The Cutler Clan won't be able to camp for most of November. Despite the amount of times I say "sport isn't everything; the kids can miss a day", I realise its an empty promise and I actually can't physically force myself to let them miss a weekend. Criticise all you want, but when you're part of a team (or multiple teams in Alex's case) you owe it to them to be there when you can.
Oscar finishes his 2020 sport at the end of November, Alex finishes for the term around the same time, and clever Max chose an off-season sport that plays on Tuesdays. There's a reason he's my favourite.
(Kidding, I don't have favourites)
(But if I did, it would be Maeby. Goose is still weeing in the hallway)
So in lieu of a one-parent camping blog post, I'm going to write about my 40th birthday, which was not only a camping weekend, but also my last birthday with Duncan.
Its Party Time
I'm not much of a partier. Nor do I have the energy to celebrate things I don't find important. That ultimately translates to the kids getting birthday parties every even-numbered age-change (8, 10, and 12) and nothing for Duncan and me other than cake and presents (for him only; I hate getting presents).
So when my young, lovely, energetic, and total partier friend Robyn said if I didn't plan something for my 40th she would, I got straight on it. Nothing about me speaks Robyn's language (except for loyalty to friends of which she speaks with pride and grace) so I was pretty sure she was thinking strippers and karaoke, neither of which I would have turned up for, even if it was my birthday.
My language is low-key, no fuss, no attention on me, people I love, and that's it. What speaks those things more than camping with a big group of my favourite people?
I started looking for the perfect place.
Remember in a previous blog I mentioned how I'm notorious for not checking things first before using them (ahem, the tent??)? I'm also really, really good at trying things for the first time without having done or used them before. Like when friends are coming over for dinner and I try a new recipe and have no idea how it will taste or turn out. Or like when I make Carol a surprise birthday cake not knowing if she likes cheesecake or Oreos, but try an Oreo cheesecake recipe that I'd never tried before (luckily, for both of us, it was fucking brilliant).
The place I found was Coochin Creek, QLD. A year or two prior we had booked to camp there over a long weekend, but it pissed rain the whole drive there so at the turn-off we kept going straight and called our favourite hotel in Coolum asking if they had a room available in 20 minutes. They did, we stayed there, and were dry, comfortable, and couldn't have had a better weekend. We'd heard from friends that actually camped at Coochin Creek that weekend that it was muddy and flooded. So glad we skipped it.
Skipping it, however, meant that I actually didn't know anything about it other than the following:
it had toilets (I'm happy to go without showers but I always camp with a toilet)
it had a creek to fish and kayak in
it only had around 20 sites, so it was small and personal
it was perfectly shaped for a lot of families to camp as one big happy one
it was close enough to Brisbane that if anyone didn't want to come, they could come out and celebrate for the day on Saturday
All of that sounds perfect when you're visualising it in your mind. Doesn't mean it will be when you get there. So what do I do? I booked the site I wanted, then shared the link with everyone I wanted to come and said "here are the dates, if you want to camp, book asap, otherwise come out for the day on Saturday. Canadian potluck style".
No strippers. No karaoke.
Duncan and I got there with the kids early. Only one family got there before us (the Pecheys, of course!) and we set up camp. IT WAS PERFECT. The entire campground was tiny, so us at one end could shout to the families at the other end if necessary (Fozards and Walshs) and still hear us! The area in-between was open and grassy, and perfect for a game of touch footy (or full on tackle if you're Max and Oscar). All the campsites booked for the birthday. There were hardly any other campers there (it was July, winter here) so we didn't have to worry about kids being too noisy or the adults being too drunk and loud during the actual birthday party.
We had nine or ten families booked to come camping with us, either both nights or the Saturday night. Most of my bootcamp friends came. They aren't even bootcamp friends anymore. They're just my people. If you can see me at 5am in my Lulus and then hug me after a sweaty hour of Mike's bootcamp, you're my people.
PS My trainer Mike, he's my people, too.
Friends that weren't bootcampers that camped were the Walshs - Duncan and Billy have known eachother since uni and are longtime friends. Billy and his wife Cara have been the kindest and most generous friends, and I feel so lucky to know them.
The Fozards camped - Sharon and I worked together at our previous place of employment and I'm pretty sure I'd be lost without her. Lost to the point that when we were both unhappy at work and she said she was leaving, I did the same and quit. I couldn't imagine being there without her.
The Pecheys camped. You met them last blog.
The Glibberys camped. You met them last blog, as well.
The only thing that could have potentially damaged the weekend was the rain. It poured all night Friday night, and called for rain most of Saturday, party day. To be honest, it was exactly the same as our wedding day. Rained all Friday afternoon and night and during the trial run of the ceremony, and all Saturday morning, and an hour before photos and the ceremony, the sun was shining beautifully with only a few fluffy clouds. What a day.
Since my 40th was over a year ago and its been a shit fucking year, I actually don't remember much of the Friday night. I do unfortunately remember that I had forgotten that we had given the boys' sleeping bags to the Walsh family's girls and forgot that I hadn't bought them new ones in time for that weekend. At least I remembered their clothes! So the boys slept under blankets and my opened up sleeping bag (which opened ends up being queen sized) and a lot of extra layers.
Saturday - Party Day
Again, I don't remember much of the peripherals. The rain was intermittent but no huge showers. About midday we started to set up and the sun had come out (though it had rained a bit over the course of the party). Friday before we left for camping, I had let everyone invited know that I wouldn't take it personally if they didn't come out for the Saturday party because of the weather. I know what its like being wet and cold and kids whingeing. And because it was an hour's drive, I completely understood the lack of incentive to get out there and get soaked. No obligation on my friends' parts. This was their get out of jail free card. Not dropping any names though, PETRA.
I won't go into the boring details. I'll just say that I couldn't have had a better time turning 40, and if everyone in the world could have a weekend like I did, they wouldn't dread it like they do.
Adults drank, kids played, Oscar caught a flathead (no one else all weekend was able to catch a fish in that river), we all walked, talked, took photos, ate way too much, laughed more than we thought possible, and everyone had a great time together. The photos can do the talking.
For sake of honesty, however, I will let you know not everyone had the perfect weekend. The birthday party itself was brilliant. I don't think anyone would disagree with that. But the rest of the evening, well....
Teagan (one of the Walsh girls) threw up in their tent. After confirming with Billy and Cara, it was actually the first night that happened. Poor chook. They left after the party on Saturday. One of the guest's kids got hit in the head with a rock. One of the other kids threw it (not mine!). Poor Ellie (Brooke's daughter) somehow ended up with dirt in her eye and rubbed it so much it was red and swollen. Thank goodness Sharon was once a theatre nurse and was able to come to the rescue. Oscar ended up throwing up in the evening. All the kids were in bed and most of the adults stayed up drinking around the fire. Oscar came to me and said he couldn't sleep, and out of character for me, I said he could stay out with us and sit on my lap. Within minutes he was bent over vomiting everywhere. Thank god I was nice and let him stay out with us and he didn't vomit in the tent.
One of the conditions I set out for Robyn when I planned this birthday weekend was that I didn't want anyone singing me "happy birthday". I loathe being the centre of attention (for those who don't know, I was P&C president at our school for 2 years, and at the start of every meeting, my face went tomato red because I hated everyone looking at me). No cake, no singing, just friends together and no one paying attention to me or my birthday.
Jacki, however, was not informed of this condition. She is and was the most gorgeous friend. She brought butter tarts with little Canadian flags (July 1 is also Canada Day back home) and lit candles and organised everyone to sing "happy birthday" around the campfire. It was probably the one time I didn't mind someone making a fuss over me. The ONE time.
Today was pack up day. Everyone did their own thing, as is usual on the last day of a camping trip.
I will say, though, there is one thing in particular that stood out for me.
Duncan and I had our packing- up routine, with the gear, the kitchen, the tent, etc. And after 18 years together, we were pretty good at reading each other (ie we knew how to ask each other to do shit without fighting).
A couple of days after the camping trip, Carol said to me she couldn't believe what a great team Duncan and I made. We packed up and cleaned up and worked so well together and she thought it was so nice to see, and that clearly we loved each other so much to be able to work together like that. I'm not soft, and it takes a lot to pull at my heart strings, but that did. Really did.
I told Duncan and I'm pretty sure he thought I was having him on (and I'm laughing now thinking of the look of surprise on his face). I'd like to think he was surprised that someone would say something so nice, and not that they thought we got along well.
I didn't know it was the last birthday I'd get to spend with my husband.
I don't think his back was even particularly bad at the time. I mean, he'd had years on and off of it being sore, but not even at the point of seeing a doctor.
There are so many bittersweet moments in life now. Knowing how beautiful they were, but how they were my last time spending them with him.
Its so hard to be thankful that he was in our lives for as long as he was, when all I wish is that there was more.
July 1, 2020
Duncan died a week before my birthday this year. Three weeks before his.
It was not a happy birthday. And I appreciate everyone for knowing it. No one posted casual "happy birthday" comments on Facebook but instead took the time to send thoughtful and caring messages.
Alex (daughter) asked Jen (mother in law) to go shopping to buy me a present. And though I didn't want anything, I appreciate both of them for being so loving.
My girlfriends (the friends that aren't blood) didn't buy me a birthday present, but a "Wednesday" present, and all chipped in to get me an outdoor fire pit (that Duncan would have loved and Marty did love!) and a hoodie with hearts embroidered on the sleeves. They respected my sadness and didn't all come over but had Carol sort it out with Marty.
Alex and Oscar have had their first birthdays without Duncan, Maxy is in a few weeks. Then Christmas and New Years. I'll be happy to have all these fucking "firsts" out of the way.
I'll never forget my 40th. Best birthday ever. And now, most important birthday ever.