Once or twice a year Rich joins a group of hardy dads from school who pack up the kids and the car with enough camping gear to invade a small African country and head to Myall Lakes for the weekend. Myall Lakes is about a four hour drive north of Sydney and is one of Australia’s most picturesque national parks. It positively teems with wildlife. The campsite they visit has a lake on one side and the ocean on the other. It is quite the rural idyll and is the perfect location to fish, swim, kayak, body board, dune-surf, bird and dolphin watch or just hang out with friends, toasting marshmallows on the campfire.
Every year, Rich and the kids ask me to go with them and every year I politely refuse. Firstly, the idea started as a chance for dads and kids to have a “bonding” experience without the mums nagging and getting in the way so it wouldn’t seem right for me to intrude on their valuable bonding time. Secondly, there is no plumbing at Myall Lakes – no showers, no flushing loos, not even a tap for drinking water or tooth brushing. Thirdly, every time they go they see snakes. Fourthly, and here is the real reason – look at the alternative. Rich and the kids are gone for the weekend so that leaves me, yes, me, just me in the house, in Sydney alone for a whole 48 hours. When these camping weekends come around I can hardly contain my excitement and I must confess I spend the whole of the previous week doing a little sun dance to try and ensure a monsoon doesn’t interfere with my plans.
Rich is now coach of Ben’s football team (and yet they are still doing surprisingly well) so due to the boys’ commitment and dedication to the team mine was only a 36-hour break this time. Rich and Ben didn’t want to miss a Saturday morning footie game so they didn’t leave on Friday night as usual but this time they left at 7am on Saturday. No matter, that still left 36 delicious hours of me time!
At last my precious Saturday morning arrived. It was raining and although the car was loaded ready to go, there was a chance the football match might be cancelled. There was a chance if the football match was cancelled that Rich would think it was too wet to drive 250kms for one night’s camping. Rich was on sitting in the driver’s seat checking the weather forecast, rethinking the sanity of his decision and wondering about calling the whole thing off when fate intervened….the car wouldn’t start. The tension in the car was palpable as he turned the key in the ignition and the starter-motor failed to do its thing. I had all fingers and toes crossed and was lamenting letting our NRMA (Australian RAC) membership lapse in an attempt to save money. I was getting ready to try and push four tonnes of immovable steel up the hill in my pyjamas, such was my desire the have a weekend to myself. But on the third go the engine miraculously roared into life just as the weather report came up showing white fluffy clouds and a partial sun over Myall Lakes. My relief was two-fold – the children would have been so disappointed if, after all their packing and preparations their trip was cancelled, and oh, how disappointed I would have been to have the beautiful kid free 36 hours that stretched before me cruelly snatched away. As I watched them reverse out of the drive and tear off up the road, I smiled a little secret smile to myself, Cinderella, you shall go to the ball!
I raced back into the house and did a mad half an hour tidy up. In my mind I am a very tidy person but in reality this is not so. I have a magnet on my fridge given to me by a dear friend when Zach was born. Its message is the anthem of my life: “tidying up whilst the kids are at home is like shovelling snow whilst it’s still snowing”. I was tidying up just for me so that when I returned home after my first day of jubilee I would be coming home to an clean and tidy house – just the way I had left it with nobody coming in to scatter Lego, throw wet towels on the bed, drop dirty pants on the floor, leave all the lights on or spill Ribena on a cream carpet. Bliss!
After my mad tidying fest I was suddenly overwhelmed with indecision, how best to spend these precious hours of freedom. I had a couple of things planned and several things in mind but it was 9 o’clock already and two hours of my precious thirty six had already been used up on cleaning! I decided to waste no more time and hop on my trusty bike and head for a day in the city.
I cycled past the opticians and remembered I had been in danger of losing my sunglasses for the last six months as they had a screw lose (feel free to insert your own joke here) and I had never found the time to go in and get them fixed. Here I was right outside the door with no other commitments on my time and the sunglasses precariously balanced on my nose. I went in and got them fixed. A long overdue item ticked off my “to do” list. Earlier that week I had misplaced my regular glasses for a few days and had had to resort to an old pair. Each of the children had in turn burst into fits of laughter when they had seen me in them, saying, “Mummy you look like Nana in those glasses!” Now in fairness my mum still cuts quite a dash but she is 73 so I didn’t take this as much of a complement and decided to make hay whilst I was at the optician and take advantage of their two for one offer. New glasses, tick and it’s still only 10 o’clock. By now the sky was blue and cloudless and the temperature was climbing up to the day’s predicted maximum of twenty five degrees, it was a perfect day for a ride into the city.
I cycled over Sydney Harbour Bridge, stopping to marvel at the view of Kirribilli, Circular Quay and the Opera House, a view that I will never tire of. The Carnival ship “Victory” was in port and usually I feel a pang of nostalgia when I see cruise ships but no need today, I am as free as I was then. I cycled round the Quay, through the Botanical Gardens and Hyde Park and up to the main shopping hub on George Street. I had a voucher to spend in Gap which my lovely friend Ceri had given me for my birthday back in September which was in danger of expiring if I didn’t spend it soon. I even managed to buy something remotely stylish to wear to dinner that night. With two new pairs of glasses and a new shirt in my bag I was clearly on a retail role so I decided it was time I got over the fact that I had once purchased a pair of walking sandals and lost them before I managed to get back to the car; it was time to buy another pair, ideally holding on to them this time at least until I got home. I headed for the camping shop next to Kathmandon’t and handed over another $120 to replace the sandals I had previously paid $120 for never actually owned.
All that shopping can leave a girl hungry and thirsty. I walked over Pyrmont Bridge to Darling Harbour and found an outdoor table overlooking the water at a café/bar blasting out loud rock music. Black Sabbath were being “Paranoid”, AC/DC were on the “Highway to Hell” and, according to Deep Purple there would be “Smoke on the Water”. It was like the mother ship of a misspent youth calling me home. I spent a most pleasant two hours with a couple of cold Buds, a plate of nachos and the Sydney Morning Herald. My keen and intense server, “Jeremay” was being far too attentive and hovering asking who else would be joining me, what else I wanted and removing the second place setting at my table, only to reset it again ten minutes later. In the end I had to explain to him that I was in a Zen-like state of bliss, sitting here alone with my beer and my newspaper with nobody expecting me to be anywhere anytime soon and would he please just kindly leave me alone to enjoy the peace (of Motorhead and Metallica!).
I had plans to meet fellow Camping Widows for dinner back in Mosman at seven at my lovely friend Deb’s house so at four o’clock I decided to cycle home. I was home by five, whizzed up a quick chocolate cake to take to dinner (I did miss Matthew for a few fleeting minutes as this point as he is now in charge of all things cake at our house), ran a huge bubble bath, poured myself a glass of New Zealand’s finest Sauvignon Blanc and soaked in the tub, with an episode of The West Wing playing on my laptop. Boy do I know how to live. I soaked for a blissful forty five minutes and never once did anyone barge in announcing they needed a poo!
The Camping Widows all got together for dinner at our friend Deb’s house and over lovely prawns, ravioli, chocolate cake and lots more Prosecco and Sauvignon Blanc we put the world to rights. Nobody seemed to have been rendered tearful or speechless by the absence of their husbands and children and we talked ten to the dozen all night, exchanging tales of how we had spent our first day alone and planning what exciting things we could do on the second.
Despite consuming in one night the number of alcohol units I usually consume in a month, I woke up at 6am on Sunday morning and felt more bright eyed and bushy-tailed than I have in a long time. The sun was already streaming in through the windows and I literally threw off the duvet and leapt out of bed, ready to make the most of my last 12 hours as a single gal. Gym, breakfast with friends, a massage, a visit to the Australian Museum of Contemporary Art and afternoon tea overlooking the harbour rounded off a perfect weekend.
I was just trying to squeeze in one more bath, glass of wine and episode of The West Wing when I heard the door slam and heavy footsteps charging across the hall and up the stairs and plaintiff cries of “Muuuuuuuum, Matthew just kicked me, Muuuuuum, what’s for tea? Muuuuuuum have you washed my football socks?” At that moment, my peace was shattered, my coach turned back into a pumpkin and my weekend of jubilee was at an end. Prince Charming came in a few minutes later looking exhausted, bringing with him not a glass slipper but a car full filthy kids smelling of wood smoke and scratching their mosquito bites until they bled, five sleeping bags full of sand, a soggy tent, a bag full of dirty plates and a pile of laundry of roughly the same proportions as Ayers Rock. Funny, I don’t remember that part of the Cinderella story.
Of course I was pleased to see them all and hear about all their camping adventures but I can’t pretend for a moment that I hadn’t had a very enjoyable and relaxing weekend without them and, before settling any disputes about who kicked who first, spooning lamb casserole onto plates or seeking out clean football socks, I took a deep breath and stole a quick look at the calendar to see when the next dads only camping trip might be scheduled.