When in Rome — or Australia, as it were.
My family and I spent the past few weeks traipsing around Down Under, where a children’s show pilot I wrote is being turned into a TV series. After a few work meetings, we were off to visit three old Aussie friends I’d kept from when I lived across the world many moons ago.
Not to brag, but I consider myself a bit of an expert when it comes to the creepy-crawlies that will kill you on the Red Continent — which really just means all of them. I have had my fair share of run-ins and know the drill: You should avoid, stomp, kill or run — all perfectly suitable options (depending on the creature) and none of which leaves me with any shame. “Avoid” tends to be my favorite approach, but it’s often coupled with “run” — which is why I kicked myself when I was bitten by multiple green ants soon after we landed. Completely unacceptable.
Oh, no, not this visit, death-wielding creepy-crawlies. I brought my kids along this time, and there will be no more bites or stings. Is that quite understood?
I’d like to give you the impression this was said in my head with a clenched jaw of determination. But in reality, it was said out loud, to the ether, with the high pitch of insanity. Judge all you like; we had no more run-ins with the six- or eight- or zero-legged harbingers of doom for the rest of the trip. I’m pretty sure they got the message when I screamed my threats like a crazy person.
Unfortunately, not everything in Australia got the message. Perhaps I was too specific in my condemnation.
There is an interesting phenomenon that takes hold when one is traveling abroad. Everything is so foreign, so uncomfortably different, that inner peace tends to come from taking guidance from the locals. When in Rome, eat pasta and drink warm water. See? Simple. When in Australia, allow your children to nearly die and laugh it off as life lessons. Less simple.
First there was the beach with the shark alarm. Didn’t know that’s a thing? Neither did I. Here, at this lovely cove filled with holiday swimmers and surfers, a yellow motorized raft zips back and forth a few feet beyond where the waves crest and the distance swimmers practice. Two lifeguards aboard look for sharks within striking distance of the vacationers. When they see one, they sound an alarm. It was quite loud. Everyone quickly cleared the water — except, of course, for my son. After my Aussie friend told me what the noise was for, I said, “My boy is still in the water!”
“That’s all right,” my friend replied. “It’ll be good for him.”
Most Australian thing said ever. Losing an arm to a shark attack might teach him empathy, but I’d rather teach it to him myself through some serious reading material and a few timeouts for bad behavior.
Then, there was the electric fence my friends’ kids and my own decided to grab. Then they screamed and proceeded to repeat the process. Grab and scream, grab and scream. All well and good in crazy Aussie land — that is, until my 2-year-old decided to test the fence on her bare belly.
“She’ll be all right,” my friend said. “Good lesson, though, eh?”
Of course, there were the prickers that ensnared our children’s feet. They’d come hobbling over with veritable cactuses attached to their souls. Moms and dads picked out the needles and sent them off barefoot, only to have it happen again moments later. There was the jellyfish that had washed ashore. When my friend’s child asked whether she could touch it, she received an “I wouldn’t, but you can let me know how that goes.” Her finger stung for days. I gave different guidance, and my son cried for a half-hour because it wasn’t fair he couldn’t get stung. Parentingwise, I seriously question which of us made the right choice. Last, but not least, there was the wild echidna my mate tracked down. He invited his own kids to come over and pet the spiny anteater. They were more than eager to allow their hands to be pierced by the quills. My kids quickly followed.
When in Rome.
I pet the wild echidna, too. It was probably the highlight of my trip.
Maybe acting a tad crazy and letting go a bit is good for us.
Katiedid Langrock is author of the book “Stop Farting in the Pyramids.”