Looking back on her own children, Amy remembers the one weekly ritual that brought freedom into her busy world.
Every little minute taken up with something.
That’s how it feels at times. From the minute we all wake until that last moment before sleep, we are scheduled. There’s something else we need to do. There’s always something else we should be moving onto to make sure we’re not late/dirty/hungry.
That’s not the childhood I want them to remember.
I’m sure my days as a school aged child were just as rushed. Surely? Both my parents worked full-time from the time my younger sister was toddling around, so surely we had a structure to our days that required military-operation planning?
I remember my Mum telling me once that for years she showered the night before as she never had time in the morning – and I was surprised. I don’t remember being that busy, or her being that rushed. I remember Dad being away a lot and Mum, my sister and me being this little team of girls against the world… but rushed? Not so much.
So what’s changed?
Where’s the difference?
When I look back at my childhood and ask that question, one crystal clear memory comes through: Sunday Drives.
We moved to Adelaide from the dusty desert of Alice Springs when I was about 8 years old. Before then, my life was pretty carefree – Alice was a tiny town in those days, and as my Dad was the local police officer (or Copper, as they called him in the outback), we had it pretty good. When we moved to Adelaide though, it got a little busier. Big school, big city (to us, anyway), big plans each day. Except on Sundays.
Every Sunday my parents would bundle us into the back of the car, and we would drive. I often had the feeling Dad had no idea what our destination was, but I’m not sure if that’s true. It certainly felt like it was a Choose Your Own Adventure kind of thing: where we stop, nobody knows. But off we would go.
I’d be reading my book in the backseat. Always reading.
My sister would often be sleeping, looking out the window daydreaming, or whispering an important dialogue between her My Little Ponies . She was born with the most carefree trust in the world, and would often look up halfway through a long drive puzzled and ask ‘where are we going again?’
The cassette tapes with 70’s music would be playing, and Mum would always have her hand reached over to Dad’s lap.
And off we’d go.
Roadside bakeries for hot pies and sauce. Apple picking in winding orchards. Random parks with old rusty swings in the middle of nowhere. I remember we stumbled across a miniature city one Sunday – a novelty tourist attraction, all of the buildings in the ‘city’ were no taller than I was. We thought it was magical.
And on we would go.
There was no sense of timing and certainly no sense of purpose: other than to ‘just go’. We all sat in the car in our own little worlds, unwinding from the week and contemplating our own thoughts. And by the end of the day, we’d pull back into our driveway, as if we’d had a mini holiday.
It was freedom.
And it’s what my children are missing.
We live in (arguably) one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and yet the concrete structures around us sometimes feel like they are containing our spirits. We need air and sun and a choose your own adventure feel: a sense that we close the front door behind us and the world is at our feet.
We have no excuses not to.
For years, we were afraid of breaking the kids’ routine. Day sleeps were sacred contracts we never wanted to break for fear of meltdowns and overwhelms, so our day was broken up into nap times. But that’s gone now. Our days are our own to play with again. And yet, we’ve stopped venturing past our neighbourhood.
And so, when we recently sat down as a family to each write ten things we can do on the weekend for under $20, go on a drive with no destination was on the top of my list. There was also go ferry-hopping, go to a new town, wander the aisles of a weekend flea market. Destinations that bring a sense of the unknown, of freedom from our structured lives.
I know we need to be structured to make this modern family of five work. There’s ballet and homework and pre-school and work travel. There’s also cooking and cleaning and washing – always washing. But what if we were to declare Sundays as the day of freedom, when we all got into the car and set off into the world without a deadline or a destination in mind?
What if, one day a week, we were free?