New Year’s Eve Family Fizzer
The night starts out with such promise.
It’s a lovely sunny day to end the year, and my husband, two children and I have very generously been offered my mother-in-law’s city apartment for the night. Our plan is to arrive at the apartment around 3pm, have a couple of hours in the apartment complex’s pool and then take the kids on the ten minute walk to Southbank for some dinner and a birds-eye view of the 9pm family-fireworks display.
After some enjoyable pool time, a leisurely walk and a surprisingly decent food court dinner we venture out onto the Lower Promenade at Southgate to soak up the sunset. It’s at this juncture, with our bellies full of curry and ice cream and our minds and souls full of hope for an enjoyable night ahead that we decide to capture the moment with a family snapshot. We each choose a number to hold up on our fingers and make the international sign for 2013 as we beam down the tiny hole at the top of my husband, Mike’s, iPhone. It isn’t until we look back at it that we realise that we have actually signed “3102”. By the time we’ve taken the photo, Abbie, our four-year-old, has lost interest in the family moment and has moved on to trying to dive into the Yarra River so we decide what the hell, let’s just send it to family and friends with a Happy New Year message anyway.
I now know that this was a sign of things to come.
With the four-year-old getting way too close to the edge of the Yarra’s murky brown water for my liking (repeated warnings that “there are bits of poo in there” hasn’t seemed to deter her in the slightest) we decide to go for a casual stroll. After all, it is only about 7pm at this stage so we have a couple of hours to kill before the fireworks begin. I haven’t actually checked the details (mistake number one) but am fairly sure that they begin around 9pm. To be absolutely sure that we don’t get it wrong and completely spoil our children’s night, we ask a friendly-looking young man with a New Years Eve staff-badge-thingie. He’s also wearing the kind of fluoro high-vis vest that satisfies me that this is a dude who knows his New Years schedule and he informs us that the fireworks will start sometime between 9.30 and 10 o’clock and that they will be all along the water, lighting up the sky from Crown Casino onward.
“You’ll have a great view anywhere along that area,” he assures us with a smile. We thank him and he wishes us a happy new year. We comment on what a lovely and helpful man he is as we walk away. I won’t start fantasising about hunting him down and firing him into the night sky – from a large, cartoon cannon – then watching him explode into a thousand pieces along with the other pretty explosives for a few more hours.
We mosey on down the path and eventually arrive at Melbourne’s famous red steps. Perfect! It’s a great position and even closer to the apartment than the other end of the promenade where we had originally intended to settle. It’s now 7.45 pm. My husband and I sit down on one of the giant red steps facing the promenade and all of its new years revelry and activity, whilst our girls hop up and down the steps behind us and go down the makeshift “slide” that borders the structure. We are more than happy to sit here for the next hour and a bit, watch the sunset and wait for the show to begin. After the fireworks we plan to wander back to the apartment, bundle the girls into bed, crack open a bottle of red and pop something into the DVD player to wait for the new year to tick over.
By 9pm the endless badgering from my eldest daughter, Finn, is starting to wear very thin.
“What time is it now?”
“Thirty seconds since you last asked me.”
“But what time is it?”
“What time do they start?”
“9.30!! I’ve told you a hundred times!”
“It’s taking sooo looooong!”
“But we’ve been sitting here for aaaages!!”
I’m tempted to go down my usual route of telling her that she isn’t starving, she doesn’t have an illness and isn’t rummaging around in a rubbish tip for food like I’ve seen on an horrific SBS documentary about Indian slums the night before. However, as it’s New Year’s Eve I decide to cut her a bit of slack. She’s excited. I know I would have been pretty excited (and most probably driving my parents mad) at her age if I was in the city on New Year’s Eve about to watch a fireworks show, so I try to remain as calm and patient as I can. Not an easy feat at the best of times, especially when it’s been an exhausting couple of weeks trying to pack up an entire house for our ninth move in twelve years (yeah, you heard me) whilst orienting our children at their new school and attending the usual round of kids’ birthdays, Christmas parties and end-of-year functions. We’re all feeling a bit knackered to be honest, so the last thing I want to do is turn the last night of this topsy-turvy year into a shit-storm of tears and shouting.
In the calmest voice I can muster I tell her that we only have to wait another twenty-nine minutes and then it will all have been worth it. I remind her that she has managed to survive numerous fifty-minute drives back and forth up and down the Nepean Highway every week for the past two and a half years whilst living in Seaford. If she can cope with that she can handle waiting twenty-nine measly minutes. As for me, excitement is not exactly the emotion I’m experiencing as the minutes tick by. It feels as if I’ve been sitting on this giant red step forever. My bum is killing me (I’m sure there will be unpleasant repercussions over the next few days), my back is sore and I’m gagging for a glass of red. Come on, City of Melbourne. Let’s get this show on the road so we can get home, crack open that bottle and settle down for a bit of Downton Abbey action. Oh yes. Livin’ on the edge, me.
9.30 comes and goes. So does 9.40. My husband and I am starting to glance furtively at each other, neither of us brave enough to say what we’re really thinking.
“What time is it, Mum?! You said they’d be on by now!”
“They must be running late. Oh, see, the police are taking that guy off the bridge in handcuffs. He must have disrupted the timing. They’ll probably start now.”
“That guy did say that they’d start between 9.30 and 10 didn’t he?” I murmur nervously to my husband. “So they must be starting at 10. That’s only ten minutes away. It’s okay, Finn. They’ll start soon. ABBIE! Come here! That’s not our lightsaber!”
“Ssshh! Sit down. It’s going to start in a minute. Any…minute…now!”
At 10.04 my husband and I look at each other with fear in our eyes.
“This is bollocks,” he says, standing up and looking around for some kind of answer to this insane display of tardiness.
“There’s a guy with one of those fluoro vests and badge thingies on,” I say. “Should we ask him what’s going on?”
“Yeah, coz that went so well last time,” he mutters as he and Abbie walk over to him.
While they’re gone, Finn and I wait desperately to hear an announcement over an unseen loudspeaker that there has been some short delay in proceedings and that the kids’ fireworks will begin shortly. When I look up and see the expression on my husband’s face as he walks back towards me I want to vomit.
“The fireworks were down the other end…where we were before…at 9.30.”
The girls are crying before he’s even finished his sentence.
“But you promised we’d see the fireworks!” wails the four-year-old.
“I can’t believe we missed the fireworks!” howls the eight-year-old.
My husband and I stare at one another in a state of shock before I start trying to comfort the girls by saying very un-comforting things like, “It’s okay, we can see them next year” and “If we go back to the apartment and you’re still awake we might be able to see the tops of the fireworks over the trees? OR we could go to the Australia Day fireworks! Yeah. Those fireworks are heaps better than these stupid fireworks that won’t even start for another HOUR AND THREE QUARTERS!”
They are having none of it.
After a few minutes of more tears and unsuccessful reassuring techniques, we reluctantly decide that, as it is now 10.20, we will stick it out for another HOUR AND FORTY MINUTES to see the f%*@# fireworks. We’ve already sat on the very hard, now very cold, stupid giant red step for two and a half hours. What’s another 100 minutes? Right?
“I’m busting,” Finn suddenly announces.
There’s a McDonalds nearby so I take Finn over there to use the toilets…until I see that the queue is out the door and halfway down the adjoining mall. There’s no way in hell we are going to be waiting in that. Just as I’m looking around for a structure that my daughter can squat behind, she shivers and hugs into me.
“I’m freezing, Mum.”
It hasn’t escaped my notice that in the three hundred years since we first sat down on that red step the temperature has dropped about 10 degrees and the girls’ thin summer dresses and hoodies just aren’t cutting it anymore. I come up with an ingenious plan.
Leaving my husband and Abbie to secure our well-worn and very-well-deserved spot (the crowds are rolling in now and I’d rather have bought a pair of those stupid sparkling rabbit ears being sold nearby for about eight-thousand and twenty dollars than lose our prime position) Finn and I hurry back to the apartment where Finn goes to the toilet and changes into warmer clothes, and I grab a rug, some warmer clothes for Abbie and hide two beers in my bag before heading back.
It’s 11.10 when we make it back and I am unsurprised to find Abbie fast asleep on my husband’s lap. Actually, the term passed out is probably more appropriate. Our kids are useless when it comes to late nights at the best of times. The eight-year-old is in bed by 8pm with lights out by 8.30 every night, and the four-year-old by 7.30, usually crashed out by 8. So it’s no exaggeration to say that this was quite the bed-time anomaly in their young lives.
Mike transfers Abbie to my lap so he can stand up and stretch for the first time in over an hour before we tuck the rug around the four of us. We then hand Finn the iPhone to play some games to keep her awake, conceal the forbidden beers behind her back and take sneaky sips every time the nearby cops’ backs are turned. Oh yes…and again I say…livin’ on the edge.
The steps all around us are filling up fast with people now – intelligent people who waited until a reasonable time to leave the comfort of wherever they were to come and sit on the steps and watch the fireworks. Kids are running around and play-fighting behind us and every now and then we cop a plastic lightsaber across the back of the head or a knee in the shoulder. Other younger kids are squealing at the top of their lungs as they go down the nearby makeshift slide again and again, and what had been cute three hours ago is now making me homicidal.
By 11.40 Finn is flopped forward, fast asleep, on Mike’s lap.
When he suggests that it might be best to just go back to the apartment now that the girls are asleep I find myself channelling Chevy Chase’s character at the end of National Lampoon’s Vacation. We are not going anywhere! I have sat on this f%&@#$ step for four hours to see the fireworks and so we are going to see the f&*$%# fireworks! And so help me god, these children are going to watch the fireworks when that clock ticks over if I have to physically pry and hold their eyelids open with a Clockwork Orange-style eyelid-prying device!!
He doesn’t suggest that we leave again. In fact, we can barely bring ourselves to say anything to each other for the next nineteen minutes.
“What time is it?” I finally ask him. By this stage my arms are numb and sore from holding Abbie, my bum is cold, my back is aching and my bum is cold. Yes, that does bear repeating.
“Thank you, Jesus God! Finn! Abbie! Wake up! The fireworks are starting in a minute! Finn! Abbie!! WAKE UP!!!”
I tickle, poke, kiss, shout…and physically try to pry her eyes open…but Abbie doesn’t stir. She is completely out of it. Mike has more luck with Finn but when she does finally wake up with a start she looks around her in a panicked daze with no idea where she is or what the hell she’s doing on a giant red step in the middle of the night.
“Finn! The fireworks are about to begin!” I say, forcing an excited grin onto my face.
She smiles through half-shut eyes as she remembers. “Oh…yeah…the…”
The first fireworks explode above us and Finn’s eyes fly open, she jumps a foot off the step then covers her ears with her hands and begins to cry. In my arms, Abbie also jolts awake in fright before immediately burying her head in my chest, both hands over her ears, wailing and screaming over and over again, “I DON’T LIKE THE FIREWORKS!”
Finn adjusts to the bangs and noise after a few seconds, watching the fireworks overhead in wonder, albeit half-asleep. (I swear to god I caught her with her eyes closed at least three times during the display) At least she gets something out of it. The four-year-old refuses to have a bar of it.
“Look, Abbie! Just look up! Look UP! See the fireworks! Abbie! Please! Just open your eyes and look at them! JUST FOR ONE SECOND PLEASE!!”
When I try to lift Abbie’s chin to raise her face to the sky she resists with a strength I don’t know she possesses. No matter how much I coax, beg and plead, that child simply will not open her eyes or take her face out of my chest, continuing instead to sob and wail like a banshee.
It’s at this point that I feel a maniacal laugh rising up through my body about to burst out of my mouth and which will surely end with me being committed to the nearest asylum. Instead, I manage to distract myself with the fireworks and try to enjoy them for myself. Bugger the kids.
“Oooo!” “Aaahhhh” “Wow!”
No one is buying it. Not my husband, who is still just sitting beside our half-asleep daughter, slowly shaking his head from side to side as if auditioning for a supporting role in the stage adaptation of 12 Monkeys, and not the Indian family beside me who can’t work out what is more interesting; the fireworks, or the wailing child buried in my chest.
Despite my daughter’s very vocal protests, we do not budge from that spot until the last firework has exploded before our eyes. As the final firework fizzles out and the crowd around us bursts into rapturous applause, Mike and I stand up and turn to each other with equally demented expressions on our faces.
“Okay! Top night! Let’s get the hell out of here!”
I carry a still mildly whimpering Abbie all the way back to the apartment, trying to ignore the fact that every muscle in my body is screaming in agony. Finn staggers along, half-asleep and supported by Mike who is also carrying the bags and rug. Once inside the apartment Mike and I have the girls out of their clothes, into their PJ’s and deposited into bed within a record-breaking forty seconds.
Abbie is still snivelling as I tuck the doona around her.
“But I didn’t brush my teeth!”
“It’s alright, darlin’. We can brush them in the morning.”
She is asleep before I’m out of the room, as is Finn. As for Mike and I, we each drink a glass of wine in a daze (also in record breaking time) before collapsing into bed ourselves. Just before dozing off we mumble, “happy new year” to each other.
The following night we’re back home and watching the city of Melbourne lit up in all its glory on the nightly news. The footage shows numerous, happy-looking families and children enjoying the early fireworks show at Yarra Park the night before. Abbie suddenly stands up and points at the screen, shouting, “We should have gone there!”
“Maybe we can go next year, Abbie,” Finn offers helpfully.
It takes every ounce of willpower I possess not to inform my children that as long as there is breath in my body, we will not be going to Yarra Park or anywhere else in the city to see fireworks again for a very long time to come.
Well… at least not until they install giant cushions on the giant red steps.← Back to Blog