Annabelle Hickson: A Day in the Country
ANNABELLE HICKSON CHANGES HER TUNE WHEN IT COMES TO THE BENEFITS OF EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES FOR CHILDREN.
THIS TIME LAST year I wrote about foregoing extracurricular activities and all the driving they entail (like the 200-kilometre round trip to Thursday afternoon football practice) and suggested instead that we all take our children for a bushwalk after school, or make clay pinch pots, or — my cheeks are burning now — sew with them. I must give my thanks to Victoria Carey, this magazine’s editor, who shielded me from what I can only imagine was a tsunami of letters begging: “Please silence the smug mum!” And asking, “Who seriously takes their children bushwalking after school bus drop offff and before dinner madness? How is this possible?” What can I say? It was early days living on the farm. The utopian dream felt within reach. My kids might not be able to do freestyle but by God they would discover the land upon which we lived while wearing loincloths they had sewn themselves. Since that column you’ll be unsurprised to learn that I have taken the children on a grand total of zero after-school bushwalks and the sewing machine is covered with a thick layer of dust. Instead I have spent many hours yelling, “Turn that thing offff!” (How are they able to fifind out all the passwords? The same people who put on their shorts backwards). And they still can’t do freestyle. More of a thrashing fifit than anything free or stylish. So, having faced the uncomfortable truth that I am not quite the adventurous mum of my dreams, it was time to rethink my ban on extracurricular activities. But not without trying to avoid leaving the comfort of my own home fifirst. I put an ad on Gumtree titled: ‘Farming family looking for swimming teacher’, and for food, board and some pocket money a Dutch girl arrived to stay for four weeks, with the plan to conduct swimming lessons every afternoon. I had visions of listening to whistles and commands such as, “Give me 10 more laps!”, delivered in a stern Dutch accent while I sat on the couch with a David Sedaris book. But like many things that are too good to be true (such as decaf coffee, dandelion root coffee and all other coffee substitutes), this dream crumbled when it hit reality. My oldest child — and really the only one who had any chance of doing laps — was sidelined for the entire month with a perforated eardrum. The other two were not responsive to swimming instruction and preferred to play Marco Polo with their eyes open. After a few days the swimming teacher, who did not wear a whistle around her neck and had a gentle Dutch accent, more Miss Honey than Mrs Trunchbull, lost the will to do anything much other than eat my mangoes and daydream about the handsome backpacker working on the farm, with whom she had started having regular night-time visits. So now, back to the drawing board. And as I look around at the tried and true methods of what so many country mothers do to expose their kids to a life beyond their 12-person primary school, it is clear. I must drive. And drive. My friend, who last year announced she would take her girls to nippers at the beach every weekend — a three-hour drive each way — has completed the season still smiling. I thought she was bonkers at the outset, but hearing her talk about the weekends when she would drive to the coast on the Saturday, set up a tent and roll out the swags at a camping ground and then hit the beach on the Sunday, I am in awe. Her girls are learning so much more than how to run at a stick in the sand. They are seeing their mother make the seemingly impossible possible. They are learning how to camp, how to sacrififice for what they want and how to freestyle. Real life skills. With not an imaginary loincloth in sight. I might just ease my way into this new extracurricular order, say with a 260-kilometre round trip to a ballet lesson as opposed to an overnight camp, but I will do so with a complete attitude change from last year. I was wrong to write it all offff. And self-driving cars are just around the corner, aren’t they?
Annabelle Hickson lives with her family on a pecan farm in the Dumaresq Valley in NSW. Follow her on Instagram @annabellehickson