Camp cramps

There are all sort of parents in this world, and you see them at the school camp drop off.

Those who are whooping their way out of that bag drop, punching the air and screaming “Look out silence, HERE I COME!”  They wave enthusiastically at a tinted window their child could be behind (but who would know), knowing everyone is going to love this little break.  As they smile kindly at a tearful mother and feel they should place a gentle arm around her shoulder, they are trying really hard to think as quietly as they can – “YES! SLEEP IN’S, WINE FOR DINNER, NO WEE ON THE TOILET SEAT, BED AT 6PM, AND NO SOCCER PRACTICE WOOHOO!!!”

There are those who are late for the bus – and they are the ones who are never, ever late, apart from this day. Somehow in the lead up, whilst packing for an 11 year old on a commando course (because we do that all the time),

commando outfit
“I think this outfit is perfect for a commando course”

trying to think of how to combat travel sickness in absentia, trying to teach them about the importance of a shower – with soap, or teeth brushing – at all, packing 5 lots of thermals in case it’s cold in Coffs Harbour, and then implementing the crash course in karate should anyone be mean to them, school camp for these parents is the final tug of the lace bringing everything unravelling. Nerves – 1, Mum – none.  They are running to roll call, they are sitting three abreast on the bag to try squaaaaash it in on top of 100 other suitcases, sleeping bags, pillows, back packs and giant teddy’s. They reach up a hand with a kiss on it to a disappearing cheek up the bus steps, and they say “I love you darling!” to the closing doors.  

Then there is me. We have been packed for weeks, so I didn’t have any callouts for new trakkies at 10pm last night – or that’s what I’m telling you, anyway.  We have had conversations, trying to be casual and not frightening, about safety – of friendships, of personal stuff, of health, and of looking after the precious person that is you, my child. We have talked about whether, because “Undies” is not on the packing list it means they are not needed.  We have worn in the “old shoes” we had to buy. We have discussed what you can eat if the bus stops at McDonalds (as all our parental fear-mongering about the place comes back to bite us on the bum).  And we have planted spy’s in Coffs Harbour with fresh fruit, vitamin C tablets, his bedtime teddy’s, a nice fluffy doonah and perhaps, just maybe, a getaway car.

I don’t take lightly to my child being away from me. For a week (yes, four days is a week). On the other side of the country. You are very well taking my heart right out of my chest and driving it away on Forest Coachlines.  

You are very well taking my heart right out of my chest and driving it away on Forest Coachlines.

I do know he’s going to have an amazing time. I do know this year 6 camp is the “coming of age” camp.  But am I ready for him to come of age? No. He is just fine as a not-teenager. So, bring him back. I can just see his beautiful face as he goes into the indigenous preschool with all the gorgeous little kids – I know already this bit will touch his gentle, gentle heart and change him for the absolute better. But he is the BEST already, so, bring him back.  I can hear him, as he rock climbs, bushwalks and surfs, laughing confidently with friends – a place he has worked hard to get to. He is confident now, so, bring him back.

Because until you bring him back, I am half a person here.

But I know if you do, he will be the half a person. I have to let him grow up. Little by little, I have to let him go.



The narrative of my book is about expat friendships in Romania.

The importance of friends is glaringly apparent in an expatriate situation.  All manner of different people are thrown together in a cultural pot, stirred and shaken, heated up under pressure, then presented on a plate as a beautiful and life-giving friendship.  In fact, in this situation, they can feel like more than friends: They are your family away from home.

I came across this psychologist’s explanation of the word ‘friend’ whilst doing some research:

What draws people together as friends?

  1. Common interests. This probably ties us closer to our friends than many would like to admit. When our interests diverge and we can find nothing to enjoy jointly, time spent together tends to rapidly diminish. Not that we can’t still care deeply about friends with whom we no longer share common interests, but it’s probably uncommon for such friends to interact on a regular basis.

(Me: Unless you put in just a little bit of extra effort, you lazy old psychologist!)

  1. History. Nothing ties people together, even people with little in common, than having gone through the same difficult experience. As the sole glue to keep friendships whole in the long run, however, it often dries, cracks, and ultimately fails.

(Me: I know, I keep poking my nose in… This point is particularly apparent in a stressful expat situation. For example, when I lived in Romania, I couldn’t even speak to the lady I was trying to buy milk from – anyone who turned up with milk after five days without a cup of tea was my instant best friend. I disagree with the last sentence completely, by the way – I’m not sure I would want to be this psychologist’s friend!). 

  1. Common values. Though not necessarily enough to createa friendship, if values are too divergent, it’s difficult for a friendship to thrive.
  2. Equality. If one friend needs the support of the other on a consistent basis such that the person depended upon receives no benefit….it can’t be said to define a true friendship.

(Me: Only had to read the first 5 words of this one. I’ve heard them called “emotional vampires”. Isn’t that a great description? Now, I’m wondering if that might describe our psychologist friend here….)

What makes a friend worthy of the name?

  1. A commitment to your happiness. A true friend is consistently willing to put your “happiness before your friendship. It’s said that “good advice grates on the ear,” but a true friend won’t refrain from telling you something you don’t want to hear, something that may even risk fracturing the friendship, if hearing it lies in your best interest.

(Me: I’m sure they’d say it nicely though, Sir Psycho…)

  1. A true friend won’t ask you to compromise your principles in the name of your friendship or anything else. Ever.
  2. A good influence. A true friend inspires you to live up to your best potential.

I really feel like I want to add two more here. 

What do I love most about a friend?

  1. She or he just understands me and does not judge me.
  2. She or he laughs with me – a nice big belly laugh, really often and really loud, so much so that people openly stare at us. They’re envious, of course.

Although making friends in an expat situation is an extreme circumstance, thinking back through my life I have not needed such a push to make good friendships. I’m blessed to be surrounded by the perfect amount of friends.  And they have just walked into my life in the local suburb or school, whilst travelling overseas, or in the bubble of motherhood.  One of them I even found when I was just four days old and she was born and placed in the tiny hospital cot next to me.

friends old and young

Writing about good friends, thankfully, comes easily, due to my own great big treasure box of personal gems. I love you all.