Misadventures in parenting
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,
MY “HAVING LIVE AND CAREER, IN MY THIS LEFT FAMILY MY ACHINGLY BEHIND FRIENDS TO BEAUTIFUL PLACE, BUT MY BOOK FOREIGN SOMEHOW BECAME AN UMBILICAL CORD BETWEEN REBECCA DENTON, THE MOTHER, AND THE OLD SELF THAT REMAINED IN MY LONDON APARTMENT.”
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