Packing, part 1: Friday afternoon
I pick DorkySon up from school, where he is hugged hard by kind friends who seem reluctant to let him leave. A classmate joins us for some of the walk home, and the two of them skip ahead of me, singing the baby shark song to each other and laughing.
But when she heads her way, and we head ours, it starts. DorkySon tells me that he will be packing as soon as he gets home, but please can he have a muffin and a drink first. He will need the energy boost for such a massive task.
He picks the blue bag – one size up from his usual red one – for his check-in bag. And for his carry on? He stops just inside the door, turns his schoolbag upside down, and dumps out three terms worth of sandwich crumbs, pencil shavings and playground notes.
He starts methodically – after the muffin and drink. He lays out tomorrow’s outfit. Then he works his way up through the wardrobe, one drawer at a time. Socks. Pyjamas. Long sleeves. Short sleeves. A slight disagreement over trousers.
He asks if the holiday can be an excuse not to floss, and isn’t pleased with the answer. He does not think to think about shampoo or antihistamines, which I suppose when you are 9 is how it should be.
When we move to the carry-on bag, the discipline dissipates, and he begins to imagine all the ways he might entertain himself for the next three weeks. Tupperware tubs full of LEGO. Eleventy billion books. £3.58 of British coins that we found in the back of a drawer.
As the afternoon wears on, the scramble becomes more frantic. He adds Yahtzee, the little dice rolling noisily around in the box, already trying to escape. I see him pack a torch, a bouncy ball, and two packets of Mentos. When a build-your-own wind-up campervan and a Rubik’s cube join the pile I begin to wonder what Poppinesque qualities this bag has taken on. I tell him the cube – which has one solved side all in yellow – might rotate inside the bag, and he quickly unpacks it again. Finally – with one last handful of monster trucks and a month-old F1 magazine – I think we are done. He is packed. It is 4.40pm, on the day before we leave, and he is packed.
Packing, part 2: Friday evening
There are lists coming out of my ears. They are multiplying, subdividing, short lists becoming longer lists becoming more lists in every room of the house.
One, on the kitchen countertop, scribbled in pink ballpoint, reads:
KEYS!! Dinner. Poetry submission.
Another, in purple ballpoint, this one meant for tomorrow I think, reads:
Laundry, dishes, trash out, recycling out, invoice, vitamins, epipen, chargers.
One note – just two lines on an orange postit, stuck on top of DorkySon’s bag – says ‘teeth, pyjamas’.
The master list – the list to end all lists, which has already been rewritten at least twice this week – is a full A4 page of what I need to pack. It is full of subcategories. Gifts! Toiletries! Medicine!
I love my lists. These simple linguistic signifiers that remind me of the stuffed kangaroos, miniature pots of honey and multipacks of ibuprofen that I know I will eventually stuff into my battered old bag.
The bag I have chosen for this trip is a big one. It’s is the one I used to move all my worldly possessions in with DorkyDad more than twelve years ago. Our holidays since then have normally meant shorts and swim gear. This one, taking in Scotland and Finland, island and city, 10 aeroplanes, 6 airports and multiple seasons, requires a multitude of thermals, fleece jackets, boots, tops, hats and cosy socks. None of these things fold down flat.
I skipped coffee with friends this morning because I needed a massage. Remember in your twenties when you came out of a massage feeling all floaty and light? In your thirties it’s more like you’ve gone three rounds with an amateur boxer. But I need to carry this stupid big bag and survive about 35 hours of airport seats and planes, so I am hoping it was $90 well spent.
When I start, I am methodical too. I follow the list. But then, as DorkySon did, I finish in a flurry of manic enthusiasm. Can I manage three weeks without earrings? Without rooibos tea? Without a beautiful, fresh new notebook? How many novels is it reasonable to bring? And if the answer is three then do they have to be skinny ones?
I find myself wrestling with a 3D jigsaw of strawberry jam and warm cardigans. I am reluctant to relinquish the coconut oil.
But it is 7pm. Time to stop. Finally, I find myself packed.
Packing, part 3: Saturday morning
While DorkySon was walking home from school, thinking about what to pack, DorkyDad was in Melbourne, getting on a plane after a full day of work.
Melbourne-the World Sunday.
Work. Life. Balance. He works hard, this boy.
Home in time for a load of laundry, at least. A fire in the hearth, simple steak and salad for dinner.
DorkyDad has a new bag for this trip. A big purchase, so we thought about it carefully, but two minutes after he starts packing it feels like it may not actually be big enough.
DorkySon and I exchange glances on the stairs. We hear the noises. There is cursing. There is a master at work. (A frustrated master, right now, one who is regretting his offer to carry all the puff jackets, but a master nonetheless.)
Business trips are easy to pack for. It is a routine that he has perfected over the years. But family trips are a different thing entirely.
To distract myself, and avoid the temptation to go in and offer advice, I check the progress of Florence, grateful that we are flying West rather than East this time.
It is a good bag. A sturdy bag, definitely up to the task. But in the end, because of those ruddy jackets, he has to underpack. The black hoodie is left behind. The Blunnies go on his feet instead of in the bag.
It is noon, on the day we leave. DorkyDad has packed.
I hand over the folder that I have spent the last month pulling together. Flights. Car hire. Hotel reservations. Keycodes. Insurance documents. A veritable rainbow of sticky notes and highlighted documents that I hope will steer us through.
From here on, there is nothing more I can do.
The taxi will be here in an hour.