A tent and the

by Amber Thorley


Camping! It came to us at the pub, one cold Sunday over a couple of beers - where most of our ideas started. Paul and I had been trying to fall pregnant and as the months went by, I was increasingly nervous that a small health issue meant it wasn’t going to happen for us. Without kiddies on the horizon we decided to become the rugged, outdoorsy couple you see on Kathmandu advertising. Our first camping trip was quickly organised with our neighbour. We knew he was experienced in outdoor things because he was from Tasmania and wore shorts in the middle of winter. Our tiny Holden Astra was loaded to the hilt with all of our new camping gear and we were off to Sydney’s South Coast. It turned out to be the coldest spring weekend in 10 years. 

We quickly discovered that our limited research on tents and allocation of budget was not going to win us any happy camper awards, a point physically driven home to me at one in the morning, when I hit the ground with a thud after Paul got up to go to the bathroom.  Our bargain air mattress had deflated, along with our enthusiasm.  The rest of the night was spent shivering and swearing, followed by a very early morning pack up when our neighbour finally emerged; warm and rested from his Himalayan grade tent and perky air mattress.

Our little Marshmallow had also set up camp that weekend.

When we were trying to fall pregnant, I mostly pictured the day we found out rather than the scary parenting bit.  I would surprise Paul with the exciting announcement, proudly showing him the test, he would cry and hug me, I would glow and the Marshmallow would already be well behaved. Then I would receive large bunches of flowers and go shopping for a stylish maternity wardrobe, making the whole pregnancy thing look effortless and glamorous.

Things didn’t quite work out that way.  To begin with, breaking the news to Paul ended up being a hysterical phone call from me while we were both at work.

“I think I’m pregnant, my period is three days late.” After a long pause, the excited father to be finally replied.
“Well, I wasn’t expecting to hear that news today.”

Later that night when the test confirmed it, there were no tears of joy or overwhelmed embraces just a shocked silence and lots of ‘what do we do now’ faces.  

Then the trouble really started, almost from the moment the blue line appeared so did the morning, mid-morning, lunch-time, afternoon, dinner, evening and midnight sickness. I tried everything to help it, except the weird Guinness and Whisky suggestions.   I was the most annoying pregnant person ever, I whinged, vomited, slept, made Paul cook, clean and breathe for me – his patience was saint like. Pregnancy did not bring out my glamorous side and I did not make it look effortless.

Determined though not to let this pesky pregnancy thing get in the way, we planned our second camping trip to the sunny North Coast. The Marshmallow would be 12 weeks along and all the books said I’d be over the worst of the sickness. We made two fatal mistakes. The first was not immediately throwing out our crummy air mattress after the first camping trip. Optimistically we thought it might have been a user error, the second was assuming I would be feeling better.

At first everything appeared to go well, after setting up our tent, a lovely swim and dinner we were ready to call it a night. There was only one other tent in the camping ground and they happily chose to set up a metre away from us.

At eleven, I woke up and the air mattress was completely deflated – already! The Marshmallow hadn’t read my books and chose now to really kick it up a gear, my stomach started rolling.  For the next eight hours our friendly neighbours were treated to an interesting nocturnal symphony. Paul would blast the air mattress pump and I would be sick, repeat.  At two in the morning I gave up and slept in the car. The next morning, Paul came out of the tent like an angry bear with the limp mattress, which he shoved in the tiny but only available bin.  Half-heartedly I suggested we buy a new one and tough it out the second night, in response Paul started packing up the tent. We were at my mums in time for lunch.

Six months later the Marshmallow bravely decamped and luckily for us had decided that mummy needed a break, settling into life beautifully.  For Paul and I it seems “mum and dad” suited us better than “the outdoorsy couple”, as we happily fell into these rolls more easily then the camping caper. The tent is currently gathering dust in the garage, but we are courageously beginning to plan our third trip. With the Marshmallow on board this time and a new expensive air mattress, perhaps you’ll see us on the Kathmandu poster after all.


© Amber Thorley

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem