I don’t recall ever running away from home as a kid – but I do recall almost scaring my mum to death when I decided to walk to the Ashton kindy fete.
The year was 1995, as a shy five-year-old, I was surprisingly keen on the local social scene – the highlight in my calendar was the kindergarten fete.
I’d been looking forward to that fateful (geddit?!) Sunday in September for what felt like months. It was likely only days, but because like most five-year old’s I had an attention span of a hungry Labrador, it felt like I’d been counting down to the event for the entire year. I was only a recent kindy graduate, my career as a big schoolgirl had just launched. The carefree days of endless the sand pit play that kindy offered was fresh in my mind, as was the taste of those Styrofoam craft noodles that I’d occasionally nibble on when the teachers weren’t looking.
I woke up early that morning (okay, so I don’t actually remember specifics like that but I’m trying to set a scene here so just let me use a little creative licence) and was excited as soon as I opened my little peepers. I imagine that I threw the quilt off of me, sat bolt right up in bed and squealed with glee “kindy fete!” just like a character in an American tween film but even more pint sized. I would have been adorable. The reality was probably way less cinematic; I probably woke up sleep picking my nose– I have nothing to base this on, that’s just the kind of five-year-old that I imagine I was. With almost one hundred percent certainty though, there was a cat sleeping on my head, attempting to suffocate me in the way that cats were put on this earth to do.
Another thing that I remember as a fact is that I started my painful line of questioning almost as soon as the day began. In the kitchen mum was preparing breakfast; “when are we going to the Kindy fete?” I enquired. “Later” she replied, ignorant to the fact that as a tiny human my concept of the passing of time wasn’t top notch. When kids in cars ask, “are we there yet?” it’s not to be annoying (okay, sometimes it absolutely is) but it’s also because they don’t bloody know. Location and timing are concepts that you’re not fully aware of at five. Heck, at 30 I’m still baffled as to why some days (the ones where I’m working) drag along slowly while others (Saturdays and Sundays) race by with wild abandon.
At the time that this day unfolded, back in ‘95, my mum was twenty-nine. When my mum was a year younger than I am now, her Sunday meant mopping the floors while a painful five-year-old followed her around, undoing all her hard work and nagging her to near insanity. She also had to put up with my brother who at that stage was three and probably still pretty damn cute – though that wouldn’t last long.
By mid-morning Mum was beginning to crack – I saw this as a victory on my behalf; I’d worn her down and I’d finally get to go to the kindy fete. After about the thousandth time questioning “when are we going to the kindy fete?” her answer changed. She quickly and grumpily snapped “well how about you walk then?” and with that I turned on my heels and hightailed away. She probably assumed she had upset me but as a five-year-old I’d yet to grasp the concept of sarcasm, instead she’d filled me with enthusiasm and resolve – I would in fact walk there.
A quick Google search today tells me the journey from home to the location of the kindy fete was almost 8km. A one hour and thirty-eight-minute walk for a grown adult – apparently. If I’d had access to Google Maps or it has even existed back then, I’m sure I probably still would have given the walk a good crack. Not wanting to be the only one to get into trouble, I rounded up my brother and convinced him to tag along. As I mentioned though, he was only three (well, three and a half) so there wasn’t too much convincing needed. I grabbed my little handbag and what ended up being five dollars in gold coins (an amount that I thought would go a long way) and out the gate and up the road we headed.
Now in defence of my parents, for anyone wondering how they could just let us walk straight out the gate and up the road, the truth is, they wouldn’t have seen us. It was a big yard and a big house, plenty of places for us to be that weren’t right under their feet – meaning we could easily escape undetected. The road we had to walk along, Greenhill road, had a speed limit of 80km per hour. Cars zoomed on by, but that didn’t bother us because just like wild animals we didn’t get have the cognitive ability to fully comprehend the danger of high speedy traffic. We were just happy to be on our way.
I remember stopping to wee but I don’t recall either of us feeling tired or tempted to turn back. We took weeing turns in a ditch at the side of the road hiding behind a tree. Not long after that, our journey was cut short. Dad pulled up with a stern look on his face and told us that we needed to get in the car. We’d made it 1.5km – an impressive effort, which I fact checked just now with another quick Google. Dad seemed angry and I remember being a bit surprised at that. As much as I guessed that I might have done something wrong, I could also say with all honestly that Mum had told me to do it. With that firmly mentioned, Dad quickly resolved that he couldn’t be mad at us – but he could, he figured, be a little bit mad at Mum. Instead of driving straight home, Dad drove us to one of his friends houses. I didn’t realise until later that this was his way of making Mum stew, thinking it had taken him longer to find us. Mean but probably justified – she had, after all, flippantly told a child to take an 8km walk (sorry Mum!)
In my Mum’s defence (and I will defend that woman until the end, through thick and thin, especially now that I’ve read extensively about pelvic floors and birth trauma. All mothers are saints for loving their children after the pain they inflict upon their bodies. Sorry, tangent) but yes, in her defence, she was twenty-nine and raising two kids, working and keeping house. I’m still too flaky to commit to keeping a pet alive. I want a dog, but my brain has convinced me it will somehow jump off the balcony – so I can’t even conceptualize the worst-case scenarios I’d drum up with a kid in the world. My Mum was not to blame… entirely. Despite that, Dad still made her sweat it out a bit. When we finally came home, she was a wreck. Part of me feels a bit guilty about the stress I put her through that day, but if I started to think about all the stressful scenarios that I should feel retrospective guilt about I’d need more therapy than I can afford – so I’d rather just bury that thought.
Eventually we did get to the kindy fete – after Mum finished the cleaning. I don’t actually remember much about it, but I do remember that Mum bought me a beaded necklace with my name spelled out on it. It cost $7. She emphasized that if I’d made it there on my own, with the $5 I had in my purse that I wouldn’t have been able to get it. I’m not sure what point she was trying to make though.
For many years the story of my attempted adventure to the kindy fete was shared by my parents. I’m not sure if it was an anecdote meant to display my fierce determination or express the fact that all parents fuck up sometimes. Either way it taught me a valuable lesson – one which could be used for both good and evil: never say something to a child that you wouldn’t want them to take absolutely seriously.