It's not impossible for me to remember what life was like without kids, but it's been so long now that the feeling of just having to think about myself is as distant to me as home ownership is a reality. Having kids is a beautiful thing, but it's not automatically an easy thing. They demand, (politely and unknowingly) your love and attention, not to mention the food. Jeebers! young girls will eat you out of house and home! Something I never knew. Being a parent can sure be challenging at times, frustrating even, but I wouldn't have it any other way. My two girls are my little buddies and I absolutely adore them. They're not perfect, just like me, just like all of us, but to me, they are beautiful in their own unique ways, and I love hanging out with the little rats.
Many folk will relate to the convoluted separated parent sharing schedule, I get the girls every other weekend and a few days during the week. Some weekends we do bugger all, we just hang at home. Really that means the girls hang out and have fun while I do domestic duties, they periodically come over to where I am in the garden or the shed and cuddle me, often saying a few very predictable sentences; notably, "I love you Dad!" "What are you doing Dad?" "Why are you doing that Dad?""Isn't that dangerous Dad?" or "Dad what's for lunch?" I love those weekends. I tend to get lots done and I also enjoy the weekend vibes in our little country town. We especially love the Sunday market where we walk up the hill to buy our weekly food ingredients from local farmers, and maybe we find some treasures at the trash market. It's one of the things I love about our little hill top town, it definitely has some European market town vibes, reminiscent of those I've seen through France, Italy and Spain. Some weekends (if the bank account allows), we'll head off on an adventure. Sometimes it's a crazy one like the time we drove Kate's (barely roadworthy) 1966 Holden station wagon to the west desert country of South Australia to buy an equally old Viscount caravan for a ridiculously cheap price. Kate and I do love adventure, and our madness for adventure is rubbing off on the kids. They also love camping which is a score for us as it's one of our favourite pastimes. This past weekend we decided to have a mini local adventure, something we've been talking about for a while but never seem to get around to for the typical interruptions of work and other commitments, our best-laid plans often go awry, but not this weekend.
We live in a pretty beautiful part of the country with no shortage of amazing places to visit not too far from home, the town we live in is a tourist town for this very reason. Some weekends it's so busy with tourists there's no better option than to skip town and return when tourist heat cools down. A short drive from our home is one of many extinct volcanos in the region. The name is familiar to most people but the location is not. We used to drive past the old girl (Mt Franklin) every day when we lived out of town, but now we've become the tourists, visiting a sight in our 'local' backyard (15 minutes from town, north of Daylesford). In the guts of the extinct volcano is an oasis in a crater which has been turned into a beautiful park planted with many different types of deciduous and northern hemisphere species of trees many years ago. It's an absolutely spectacular sight in autumn, early spring is also a pretty sight to behold. The trees are bursting with fresh green foliage that provides a real sense of optimism, new life for the oncoming warm season. In spring, before the hot and dry summer arrives, the grass at the camp ground is still lush and green, in places it's so thick you can lay down and have a snooze in the warm sun and stare into the blue oblivion.
On Saturday morning (after a few hours of landscape gardening at home to make a last rushed garden bed before summer arrives), I packed up the truck with all our gear and with only five seats I had no option but to 'reluctantly' ride my bike behind my duel cab dad mobile that Kate drove. It's not a long trip but it is pretty, you drive past green paddocks with content livestock munching on the green pick of spring, then you pass through a patch of cool eucalyptus woodland that shares its aromatic perfume as the sun warms its canopy, then out through the other side of the bush to more open paddocks of rich volcanic soil with flowering golden canola and rolling hills of grazing stock as far as the eye can see, to the north is the big old volcano covered in a mass of pines. The road leading to the mount winds around the foot hills formed thousands of years ago, back in time when the old girl had active lava flows. With a few final bends you enter the crater where the trees change from pine to ornimental varieties of many kinds, even a few old sequoia (Californian Redwoods). It's always a great feeling entering the crater, it just has a special vibe about it, like mabo or the constitution. There is a volcanic crater, in our backyard, that we love to visit. That’s all I can say. It's just rad.
Sometimes, especially in winter, the place is empty bar a few die-hard campers refusing to let winter stop them from having adventure. But not this weekend, instead the place was packed with campers everywhere! Seemed like everyone had the same idea as us to enjoy the weather with a bloody camping trip to get away from it all, but we all ended up at the same place (bloody humans). In no time, we found a nice flat spot and quickly set the mega bell tent. For a tent of this size it's amazing how easy and fast it is to set up, which is important as it saves on precious beer drinking time. We fell in love with this tent design after doing a few events with our mates HomeCamp, an Aussie camping outfitters and we've loved our tent ever since. It's old school canvas so when the warm sun belts down on it there is that familiar canvas aromatic that reminds me of childhood camping in the early 80's when everything seemed to involve canvas, the camp chairs, tent, annex, and trailer cover. It's funny how smells can take you mind to special memories, for me this tent reminds me of mum and dad and happy childhood camping adventures.
With plenty of sunlight remaining in the day and our spot set up and secured, we headed off to our next favourite town Castlemaine, there's a place we like there that's perfect for ice-cream, well it was hot after all! If you're ever in this town and it's a hot day (actually anything over 15C is reasonable to allow eating this ice cream) then look up 'Ice Cream Social' and try one of their home-made concoctions, my favourite is the chili ice-cream, but they have heaps of more exciting recipes to try, so be adventurous. With delicious frozen sugar and dairy product in the kids bellies and a few bags of supplies we headed back to camp for one of the most important activities of the day, camp cricket. Now, someone is going to get upset with me for this next bit, but I don't care, it is what it is. My kids, and Kates kids….are absolutely horrible at sports, and definitely hilariously horrible at all things cricket. It's like watching the three stooges but there's four of them. One kid just kept running from one crease to another not knowing what was going on while we all watched in bemusement. At some point there was a puffed exclamation "I don't know what's going on!" as she continued to run aimlessly. Another kept on throwing the ball at the batter at the non-strike end, go figure. The wicket keeper had their hands on their hips more than on the ball, and when a ball was hit far to the boundary you could've read a short novel waiting for its return. Let's not forget tears of being bowled without ever hitting a ball or not getting enough time batting. The whole thing is hilarious to observe and as a parent, I feel it's probably best for me to internalise my laughter instead of making the kids feel bad. Instead I just told them what a great job they were doing *cough! We had a ball, and that's the important thing!
As the day cooled off I got the fire going to finish cooking Kate's masterpiece. She'd half braised a lamb shoulder in a cast iron pot on a bed of onions and garlic, slow cooking in a balsamic and thyme gravy. We cut, buttered and foil wrapped potato's, destined for the coals and enjoyed a cool drink while the fire crackled away and slowly cooked our dinner. It's often the way that camp fire meals take a little longer than expected, you can't control the heat like a home oven so the kids were 'starving' by the time we started serving (and so were we to be honest). The smell from the pot was tantalizing. The leg had been braising for hours back at home and now on the hot coals the mixture of aromatics could make any omnivore heady with anticipation. We served up the meals and the conversation went silent for a spell, bar the "ooommmmm mum this is so yummy!" Kate absolutely delivered on the dinner. I am a lucky bloke.
The light began to fade, along with our minimal supply of cold beverages. We played one last round of 'kick to kick' before the light went out completely and we all retired to the warm fire, the kids getting sticky with toasted marshmallows and us adults winding down with the day's activities, mesmerized by the relaxing power of a crackling fire. We all agreed an early night was a good idea, who doesn't like to go to bed earlier when they go camping? The six of us snuggled into our bed set ups, some in swags, some on yoga mats, some on fancy inflatables. There was a good hour of giggles, singing, farting and then the eventual snoring.
I lay in bed, the only one still awake, happily surrounded by little girl snores and the occasional sleeping bag fart (as a dad I have discovered that small girls seem to fart a lot). I looked out through the massive front door that we left open, the flickering fire light keeping me company and I couldn't help think how beautiful this moment was, that it was worth living in it, and really appreciating it because one day it will all be gone. The inevitability of human existence is that it ends eventually, which sucks as much as only buying three beers for a camping trip, (maybe even more). It was a beautiful place to be and even now thinking about it can bring a tear of joy to my eye, maybe it's just road dust. My little gang of girls and my best mate, all together in the tent, it's all worth it, all the frustrations of parenting and adult relationships...yep it's all worth it. With my head on a pillow of rolled up woollen blankets I closed my eyes and listened to the wind in the beautiful elms and poplars above us and the muffled sounds of distant revellers, singing and laughing around a campfire. I smiled in contentedness and was about to gently drift off to slumber when another small girl farted in her sleep. It never ends.