Storm over Sydney

It stormed every day for a few weeks in December, and I kept missing it: either it didn’t hit my suburb or (on more than one occasion) I was taking a nap. But I finally managed to get some photos:

Storm cell over Rozelle

Storm heads east over Haymarket

Full set here.

2015: beginning mediocrity

As I said, I’ve always enjoyed Julia’s end of year posts but haven’t found that the questions worked for me. Likewise, I like the idea of planning for the year to come but find that the resolutions model doesn’t work for me. Likewise, I like Ju’s yearly theme (process here) but I’m not sure it would suit me every year.

But for 2015, it seems somewhat closer than resolutions do. It feels like this year has a theme along the lines of Awakening or Beginning.

This goes with some external changes. The biggest one is that as my elder child starts school, the end of the time that I have small children in my household is in sight. It’s not close as such: my younger child doesn’t start for four more years. But it is there, it’s a thing that is coming. Early in the year, the start of school and some changes in my daycare arrangements mean some changes in the amount of work I can do, with bigger changes coming this year. With the end of my PhD in 2012 and (briefly) 2013, and the forthcoming end of small-child-parenting, but a continuation of work, I suppose it makes sense that a lot of what springs to mind is beginnings outside of work. What is my life going to contain as my children grow away from me and into themselves?

Another odd emerging theme is Mediocrity, which I intend as value-neutral thus: I have had a tendency as an adult to do either things that I’m really good at (for obvious reasons) or really bad at (less clear why, but it was presented to me as a teen as essentially penance for having things that I’m good at, so possibly that). And it occurs to me that what I’m still failing to do is things that I’m OK at but not motivated to be exceptional at. And it leads to an inaccurate identity. Specifically, despite the fact that I take oodles of photographs, and have spent some time on self-education about photography and that there’s a small audience (family) who like my photographs, I don’t describe myself as a photographer, let alone as an artist. (When I said this to Andrew, he also observed that I do a lot of writing but don’t seem to call myself a writer, let alone an artist.) But while I have no aspirations whatsoever to be a professional photographer, and I think any professional writing I do will always be in service of some other job description or goal, that’s not actually a reason to not call myself an artist. Believing I’m an artist (writer, photog) doesn’t imply either professional or exceptional.

I have some thoughts about things to explore on these themes, although I suspect that the real projects are yet to emerge.

Music. The above exactly describes my former musicianship: I’m reasonable at it, I’m neither terrible nor exceptional. So naturally I’ve never played music as an adult.

I end up getting stuck on which instrument to play, since I can’t see having time for ALL THE AMAZING INSTRUMENTS. Obviously, the perfect is the enemy of the good here. Likely candidates are recorder (because I used to play it well), voice, guitar and keyboard (those because they’re useful for popular music).

Calligraphy. Given what a fidgeter I am, it’s always puzzled me that I’ve never taken up knitting or crochet (or smoking). I eventually determined that it’s because I don’t have any use for the end results. I don’t wear scarves or jumpers in anything like the volume needed to create or sustain a serious crafting habit, nor do I know many other people who would welcome them as gifts. (In the smoking case, you can probably guess at the reasons I don’t do it.) Calligraphy seems like a meditative craft where I wouldn’t feel nearly as much guilt about discarding most of my output sooner or later.

In keeping with the theme of mediocrity, I need to remind myself that this is a JFDI thing: I don’t need to take classes or go through some kind of apprenticeship, I can just buy some pens or brushes and do it.

Language learning. I think 2015 is less likely to have time for this one. It has the same problem as music; I get a bit stuck on choosing the “right” language to learn. I think there’s three real candidates: Spanish and Latin, because I’ve studied them both to an elementary level in the past (a few thousand words of vocabulary, a couple of regular verb tenses), and Latvian because my husband and children are (as of just a few weeks ago) Latvian citizens. (The whole idea of what it means or should mean for them to be Latvian when we don’t speak the language nor live in the culture is puzzling me.)

It also only belatedly occurred to me that I can pick and choose my language proficiency if I want to. Obviously conversing with native speakers on a wide range of topics is a common goal of language learning and one of the more useful ones, but it’s also a frankly intimidating one. If I want to be able to read the language without speaking it, or be able to talk about its linguistics without either reading or speaking it, or have those as intermediate goals, those are OK goals too. I don’t have to do all the things, all the time.

2014 in threes

Answers to my own end of year prompts.

Three moments of 2014

1. January, and deep night in my living room. My induction has taken effect, nineteen days (yes, one, nine) after my due date and she will be born in four hours. I have rarely spent time in my living room in the darkness and I labour in the glow of quite a few LEDs. My life is measured three minutes on and one minute off: in between contractions, we work down our mental packing checklist, and I walk and walk.

2. June, and deep night over the Pacific Ocean, 10km up in the air and about 1000km from any significant features on the map (we were south of Hawaii), most of the plane asleep around me, including, incredibly, my five month old baby who I have nonsensically taken on a business trip to the United States. My seat is reclined and I reached to close my window shade behind me. I partially dislocate my shoulder joint and spend ten seconds gazing into the vortex of getting a non-covered pre-existing condition incurred on a plane treated in the United States. Then my shoulder joint goes back into place. I spend some time awake afterwards.

3. August, sunshine over Thredbo. I am on the magic carpet — Syd’s Snow Runner — riding up to the easiest run, so shallow that when I am on the run I keep having to use my poles to push myself along. There are young eucalypts across the creek to my left. I am smiling because it is my first day of skiing and I haven’t fallen over constantly and when my instructor looks at me she says things like “you have good balance!” rather than “you really really try hard”.

Bonus:

Also August, standing in a crowded underwater tunnel at the Sydney Aquarium, really really pissed off and seeing the sharks swim around me and thinking that no, I absolutely am not in any way done with SCUBA, not even close.

Three meals of 2014

1. April, Café Sydney. I can’t remember for the life of me what I ate. (Maybe pork belly?) But the point is, this is our yearly tradition. Instead of birthday presents, we go out for lunch at a restaurant of finer quality than we usually do some time between our birthdays in February and April.

This tradition was about to be killed off at all of three years in, because of the new baby. But unexpectedly, the new baby had a childcare place at three months old. I was very ambivalent about it, but it did get me to this lunch with Andrew, the first time A and I had ever been in a different suburb. (To this day, we’ve not spent a night apart.)

2. October, a Sydney Picnic Co picnic with Andrew on Cockatoo Island, which turns out to not have great seating if you aren’t camping, so we balanced oddly on a steep hill. Those picnics, in addition to being expensive, are really really huge, so it’s basically a day’s worth of eating. But they really are delicious scandalously expensive enormous picnics. I think the Le Dauphin has spoiled me for any other cheese.

3. The chicken, fig and quinoa salad at one of my local cafes, which I’ve had a few times. I think this is the first year I’ve had quinoa, which I feel is a bit embarassing (I think of myself as reasonably adventurous with food, and I am in that I like most things, where I fall down is trying them in the first place). There’s no single visit to the cafe that stands out, but the salad is memorable.

Three photos of 2014

The number one photo of 2014 is a photo I haven’t put on the web and won’t: a photo of me seconds after my daughter was born (she’s curled up in my arms, blue, with the cord still alive) with an expression of “WHAT THE HELL? THIS IS NOT HAPPENING” on my face. If you know me well, ask me to show it to you some day.

Here’s some runners up:

Newborn hiding!
My daughter’s face, when she was an hour old. She already looks like herself.

Sibling love
One of the earlier photos of my children together, when my daughter was two days old and still rosy, and apparently feeling pretty pleased with the world somehow.

Storm cell over Rozelle
One of many December storms bears down from Rozelle.

Three pleasures of 2014

1. For all but eight days and nine hours of 2014, I wasn’t pregnant. This is so amazing I can’t even begin to explain. I first learned the details of pregnancy from reading one of Sheila Kitzinger’s pregnancy guides (probably The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth) that my mother had, when I was seven and eight. I was fascinated. I learned so many things from it, from what episiotomies are to simple genetics (as it applies to blood typing) to the various breech presentations, all sorts of things.

While being pregnant was an interesting finale to this nearly lifelong project of reading about it, essentially every other part of the experience sucked. The first time sucked because it was so medicalised, and the second time sucked because I had a non-stop three year old to look after, and because I had an anterior placenta and couldn’t really touch the fetus or feel her all that much and because organising labour childcare was, no kidding, a huge undertaking and massive emotional journey. (Suddenly I sympathise with social inductions a lot more.)

Anyway, that’s really a 2013 reflection. But from my first post-birth shower after A was born, in 2014 I wasn’t pregnant any more and I sure did enjoy all that stair-climbing and walking down the street and being able to get into and out of cars in narrow parking spots and into and out of public toilet stalls and all the other non-pregnant accomplishments of the year.

2. Losing arguments to my older kid when I am definitely for sure right. For example, I cannot win an argument with him about when his birthday is, what day tomorrow is, which way is north, or what the rules of any game are. His bush lawyer skills are very annoying on issues like bathtime and whether watching three Pixar movies in a single day counts as “a lot” of TV or merely “some” TV, say, but on the simple clear facts of the world that he categorically denies, they’re usually fun.

3. Many many things about babies that I’d forgotten once and am already forgetting again. I enjoy babies a lot, contrary to my expectations prior to having them. (I thought I was having kids in order to have a two year old. Not so much.) The one that I always think of is the link between their breathing and their attention. Huff-huff-huff as the baby stares at coloured lights, or learns to work its hand.

I also got an odd pleasure from realising that while I love babies, I don’t miss the baby when the child gets older. So I didn’t feel as ambivalent about the disappearance of baby things as they marched off one by one in A than I did the first time when V was a baby. I am happy to have the time, and then for it to be done as well.

Three news stories from 2014

1. Again with 2013 for a moment: I recall that a frequent style of commentary following the Federal election in September 2013 was “the incoming Abbott government knows this is a centrist social democracy, stand down from the panic station, there will merely be tinkering at the margins.”

So my first story is the May 2014 budget, which I hardly think is tinkering at the margins, and the ensuing year in Federal politics spinning around whether it will pass. I won’t make predictions; I notice that the predictions of people who regard themselves as politics tragics or even insiders make terrible ones. I was relieved that other people also thought it was terrible.

2. The death of Reza Berati. The pregnant women and new mothers in offshore refugee detention. I don’t have a lot to add about Australia’s treatment of refugees. I give money to organizations that I hope are better placed than I am to make the best changes.

3. The Lindt cafe siege. I’ve been to that cafe three or four times; one of them was the night of my wedding. (I can’t recall, but I think we got there after it had closed for the evening.) Katrina Dawson’s youngest child is the same age as my eldest. I can think about it only in little fragments.

Three sensations from 2014

1. The smells of the baby’s head. A lot of people sniff babies in order to smell some special baby smell that I’ve never really picked up on (babies smell of milk and poo to me), but after a while she started napping with her father in the mornings, and so for a while she smelled disconcertingly of him. Later, she began to smell of my perfume oils. Always amusing.

2. The taste of Rekorderlig ciders. Which, sure, is mainly the taste of sugar. But we drank Rekorderlig many nights as an indulgence while Andrew was on his six weeks of paternity leave+annual leave, so I have a fondness for it (in addition to generally liking sickly sweet things). It tastes of long lazy days inside the house with a newborn that did a hell of a lot of sleeping.

3. The smell of BPAL’s Vice (“a deep chocolate scent, with black cherry and orange blossom”) which I really hated when I first tried it, but returned to again and again. Apparently I want to smell like a chocolate truffle. (I’m wearing Carnal right now, same thing.)

Three sadnesses of 2014

1. So much sadness through a glass: more than one friend has lost a mother in 2014, among other deaths of the family and friends of friends. ♥ all.

2. None of my grandparents will meet my daughter, or vice versa. They will be even more of an old tale seldom told than my own great-grandparents are to me.

3. I am a little sad that I did not have my planned homebirth. I think in reality it would have been rather flustered to get the room cleared, and then Andrew distracted by being a gopher. But my favourite bit of labour was at home by a long way.

Three plans for 2015

1. This is stretching the definition of “plan”, but Andrew and I will continue our thing where two or three times a year, we take a day off work to have a “date day” while the kids are at childcare (well, soon to be school in V’s case). In 2015 whole new vistas are opening up because I have Friday care, and we can go to the many many places that are only open for lunch on Fridays!!!! My family Secret Santa gave us a voucher for The Boathouse, so that’s a good start. I’m also going to go back to Skyzone.

2. More concretely, we’re planning to travel to Montréal in April to see my sister-in-law before the baby turns two and needs her own seat. This is likely to be the only time we go overseas as a foursome for quite some time, other than to New Zealand. Having flown across the Pacific alone with each child before, I know what I’m getting into: I anticipate the flights will be exactly as horrible as you’d imagine.

3. We’re also looking into skiing again, probably in the first week of September. V is so excited that he insists most days that it is about to be winter. It’s complicated by needing to choose between paying one billionty dollars to do it in school holidays versus incurring the wrath of the nation-state by doing it in school term.

Three hopes for 2015

1. I hope to overcome my Australian political inertia where I tend to get trapped thinking that because I am not doing all that I could do, that doing small things and doing nothing are morally equivalent. They most certainly are not.

2. I hope to find the money, time and energy to go diving once or twice. Energy is the main problem, with a 6am-ish wakeup for morning diving and on from there.

3. I hope to see my daughter and her same-age cousin having serious fun in each other’s company at some point during the year.

End of year question template: the year in threes

The end of the Gregorian calendar year is an increasingly significant time for me, with both of my children born in January, as well as, sadly, having had three of my four grandparents die in the last months of different years. And as the children get older, the school year forces itself back on our notice to go with the long standing summer traditions of our household. (Which are, for reference, Christmas and the Boxing Day test. I’m trying to get the solstice to sneak in there.)

And so I’ve always enjoyed Julia’s end of year reflections (see 2014’s version) but I’ve never found the question set resonated, and increasingly less so as I get older. (Did anyone close to you give birth in 2014? Me, but I don’t think the question envisages that answer.)

So I thought I’d come up with my own set that I can do each year. They’re broad to the point of banality, but I want to leave room for answers. Here they are, by all means use them if they suit you too.

Three moments of YEAR.

Three meals of YEAR.

Three photos of YEAR.

Three pleasures of YEAR.

Three news stories from YEAR.

Three sensations from YEAR.

Three sadnesses of YEAR.

Three plans* for YEAR+1.

Three hopes for YEAR+1.

* Not resolutions, but plans. Things I don’t need to resolve to do because they’re already in progress.

As a side-note, my Internet archeology is not good enough to find the source of the questions that Julia uses. The earliest year I can find them being used is 2004 (here and here) and then not again until 2007, and then just a few people each year until in 2011 it either got a lot more popular or Google has indexed it better. Anyone got a source earlier than December 2004?

The Sydney Project: Skyzone

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

When I say “child-focussed”, I really mean “Mary’s inner-child-focussed”. Much like Wet n Wild, Skyzone, which is a warehouse full of trampolines, was really more for me.

The structure is that you buy access for an hour. I don’t know if they were full up for our hour, but it was the middle of the day on a weekend, which tend to be their popular times. If so, their capacity management is pretty good overall.

It didn’t start off very promisingly, with V and Andrew queueing up for a quite a while for the foam pits:

Waiting for the trampolines

I was a bit grumpy, because when there’s a one hour access window, spending most of it in queues doesn’t seem fun. Even if there were moments of fun to be had:

Into the pit

But the foam pits have the worst of the queues. V soon moved onto the basketball trampoline, and actually his shot was half-decent:

Basketball trampoliningNearly!

We spent most of the hour on the free trampolines, for which there aren’t queues:

Kids bouncing

And which still have ample fun for adults:

Foot clapping

(nb, Andrew is not jumping on the person who has fallen, it’s a trick of perspective. You know, if you wondered!)

Of course, things that you recall being easy as a kid always turn out to be an epic workout. What surprised me was the abdominal involvement called for in lifting my legs up in order to bounce from trampoline to trampoline. And the foam pit is a killer if, like me, you can’t really haul yourself out of, say, a pool without using a ladder (I have a shoulder injury that makes it difficult for me to bear weight and pull up), because it’s about five feet deep and full of… foam.

But it was great fun. If we lived just a little closer I suspect I’d probably just about live there. I think we had a bit more fun than he did, but then, if you’re following this series you know that he believes that warehouses full of trampolines and parks full of waterslide rafts are a fairly normal way to spend your time. He enjoyed it though. And it’s one of those unicorn physical activities that actually noticeably tired him.

Cost: $16 per hour per jumper, an additional $2 to buy their mandatory socks (which you can re-use). On weekdays there’s a toddler area which is $10 for a toddler and carer. Book in advance online, they often sell out their weekend timeslots.

Recommended: yup! Just a caution that on hot days, their air conditioning is not up to the task. Take water and pick your time of day.

More information: Skyzone website.

The Sydney Project: SEA Life Sydney Aquarium

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

The attraction that nearly killed off The Sydney Project.

One of V’s friends A (as opposed to his sister A) had an annual pass to the SEA Life aquarium, and we thought, “well, why not, we should get one too”. We ordered online, per the website we showed up at the aquarium to pick up our pass and… waited.

And waited. And waited.

Shark tunnel
Well, to be fair, it did serve to remind me how much I love scuba diving.

They manage the annual pass process by having someone in the gift shop put them through. The queue was close to an hour in length, especially since it’s possible to impulse purchase an annual pass, and the impulse purchasers are let into the gift shop through another door and served first. I guess those of us who’ve already paid are a secondary consideration. So are our children, twitching with impatience surrounded by millions of pretty trinkets they can’t touch. So are our friends, waiting outside the gift shop so we can finally go in.

Annual pass finally issued (I have a very unattractive and grumpy photo on mine), we went inside. V was extremely impatient and darted inside. I moved to go after him when someone stepped in my way holding up a camera for the nearly obligatory family photo that they try and sell to you at the exit. “Photo?” he suggested, physically trying to herd me to the right place.

“My four year old has just run off, and I can’t see him,” I replied.

His smile faltered a little, but he kept herding me and getting between me and the corridor that V had run into. People have pointed out to me already that no doubt he was on commission, but — no. When a preschool aged child is running off in your attraction, you don’t grab their mother for a photo of the moments afterwards. “Here’s a memento of you realising we don’t give a toss about your missing child.” No.

Proceeding through the aquarium: firstly, it’s full of narrow dark corridors. This is really incompatible with my child; it makes him behave like the attraction is a maze and there’s a prize for first to solve it. It was really lucky everyone involved had an annual pass, because two families had to race through the entire thing after him while he bellowed at the top of his lungs for A to come look at whatever shiny thing had briefly attracted his attention.

In addition, one of the two underwater viewing areas was closed, and the entire thing was packed with people from beginning to end.

Luckily the annual passes are for multiple attractions, so maybe I will get a review of Madame Tussauds or Sydney Tower Eye out of it.

Cost: $40 adults, $28 children, cheaper if you buy online for non-peak periods. Children three and under are free.

Recommended: not on weekends, no. It’s like a rave without any fun bits. I’ve been there before on weekdays and it’s slightly less crowded, but it still triggers some kind of maze-running instinct in my child.

More information: SEA Life Sydney Aquarium website.

The Sydney Project: Wet n Wild Sydney

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

I’m posting out of order: the SEA Life Sydney Aquarium and Skyzone are waiting. But I thought I’d get Wet n Wild Sydney up while their season passes are still on sale (I believe sales end December 24).

Spoiler: we really liked it! Much more than most reviews of Wet n Wild would have you expect.

All that bad press

Let’s talk about the negatives you may already know about.

Entry is very expensive and pretty much everything else is extra. Lockers? $10. (Oh, but the enticing looking big ones conveniently near the entrance? Those ones are $12.) There are a couple of rides that cost extra. You can’t bring your own food in unless it’s for a baby or for someone with special dietary needs. Food can easily come to $20 a head between a meal and snacks. Parking is $8 (if you pay at the park exit) or $10 (if you pay at the carpark exit). Etc etc. Budget something like 25% of your already plenty pricey admission again, more if you’re going alone.

The food is atrocious. It’s all gluggy, floppy burgers and chips cooked to equal floppiness. This links nicely to this supposedly being a kid-centric review (although really we were there because I like waterslides), in that V is a very fussy eater. When people picture fussy eaters, they tend to picture Wet n Wild’s menu: burgers and chips and chicken pieces. Yeah no, not really. V is almost entirely vegetarian and his emergency go-to foods are mostly various types of bread and baked goods. He does, luckily, eat chips, but we run into a lot of trouble at almost every “lowest common demoninator, give the kids a little treat Mum” place because of the meat. (This isn’t a review of Daydream Island, which is lucky because then I’d have to tell you about V trying to live for a week on Wet n Wild’s food. It was bad enough for seven hours.)

Wet n Wild’s food is actually not what I’d call expensive by Sydney eating-out standards: it’s about a $12 lunch. But it’s $12 that you have to spend on a burger and chips. Not impressed. Adult-wise, Andrew sized up the barista and decided that perhaps a mocha was best. She wasn’t wiping down the steam wand between uses.

Crowds are something that people complain about a lot. We went on a school term Friday rather than a weekend for that reason, and not an unseasonably warm day. Ride waits ranged from none to about 15 minutes, which is about the limit for a four year old. I think in future, we will probably plan to go on a weekday afternoon after school and take advantage of their cheaper post-3pm admission. (Even though there’s the new patrons coming in, the crowds were actually dropping way off from 2pm. We left at 5pm.)

I would be very very wary of ever going on a weekend, or in the school holidays. I’d also be wary of going on a day forecast to be hot: there’s some shade, but I think it wouldn’t be enough to beat off a Sydney scorcher. Weekdays. Afternoons. Mild weather.

Why it worked for us

Here’s one thing that gets negative reviews that I’m not complaining about for our family: the fact that they charge full admission for anyone who is 110cm tall or more, which includes a lot of four year olds. (V is about 115cm.) Don’t get me wrong, this would absolutely be annoying if you have any adult or tall child coming who can’t go on the rides or doesn’t want to, because they have no child carer or “limited rides” entry. You’re 110+cm? Full price for you. (I should note that the paths appeared wheel-accessible to me — we had a stroller with us but not an adult wheel user ­— and they do offer a discounted admission to people with disability cards and free carer admission in that case. Accessibility info here.)

But, for our family, they have us pegged, because here’s what I really liked about the park with a four year old: the rides don’t require that you can swim. I personally quite like being shot off the end of waterslides to sink or swim in a churning pool, but that’s because I can swim well. V cannot: he knows how to hold his breath when water hits his face and he can float and swim a few metres in a calm pool. I wouldn’t put him down a slide that ended in swimming in a churn pool yet if I wanted to see him again. So I had imagined that the day would involve a lot of staring longingly at the best slides while a parent went off to ride them.

But no. The Wet n Wild Sydney model is almost entirely that you go down the slides as a group on a huge raft. As long as you can hang on and follow instructions, you can ride. And the solo rides end in a very shallow long splash pool, so if you have the ability and reactions to lift your head up, you can breathe. So this made every ride for which V met the restrictions (some are minimum 120cm, and 360Rush is 120cm with a minimum weight of 35kg) accessible to him. A much better day than I had thought.

V is also a daring little kid, which is important, because after all, you are riding a raft on rapids. Carefully constructed rapids, yes, subjected to all kinds of safety modelling, under the eye of CCTV, but your kid’s hindbrain may not know that. I think it could easily be a tough day with a nervous kid.

As it was though, with a daring kid and stops for snacks and calming, we ended up spending seven hours there, much much longer than I’d planned, and when calculated at the hour level, the price comes down to similar to some of the other things I’ve reviewed.

Kid review

V’s favourite rides: “the racers!” The H2Go Racers were the second “grown-up” slides we took him on, which was a gamble because they’re solo, and in the second half of them, they’re also dark (Wet n Wild loves adding to the tension by having you ride in the dark). So some careful coaching went into what to expect, but it worked out well. Probably not a surprise for a child who can ski. The only issue with the Racers is that you win the race by, essentially, weight, and so Andrew and I worked out that we needed to wait for him to launch, then stand there and slowly count to ten before going ourselves, if he was to win. This wasn’t the staff’s favourite thing, they’re big on turnover.

That said, the staff were very comfortable with helping him. They launched him down the Racers because he’s a bit short to launch himself. They helped him out of the two person rafts and congratulated him. They’re very supportive of littler kids on the big rides.

He also enjoyed The Breakers (a two-person ride), where you go up a ramp with a water jet shooting you in the back before bumping down the slide, and volunteered himself and me for the Aqua Tube. I looked into it dubiously. “Buddy, you realise that this is entirely dark? And it’s going to be dark all the way to the end?” Sure, he said. And he seemed happy enough, but he didn’t volunteer to go on it again. Of the four-person rides, he enjoyed The Curler and Double BOWLSEye with Andrew but was too short for the rest.

We had expected to spend most of the visit in Wet n Wild Jr/Nickelodeon Beach, which is the children’s area with shallow slides and a little current they can float around in. As you can tell, we didn’t spend much time there, but V is still young enough to think that it was also pretty great. I think he would have been happy there if he was too short for the rest of the park, but probably this is the last year that would be true. (He’s 5 in January, so by the next season, he’ll be nearly 6.)

A (who is 11 months old and doesn’t walk yet) loves pools with Mama, but it turns out she doesn’t much like being sat in water without an adult to hold. Her favourite activity was thus pulling up to stand against a fence. If she was writing this review she would say: six hours of boredom ONE HOUR OF THE BEST FENCE OF BESTNESS. She squeezed in a whole day’s worth of cooing and squealing during her fence time.

Safety-wise, we did manage to get a “tour” of their first aid facilities, courtesy of V taking a nasty fall climbing up the stairs to some slides, and grazing the skin along four of his ribs. It started off badly, when we asked that tower’s “Aquatic Safety” staffer for directions to First Aid and she sounded puzzled and didn’t know. She suggested we go ask Guest Services at the other end of the park. However, 50 metres into the walk, a different staff member stared at us lugging a crying kid and came over to ask us what was up. He was appropriately horrified that we had not got good directions or an escort, and he pulled out a whistle, blew on it, and flagged another staff member over to show us to First Aid. I had half expected them to have a bored GP on staff for the look of the thing, but it was a paramedic and a nurse, which is fine (and for emergencies and first aid probably more appropriate). They have a nice big space with a few beds, basically a doctor’s office. They bandaided V up and gave him stickers and no doubt watched him for all the danger signs that I don’t even know about for shock or concussion.

For an hour or so, he didn’t want to slide any more, and we worried that he’d cracked a rib perhaps, but then suddenly he was watching Andrew on the Racers and then he announced “I want to slide again!”

Adult review

I can’t resist a quick adult review, and in any case, I’m recommending this as a family outing. Which may include adult slide lovers.

First, as above, a disappointment: the group-oriented model means that there aren’t a lot of solo rides and they aren’t the most fun ones either. I think you can go up the towers with four-person rafts and get grouped at the top (rides on those towers are The Curler, Riptide, Double Bowlseye, Tantrum, T5 and Bombora) but you’re supposed to pair yourself up for the two-person raft slides (Half-pipe, The Breakers, Typhoon and Aqua Tube). The two solo rides are H2Go Racers and 360Rush.

For adults, I’d say it isn’t the best solo day out, but I’d go there with friends.

We only went on one ride that was pretty much tweens/teens/adults only (due to the minimum weight): 360Rush. They position 360Rush as the most extreme water ride (“leave your loose jewellery with your friends who are too chicken to ride!”) because it’s the (near) free-fall one: you fall about 15 metres or so and then go around a 360° loop feet first. Andrew and I both did a 360Rush ride, and here’s our collective review: it’s over pretty damned quickly! Andrew’s report was pretty much: aaaaah, oh, now it’s over. Having heard that, I tried to pay attention, and so I got aaaah, huh I’m slowing, so that means this is the bit where I’m upside down, only I have no sense of direction, how strange, oh, now it’s over.

But that’s not to say it isn’t potentially scary. You wear a backboard (I guess to stop you flinging your head back and banging it), you get shut in a small capsule (I guess to position you safely, but also because they can find out if you’re too claustrophobic while it’s reversible), a voice counts down, and a trapdoor opens under your feet to drop you down. It’s all in the build-up. You need to be willing to trust in the machines. I’ve never dropped so fast, so I realised afterwards that I had a little bit of cartoon physics in my head, where I’d hover above the open trapdoor thinking “NOOOOOO”. But real physics doesn’t work like that. By the time you know the trapdoor is open, you’re about 5 metres below it.

It’s actually not a super-fun ride, because it’s so fast and there’s not a lot of sensory experience with it. The rush is good afterwards though. Assuming you’re OK with the fall and the confined space (and note: I am not normally especially thrilled about heights), it’s worth doing once so that you can downplay the experience to all your friends.

Summary

Cost: $79.99 for people 110cm+, $59.99 for people shorter than 110cm, age three and under is free. All 3yo+ admission is $49.99 after 3pm. Season passes from $119.99, so if you’re going more than once, you should probably buy one.

Recommended: yes, much more so than I’d dared to hope, but with the proviso that it’s even more expensive than the sticker price, and that you should pick a day that’s not going to be hot or crowded.

More information: Wet n Wild Sydney website.

Call for Submissions: Seventy-Ninth Edition @ Hoyden About Town

I’m the next host of the Down Under Feminists’ Carnival! Here’s the call for submissions:

The next edition of the Down Under Feminists Carnival is planned for 5 December, 2014 and will be hosted by Mary at Hoyden About Town or perhaps puzzling.org, as circumstances permit. Submissions to mary-carnival [at] puzzling [dot] org.

Submissions must be of posts of feminist interest by writers from Australia and New Zealand that were published in November. Submissions are due on 2 December at the latest, but it’ll be easier on Mary if you submit sooner rather than later. So submit early and often, please, and spread the word!

Submit away, please!

The right to forget, or, that one terrible road stop

I predict that soon the conversation will turn from the right to be forgotten to the right to forget.

Why so? Well, now Google Maps now tries to remember places I’ve been and include them in the maps it shows me. The trouble with this (ignoring any petty privacy, commercialisation, misc concerns you may be about to mention to me) is that there are some places that should be forgotten. In particular, all of Western Sydney’s commerce is now represented to me by one service station that we stopped at on a family trip because someone needed to use the loo, but couldn’t, because its loo was splattered with largely unspecified bodily fluids.

Get it together Google! This is even worse than the way my Youtube suggestions are now and forever filled with Thomas the Tank Engine videos because of an unfortunate and lengthy phase my son went through. I insist on not navigating Sydney in future primarily in terms of which horrible public toilet I am nearest.

 

Friday 14 November 2014

Today’s life lesson: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Useful, yes?

This year, my mother, Steph, and I are all working part-time, and so we have met in the Blue Mountains once a month or so, give or take, for a picnic.

Today was looking dicey as it was, with forecast temperatures of 35°C or so. That’s high for the mountains, where I’d normally think one would escape Sydney’s heat, but this is the new, improved Australian climate where the heatwaves come out from the desert, and those heatwaves do not play by any former rules about which are the cooler bits of the near-coast inhabited land and which are the warmer bits. To the desert heatwaves, everywhere is an opportunity for a blast furnace.

I felt super-organised and accomplished, remembering to bring hats for both children, food for both children, sunscreen, and a picnic blanket. Did you pick what I missed? No? I forgot a bib for A, so she ended up evenly smeared with yoghurt. It may be good for her skin? Steph didn’t come today so I can’t do any comparative parenting skills today. Actually, yes I can: my mother bought me a new dress, so she wins.

There was a decent breeze, which is great news for the picnickers sweltering away, but otherwise terrible, because wind and dry heat means fire.

This even occurred to me at the time. What didn’t occur to me was to change my plans for the return journey.

My mother had to leave at 2, but we had all day and I thought V might be interested in seeing Wentworth Falls. We unloaded in the carpark in one of the narrowest parks I’ve ever had the misfortune of finding (naturally, the car next to me was both fancy-looking, and metallic orange). Lucky I’m not pregnant or I would have been trapped in the car. We trudged along the flat ground to the upper lookouts, and V was already dawdling and whining. So, we had to be done right? No. He perked right up when he saw the dusty steps descending into the bush.

The Prince’s Rock Lookout advertises itself as a 20 minute return trip, and I’d say that’s an overestimate even for someone carrying a baby and accompanied by a four year old. It’s basically a few hundred steps with the odd turn. But nevertheless, going down there when it’s 35°C with a kid and a baby without any water was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. However, that’s not today’s cautionary tale. It was actually quite fun, because V was enchanted with the rainbow in the falls. And he’d promised me faithfully at the top that if I let him walk down, he wouldn’t complain when we had to climb all those steps coming back up in the heat. And he didn’t, although he twice took up my offer of a rest whenever he wanted one. I do admire his stoicism when he’s determined (and he’s been a good walker for a while, we did Daydream Island’s short walk end-to-end several times a year ago). I nursed A at the bottom, and at the top I got them back to the car reasonably quickly so that we could hang out somewhere with ambient temperature below our body temperature and V and I had a drink there.

V pointed out politely how much fun this would be in winter, which, he observed, is colder than summer.

However, the closest we came to grief all day was driving east along the Great Western Highway. A siren sounded as a fire service SUV flew along the highway while I was re-fuelling the car. I saw a few isolated plumes of smoke ahead and rang Andrew. Ahahaha, so self-deprecating, they really look like small fires but I’m just being cautious (half an hour too late, see hot walk without water), and emergency services are out and about, so, just in case, what does the Rural Fire Service say? He said he’d call back if there was an issue and to take silence as a good sign. On we drove, until traffic slowed around the area the smoke was (stickybeaking, I think) and we saw a number of fire trucks (V says nine, I think he’s guessing but that would be about right) and the police poking about. I still didn’t think it was terribly serious, until I saw that they had helicopters up, Elvis the massive one among them, within sight of the road.

On we drove. I explained to V I didn’t want to stop for food nearby since it was a good idea to get well clear of a fire if one could. Five minutes later, Andrew rang, saying that the Google feature formerly known as Latitude (and, in our household, Stalkitude) was showing me at Warrimoo, where an emergency alert had just been issued. Nope, I reported, I was 10 minutes drive further towards the city. Good news!

On we drove. At the M4 service centre, I had two messages, one from Steph hoping that I wasn’t stuck in the mountains. The other the Rural Fire Service outreach message, which must be an all-cell broadcast around Blaxland and Warrimoo, telling me that if I didn’t have a fire plan in place, that an emergency was in progress, and now was the time to leave my property.

It would still have been OK. I don’t live there, so I have no property to defend. The fire was possibly dangerous, but small. At worst, if I’d been still up there when the road closed, I could have stayed somewhere up there for the night. (It opened again around about the time the kids went to bed.) But next time I’m up in the mountains in summer and the breeze is up, I’ll look at the fire reports, and the next time I see smoke in the Greater Sydney area, I’m not going to bother with the cutesy “I’m sure it’s nothing” business.