Unfolding Odyssey

Swiss Army Wife

Our road trip is over and we’ve handed back our camper van. I’m posting this about a week after writing, and it’s actually pretty cool to review it from this side of the journey. I guess in some respects, road tripping with kiddos is an exercise in constantly switching gears (hur hur) and applying the best solution for the feelings of the moment*. Need a hug? Get over here. Fine-motor distraction? Look what’s in my pocket! Corkscrew? You betcha.

9 November 2018

As we bask (yes, dammit, bask) in our last few hours at the Gariep Dam Resort, it’s easy to imagine doing this camper van thing permanently. Politely twittering birds, waving leaves in leafy trees, and dam water that glitters like troll teeth. I could get used to this. Our surroundings today make it easy to forget that this is just one leg of a life-changing journey.

This campsite is definitely more my style than the last two places we stopped. In my wilting dotage of 37, I can say without embarrassment that I do not like roughing it.

Both the Karoo and Camdeboo National Parks are beautiful, but their ratio of thorn to square centimeter of human skin is not in my favor. Also, the air is DRY and dusty. It gave me flakes and a serious case of Karoo feet. So that’s a hard no from me.

That being said, I enjoyed the wildlife, and we saw plenty. Both parks are well-stocked with beasties, including monkeys and jakals (wild dog) with the hubris needed to bravely enter our camp in search of food. Ostrich, buck, tortoises and the like gave the kids plenty of opportunities to Examine.

Another thing that made it bearable for fancy old me is the restaurant at the Karoo National Park. They do a damn fine breakfast and the staff are amazing with kids. On the downside, the swimming pool there is about 7.5km from the campsite and fraught with thieving monkeys,  fraught. The Camdeboo Park has no swimming pool – only thorns. But I guess the view’s not so bad.

Anyway, after a week on the road, we’ve found our groove in the camper van. It’s a lot like normal life with two tots, only smaller and without walls.

Here’s my list of Things Essential to Maintaining Sanity:

All the snacks. Seriously, you’ll never say “I wish the hadn’t brought that popcorn/those cookies”. If your children are of the variety that gobble down avo on rice cakes, then Mazeltov. Ours aren’t, and the fastest way to stop the screaming is to feed with empty calories. I’m not proud, but I am resigned.

Magnifying glass. For Examining beetles, dung balls, lichen, cuts on toes – pretty much anything.

Box for beetles. Without this essential piece in your arsenal, all kinds of many-legged beasties will find a temporary home in your coffee plunger and/or retainer container.

Book and crayons for nature journaling. This wasn’t as wildly successful as I’d hoped – I think Finn’s a bit young for it. He’s not yet four, so the attention wanders… I, on the other hand, found the exercise delightful.

Lego. Or Duplo. Or both. I’m continually amazed at how much joy both our kids derive from Lego. Since our first night on the road it’s been a once-a-day thing that’s occupied them completely.  We also got a pack of new pieces for the trip, and collected hubby’s childhood stash on our journey.

Walkie Talkies. Hot damn we had fun with these. Especially when we were in the deepest Karoo. The phone signal is terrible, and the facilities can can be very far from the campsite. Being able to communicate the need for a dry towel, pacifier or cold beer definitely came in handy. Hubby and I also got a kick out of making up call signs. Roger that, Big Daddy.

Battery packs. Total life savers. We never ran our of juice for our USB speaker, and that was NECESSARY.

Dustbuster. We went without this, but I wished for one every day. Kids seem to have a spare pouch from which they scatter crumbs and whatnot all around them. That means crumbs and whatnot in your bed, underfoot, and pretty much everywhere they go.

Headphones. For you or the kiddos. To block out noise, or contain it. Our son has a tricky sensory profile, and his little sister’s screaming plays havoc with it, so when she turns up her volume, he enjoys some calming white noise.

Saline nose spray. This is generally a staple in our lives. At the first sign of stuffiness we all get a squirt. Ain’t no-one got time for colds or flu in the camper van.

Secret toys. When empty carbs, Peppa Pig and cajoling fail, there’s nothing like Something New to improve the mood. These items don’t have to cost much, balloons, squirt pistols, puzzles – they all came in handy.

Downloaded Peppa Pig. Yep, even in the great outdoors there’s a place for little piggies and muddy puddles. When you’re sharing your cosy living quarters with two unreasonable and emotionally volatile humans, you do what you gotta do to keep the peace come 5pm. In our pre-child ignorance, we said we’d never be the Kind of People who put tablets in the back of headrests so their kids can watch shows. On day seven I Sellotaped my mobile phone to the headrest and reveled in the calm that followed.

We haven’t looked back.

*basically parenting forever