Take me away (so I can go home)

We don’t need to cross the creek—we have no destination—but nobody points this out. By the time the rest of us have started rolling up our jeans, Anna’s are off and she’s thigh-deep in icy water. It’s the only way, we see this now, and so we do the same.

The reason we’re in the middle of nowhere, crossing a creek in our undies, is that we’ve run away for a girls’ weekend. We’ve rented a cottage surrounded by fields and sheep, water and sky; we’ve no one to care for, nowhere to be.

The four of us—all mothers with young children, all in our thirties—aren’t exactly “girls” anymore (a point my eldest enjoys making without tact), but I can’t bring myself to call this a “ladies’” or “women’s” weekend. “Ladies” is sharp, committee-like; “women’s” is too pillowy and soft. What then is a “girls’ weekend”?

The girls

It depends on the girls. At the risk of sounding like a weekend-away junkie (and in the hope of sounding like an expert) this one is my third this year—and at the risk of sounding like a cheat, they were all with different people.

The first was with two besties from my Sydney days. We’ve been getting together every couple of years since we moved apart. These friends have little interest in puzzles and even less in board games, which means more time for cultural attractions and food-related quests.

The second, several months later, was with school friends. We met in grade one and have been going away together ever since we outgrew sleepovers—but these days we’re more likely to stay at a shack and eat gourmet food than to rough it in tents. In our college years, a weekend of sleeping-in and pleasing ourselves lacked novelty because it was normality. Now, the opposite is so.

This, the third, is with friends I’ve made more recently through church. We’ve chosen a destination far from cafes and cultural attractions, but have brought enough coffee and cocktails, wine and cheese, chocolate and chips, to last a week.

I’ve said the weekend depends on the “girls”, and to some extent it does, but when all the girls are parents of young children, the “guts” are much the same.

The guts

The guts are much the same because there comes a point in the life of a mother when the simple pleasures she once took for granted—eating, sleeping, walking, talking—become longed-for luxuries. Examples include:

eating food her kids don’t like, eating when she’s hungry (as opposed to when the kids are), eating without anyone complaining or kicking anyone else under (or over) the table;

sleeping in, sleeping without interruptions, any kind of sleep, come to think of it;

walking the length of the house without stepping on a toy, walking the length of a street without carrying a child, walking without lugging an overflowing bag of “essentials”; and

talking to a friend without being interrupted, having conversations that go beyond passing pleasantries and half-formed sentences, talking without shouting to be heard.

It’s at this point that a weekend away becomes a thing more wonderful than your pre-parent self could ever have imagined. What matters is not where you are going but that you are going: you are going away, and the people you love most in the world are not. For two glorious nights, you’ll be apart.

But you won’t be alone. You’ll be with people you love… but who don’t depend on you daily. People who will be just as drunk on their freedom as you are on yours. You will share comfortable silences, nonsensical jokes, private struggles, funny stories, delicious treats.

You’ll share the cooking and washing up too! Unlike your beloved offspring, these people are fully grown! They wipe their own bottoms and chew with their mouths shut! They express their emotions in words instead of outbursts of inexplicable violence! They might cross creeks in their undies every now and then, but afterwards they put their pants and shoes back on—all by themselves.

From fantasy…

A girls’ weekend away usually begins as a fantasy among a few close friends. Sentences that start with lines such as, “wouldn’t it be amazing if…”, or “one day we should…”, lead to conversations that end up with everyone gazing into the middle-distance, lost in the dreaming.

If you’re lucky, one of you will realise such a dream is not beyond the realm of possibility—and dare to say so.

In my experience, the biggest challenge is finding a date—but persevere. The moment that the dreaming turns to planning, the fun begins.

Even packing is a joy! You don’t need multiple changes for multiple emergencies, you only need to clothe yourself; your bag is lighter than your lightest child. Food is a different story. You buy one (or more) of everything you might possibly want. Between you there’ll be too much wine and cheese, and too little fruit and veg, but this is not the time for being sensible.

Finally, the day comes. You farewell your family with affection… and impatience. In seconds you’ll be off-duty; not for minutes or hours, but days. DAYS!

…to reality

When we arrive, we cook when we feel like it and eat like kings. We walk without knowing or caring where we’ll end up or when, we read without interruption, we go to bed when we want to, and when we do get up, it’s because we have woken, not because we’ve been woken.

Then there’s the talk. We tell old stories, we tell new stories, we recycle old jokes, we make new ones. We tease; we confide; we relay inappropriate dreams featuring mutual friends. We discuss doubts and fears and failures, successes, hopes, frustrations and FRUSTRATIONS.

…to memory

At first, my thoughts of home focus on all that I’ve escaped: the children’s squabbles, demands, needs, complaints. But then I start to miss their earnest faces. Their in-jokes, their affection—their dear dad.

What a thing it is to miss what you still have while it’s still yours. What a thing it is to go away—to revel in deep friendship, to laze about and laugh, to be refreshed—and then return to see your children and your husband as gifts too.

The feeling might last hours, or seconds—a tantrum could shatter the spell—so the important thing is to remember it. Especially when the days are long and hard and LOUD, that knowledge is a treasure to behold: the best thing about leaving home, is coming back.

No, this doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you’d rather be away again—sipping wine, sharing a joke—but most of the time, you know, you’d rather be here: wincing at the noise, yawning from the lack of sleep, drowning in washing, but serving the people who need you, who love you, who want you, the most.

And so, dear reader, if you’re struggling to see your friends long enough to really talk and really laugh—to do a puzzle or play a game, eat too much cheese or cross a creek—I prescribe to you a girls’ weekend.

If you have a family you love but never leave, let me urge you now, for your sake and for theirs, to go. Love them, leave them, miss them—and let them miss you. After that, go home.


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