Misad­ven­tures in par­ent­ing

Little Treasures - - CONTENTS -

I MISSED MY KID’S first na­tiv­ity play. The house was in low cloud for the third day straight – vis­i­bil­ity was next to noth­ing – and I was al­ready run­ning late af­ter a work call over­ran. I blindly backed the car into two feet of snow­drift, skid­ded back­wards down a bank and on to the farmer’s field. The fresh pow­dered snow­fall was beau­ti­ful, but at mi­nus seven­teen degrees it was ut­terly freez­ing and only the grey, spaghetti-limbed out­line of our wal­nut tree tow­er­ing in the dis­tance gave me an idea of just how far down the bank I’d skid­ded. There I sat for nearly thirty min­utes, sob­bing into the white abyss, be­fore I got the courage to haul my­self out and call for help. For the third time that week. How did this quiet moun­tain life be­come so stress­ful? Moun­tain liv­ing in Up­per Aus­tria isn’t for ev­ery­one, least of all me. As much as I like a brisk hike, I’m not re­ally a coun­try girl. I’m scared of cows, which is un­help­ful given there is cur­rently a cow star­ing men­ac­ingly at me through my bed­room win­dow. The weather ex­tremes can be fright­en­ing – an overnight snow­fall of two or three feet is not un­com­mon and the high winds mean snow­drift can be even more trou­bling. Be­ing above an open field means we’re ex­posed to ex­treme winds – we cur­rently have a gi­gan­tic 80-feet beech tree ly­ing across our gar­den from the last ex­treme storm. Sum­mer con­di­tions can pro­duce plague lev­els of bees, wasps, bee­tles and f lies – and na­tures’ gravest evo­lu­tion­ary mis­take: the tick. But there’s so much beauty. Some days, mist and fog lies low in the val­ley mean­ing the vil­lages and cities are blan­keted in a sea of cloud, but our place is bathing in bright sun. We were driven out of Lon­don af­ter 13 busy, ca­reer­fo­cused years by the costs of ris­ing rent and a grow­ing fam­ily. While on ma­ter­nity leave, I was made re­dun­dant from my job as a TV producer, so I asked my part­ner Bernie if I could take a few months to try to write a book, rather than re­turn to paid work. Only a few months later we found out we had a sec­ond girl, Ge­or­gia,


on the way and at that point we both de­cided it was time for a change. Bernie and I shoved our sav­ings into a Ty­rol-style cabin, no big­ger than our one-bed­room Lon­don flat, on a piece of land perched at 3000 feet (just above the height of the gon­dola in Queen­stown) in his home coun­try, Aus­tria. For us it made crazy sense. My ca­reer as a fledg­ing au­thor was find­ing its feet. I had an agent, and, in­cred­i­bly, a pub­lisher and re­lease date for my first novel This Beats Per­fect. Bernie could fly to Lon­don semi-reg­u­larly and work re­motely as a soft­ware de­vel­oper. To­gether, we could slowly renovate the cabin and I could sit at home, star­ing out across the dark rolling hills and Brontë my­self into lit­er­ary obliv­ion while the kids slept peace­fully. So, ob­vi­ously this didn’t hap­pen. Not even a bit. My hope­less dream even­tu­ated about 0.1 per cent of the time, and fin­ish­ing my books was a painful, ex­haust­ing and marathon ef­fort. (If only rais­ing chil­dren was as easy as a marathon. I can’t even imag­ine the bliss of sin­gle-task­ing for that long). Bil­lie was two when we fi­nally ex­changed con­tracts and Ge­or­gia was just three months old. Although an ab­so­lute dream space for hav­ing two small chil­dren, look­ing af­ter land took up way more time than I ex­pected. The idea that swap­ping in­door space for out­door would pro­vide some respite from clean­ing was ill-thought through. The ‘lawn’ took two hours to mow, and had to be done once a week in sum­mer. The veg­etable gar­den needed daily tend­ing. Trees needed felling, chop­ping, sort­ing into fire­wood and stacked for dry­ing. The ex­posed po­si­tion on the moun­tain meant that every night the gar­den needed se­cur­ing from high winds. No leav­ing toys out. And then came the in­evitable ren­o­va­tions. De­cid­ing we couldn’t live with a kitchen the size of a cup­board, and an even smaller bath­room, we opted to make a few changes. But, what started as an ex­tra liv­ing area tagged onto the side of an old cabin bal­looned into a big Scan­di­na­vian-style black wood cabin. We were sud­denly build­ing a brand new kitchen, toi­let, en­trance hall and liv­ing room with a wrap­around ter­race. Con­se­quently about 150 square me­tres of land needed land­scap­ing in­clud­ing, heart­break­ingly, the re­moval of eight ma­ture trees. We be­came that silly cou­ple on Grand De­signs that de­cided on a ground lin­seed-based biodegrad­able in­su­la­tion, and a time­line that ran through win­ter, mean­ing de­liv­er­ies never made it up the frozen dirt road and work of­ten ground to a halt. What had we done? My part­ner had to quit work for a while to over­see the project be­cause my nine words of Ger­man weren’t go­ing to be enough to brief Die Baumeis­ter (builder) in his ab­sence. I took on a free­lance job work­ing re­motely for a TV com­pany in Lon­don to make up the gap in in­come, mean­ing my few hours a week of child­care, plus morn­ing, evenings, week­ends and ev­er­shrink­ing nap times were used up, and writ­ing was shoved to the bot­tom of the pile un­der­neath things that needed do­ing im­me­di­ately. At the height of this mad­ness I sat on a con­fer­ence call be­tween a bank, an Amer­i­can news net­work, and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the UN pre­tend­ing to be ‘at my desk’ while my kids were eat­ing a life­time sup­ply of ice cream on the towel next to me at the lo­cal pool. I re­ceived a gen­tle push from my agent that book num­ber three was due in six weeks. A book I hadn’t started. The dig­ger ar­rived to re­move half of my gar­den and later that evening, just as our wa­ter

tank was found empty af­ter the sum­mer drought, the ed­its for my sec­ond book ar­rived from my pub­lisher. “Is two weeks enough time?” the email read. I have no time. I live in the coun­try, I have less time now than when I lived in Lon­don. De­spite this mad­ness, I was de­ter­mined to write. Hav­ing left my ca­reer, my friends and my fam­ily to live in this beau­ti­ful but for­eign place, the book be­came the um­bil­i­cal cord be­tween mother-me, and the old self. I wrote sev­eral por­tions of the book on my iphone while breast­feed­ing. I crawled out of bed at 4:00am to steal a cou­ple of hours be­fore the kids woke up. I cried a lot, but more of­ten, I sucked it up be­cause giv­ing up work­ing com­pletely, if even for a cou­ple of years, felt too ter­ri­fy­ing a prospect. My part­ner and his mother stepped in and even­tu­ally, I got there. Eigh­teen months af­ter we left Lon­don, I sat at Vi­enna air­port, en route to Lon­don to over­see the last edit for my TV project. I was ex­hausted and ex­hil­a­rated but de­ter­mined to never have an­other year like the one I’d just had. This Beats Per­fect, my first book, a boy meets girl story about mak­ing it in the Lon­don mu­sic in­dus­try, had come out and I’d fin­ished my ed­its on the sec­ond book, A Se­cret Beat. Some­how, I’d man­aged to write my third book in un­der eight weeks. The Punk Fac­tor was with the pub­lisher. I had a trip to New Zealand booked, and while I was away the build would be fin­ished. I could see calm ahead. But, as I dream of my new deck, ren­o­va­tions be­hind me, both chil­dren at kindy, watch­ing the sun­set across the Müh­lvier­tel with a glass of wine in hand as I draft book num­ber four, I won­der, how can I make my quiet, moun­tain life more ex­cit­ing? 



Re­becca and Bernie’s idyl­lic coun­try home nes­tled deep in the pic­turesque, sunkissed Aus­trian Moun­tains

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