image

Lessons learned in a van

Sarah,

Remember when you were 14 years old and blasting that Garbage song about only being happy when it rains? You had your yellow Sony Walkman in your ears, the one constantly attached to your head as you wandered the sunny, bright, blue-skied streets of Cleveland, your hometown in the sunshine state? Remember how you longed for the grey, dreary, cold days where you could be for given for huddling inside away from the world? You ached for that weather, the kind of respite from the cheeriness of sun. And yet now here you are, some 20 years later, and guess what – you are goddamn sick of the fucking rain.

One month in a van, at least 75% rain.

image

It rained in Melbourne, as it always does, all through winter, making cold, unpalatable days even harder to navigate, especially when you had two small children to entertain. You left Melbourne for Echuca where it was cold but sunny, and where you sat outside drinking wine with your husband as your children played (briefly) at your feet. I could get used to this! – or so you thought. Of course then it rained in Bright, the picturesque town at the base of the mountains, minutes from the snow. It rained so much the ground squelched under your every step. You wore gumboots constantly, as did your boys, and despite your best efforts, your caravan was soon streaked with mud.

image

It also rained at the snow, your first trip to what you expected to be a powdery white wonderland. It rained so much you could barely see, your face hurt from the ferocity of the droplets smashing against your freezing cheeks. Your eldest son, J, cried from the sensation as his olive skin turned a blotchy red. Your baby, N, wailed as wetness covered his face, when even the warm embrace of his Dad shielding him from the onslaught could not abate his tears.

image

It rained in Mansfield, that freezing little town at the base of yet another mountain. You didn’t even bother trying to entertain your children outdoors in these conditions – instead, you cleverly sought out a DVD from the local Target and played it repeatedly with the boys perched on your bed (God bless you, Zootopia).

It rained when you came back to Melbourne, literally dampening your efforts to prepare your house for upcoming sale. With every job performed outside, you trudged dirt and debris into your momentarily pristine home. Your husband sought refuge in the shed as he completed carpentry tasks with his knuckles clenched and his fingers frozen to the bone. You managed to plant flowers using your bare hands, scraping soil from a pile on the ground and filling planter boxes to line your deck. You didn’t have a spade; it had been packed away, so instead you used a random piece of wood to aid shovelling. By the end of the sixth planter box, your hands were numb.

It rained when your children succumbed to one of the worst colds they’ve had, a heaving, hacking cough your accompaniment to drizzly days of nothing but grey. It was perfect weather to curl up inside in front of a fire, snuggling on a well-loved couch with your sick little people. But you don’t own a couch anymore, and you couldn’t risk your kids damaging the hire furniture used to present your home in its most appealing light. You mooched at the home of your sister-in-law, taking over her lounge room and playing hours of lego with your boys, while your husband tended to last-minute jobs in preparation for your home’s advertising photographs. When the photographer arrived, it rained. It rained so much, they photoshopped in a sunset sky.


image

You set off on the next leg of your trip, stopping at the beachside town of Torquay where finally there was sun. You inhaled the scent of the ocean and walked along the sand with your children. It didn’t rain once. In a typical response, you almost decided to relocate your family to Torquay permanently.


image image

You scoured the jobs in the area, noting one position with a past employer who has relocated to Geelong. You looked at the houses for sale in the area, marvelling at the serenity of life by the ocean, the four bedroom homes with open living areas and clean tiles. You told yourself that – after days of wrangling sick, cranky children in close quarters – you could be the one to return to full-time work, bringing in a generous wage that would allow your husband to be the stay-at-home parent. You might have even applied for this job, had your laptop been operational but alas, your husband had accidentally taken the battery lead to your storage shed, meaning it was packed away. By the time you reach Warrnambool, you are so desperate to tap your keyboard that you find the one Apple outlet in the region and fork out $130 to quell your angst. By then, the job applications for that role you were eyeing off had closed, which as you know, is a blessing.

image image

You drive to Port Campbell and a combination of your own onset of illness and entertaining your children in the cold has caused your already short fuse to be rubbed down to a nib. You think back to what you had imagined this journey to be like – mornings of sunshine, pancakes, smoothies and family bike rides. You wonder how you could have ignored the critical fact that you would not see summer for months. You want to fast-forward time so that you get to that place by the beach, the rolling waves and the yellow streams of sunlight. You want the ritual of slathering up chunky legs with sunscreen and affixing hats to not-so-little heads that try to wriggle free. You want the look of delight when your husband throws one of your children up in the air in the water, the splash of warm liquid on your face, the cool afternoon breeze that moves your maxi dress between your calves.

Dresses! Oh, you miss them too. You packed your corporate attire away so frantically you never even paused to consider you might miss the sensation of a zip running up your spine or sliding on a pair of heels. You live in tights and jeans, hoodies and sneakers. You didn’t bring anything else into the caravan with you. Why would you? You dress for practicality now, not style (although in your defence, you still have most of your jewellery with you because you know it is amazing how one statement piece can transform an otherwise pedestrian outfit).

You drive on to Mount Gambier, where there are shops, a library, cafes and even an art gallery. You quite like Mount Gambier, and how could you not – it is the fertile, stoic ground from which your husband grew. You can tolerate the rain – yes, more rain – because like Melbourne, Mount Gambier’s weather can never quite commit to what it wants to be. When the rain passes, there is a glimmer of sun. But it quickly disappears. You imagine living in a town like this and how you would cope with the extremes in temperature throughout the year. You know you would survive, but suspect you would probably complain constantly.

image image

You drive through the Coorong to Adelaide and the sun follows you the whole way. Since being in Adelaide it has not rained once. You’ve had bike rides into Glenelg, teaching your son about resilience when his little legs refused to keep pushing for the last leg of the 8km round trip. You have played lego and trucks and cars in a sun-filled annex that keeps you warm. But despite the reprieve of the elements, you finally succumb to the ache of your sinus infection, collapsing in tears as you beg for an ice pack to relieve the pain in your face. Your husband puts you to bed, closes the blinds and makes the space as dark as it can be in spite of the happy sunshine hovering overhead. In a brief moment of desperation you find yourself wanting to call out for your Nanny, for her to make you well again and to push the pain away. But she can’t, Sarah. She can’t.

You chat with the oldies in all of the caravan parks and you like them; they remind you of your own grandparents even though you realise your grandparents would never have considered life in a caravan. Your Nanny would never have agreed to bathing in a communal shower block, and besides, where would she get her perm set every month? “You know I don’t let just anyone touch my hair!” – her words ring in your ears even though it has been years since she said anything like this, to you or to anyone. You also think of your grandfather. The sun-chaser in him would be baulking at the thought of completing a lap of Tasmania in September, “You’re not driving north?” he would question, noting his own hatred of the cold; the boy from Goulburn for whom a winter in Queensland was barely tolerable.

Your children have grown before your eyes. Your baby N responds with a vehement “No!” when he feels like refusing something, his once angelic eyes narrowing to a piercing glare. He is no longer the chubby infant permanently on your hip, who only wanted you all the time. Instead he will squirm from your grasp and run after his brother, copying everything he does. But at lunchtime when N needs his nap, you will no longer have to sit in a darkened room, hunched over at his cot and patting him into sweet oblivion, all the while hoping that J doesn’t make a sound that will wake him. Instead, you darken the caravan and snuggle into him on your bed. He guzzles his bottle and burrows between the safety of your left bicep and your chest, and there he will sleep for an hour, maybe more. You will hold his perfect, plump little foot in your hand as the fine blond hairs on his warm skull tickle your nose. You will stay there for as long as he needs you, because you can. Your husband takes J out during this time – to kick the footy, to ride his bike, or today – to wash the car. So you still have your baby, but now you get him in one concentrated hit.

J has moments of baffling turdiness which you respond to poorly because you forget regularly that he is only 4 years old. He is the boy who asks you questions about the world and who offers suggestions for improving the space around him that never occur to you. He proposes that giant flying foxes be affixed to all street lamps, allowing pedestrians a new form of public transport. “The people could just swing from one to the other, and then they don’t have to worry about driving their cars!” You agree that this would be a far more enjoyable form of public transport than any you have experienced thus far. J accompanies your husband to a night football match and you take a photo of the two of them together that makes you swell with sadness at the disappearance of your chubby toddler, but fills your heart with pride at the handsome, smart young man you are helping to grow.

And as for your husband – that man with whom you butt heads, snap at or pester for an explanation for the occasional stressed, sullen mood? That man is gone, replaced with a relaxed, eager co-parent who tends to every one of the household duties for which you used to be (mainly) solely responsible. He takes the children solo for trips to the bouncing pillow in the caravan park grounds, he smiles at you across the table where you eat breakfast together as a family, and he sets up the barbecue to make dinner, allowing you to continue lego helicopter making duties with J. On sunlit mornings he goes for a run, returning with coffee for you both. Panting and sweaty, he removes his skin-tight running top to reveal the broad shoulders and strong chest you have  clutched for the past eleven years. You run your eyes over his physique, noting the athleticism etched in his muscles, his firm calves, his wide thighs and his ridiculously round derriere. You wrap your arms around his back, running your finger down the shallow trench at his spine, the place where two sides of his back converge. In your wedding vows, you wrote that you had never felt safer than when you were in his arms. You note that this is still true.

image

It has been just over a month since you started this journey; since you said goodbye to your jobs, your house, your things. There has been tears, laughter, fury and delight. There has been life lived, edges explored, patience tested and affection shared. You wanted to shake things up, remember? You wanted to get away from the mundane, from labelled Tupperware and frantic Sunday nights. You wanted space and time together, and you must remember this.

Even when the children test you. 
Even when you long for a shower that doesn’t involve the need to wear thongs. 
And even when – ultimately – the rain comes back again.

image

(The sun will come back too.)

-S x

Share This:
facebook

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *