Losing it at the Bali rice terraces

Tegalagang Rice Terraces Bali Indonesia
Tegalagang Rice Terraces Bali Indonesia

On our recent trip to Indonesia for a family wedding, we went exploring the iconic Bali rice terraces of Tegalagang. A valley of rice paddies that have been carved into the contours of the hillside, forming a sprawling lush green agricultural landscape.

Little cousins were happily climbing over bamboo platforms and running up and down the narrow pathways. There were sounds of children laughter along with trickling water as the thousand year old Balinese Subak water irrigation system fed each rice terrace.

Running along the rice terraces, Bali Tegalagang
Running along the Bali rice terraces, Tegalagang

Though it was hot and humid, it was as if we were strolling through a serene and natural work of art and all was well with the world. We were halfway through our adventure, almost at the valley floor when things took a turn for the worse.

The kids had made their way up to a higher rice terrace and were navigating a tricky ridge, they came across one of the Subak irrigation outlets where they had to jump across the small channel of water to the other side. I could sense that my 4 year old was a little apprehensive as each of the older cousins bounded over like gazelles.

The brave thing was that he attempted the jump over, the unfortunate thing was that his croc became lodged in the mud. There was a look of complete devastation followed by end of the world, uncontrollable tears.

Little cousins playing together at Tegalagang Rice Terraces, Ubud, Bali
Little cousins playing together at Tegalagang Rice Terraces, Ubud, Bali

As we were at the valley floor, it seems the sound of my 4 year old’s cries pierced the serenity of the rice terraces in each and every direction. All he could do was stand on the edge of the rice paddy with one muddy foot in the air and wail.

Witnessing his helplessness and desperately wanting him to stop screaming. I bounded up the rice terraces apologising as I shoved aside groups of tourists to get to him as quickly as possible. Hot and sweaty, I reached my inconsolable son, holding him in one arm and retrieving the muddy croc with the other.

“Shhh, It’s just a little mud, don’t worry, it’s all Ok” I kept repeating to no effect.

Each of the rice paddy fields where potential kids shoes can become lodge in.
TIP – don’t get your croc stuck in the mud

Normally big hugs and empathy works in calming my anxious child. However a combination of a full days worth of sight seeing combined with jet-lag meant that there was no consoling him. Seeing a small muddy pool of water a few terraces down, I somehow navigated my way with a screaming, kicking, fiercely stubborn, 20 kilos bag of flesh in my arms.

As I washed the mud off his foot and croc in the shallow puddle of water, his cries turned to smaller sobs. However, the pool of water was fast becoming mud itself and not all of the mud was completely washed off. Realising this, my 4 year old’s sobs returned to screams of despair.

I had cleaned up most of the mud but the crying continued, what is with my son? it’s just a bit of mud, why can’t he be a “normal” kid and just stop carrying on? Then thoughts of what family were thinking and what strangers were thinking were at the forefront of my mind. More tears of sorrow and with his refusal to budge I was quickly losing the little patience and sanity that I had.

The view close to the valley floor of Teglagang Rice Terraces
The view close to the valley floor of Teglagang Rice Terraces

My dear sister off in the distance had located a supply of fresh water, it was by a make-shift hut where an old Balinese lady sat collecting donations. It was hot and I half carried, half dragged my son to the pool of water. Haphazardly washing down his leg. His cries were reaching a crescendo and I lost it.

My sympathy had turned to anger and in my rage I leaned over and screamed back at him, my arms waving around like a demented woman. “It’s only a bit of mud, just STOP it, STOP crying, STOP screaming, CALM DOWN”. Of course he didn’t stop or calm down, he got louder and now didn’t want me to touch him, pushing me away. Dramatically lifting up my one foot after another like a mad lady, I kept going “Look, I have mud on my foot, your cousins have mud on their feet, it’s nothing, just stop it”.

At this point in time, I had completely and utterly lost the plot, of no help to anyone my sister instructed me to go away and calm down. Only, my son didn’t want my sister near him and my husband was with my daughter half way up towards the rice terraces exit. We both stood there hands on heads looking down at the crying 4 year old in defeat.

Lost these guys early on, they were half way back up and missed the crying
Lost these guys early on, they were half way back up and missed the crying

It was then that the old Balinese lady walked over, with her calming softly spoken voice she gently picked up my sons foot and leant over scooping up water and washed down my sons leg. She fussed over him, tutted and whispered to him all the whilst patting him and meticulously washed every last bit of mud away. My son came back, he completely calmed down. As my sister and I looked on in amazement, the lady had already walked back over to her hut as if indicating that it was my turn now.

I collected him into my arms and we sat near the pool of water and watched as the bamboo water pipe filled up and methodically empty fresh water into the pool. I gave him a big hug and kiss and said “sorry for yelling at you”.  We watched in silence as a few more rounds of water collected from the bamboo pipes and tipped into the pool. He said “Sorry mum, I just get very sad sometimes when I don’t know what to do”.

I took a quick snap to remember this calm moment by the pool before we headed back up
I took a quick snap to remember this calm moment by the pool before we headed back up

That’s the thing with anxious kids, they carry a heavy weight of fear everywhere they go. When something doesn’t go the way they had anticipated in their minds, the world around them collapses, the fear gives in and debilitates them.

For my son, it’s wasn’t just a bit of mud, for him he had completely failed and his fears and worries became real. He was not able to manage a scary and unexpected problem. As his mother I live with the guilt that I dismissed his problem as insignificant. I should have acknowledged his fear and taken all the time in the world to calm him down. When things are going well, I tend to forget that I have a anxious child and that there are specific techniques to handle such sensitivities. Often I let my temper get the better of me.

Some kids withdraw, some kids act out and some kids simply balance one muddy foot in the air and cry their eyes out. They all need one thing and that is a constant pillar of strength, extra love, kindness and a bit of time to get it out of their system. If not from their imperfect mother, from a random Balinese lady that happens to be exactly where you need her at exactly the right time.

There was only 2000 rupiahs (20 cents) in my pocket, which I ashamedly placed in the woman’s donation basket. She thanked me profusely even though I was trying to thank her. If you are ever at the bottom of Tegalagang Rice Terraces, where the lady sits by the water pool in her hut. Please dig deep and give as much as you can. She is the patient, understanding and empathetic woman that I struggle to be.

Even though there were tears, the Tegalagang rice terraces are worth a visit
Even though there were tears, the Bali rice terrace, Tegalagang are worth a visit. Note the boy and his orange croc.

Have you been to the Bali Rice Terraces? Do you have an anxious or sensitive child? Please tell me how you manage this below: xo


  • Loved the story and remembering the small things (to us adults) that are life changing for the little ones. Like you, we went to Bali for a family wedding and loved it. Especially getting up into the hills beyond Ubud. A paradise so close to home that I had never visited before.
    Travel safe and keep sharing the dream

  • So beautiful! Those rice terraces look so cool. Sorry to hear about the Croc though 🙁 what a disappointment.

    Thanks for sharing and congratulations on being the SITS blog of the day. I was doing a happy dance for you my friend.

    Have a great weekend.

    • Thank you my dear. You are all things wonderful and kind. I am also sorry about the croc, perhaps its my time to invest in shoes other than the plastic croc variety. Big love xoxo

  • I just wanted to say that the appreciation you showed for this Balinese women was beautiful! I was very moved, not only by this wise older womens love but by your heartfelt value of it. Our family is heading to bali soon and we would be honoured to show her some kindness by digging deep. Thank you for writing about your experience x

    • Dear Amber,

      Thank you for making my day and for your wonderful words. It really made the tough decision of pressing publish on this one much easier.

      I am indebted to you, thank you for your donation. Just amazing.


  • This piece speaks directly to me Rene. I have a very anxious kid to who also happens to be fastidious about things like mud on his shoes. And it is SO hard to keep calm in those situations when their anxiety makes them behave seemingly irrationally. Easier of course if you are not over-tired and jet-lagged yourself. Bless you for sharing it.

    • Hi there, I hope you guys are on the mend!?

      I didn’t know that you had an anxious kiddo as well. With these things, I just have to keep thinking back to even a year ago and the steps forward we have made.
      There was a time not long ago that Liam refused to put on boardies for a swim. Now he is a little fish. So I hope mud on shoes will also be a thing of the past….soon.

      Thank you for making me feel less alone and big hugs. I hope we can get our anxious kids together one day. I wonder if they would repel each other or be attracted to each other?


      • Hi Rene, Our eldest’s anxiety tends to overwhelm the landscape of our family. Most of his anxiety stems from sensory issues, check out http://www.spdaustralia.com.au/about-sensory-processing-disorder/ What you said about your son’s board short avoidance and the “mud on shoe” flip out make me think he may share some traits with my son. Do let us know if you are ever in Melbourne. We usually make it to your neck of the woods each year but 2014 has been an unusual one for us – new baby, new city etc. And yes, thankfully we are all better now. Just in time for our trip next week…

        • I really wished we had this conversation 2 years ago. I was going through a bit of turmoil thinking my son was on the spectrum, I had money on it that he was Aspergers. We had a speech delay and what we felt were sensory issues.

          However, after all sorts of therapists and numerous pediatrician assessments (as I was not happy with just one report) it’s boils down to anxiety and an anxious temperament. Everything keeps coming back to that.

          For example, he hated getting his hair cut, but didn’t have a problem with me cutting it. He hated wearing boardies, but that was because he had a fear of swimming. Putting on boardies at home under the sprinkler was A-OK. So it was confusing as to whether it was SPD or not… Shall read the link again and check it out.

          I think my son will always be left of the middle and I am slowly learning to be OK with that. It’d be interesting to see whether our kiddos do share similar traits so I can better understand him. Would love to meet you in person if you are indeed in our neck of the woods, no pressure though as family holiday time is precious.

          One last thing, sorry for the long windedness. I love this community and feel so lucky to have connected with you.


  • What a beautiful piece of writing. I love your honesty and Liam’s.

    You are that patient, kind, loving mother. Like Liam we all have moments when we don’t know what to do, especially when we are out of our comfort zones and it’s hard. Bloody hard.

    Don’t be hard on yourself, this parenting thing is a journey of continued learning with lots of speed bumps along the way. But at the end of the day there is much love between mum and son.


    • Dearest Megs, thank you for your lovely words. It means the world to me. This one was a little hard to write, so I am super grateful for your support and positivity. Big big love my dear friend xo

  • I love his insight. He gets sad when he doesn’t know what to do.

    You know, this is why it takes a village, because the truth is sometimes a stranger has a better shot at calming the situation. Something about the adrenalin of adding a new person causes them to focus, or something – I’m not sure. It’s definitely true they reserve their worst tears and tantrums for their parents.

    And it’s also true that you probably would have been calmer if you hadn’t had to worry about what everyone would think. It’d be great if we could all cut each other more slack sometimes.

    Still, anxious kids are hard work. I can relate to having reached your limit and I’m glad someone was there who had the necessary reserves left. At the end of the day you made friends again – I think that’s a good step forward.

    • I feel like popping over with a bottle of wine and giving you the biggest hug.

      As always your comment puts my entire piece of writing to shame, you articulate so damn clearly and so well!

      Thank you for cutting me a bit of slack 😉 xoxo

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