of that embankment, and feeling frustrated that she couldn’t try again, and angry at it for making her slip and fall, and sorry for herself because her head hurt. Her mommy tugged her along. She became dimly aware that the people at the end of the bridge were shouting encouraging words to her.

“You can do it!” said one.

“You’re almost there!” said another.

Mommy looked up and smiled at them as she dragged Annie along and held Cora very tightly. Cora was doing her best to grab the edge of the wire railing to prevent her mother from moving. Annie ignored the people, looking down, taking very slow and hesitant steps.

After a long, long time they made it across the bridge. By now there was quite a crowd collected there. They all cheered as Annie stepped off the bridge.

“You did it!”

“What a brave girl!”

“Good job!”

Annie frowned at them all and said nothing. Some of them tried to give her high-fives but she looked at them mistrustfully. Her mommy smiled and thanked them and hurried Annie along.

Cora had recently taken up reading in the car to pass the time. Her sister had brought some Disney books and Cora had been reading them avidly whenever she was stuck in the car for long periods of time. After the exciting trip to the Hokitika Gorge, and after she had expressed her anger and indignation that her parents would put her back in her carseat, she settled down and opened a book.

But the car ride was long, and eventually she finished reading them, and felt bored. Her mother tried to appease her with bits of bananas and grapes, but Cora would not be appeased. She was hungry and she did NOT want to be in the car. This was NOT a good birthday AT ALL. The next stop – a waterfall – was fun because there were wobbly rocks she could climb on. She could also pick up large rocks, stand up, and the drop them suddenly. But it wasn’t worth the car trip.

After the waterfall Cora was so tired from all the screaming and climbing that she fell asleep, and her sister did too.

After that, it was the perfect birthday. No more car trips. No more waterfalls or hikes. They read books outside in the sunshine, and Cora opened her sackful of presents – some lovely secondhand toys that her sister had helped to pick out. Then she got to take a bath – one of her favorite things to do – and played with her new bath toys. After the bath, she practiced climbing up and down the steps outside that led from the porch into the house. This was a lot of fun. It was tricky but Cora loved a physical challenge. Up and down, up and down. Sometimes she went down feet first, and sometimes she went down headfirst and her mother had to grab her. It was wonderful.

Cora had grilled fish, garlic bread, and French fries for dinner, at a restaurant. While she was waiting she got to play with a giant bin of toys. She was able to pull toys out and hurl them onto the floor. The floor was stone and so every toy made a crashing sound that reverberated through the restaurant when it hit the floor. Cora was very, very happy.

The best part, however, was when they got back to their house. They sat on the floor in the laundry room, where there was linoleum instead of carpeting. Everyone put on party hats, which Annie had had the foresight to bring.

And then there was singing. And cake. It was chocolate cake with strawberries on top, which her sister had thought she would like best. There were candles on the cake. Cora studied the candles and before she had quite decided what to do with them they had all been extinguished by her sister.

Cora had never had cake before, or ice cream.

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