I write this in January, on the halfway-between-a-double-and-a-Queen bed in our caravan, where all is dark except for the light from my laptop, and other than the sounds of my fingers tapping keys, the only noises are the snores of my youngest son who is asleep on my bed, and the whir of the air conditioner that is rarely, if ever, turned off.
It is 7.30pm. My children are asleep because they are overactive boys who need to rest, but who refuse to. They’ve both collapsed in a heap after tears and a tantrum and a cavalcade of books read to them by the parent who loves the sound of her own voice.
My husband is at the gym.
He needs to punch something.
He needs some alone time.
We are in Brisbane. We have been here for almost two months. We elected to stop here as I – on some strange tropics-infused whim – decided I would like to try my luck at being employed again. Just temporarily! Just to make sure I am still employable! So a few months ago from our van parked near Palmerston in the Territory, as my children slept I churned out a few job applications, and ended up getting a three month role in the Queensland government that was presumably to wrap up at the end of February. It has since been extended.
This will be great! We thought, for we are idiots. I can work and give D a taste of what it’s like to be a full-time stay-at-home dad! We can see if that set-up is one that might work for us! And we will only stay in Brisbane for a little while because, Brisbane. No we aren’t going to stay in Brisbane, are you kidding? As if we want to get stuck here again in the city that holds memories of most of my sins and years spent dodging bullets and firing even more.
We will be fine, my husband said, as I went to work that steamy December morning, leaving him with the children. We will hang out in the pool, visit friends, do the touristy stuff.
We are two months in.
We are two months in to our three-month gig.
We are two months in.
And we are miserable.
Now, I could smack a lick of gloss over this crumbling conundrum and reassure all and sundry that EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! LIFE! YEAH! #BLESSED I could post photos of children playing with flowers, and me with my sun-kissed legs outstretched on a beach and of melamine cups and barbecues and sunsets and beauty and moments and gratitude.
It would be bullshit. That’s not reality anymore.
Before I elaborate I am at pains to explain that up until the Brisbane hiatus, things were awesome. Well, they were difficult (we do have two children under 5) but they were fun. Exploring new places, turning up in strange towns, making do in the surroundings, trying to be creative when cooking with a can of tomatoes, tuna and pasta for another night. It was challenging, but fun. We were a team, hubby and I. We rolled our eyes at each other when our boys screamed blue murder over misappropriated ninja turtles. We listened to podcasts as we drove through kilometers of nothing as our children watched episodes of Deadly 60 as our car sped along a highway. We talked about life on the rare occasions that both our children fell asleep as we drove – where we will settle? Is J ready for school? Where should we go next?
There are days, now, that we talk to each other in such a spitting, irritable way, you could be forgiven for thinking that we never liked each other, and that we are just inmates thrust into the same cell, trying desperately to get out of a prison of our own making.
How did this happen?
I don’t know. If I knew, I imagine I would be able to stop it. But I don’t know the cause. I know some contributing factors, but how relevant they each are is a bit of a mystery.
Here they are, in no particular order:
Oh co-sleeping, you mistress of doom. You won me over with your promises of baby cuddles on tap, which I love, I do. And I have loved it for some time…the baby in question is nearly 2 and a half. The baby can sleep on his own, he just chooses not to. Oh, what’s that, unsolicited opinions? I should be firmer with him set some boundaries? HOW THE FUCK SHALL I MANAGE THAT IN A CARAVAN? The little bugger can simply roll out of his bottom bunk, wander up to us and scream until we give him what he wants (our bed). He slept in a bed on his own while we were housesitting; I was able to lie in bed with him until he fell asleep and then creep out. Do you know how hard it is to wedge oneself in the base bed of a triple bunk? Thank Christ for my years of yoga or I may have snapped a tendon by now, having to contort myself into place where I am resting half on the floor and half on a mattress that is supermodel thin, all the while cradling N’s enormous head in my bicep and trying not to swear.
So the baby ends up in bed with us. We try to make peace with it. We try to be sexually adventurous using locations other than the bed. Well, we try to try. Apparently my glaring and constant bitchy resting face isn’t sexy (who knew?).
In families that are packed together like sardines in tiny apartments, is there any data to show their quality of life? Because if I were a betting woman, I would wager that the proximity one is to one’s immediate family is inversely proportionate to the amount of affection felt for that family. In other words, I NEED SOME FUCKING SPACE. But I am the lucky one, now. I am at work for a glorious 8 hours a day. I get alone time on the bus, at the gym, on my lunch-break. It is absolutely marvellous and simply confirms to me what I always knew – that the stay at home parent has it much, much harder than anyone who gets to leave the house and go to work.
Poor husband. He is actually coping quite well as the primary caregiver and to be honest I never really doubted his ability. He is patient (though that quality is waning), he is engaged and he loves his kids. Plus, when we decided to have a family we were both VERY CLEAR on the fact that it would not be solely my role to raise our children. He could have found a woman who wanted to be homemaker. Instead he found me, a decision that I imagine he regrets far more than he used to of late.
So the problem isn’t so much him. It’s how I see him.
Imagine you are at work, doing your job day after day, a job that challenges you and one that you enjoy, and one which you are an expert at because you have been doing it for so long. Sure you might make mistakes from time to time but you know how to fix them and you know what works. You have it all figured out. You = boss.
Now imagine that you’re moving into another area at work, to take on a new role. Someone else has been hired to replace you. But they already know how to do your job, or at least they think they do. They might listen to a few tips you have, but they really want to do things their way. So when you see them about to make an error that you yourself have made and are now able to avoid, naturally you want to warn them. And when they ignore your warning, you want to slap them. Why aren’t they listening to you? This was YOUR JOB! But no, your words have little relevance now. It WAS your job. Now your job belongs to them.
And when, on a relatively easy day (by your standards), you hear your replacement moaning about how tired they are, how tricky the job is, how exhausting it can be, you feel some sympathy, because you have been there. But mostly, you feel annoyed, because you felt this way for years while you were in the role and WHO THE FUCK HELPED YOU?
Welcome to the world of watching your husband be the primary caregiver.
It is heartwarming to watch a dad with his sons. It is fantastic to have married a man who never believed that a woman’s place is at home. It is wonderful to finally be focusing a bit more on my career, having shouldered the majority of the parenting role for so long. But the bar is already set so goddamn low for fathers, that all they have to do is turn up and be affectionate towards their kids and immediately they’re nominated for Sainthood. So many people have said to me how lucky I am to have husband who is happy to stay home with our sons. Err, THEY’RE HIS CHILDREN! I didn’t create them myself on some journey of immaculate conception. And where was my parade when I gave up my career to stay home with the kids? Oh yes, that’s right, it’s just expected of us women folk, isn’t it?
Where is the love? The love that used to wrap me in its big strong arm and kiss me on the neck? Let me tell you where it is – that love has been squished into a wall by a baby who sleeps sideways. What about the love that stayed up late with me and drank wine, or let me read on his lap while he watched Game of Thrones and stroked my hair? That love has been silenced by small children who demand we tippy-toe around our 22ft can of a home, thus eradicating opportunities for conversation unless we wish to do so underneath our caravan awning, outside. Do you know what invades my senses when I sit outside my caravan? THE SIGHTS, SMELLS AND SOUNDS OF OTHER CARVANNERS. And I get attacked by mosquitoes. So no, there are no chats after dark unless they’re whispered, and no, there is no Netflix watching unless we can get the caravan park’s dicky WiFi to work and even then we have to aim the Ipad away from the baby because we have to sit on the bed where he is sleeping to watch it BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE A COUCH.
Peace of mind
Oh yes, I did a course on mindfulness therapy. This technically means I should be espousing all manner of calm and soothing processes to chill one out. But I bet you couldn’t pick that now, could you? I have no patience and that is partly because I have no chance to just sit by myself and calm the fuck down. We have a fixed cabin looking down at us in our current van location; not sure I really want the glaring eyes of my transient neighbours watching me as I try to get some inner peace. I have been going to the gym regularly and THANK CHRIST for that outlet. I snap at the children. I yell at my husband. I use the word ‘fuck’ too much (and rarely as a verb, sob). And my husband is just as disgruntled. He shrugs at me, looks at me with a weird glare of incomprehension and occasional disgust. He wants to go back to work. He wants some semblance of normality back. But I am not kind about this; I am just angry.
My stupid birthday is coming up and what is even worse is that it’s the day after a major public holiday so even if I wanted to forget about it, I can’t. What are you doing for the long weekend, Sarah? Oh I think I will just cry in a corner if that’s okay but as I can’t get any privacy I will just have to muffle my tears in the communal fucking shower block.
Nanny and Gran
I miss them, I miss them, I miss them. I always miss them. My friends complain about their mums being annoying and I find my immediate (internal) response not one of support but one of irritation. At least you still have her, I think to myself. I am not a nice person. I am probably going to hell. I will be easy to spot among the brimstone as I will be the one towing a caravan behind me as my penance for being a bitch on earth.
If I have a talent (I don’t have one, I have many, the problem being they are fairly useless. For example: I have beautiful handwriting. What a blessing that is in this digital age), it is perception. I know this is temporary. I know that life comes in seasons and this is just where are at, for now. Et hoc transibit – this too shall pass.
There is a Japanese saying that goes something like “After the rain, the ground hardens”. Basically it means the soil is primed for growth after a downpour. Maybe this is our downpour? Or maybe we are just over living in a metal box?
When we started this adventure, we had no idea where it would lead. We didn’t know what to expect or where life would take us, nor did we consider a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to have this experience. Now, having journeyed for over six months, we have decided to take a break from our current situation and take a family holiday, a proper one. So we are off to Canada in March. Four weeks, six cities, including New York. While we are away we will stay open to new opportunities – will hubby find a role he loves overseas? Will we relocate and have new adventures abroad? Or will we miss Brisbane, that city we struck off our list so sure were we never to return?
Whatever happens, at the end of our holiday, I hope we will be ready to carve out our own little home somewhere. And while renting a house might mean our adventures have been curtailed at least temporarily, what’s the point of navigating the earth if you’re angry with your copilot?Share This: