There are days when I feel like going home.
And there are nights when I want to stay away forever.
Saying goodbye is tough
If I’ve learned anything on this trip around Australia with my young family, it’s that this mix of heartache and joy is a constant companion.
Forget the groceries, the fluctuations of diesel, the shrinking of the savings account or the battle to win work as we go.
The price of admission to this way of living is to straddle the finest of lines where you can be convinced everything is good and right before plunging into the deepest of doubts.
And it really hit me in the guts saying goodbye to Carmen’s parents after they’d come to visit us.
To good living
For two and a half weeks, Carmen’s mum Vanessa and dad Keith joined us on the road as we toured through South Australia.
We started with a break in Adelaide, enjoying a bustle through the famous Central Market. We then stumbled into a food and wine festival where we drank wine and ate cheese while Ruby ran around a water fountain.
After Keith had competed in a bagpiping competition – the excuse for them both to fly over from Perth – we drove out through the McLaren Vale wine region to Kangaroo Island, where we explored idyllic nature.
Then it was a long drive to the Coonawarra wine region and the Barossa Valley. Here we enjoyed wine tastings, campfires under the stars and time together as a family.
By the end we must have drunk a case of wine each and eaten enough cheese to make a Frenchman tut.
With each bottle we opened, Vanessa would toast “to good living” as we clinked our glasses. Even Ruby joined in, with “special” sparkling water.
The sun shone. The days passed slowly. And we lived up to that toast.
Paying the price
On the final morning we had together, we took a drive to the Yalumba winery, sampled the vintages and enjoyed glasses of what we liked best outside.
Then it was time to go. Carmen dropped Ruby and me at the caravan and took her parents to the airport.
Tears flowed as suitcases were loaded. As the ute drove away, I held Ruby tight and told her she would see them again soon.
But we will be away for at least another year, and don’t know for certain when the next meeting will be.
I felt a tight knot of sadness in my gut, and thought of my own parents, my friends back in Perth, the team at my old job, everyone I miss.
Travelling around Australia with my young family has been a long time dream, a goal we’ve worked toward.
We realise with distinct clarity that we are very lucky to be able to do this, and appreciate every day we have doing it.
But days like that one make the small print of the contract shout out loud.
Embracing the chaos
To clear my head and help Ruby burn off some steam, I took her to a playground near the caravan and pushed her on the swings.
“Where’s Grandmama gone?” she kept asking, and I told she’d gone home.
Perhaps too young to fully understand, Ruby got on with her day and slid down the slide, rocked on a pony, and got me to chase her across a grassy oval.
Back at the caravan, I got her into a bath and fired up my laptop to start work for a new client. In my email, I heard back from a book publisher I’d contacted last year and had some encouragement.
Outside the sun was setting through trees decorated with screeching galahs. And when Carmen arrived back, she hugged me and got our girl dressed in pyjamas.
Just like good wine has a mix of flavours, life without light and shade would be pretty bland.
So here’s to good living. Every day.