What Matters Most To Me

Christine Kininmonth wants her kids to enjoy city living – and the country life.

My friend used to have a poster on her wall: “If it matters then it matters. If it doesn’t matter then it doesn’t matter.” Sage words to me, a working mother of four.

Odd socks, boiled-egg dinners, forgotten library books, unwashed hair and a stinky car can all be lumped into my ‘doesn’t matter’ basket, leaving me to make a cup of tea and tuck into a book.

The waters are murkier when it comes to my ‘should matter but doesn’t’ attitude about a number of things. I don’t take school results personally. Homework is occasionally ‘let go’ in our household, as are (oh, strike me down) nightly baths. Instruments lie idle between lessons. A thank-you note to Grandad might be unsent five months later. Three veg is often one veg. The TV has been on when the sun is shining. There’s dust on the Scrabble box. The tooth fairy forgets to take the tooth – and has been known to forget two nights in a row.

So what does matter to this woman, I hear you ask? Well, I’ve thunk and I’ve thunk on this, and I’ve realised my country childhood is what matters. I want that for my kids.

My early life was spent on a sheep station. I didn’t ride an escalator until I was 12 and I was about that age when I saw my first movie. We had pet wombats, kangaroos, a fox (sadly killed when sat on by one of the wombats), a snake, possum, budgies, horses, guinea pigs, pigs and poddy lambs. On our drought-affected property we produced wool, meat, peas, beans, corn, canola, potatoes and, in one disastrous flight of giddy optimism, watermelons.

Money was tight, so my parents opened up their farm to city visitors. What strange creatures these city kids were to my brother and me! For a start, they were clean and always wore shoes and hats. They made a lot of noise, but as far as we could tell they were completely useless. They couldn’t drive a car, for example, and they wouldn’t get in the yards with the sheep. Not one had ever killed a chook or a rabbit, and they were scared of our dogs and ferrets. They seemed very attached to their parents, who seemed to appear suddenly when one of them got hurt or hungry.

Three decades later, and I am married to a city commuter who is tolerant of my increasingly desperate need to not bring up the city kids of my childhood – and in a stroke of brilliance, I’ve achieved my dream. We still live in the city, but at the same time we are bringing up our daughters in the country.

We children of the land do our best in the city. We talk to strangers in lifts and live on leafy blocks. We cook casseroles and roasts and lemon slices, and join up with Scouts or Girl Guides. This is all good stuff, but it isn’t enough for me.

Recently, though, I hit the jackpot. Our family visited a little-known gem of a place – a farm cooperative an hour from the city. We were hooked. This not-for-profit farm has been going since the 1970s, and it’s as if time has stood still. Hundreds of city families have brought up their kids in the little log cabins fitted with homemade pine bunks. Just as in the 1970s, there’s no such thing as a mobile phone or the internet. It’s even a battle to get the phone in the old wooden booth to work.

Entertainment is self-made. The kids get bored and start exploring. My teen, forced off Facebook, has picked up the ukulele. We could never have afforded a farm or a farmlet, yet nearly every weekend we are riding horses and stoking the campfire.

What soaring pleasure I get from seeing five-year-old Tilli soothing a distressed chook (while she scoops out the eggs beneath it) and her sisters Anna and Skye learning to ‘rise to the trot’ on their pony. Our city world of competition and positioning falls away. I go on trail rides and breathe in the fresh air. Later, Mike tires of trying to find a signal on his mobile, and toasts marshmallows. As always, the kids get grubby and we run out of clean clothes. It doesn’t matter.

I still cook roasts and casseroles and lemon slices, but instead of my swish urban kitchen, I do it in a communal country kitchen. And it matters.

Illustration by Sandra Eterovic

Main Image by photographer Cindy Cavanagh