Annabelle Hickson: A Day in the Coun­try

A CHILD-FREE NIGHT OUT PROVES TO BE A WEL­COME VAL­I­DA­TION OF SEN­SI­BLE PAR­ENT­ING FOR ANNABELLE HICKSON.

Country Style - - CONTENTS - Annabelle Hickson lives on a pecan farm in the Du­maresq Val­ley in north­ern NSW with her hus­band and three kids. She reg­u­larly blogs on coun­try life at the-dai­lys.com and you can fol­low her on In­sta­gram @the_­dai­lys.

THE BABYSIT­TER LOOKED like she des­per­ately wanted to choose ‘flight’ from the ‘fight or flight’ op­tions of her in­stincts, but given she had 54 chil­dren in her charge, she could do noth­ing but freeze. It was dark and cold out­side, and to any­one peer­ing through the misted-up win­dows, the class­room at Bon­shaw Pub­lic School would have re­sem­bled an evac­u­a­tion centre af­ter a mysterious nat­u­ral dis­as­ter had wiped out al­most all of the pop­u­la­tion over 12 years of age — a world in which only hun­gry chil­dren, a fraz­zled babysit­ter and her gob­s­macked boyfriend were left be­hind. It was Bon­shaw’s an­nual Trivia Night — a fundraiser for the tiny school with 11 stu­dents, of which two are my chil­dren — in the hall across the road. One of the many things go­ing for the event was that you could leave your kids with a babysit­ter at the school for $5 a child. There would be spag bol and movies for the lit­tle ones, leav­ing the par­ents to have fun across the road with not a sin­gle port-a-cot in sight. Fam­i­lies came from hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres away. Even par­ents who weren’t go­ing to the trivia night thought it was a good idea, with one even try­ing to sneak in their child — pos­si­bly chil­dren — with the maxed-out babysit­ter. (“A cuckoo in the nest!” gasped a fam­ily friend in de­light.) I can’t say ex­actly how the night turned out for the kids, but when I dropped my own chil­dren off, it looked like for some it might have been har­row­ing. The babysit­ter was mut­ter­ing to the oven in dis­be­lief, re­peat­ing, “It just won’t heat up the food.” Her boyfriend was rock­ing a scream­ing baby in a pram with im­pres­sive fo­cus. I don’t know how much ex­pe­ri­ence he had with small ba­bies, but he was cer­tainly giv­ing it a good go. Wide-eyed three-year-olds were wan­der­ing be­tween groups of older kids colour­ing in, clutch­ing bits of fab­ric for com­fort. A 12-year-old was car­ing for an up­set two-year-old, who’d been in­con­solable for some time and didn’t look like she was giv­ing up soon. And, amid all this chaos, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of kids were hang­ing out and hav­ing a blast. I re­mem­ber Nikki Gem­mell talk­ing about ‘light­house par­ent­ing’, as op­posed to the tiger and he­li­copter mode, in her col­umn for The Week­end Aus­tralian Mag­a­zine last year. “There’s a new level of mol­ly­cod­dling in lo­cal play­grounds that didn’t ex­ist when we were grow­ing up,” wrote Gem­mell. “Af­ter much trial and er­ror, I’ve set­tled on the ‘light­house par­ent­ing’ style as the most ef­fec­tive… That is, you’re a beacon of sta­bil­ity to guide those lit­tle boats out to sea away from rocky shores, but you’re leav­ing them to find their own way into a safe har­bour. That may in­volve risk and fail­ure and dis­ap­point­ment and hurt, but it’s all a part of grow­ing up.” I felt more like a cap­tain jump­ing ship than a light­house as I walked over to the trivia night, leav­ing the babysit­ter with the cold din­ner and the rum­bling of tiny tum­mies grow­ing louder. But I’m grate­ful this school and community en­cour­ages light­house par­ent­ing, rather than he­li­copter overkill. Yes, there could have been an­other babysit­ter, but the kids were safe, if not all happy, and the grown-ups had fun.

“I FELT MORE LIKE SHIP A CAP­TAIN JUMP­ING THAN A LIGHT­HOUSE AS I WALKED OVER TO THE TRIVIA NIGHT.”

The class­room at Bon­shaw Pub­lic School, a tiny school on the NSW/ Queens­land border.

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