This time last year we were on our way to Australia. I can't believe it's been a year, but there you go, it has. Now, preparing for a 5 week trip away covers a number of things, including but not limited to; packing; making sure you have the right stuff to pack; and trying to find somewhere that sells summer kit for your sons who have grown out of last year's clothes when the only stuff in the shops is left-over from the sales or suitable for a British spring (which, as it turned out, would have been just the ticket as we froze in our inadequate hard-bought summer clothing in the South Australian late Autumn...).
Then, of course, there's the Home Front; advising the nursery that your sons are going AWOL for the next few weeks; organising someone to come in check your flat every now and again; and trying to eradicate the mice so that when you get back from such a long trip out they haven't decided to move in their pets, pictures and furniture.
One of our key concerns, however, was rather different. Sometime around the end of summer 2007, Boy #1, then turning 4 years old, discovered the wonder that was Steve Irwin. The Discovery Channel was running a season of Crocodile Hunter programmes throughout the holidays, and he became an instant addict, lapping it all up. Every other word was 'Crikey!', everything worth remarking upon was preceeded with 'Have a go at that!'. Husband and I didn't mind; as role models go a slightly over-enthusiastic animal conservationist was not a bad choice for a four year old.
Until, of course, he died. What to tell Boy #1? How could we break the news that this larger than life idol was gone, killed by one of the very creatures he was trying to preserve? So we dodged the issue, figuring that the fascination would fade away and he would find another hero. Fat chance. Of course he didn't, and as our trip to Australia got ever closer we realised we were going to have to confront the issue head-on, especially since Australia Zoo was a non-negotiable part of the trip for our son.
Husband and I agonised over what to say, how to break the news, and how to present it in a way that wouldn't cause him to lose sleep or refuse ever to paddle in the sea again. Finally, a few weeks before we left, we told him. There were tears, but it wasn't as bad as we thought it might be, and the possibility (in his mind, at least) that he might bump into Princess Bindi at the zoo seemed to carry him over the worst of it. Now he's matter of fact about it and just accepts as a fact of life that such things can happen.
However, yesterday afternoon a friend bought her son over to play with mine. They unearthed one of Boy #1's treasures, the site map of Australia Zoo, and were poring over it together. "A's just discovered Steve Irwin" my friend told me. "Discovery showed some of his programmes this weekend and he's become a fanatic about it in the space of two days." "Just out of interest" I asked "does he know Steve's dead?" "Um. No. Not - as yet. I hadn't got round to it. What do you think I should do? Does Boy #1 know?"
Exactly on cue, the boys tumbled into the room. "Look, Mum! Boy #1's been to Australia Zoo! Did you see Steve Irwin, Boy #1?"