|Dad, what is the opposite of stone?|
“Dad?” shouts Hannah. She’s close enough for me to touch her, sitting right behind me on the tandem. I shift gear as we accelerate down the mountain, trying to maintain a steady cadence and stop her tiny legs spinning too fast. We’re a harmonious team, her legs and mine spinning together, locked in father daughter synchronicity by the drive train. The chain clunks, the sprockets chatter and the spin of our legs slows to a more comfortable pace.
Hannah waits a moment until the business of the gear change is done then tries again to catch my attention; “Dad?”
Two ‘Dads’ and I know she really wants to talk. But she won’t continue without a verbal acknowledgement. I’m not sure what’s worse, incessant Dadding or the incessant chatter that follows. I opt for the chatter; “Yes, Hannah.”
“Dad?” she continues, “What’s the opposite of down?”
|What is the opposite of down?|
Opposites has become one of our regular tandem games. It’s sweet the way she plays it with me, revealing something of the world she’s in as we pedal the road together. “The opposite of down?” I pause to give her time to think wondering where the question came from. “Is it up?”
“Yes, it is Dad.”
There’s a moments silence while I wait for more. Because there’s always more.
“Will we have to go up again? Because when we do I will pedal harder if I’m not too tired. I can pedal harder than Cameron. And when I do get tired can I swap with Cameron and go back in the buggy and he can pedal harder can’t he Dad?”
|It’s amazing how the kids take all the ups and downs in their stride|
It amazes me how much our kids commit to the journeys we do together, not just in pedalling the ups and downs on the hills and mountains but in handling the physical and emotional ups and downs that come with journeying this way. We may pedal up and down the hills at the same time and pace but our individual highs and lows are much less well synchronised. Still we find ways to handle them together, like our tandem teams find ways to power up and down the Alps together.
We ride on and through a sleepy Tyrolean village, a rush of painted houses, wooden balconies and window boxes overflowing with brightly coloured flowers.
“Dad?” Hannah’s chatter continues, “Is this a village?”
“Yes, sweetheart, a little Austrian village.”
A pause. And then, “What is the opposite of a little village?”
The first round of opposites is always easy; up, down; big, small; fast, slow; tall, tiny; but that’s boring for playful little minds. I try and imagine where she’s coming from. Sometimes there’s a ‘right’ answer; other times it’s pure exploration.
“Is it a big village?” I ask.
“No, Dad.” she responds. I’ve clearly got it wrong. “It’s a big town. That hotel town we stayed in last night was a big town, wasn’t it Dad? With that TV and that camel. Do all towns have camels?”
|What is the opposite of village?|
It amazes me how much kids take in while we travel around. It’s not like we set out to teach them stuff but they show an amazing capacity for learning all kinds of stuff from the experiences we have. It’s not force fed or curriculum led but experience based and experience led. They notice stuff, things you often fail to notice; ask questions, often ones you’d never think to ask; and concoct fantastic explanations that explain their observations, stretch their (and your) imagination and sometimes challenge the way you make sense of the world. It’s not hard work but a natural process and usually fun. Watching the kids learn like sponges, get it right and get it wrong, reawakens my own curiosity and desire to keep on learning no matter how old I get.
We ride on and onto a section of steep, loose gravel on a trail leading up to the Fernpass. It’s too hard to ride so we dismount and start to push. Well at least I do. Hannah has other ideas. To me the path is a horrible steep gravel obstacle, getting in the way of us making progress over the Alps. But to Hannah it’s something else, a place to play, a chance to walk, a change of scene, a new train of thought.
“Dad?” she asks, scrambling around on the ground behind me. “What is the opposite of stone?”
|I wish I knew the opposite of stone..|
Round three of opposites bends my mind. It’s about things that have no opposites, at least to grown-ups. But as a child perhaps they could have, should have, do? I try to imagine what she is thinking and play for time.
“The opposite of stone. That’s a good question. What do you think it is sweetheart?”
“I don’t know. What is it Dad?”
Pushing the tandem and trailer up the stony hill I can think of nothing else but stone. It has no opposite. It’s all there is. As a grown up I feel I should have an answer, that’s my job isn’t it? I try to find my imagination but my mind is just filled with stone.
Hannah throws her stone into the woods and picks up another. “What is it Dad? What is the opposite of stone?”
In my growing irritability I want to tell her that some things just don’t have opposites. But I know I forget this myself. How often I contrast the kids, one with another, saying how Matthew is the opposite of Cameron, Hannah is the opposite of Matthew, but they are not opposites; they are simply different. And travelling with them in this way I see those differences more and more clearly each day. Some things don’t have opposites; they are simply different. But this is too philosophical a point for now.
|We reach the top of the hill in philosophical mood|
We reach the top of the hill. I put the tandem down and take a moment to rest and find my imagination. The opposite of stone. Could it be grass, sponge, water, sky? Finally it comes to me.
“The opposite of stone is… tarmac.” I announce.
Hannah looks at me confused. “No, Dad. It’s not. It’s not tarmac. The opposite of stone is shelter.”
We sit together, sharing the moment, perhaps contemplating each others answers. But only for a moment. Then we’re off again.
“Dad? What’s is tarmac?”
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