We did something a little crazy before Christmas.
Instead of staying home to cook, organise and prepare for family celebrations, we went away for a couple of nights.
It was our first experience with Airbnb. We found an historic converted schoolhouse close to Bendigo and took the leap. The kids were ecstatic when they heard the plan and immediately began packing bags.
When I reflect back on my own childhood, it is inevitably the holidays that spring to mind. Weeks spent at the Nepean Country Club, a jaunt to America and Hawaii when I was only four, annual roadtrips to Tumbarumba, Sydney and Newrybar to visit family. We spent time in Bright, Kyneton, Yarrawonga, Lorne, Coolangatta and Mansfield. I fondly remember us tagging along on one of Dad’s business trips to Adelaide, staying in a high-rise hotel with its buffet breakfasts and chef-packed lunches.
Memories spring back in a whirlwind – trout-fishing, tasting venison pie, mini-golf, watching fireworks, the wind-whipped sound of a strummed guitar on-board a ship in the Pacific Ocean. Holidays became a gift given, a reorienting of our family story, a taste for something beyond.
Now, I am on the other side. The gift-giving side. The organising, corralling, logistics side.
It can be a little crazy sometimes. The reality of having to haul all the stuff that we use daily to a strange house that we may or may not achieve sleep in feels overwhelming. We plot out lists, double check backpacks and toss in extra items for good measure. Manage expectations of trip lengths, room configurations, food options. Twist awkwardly back to pass snacks, provide remonstrations, listen to stories and complaints.
It is chaotic, unpredictable and exhausting. But we love it. (Perhaps more in hindsight, I admit.)
The first tour through the house feels like the unwrapping. Imaginings from photos are swept away in the scramblings from room to room. ‘This is my room!’ comes the cry from passionate children. Belongings are quickly stashed away in new cupboards, teddies flung as markers onto waiting pillows.
We explore, unpack, wander. Survey portraits of royals, maps from an era long passed, chalkboards stretch towards the vaulted ceilings. We spy an ancient desk, peer into monochrome photographs gazing back at us with solemn expressions. We run our hands along walls, wondering at the ghosts hidden within them, picturing classes in progress – inkwells, pigtails, quills.
We feel a tug this time. A pull between all the activities we want to do and the management of logistics – nap times for Harvey, down time for tired bodies, braving the shops without causing chaos. Often Dave and I have to divide and conquer – me at home to look after the sleeping baby, him out exploring with the bigger kids. It isn’t quite the ideal getaway we hope for, but we (mostly) learn to go with the flow.
Memories are created.
Eli faces his fears head on at the vertical slide at the Discovery Centre, in the end not quite ready for the two meter drop challenge. At dusk, enthusiastic bodies propel themselves over and over into the sandpit, pausing mid-air for super hero poses. Harvey surreptitiously tries sneaking mouthfuls of sand and tanbark whenever I’m not looking. Ivy peacefully builds castles out of sand.
The days feel as if they stretch into infinity. Moments bloom into a greater whole. We slide under a haze of happy exhaustion, really seeing each other against a shifting backdrop. All the same tasks and motions are performed, but somehow doing these rituals in a different place makes them sacred.
I value these times but it would be remiss of me to pretend I walk around as if in a cloud of bliss. The highs may be higher but the lows are lower – temper shorter, feeling the pull to control in an unfamiliar environment. Little things spin me out and I continually have to choose to rise above my mood, the sibling tussles, the failed nap times. I become my best and worst selves, often within minutes of each other.
It is my hope that I become better at savouring the moments as they occur. Reflecting on the photographs and conjuring a sense of nostalgia is elementary. Actually remaining present and calm, joyful and serene in the midst of it all – that is where the true battle lies.
The blanket of fatigue slips away, we return to walls that are familiar and appreciate them anew. Flicking through photos, laughing at moments, creating stories. We morph into something greater as we forge a collective tale. A tale of resilience, joy and solidarity. A tale of becoming.