This article was published in COSMOS Magazine as part of a writing competition on animal migration. I won 😀
Late last year the National Geographic Channel ran a series of fantastic shows on the Great Migrations of the animal world. Monarch butterflies, nomadic elephants and herds of bleating zebras graced our screen and entertained the children. One of my personal favourites was the red crab from Christmas Island. Each mating season millions of these land animals make the move from the rainforest to the beach to lay eggs and propagate the species. On the way they have to contend with car tyres, commuter trains and the yellow crazy ant, which has decimated the crustacean population. I think the reason I am so fond of these single-minded creatures is their dogged determination to get to and from the beach in spite of the adversity that awaits them, much like the coastal migration we humans undertake every Christmas holidays affectionately known as – The Sydney Summer Evacuation.
Every year, as if spurned on by the arrival of the summer solstice, families of bipedal gnus work themselves into a frenzy in preparation for the long and perilous northern road trip. In what can only be described as a miracle of nature, large metallic beasts, engorged with human detritus roll along the tar in a honking, hooting symphony of sound and colour. This is not a trip for the faint hearted though. As the mechanised mammoths plod along in the intense heat and humidity the symbiotic relationship between the four-wheeled host and its two-legged parasites gets severely tested. In an effort to make ‘good time’ the poor, ever-obedient animal often gets pushed beyond its boundaries and many end up being herded away by one of its blue-flashing cousins.
In one of the more gruesome spectacles, the many McCrocodiles that lurk beside the busy stretch of bitumen between Hornsby and the Gold Coast often pick off weary travelers. These ambush predators decorate themselves in brightly coloured plumage to attract the adolescent humans and entice them to stop with promises of fried fat coated in sodium chloride. Even the lure of eleven secret herbs and spices can prove too hard to resist for the tense iDad teetering on the edge of insanity. Sadly, many of the older and weaker creatures are frequently found by the side of the road hissing and steaming in the last throws of life as their perplexed passengers look on aghast.
Two weeks later, as if drawn by some invisible magnetic force, these pitiful critters will endure hardship all over again – in the opposite direction. It is an anthropomorphic adventure the likes of which are not seen anywhere else in the world.
Yours truly has undertaken this odyssey on many occasions and has lived to tell the tale. I hope that my advice below will help you to plan your next great migration.
A portable DVD player will distract even the crankiest child. However, as most cars only have one or two accessory charging points, which are usually filled with teenager’s iPods, make sure you bring plenty of spare batteries. Sure you can pick extras up at the service station, for three times the price, but if money was no object then why aren’t you flying? Also ensure that you have comfortable earphones for the little movie goer. After listening to Finding Nemo for hours on end I was really wishing that Bruce the shark would recant on his slogan, “Fish are friends, not food.”
Tip 2. Resist the temptation to allow your teenage son to play his iPod through the car stereo.
I like to think that I have a rather eclectic taste in music, but screaming death metal at any volume is too loud. It is especially offensive after your five-year-old daughter has finally gone to sleep. This is your time for peace and quiet. Nemo has been found, the Little Mermaid got her man, Barbie is still a fairy princess and everything is right with the world. Why spoil it with a toneless howl bellowed from the diaphragm of a psychotic wannabe rock star?
“But dad, it’s a love song. Listen to the lyrics.”
“You mean there are actually words to this banshee’s wail.”
“Yeah. See! He misses his girlfriend who got run over by a freight train.”
“Lets listen to Cold Chisel.”
“Old stuff is rubbish.”
The sulking teenager goes back to his earphones and begins to actively destroy his aural capacity with a sound that is best described as someone trying to scream over the top of a whining jet engine.
Tip 3. Not all sunscreen is created equally.
Everyone knows that under the harsh Australian sun an SPF factor of 30 or higher is essential if you want to go out and play. What a lot of you probably don’t know is that the wrong type of sunscreen can really put a dent in your day. Holiday dollars never seem to go as far as you had planned so this year iDad tried out some budget branded lotion in order to save a few cents. Big mistake.
The first problem I noticed was that the cream itself had the consistency of molten tar and a smell that reminded me of industrial paint. Rubbing it on my children was an excruciating experience. Ensuring that your five-year-old is sitting still is a hard enough job at the best of times. When there is a beach to get to this task becomes practically impossible.
I spent hours coating the kids in white treacle only to find that it washed right off within thirty minutes of hitting the surf. This became my second problem. Luckily my children have great outdoor skin inherited from their Lebanese ancestry. iDad on the other hand does not and by the end of the first day even the lobsters were laughing at me.
Tip 4. Sweet treats are great to keep the kids quiet on those long drives, but not so good to clean out of the upholstery.
Regardless of the week-long scorching third degree burn that eventually managed to exfoliate ninety percent of my six-foot frame, our holiday was a great success. With the car packed and extra batteries in the centre console we began the long journey home. I had purchased some lollies to distract the kids from the various fast food restaurants we would pass along the way and before we were one third home the complaints started.
“I don’t feel good daddy.”
“What’s wrong little man?”
“My tummy hurts.”
Being somewhat of an expert with motion sickness I know exactly what to do.
“Adjust the air conditioner so that the cool air is blowing on your face. That’ll make you feel better.”
As my eight-year-old leaned forward to do as he was told his breakfast, lunch and a dozen or so jellybeans exited his oesophagus, poured into the aircon outlet and all over the carpet. His brother, who had been feeling ill himself but had suffered in silence, followed suit and proceeded to coat his siblings in the same masticated and partly digested mush.
I don’t remember the name of the backwater burg we stopped in but I will never forget the barely stifled guffaws from the locals as five kids and their father stood staring blankly at the barf bag my Landcruiser had become.
My final tip for surviving the holidays is to make sure you have a change of clean clothes inside the car. Climbing onto the roof in forty-two degree heat to rummage through the luggage when you are already sunburned is no fun. Accidentally giving your teenage son dirty socks to wear is a stench worthy of its own postcode. Combining that aroma with congealing bile that you cannot get out of the air conditioner is… well I’m going to leave that to your imagination.
At long last our arduous journey is at an end. As the family wagon pulls up inside the garage children leap from open doors like baboons escaping a lion, leaving iDad with half a dozen suitcases to unpack and a mountain of washing to get through. Thirty minutes later the banshee is shrieking abuse from the stereo upstairs, the youngsters are watching Nemo yet again and the teenagers are demanding to know,
‘What’s for dinner?’
Following on from a recent visit to Sydney Children’s Hospital (God Sakes poked a bamboo stake into Granny’s eyeball) and with all the free time I have thanks to my insomnia, I was inspired to write a new iDad story for you.
Ladies and gentlemen, for your edification and entertainment, I present iDad Number 5.
‘ittle dis, ‘ittle dat.
God Sakes loved small toys and was forever picking up Matchbox cars and Fisher Price people. His favourite however were the miniature dinosaurs that Santa had brought him. He knew all their names from Ankylosaurus to Velociraptor, and watching him interact with his own make-believe world was magical. The tiny figurines would fight, argue, play together and team up against the cave men (plastic soldiers) if the need arose. It was a lovely game, sometimes shared with Granny but mostly spoiled by No.1 who would stampede through the middle of ‘Jurassic Park’ like a rabid Tyrannosaur.
Everything was ‘ittle to God Sakes so, following on from an afternoon of ‘ittle cars, ‘ittle dinos, ‘ittle soldiers and ‘ittle people, iDad suggested that for dessert God Sakes might like an ‘ittle yoghurt. The reply was delivered in a voice so deep he could have been singing ‘Old Man River’.
‘No dad! BIG YOGE.”
Unfortunately, tiny toys and God Sakes legendary appetite often collided with disastrous results. One afternoon God Sakes was sitting on the couch with wide brown eyes staring off into the distance as if in shock.
No answer from God Sakes but Granny had a humongous grin.
“What’s wrong with your brother?”
“He ate it,” said Granny doing his best Cookie Monster imitation.
The raised voice from iDad was enough to break God Sakes resolve and he burst into tears.
“I didn’t mean to, daddy. It just slipped down.”
My mind was whirling with all sorts of nasty possibilities. Is there a battery leaking toxic acid into his stomach? Or was there perhaps a rusty pin poking holes in my little boys innards? Regardless of the hideous images conjured up by my tortured brain and fertile mind, my exterior remained calm.
“What slipped down?”
More silence from God Sakes but not from Granny.
“He ate a marble dad.”
Blue Eyes caught the last piece of the conversation at the exact same time that God Sakes started coughing. One quick ambulance ride to the Prince of Wales Hospital, our home-away-from-home, and the five of us were staring up at the x-rays taken of my child’s insides.
“There it is dad.”
Granny was the first to find it. A small white circle about the size of the old one-cent coins was nestled in amongst the yogurt and lasagna. The radiographer chuckled. Obviously God Sakes wasn’t the first child to swallow something other than food during his career and I briefly wondered what other weird and wonderful surprises this man had found in his fellow human beings.
Eventually we were advised to take him home and check his stool over the next few days to make sure he expelled the foreign object. I lost count of how many times we had to capture and examine God Sakes excreta but when we finally found the glass ball I made sure that the hand-held nylon icing sugar sieve we had used was completely and utterly destroyed. Even so, it was hard for me to eat cake for a while.
One thing that wasn’t ‘ittle in our house were the night terrors and poor No.1 got these big time. Quite often during the first ten years of his life, Blue Eyes and I would be woken with blood curdling screams from No.1 as he battled some hideous demon from the depths of his imagination. During a family vacation many years ago No.1 was snuggled up fast asleep between Aunty Dee and her friend Boo, who has been part of our family for more years than she probably wants to admit 😉 Around 2:00 a.m., No.1 launched into one of his trademark kicking, thrashing and screaming fits. Boo was gobsmacked and a little frightened herself.
“Oh, I should have told you. Sometimes he gets nightmares.”
No.1 launched a sockless foot and a squeal at an invisible monster, almost colliding with the bewildered girl’s forehead.
“Nightmares! What do we do?”
“I don’t know. Go get his mother I suppose.”
Blue Eyes brought No.1 into to bed with us as Dee rolled over and went straight to sleep. Boo lay on her back staring at the ceiling all night waiting for her heart to stop pounding.
Thankfully our little boy rarely ever remembered the horrors that invaded his sleep but that did make it difficult for us to diagnose the cause. Then one night we caught a break. It was a particularly nasty series of nightmares that culminated in the entire street hearing our child screaming that ‘bats were biting his tongue’. It was the first time he had ever spoken about his bad dreams either awake or asleep so we quickly noted the words down and mentioned it to the doctor the next day. Apparently one of the side-effects of food allergies is that the sufferer can be plagued by night terrors as their body tries to cope with the allergic reaction. Not only was our little guy suffering from external eczema but his tongue, throat and entire digestive tract was riddled with itchy lesions. We had finally identified the cause and with a sensible control over his diet, we could manage the effects.
The doctor also encouraged us to talk to him about his experiences so that they wouldn’t seem so scary. As No.1 learned to express what was happening to him the nightmares became known as Night Bears, which was a term he found easier to deal with. It also helped when Blue Eyes brought home a fuzzy teddy so that he had his own good luck ‘Night Bear’ to look after him.
Coming soon: A six pack of iDad – aka More Cake.
iDad © Matthew Green 2010