Day 1: Tekapo

by Mary Beth

It was time for our last big holiday in New Zealand. We had explored the North Island, the northern end of the South Island, but we had yet to travel south, to explore the rugged beauty of the southern half of the South Island. We had meant to go before wintertime – but between flooding and COVID and other circumstances, we had put it off. This meant it was not only a cold trip, but a dark one, too.

The trip started unpropitiously. It was chilly, with intermittent drizzle and no sign of sun. The girls were bundled into the car in the morning and we drove off into the rain.

Cora was okay with driving in the car. She was willing to give it a chance, since Annie was excited, and since she had a book to read. It was a book she liked. So she stayed calm, and read her book, and resigned herself to the 5-point restraints that held her in place.

About two to three minutes passed, and then the situation went downhill.

She finished her book, along with the replacement book I gave her. She didn’t want any of the toys that were offered to her. She was done with the car trip. She needed to get out. She needed to get out immediately. She had no choice but to scream.

We all knew that there was only one thing that would appease Cora: pirate music. Cora has been exposed to every style of music under the sun. She has always preferred male singers, singing baritone aggressively. When I first started singing “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest” in my deepest voice, she fell in love instantly – and when we switched to a recording, it was an immediate hit. So we turned on our Pirate Playlist, starting with “Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum”. Cora quieted instantly, and felt at peace. She felt so soothed that she went to sleep.

Annie also enjoys pirate music, so she was happy to listen to the Pirate Playlist. She got a bit carsick so after awhile she was unhappy, and at times had an irresistible urge to hurl her body against the car seat restraints and scream “Get me out of here!” But we played other songs once Cora was asleep, and talked, and played games. We introduced her to Twenty Questions, which she referred to as Seven Questions for the rest of the trip. We narrowed it down to include only animals, to make it a little easier. Round three started like this:

Peter: Is it a bird?

Me: Yes!

Annie: Is it a cow?

Me: No.

Peter: Is it small?

Me: Yes.

Annie: Is it a mammal?

Me: No, it’s a bird.

Annie: Is it a house?

Me: No.

Our first start was Lake Tekapo, one of the more beautiful lakes in the South Island. The cold drizzle transitioned into a cold, steady rain. The girls got on their gumboots and raincoats and mittens and hats. They saw a desolate playground and were overjoyed. Cora was torn between a desire to jump into every single puddle in the parking lot, and to go play in the playground; she finally decided on a compromise wherein she would jump in every single puddle as she meandered across the parking lot towards the playground. Annie made a beeline for the playground. I grabbed Cora and dragged her across the parking lot. Everything was soaking wet.

We had had the presence of mind to bring a towel, so I dried off the playground equipment. As soon as I dried it off, it got wet again because it was raining. I continued to dry everything off, because that’s the kind of dedicated mom I am. The girls did not seem to notice or care.

We went to a restaurant, hoping that if we just gave it time, the rain would stop. This was a mistake because the girls, after so long in the car, were like caged animals – only instead of being released to freedom, they were released into a slightly larger cage. Cora could not bring herself to stop moving even for an instant. She went in and out and in and out and in and out of her high chair (no high chair can hold our Cora, who can wriggle her way out of any restraints except her car seat restraints – and she is working on those). The girls climbed around on the padded bench, attempting to climb up the walls and go under the table and basically behaving like wild undomesticated animals. I would have liked to have pretended I didn’t know them, that they were someone else’s animals, but it was hard when they were crawling all over me and calling me “Mommy”.

Afterwards, I forced everyone to hike along the edge of the lake, because I was not going to let a little rain stop us from achieving our goals, and one of our goals was to see the famous picturesque little church at the edge of Lake Tekapo. No one else was really interested but luckily they did not have any choice.

Cora ripped off her mittens after a few seconds, then asked me to put them back on. I put them back on, laboriously because her fingers kept going into the thumb-pouch. I carefully tucked them up inside her coat so her wrists wouldn’t get cold. She stared at the mitten for a few seconds. Then she ripped it off again, and asked me to put it back on. It was very cold. I put it back on again. Annie and Peter had meandered on slowly but were still far ahead. I carried her. She removed her mittens again.

Cora has dipped her hand into a muddy puddle. She is disgusted by the fact that it is now wet and dirty.

We paused by the edge of the water to take pictures and to heave rocks at the ducks who were coming over to ask for food. The latter activity was Cora’s idea. It was difficult to tell if it was her intention to throw rocks directly at the ducks or if she was just trying to heave them into the water. I didn’t worry too much about the ducks because even if it was the former scenario, her aim was poor and it would have to be a very stupid, slow duck that was injured by her.

The walk was less than half a mile. It is amazing how long it can take a toddler to go this distance – and yet how fast she can go if she wants to. Cora has stamina to go this distance but she lacks the interest. Unfortunately she found that there were puddles along the route, and she had to jump in them and do a happy stomping wiggle dance in each one.

Cora, in a puddle
Cora, not in a puddle. This picture was taken seconds before Cora burst into tears. Such is the magic of photography, you might almost think she was having a good time
Annie was ordered to smile. This is her best approximation.

And then Cora’s hands got cold. Sadly there were no mittens on her hands at this point to protect them from the cold wet rain, and they were red and frozen. She wept. I tried the mittens again but she shouted at me and ripped them off before I had gotten them on, and tried to throw them into the mud. I breathed on her little fingers to warm them up, but we had a long way to go so eventually I forced us all to march on, carrying her. Peter ran back to the car and drove around to meet us at the famous church, so we wouldn’t have the tearful forced march back again to the car. Fun fun fun!

The forced march involved a beautiful bridge. The scenic church is over to the left.

Only one happy person here!

But the high point of the first day for the girls was the arrival at our new house. It was clear that the owners of the house had children. There was an entire closet full of toys, including bags and bags full of pink and purple, the plastic molded into shapes vaguely reminiscent of people or ponies, with horrifyingly large eyes and deformed distorted bodies suggestive of genetic disease or the twisted mind of someone trying to appeal to little girls. Annie was overjoyed. She felt like she had won the lottery. She adopted her usual candy-sweet high-pitched voice that she uses with her tiny large-eyed toys (or with her sister, when she is trying to get Cora to do something she wants), and plunged into elaborate stories involving people and ponies being nice to each other, having birthday parties, taking turns doing fun things, etc. Nothing ever goes wrong. Annie’s make-believe world would be a lovely but somewhat boring place to live.

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