You don’t have to play games you don’t like to be a good enough parent, says Bron Bates.
On the first day of the year I woke up late (considering we have young children – 8am), stretched out starfish flat on the double bed and stared at the knots in the walls’ wooden panels. Everything was quiet.
I was at our shack. A tiny house in the bush. Surrounded by farms and close to beaches and lakes, it’s a place we try to get away to on weekends and holidays. We’d invited some friends up to camp for the New Year and at this hour everyone was up but me.
After visiting our outdoor dunny (all things have a downside), I went into the kitchen area, a covered balcony where we keep a barbecue, a small fridge and a coffee maker.
When Mark and I got married, we were given lots of vouchers for homewares, but as we’d long since set up our home, I was able to buy a few things just for fun. One of those things was a giant tea cup with a smiley face. The kids named the cup Lucille. I filled Lucille up with coffee, carried her outside and planted myself under a shady canopy near the tree swing.
Our friends and their children sat in groups here and there, eating their breakfast, chatting and playing. Kids ran in and out of the caravan with toys and dress-ups and climbed the half-built treehouse. A few of them had taken possession of the swing, but they couldn’t get the momentum they needed to swing as high as they’d like. “We need a grown-up to push us,” they decided. One of the children looked out for help. Her eye fell on me, reclining in my chair with Lucille.
“You’re a grown-up,” she told me.
“I’m kind of like a grown-up,” I agreed, “but I’m the kind that sits with her coffee.”
She assessed me. “In a cup with a face on it,” she said knowingly.
That afternoon, we visited a nearby national park with a waterway running through it that we’ve nicknamed The Secret River. We slid off the boat ramp into the calm water and splashed about on inflatable rings and surfboards. The children held our legs then swam off on their own, clinging to noodles and keeping afloat with life jackets.
We dried ourselves in the sun and sat on the bank eating cold sausages, chips and chocolate under the filtered light of the native trees.
Later in the day, I was chatting to one of my friends, the mum of the little girl who wanted to be pushed on the swing. I mentioned our conversation. She smiled and said, “Right, me too. I’m not a player.”
I hadn’t thought about it like that, but I liked what she was saying. There are plenty of tasks of love that must be done for the children in our care: protecting, feeding, cleaning, clothing, listening, teaching etc. But playing games we don’t like? I just don’t think it’s one of them.
Words + Photograph: Bron Bates