a new kind of mini-break
Write. Before you drive away and forget it all — the goats with their alien eyes and wizard-like beards, the three shy sheep and two blind pigs, the hens, the ducks in the pond, the rooster named John, which you assume was named after John Wayne for the way he walks legs wide apart, a broad swaggering gait, to stop his spurs from cutting into his shanks.
Write while the sun is still shining, while your croissant with the homemade jam is toasting on the wood stove, while your campfire coffee is still hot, while Wren is busy crawling in the tall grasses.
Write before you romanticise it all. While the idea of goats roaming around your shepherd’s hut is romantic, the reality isn’t so nice when you are desperately trying to get your baby to sleep and it’s nearly 9pm and they are scratching their horns on the underside of the hut and the dog is barking at the sunset and all you want to do is sip your cider under the stars — all I want is to drink a bottle of cider by the fire and eat a freaking sausage off a fork, is that too much to ask? — because you refuse to believe that you can’t simply do things the way you used to before you had a baby.
Write, quickly, while you have a few minutes to spare because time is fleeting.
You foolishly thought you would have so much time — to finish that Virginia Woolf book and write a couple of blog posts and organise all your photos and shoot an entire roll of film and make a few videos for Instagram. Oh! How idealistic. In your magical musings of life in a shepherd’s hut, you hadn’t factored in the child, who clearly had her own agenda. Those two hours at night when you had planned to do all those lovely things? Vanished. Quickly eaten up by a hyperactive and over-tired kid who refused to go to sleep. And when she finally did fall asleep, you followed suit, exhausted from having all three been tucked into a twin bed the previous night, top and tail “sleeping”, plugging any air gaps with the duvet because the fire died down around midnight and the wind kept blowing through the cracks in the window sills.
You both used to love that shit. You still do. At least, you still desperately want to. But your bones aren’t those of a 20-year-old anymore and your hips need a bit more cushioning than they used to and all those small comforts are compromised when you have a little break dancer kicking your face in the night.
You can see, in that moment, how easy it would be to just stay at home all the time rather than packing what feels like the entire contents of your house into one car for a mini-break, which, by the way, is a misnomer when you have kids.
No, you certainly don’t do it because it’s easy or relaxing. You do it for something else now. You do it because if you don’t, you risk becoming lazy. You do it to share new experiences with her. You do it to watch her pet the goat in this weird state of fear and fascination, a quick yank of the ear that surprises both her and the poor goat. You do it so that she will, hopefully, grow up to appreciate nature and be adventurous too. You lead by example. You do it precisely because you are forty, dammit. And because you don’t want to be an old parent (on the inside, at least). And because if you are curious and open enough, she can be your doorway to wonder.
You do it even though there are no guarantees. No matter your best efforts she may still end up wearing the princess dress, begging for a Barbie, frightened of bugs, completely uninterested in mountains and rivers or anything to do with the out-of-doors. But you do it anyways because you believe that if you sow the seeds and fertilize them enough, she’ll make her way back there someday, even if only as an adult with fond memories and a willingness to do the same for her own children. You do it because if you wrap her in a fleece blanket and head into the sunset, the pink, the orange and the purple will swirl and dance around in her head and when she is older, watching the sun go down, wherever she is in the world, she’ll get a warm feeling inside and she won’t be able to pinpoint what it is but it will be love. And you keep doing this. You keep leading the way until she’s ready to forge her own path.
And the same goes for you. You’ll learn to pack less and MacGyver more — nothing like your period starting unexpectedly on a long walk in the middle of nowhere to transform a nappy into an emergency pad. You’ll learn that you can’t be rigid on holiday, you have to show a modicum of flexibility. And it’s not the end of the world if she eats cheese toasties made with cheap white bread or if she goes to bed hours after her bedtime. Sometimes you need to relinquish control. It gets easier each time you set off on a new adventure and harder the less you do it, like most things in life.
And in the end, it’s worth it just to catch a glimpse of the look on her face when she sees all the animals from her bedtime stories come to life. She now has a whole new set of experiences under her belt: she watched her dad build a fire, ate dinner with a massive pig grunting at her feet, heard ocean waves for the very first time, felt the salty air on her skin, tasted citrusy sorrel hearts, sat in a patch of bluebells, saw tadpoles swimming in a puddle, devoured her first pudding — Apple Charlotte — patted a dog named Red, heard cows moo, walked Cheddar Gorge. All those things in life that we take for granted are things that turn her eyes to the size of two-pound coins, inciting squeals of delight. Everything is SO AMAZING when you are nine months old.
We are heading home today a bit more tired than when we first arrived. But it’s the good kind of tired. It’s the kind of tired that comes from full days spent outside, camping, slow living — long walks, drowsy mornings, cold cheeks, warm hearts, little sleep, lots of tea. The smell of campfire still clings to our sweaters and our heads are filled with just enough romantic notions to plan the next mini-break.