Mothers are generally a risk averse lot, and I, having spent far too much time in hospitals and specialist rooms in the past few months, am a particularly risk averse mother right now.
That’s why I am sitting on my own in a lake-front apartment in Queenstown – New Zealand’s adrenalin capital, with Hilary Mantel’s 16th century political thriller, Bring Up the Bodies, a cup of tea and my mobile at my side.
My husband and two sons have rented mountain bikes, helmets, elbow and knee pads and have headed to the top of a nearby mountain for some extreme biking. I have two fears gnawing away at me. I’m scared of missing out on what could be the highlight of the holiday, but even more worried that someone’s going to get hurt and they’ll need me, but I won’t be there!
Queenstown is the gateway to New Zealand’s ski fields. The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Treble Cone are the dramatic backdrop here and the reason why visitors cram into this town in winter. I love skiing, but I can’t imagine a better time to visit than summer.
The clear lake, framed by towering, snow-capped peaks, the pine-covered hills and fields of pink and purple foxgloves are unbelievably beautiful. The roses are the size of side plates and the peonies are even bigger. But this isn’t just nature’s antidote to city living, it’s also a thrill-seekers’ paradise and that is, of course, why we are here on a family holiday.
Queenstown is all about adventure – the birthplace of the bungy – and it takes its reputation seriously. If you can see it, you can ride it – whether it’s the mountains, rivers, or the skies.
We’re here for a week, doing our best to conquer everything. And I’m doing my best to keep up.
Jet boating down the Shotover River – sure, I’m up for that. (Can you slow down a bit? Not so close to the rock wall. There are children on board – mine!)
Riding a luge down a mountain-side course – I’ll give that a go. (Take it easy. You don’t have to go so fast. It’s not a race!)
You get the picture. I’ve got a dilemma. I desperately want to be part of the holiday fun – to share the thrills, but I just don’t like putting myself or anyone else in harm’s way and that makes me a bit of a fun sucker. (Not a popular occupation in this part of the world).
Here, even the most sedate pursuits can be turned into something bordering on dangerous. Our stroll through the botanical gardens is given a risky edge by adding a Frisbee and calling it disc golf. Of course, the game is not so much dangerous for us, but for other park users who drift close to the golf course. And no place in the gardens is safe when I am in charge of a Frisbee. An elderly gentleman playing bowls has a narrow escape when one of my throws goes wildly off course, as does a couple on a tandem bike. Even disc golf is not really for me.
And I don’t need to try extreme mountain biking to know it’s not my thing, either. I know I’ll be cautious and slow. My teenage son, on the other hand, like other teens, is hard-wired to take risks. And where a teenage boy goes, a pre-teen sibling will surely follow. They, along with my husband, will want to tear down the hill at high speed and I’ll be left bumbling along behind, my fingers glued to the brakes, my heart in my mouth wondering who’ll fall off first, shouting at everyone to slow down.
Best I leave the others to experience the thrills of mountain biking, while I take a leisurely stroll around the lake and do a bit of reading. I’ve got my phone close to hand – just in case.
Thankfully no one calls.
Several hours after my family departs, they return to the apartment – exhausted but not broken, with tales of jumps and collisions with trees. And the best news of all – a video of the whole experience. They can’t wait to share their adventure.
But even the video leaves me feeling nauseous – the steep dirt trail, the hairpin bends, the trees. How did they survive? How is that fun?
‘It was so radical, Mum! You would have hated it.’
Yes, I certainly would have. But I had a lovely time reading and a beautiful walk around the lake. Now, that’s what I call fun. One day they’ll understand.
In the meantime I’m learning when to step forward and when to step back. I know risk-taking is an essential part of growing up and kids can’t be kept in cotton wool forever.
The best we can do is send them out well prepared for life’s risks, let them learn from their mistakes and understand their own limitations – because parents can’t be everywhere and even if we could, sometimes, it’s better not to look.