Day 8: Waitomo

by Mary Beth

It was morning. They were eating breakfast at the wide coffee table in the living room. They were having toast and peanut butter. There was no high chair.

Mommy ripped up a piece of bread and put peanut butter on it and offered it carefully to Cora. Cora smacked the piece of toast out of her mommy’s hand onto the table. Then she picked it up again, sucked the peanut butter off, and tried to shove the rest of it into her mommy’s mouth. When her mommy refused, she dropped it onto the carpet and strode off.

Cora toddled around the other side of the coffee table, and picked up an 18-wheeler truck which was parked there. She drove it around the table and then parked it on top of Barbie, who was lounging on the table. The truck was about the same length as Barbie. “Tee-toe,” Cora said, smiling.

“I don’t know if that truck is tiptoeing,” said Mommy.

“I think Barbie is crying,” said Annie, licking honey off her fingers.

Cora left the truck on top of Barbie and grabbed another Barbie, and placed her carefully on the couch. She picked up Barbie’s hot pink convertible. Then she slammed the car into the Barbie doll. She lifted the car up and slammed it into Barbie’s prostrate body again and again and again.

Annie had just received her second piece of toast and was waiting for something to be put on it. Her father asked her what she wanted. Rather than just answering the question, she broke out into song. “Just jelly, just jelly, just jelly,” she sang, very loudly. “Just jelly… just jelly!”

Cora stopped murdering Barbie and started wiggling her hips back and forth in rhythm to Annie’s singing, grinning widely. She kept wiggling them after Annie stopped, watching her sister hopefully. But Annie’s toast had been jellied and Annie was quietly getting herself covered with it. Cora’s smile faded.

Then Cora noticed that Mommy was writing things down. She walked over, watched her mommy writing for a few seconds, then snatched the paper away before Mommy had time to react, and ran to the other side of the room, cackling to herself.

“Hey!” Mommy cried. But Cora was too far away to grab easily, so she just went back to eating.

Everyone else continued eating too.

After about four seconds of silence Mommy asked, “Where’s Cora?”

She was no longer at the other end of the room.

“Cora!” Mommy called, walking quickly through the little apartment. “Cora!” But Cora was nowhere to be found.

Daddy checked outside, Mommy close behind. Cora was lounging in a patio chair. She was playing with a traditional New Zealand toy – a wooden yellow bumble bee that you could pull around by a white cord. When you pulled it, the wings flapped.

“She’s wrapping it around her neck again,” said Daddy. Mommy ran over and unwound it.

That day they went to see two caves, Waitomo and Ruakuri. These caves had glowworms hanging on the walls and ceiling.

Waitomo cave was bigger and shorter and there were many, many people on the tour with the family. The first part of the cave tour was like any other cave tour, except with a lot of people. But the second part of the tour was in a boat.

As they got nearer to the boats, the lights became dimmer and dimmer, until it was hard to see at all. At their guide’s instructions, they became quieter and quieter, until the only noises were the occasional yelp or whine or other vocal explorations of the very young children. Luckily there were other children on the trip, not just Annie and Cora.

They were loaded into boats in almost perfect silence and almost total darkness. The family was in the first boat, which had all the children in it – allowing the childless people to have a better experience and taking some pressure off the parents in the group. They sat on benches that were close to the level of the water.

A man stood at the back of the boat. Looming above them, he used a complex system of ropes that stretched across the cave like a spiderweb to navigate through the blackness.

The boat moved soundlessly. The family looked up. If felt like they were looking at a star-studded sky, miles from civilization and light pollution. Thousands and thousands of star-like lights twinkled above them. Some were brighter than others; some seemed farther away. It felt like they were in another world.

They drove to the other cave right afterwards; it was only a few minutes down the road. The second cave would require more walking – over a mile – and they were in a much smaller group; there were only about fifteen people on their tour. The family was acutely aware of the fact that on this trip, no one else had young children.

Their tour guide was a lovely, knowledgeable woman who learned everyone’s names and countries/states of origin (France, Texas, Canada) before they had entered the cave. After she finished the introductions, she gave some instructions and told them a little about what they were going to see. Then she cried, “Let’s all throw our arms in the air!” to get up some enthusiasm.

Everyone threw their arms in the air. Cora was in Mommy’s arms. “Except you!” said the tour guide, and so Mommy didn’t throw her arms in the air, just jiggled them a little. But something mysterious happened during that jiggle. No one ever knew what, except Cora. They were in the middle of the room, so Cora didn’t bump into anything. But her little face twisted into a grimace. She let out a whimper but it was clear she had more to say. She started drawing air into her lungs in preparation, and her expression became darker and darker. She drew in more and more and more air. Mommy tensed. “She didn’t like the joke,” said someone. Mommy started edging backwards, but there wasn’t anywhere to go.

There was a moment of stillness, of anticipation and dread. And then Cora let out an ear-splitting scream that turned into a roar of anger and pain. “Shh! Shh!” Mommy cried desperately, trying to shove a pacifier into her mouth and looking furtively at the other people on the trip. Cora snatched the pacifier angrily and tried to throw it onto the cave floor, but Mommy caught it in time. Cora continued to scream. Between screams, however, she was able to sob out the word “BONK!” and point to her knee. “Did you bonk your knee?” Mommy asked, confused. She leaned over and kissed Cora’s knee. Cora continued to cry, but less angrily, less intensely. And after a few more moments she accepted the pacifier and sucked away, still testy but quiet for a moment. Mommy avoided eye contact with everyone else on the trip for a little while.

They walked a little further on, down a magical spiral lit by yellow lights, which winked on slowly, one ring at a time, allowing them to see further and further and further down as they watched.

They walked down and down and down to the bottom of the spiral. Water dripped all the way from the ceiling through the center of the spiral, splashing eventually onto a large rock that the guide called the Dinosaur Tooth, because it looked like a dinosaur tooth.

They walked through a tunnel into the main area of the cave. They gathered close to the other people on the tour.

“PUHP,” stated Cora.

“I hope not,” said her mommy quietly.

“PUHP. POOP!” Cora said more loudly.

“Shh!” said her mommy, glancing around at the other people.

“POOP!” announced Cora, as loudly and clearly as she was able. “POOP!”

The pearly white stalactites and stalagmites and columns were staggeringly beautiful. Mommy kept asking Annie if she liked them, if she thought the cave was beautiful, and what she was feeling.

“I’m scared,” Annie always answered. She didn’t say much else. She didn’t look particularly scared.

Mommy encouraged her to pick out the prettiest thing in the cave so they could take her picture in front of it. That way, she could show the picture during News at school (which is like Show and Tell) and tell her friends about it. Annie thought about it and then said that the most beautiful things were the lights along the path – which were sometimes orange and sometimes blue. She got very excited about the idea of taking a picture of the lights. So Mommy took a picture of the beautiful lights.

Cora got bored after a few minutes in the cave, and fell asleep in her mommy’s arms.

Afterwards Mommy and Daddy bought Annie and Cora an ice cream to share, and this was the best part of the caving trip for both girls. They shared it very well.

2 thoughts on “Day 8: Waitomo”

  1. Pingback: North Island Holiday – Year in New Zealand

  2. Love it! What great parents you two are!! Thank you ever so much for continuing to share your breathtaking stories of family life abroad.

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