Annabelle Hick­son: A Day in the Coun­try

ANNABELLE HICK­SON CHANGES HER TUNE WHEN IT COMES TO THE BEN­E­FITS OF EX­TRACUR­RIC­U­LAR AC­TIV­I­TIES FOR CHIL­DREN.

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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

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