A few years ago money was tight. With 3 young children to provide for and me at home as a fulltime mum, any earnings myhusband brought home were tied up in keeping a roof over our heads and ensuring everyone was fed, clothed and comfortable.
There were few luxuries. Holidays to foreign destinations were out of the question. Expensive daytrips were a no-no. Even a meal out to a restaurant for 2 adults and 3 hungry boys was considered a real treat and was reserved for special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries.
No-one felt deprived. My husband and I were doing our absolute best to create wonderful childhood memories for our children. I had given up my career to stay at home and care for them because we don’t have family close by to help us out and I didn’t want to work just to pay a child-minder.
I cooked all of our meals from scratch, learning to shop smart and be thrifty with ingredients and leftovers. We read stories together, went swimming and visited the mother and toddler groups in our local area. Life was good. We had lots of friends and the kids were thriving and happy.
However, with busy lives; me at home with the boys and my husband working all the hours he could to keep us afloat, it did at times overwhelm us. We needed a break! But, we just could not afford it no matter which angle we looked at it from. Holidays, whether at home or abroad are expensive. Flights, accommodation, passports, travel insurance, food, outings and all of the other essentials required for a family getaway soon mount up. And so, for a time we had no choice but to accept that holidays weren’t feasible.
Then, we decided to get creative. We borrowed a tent and when our youngest child was just 11 weeks old we camped overnight close to our home. We didn’t go to a campsite, we simply pitched up in a safe spot a few miles from home and so the children had their first experience of sleeping under canvas.
That was a defining time for us. Looking back, I would pinpoint that overnight adventure as the moment when our view of what a holiday was changed. Getting away from the noise and the humdrum didn’t need to mean jetting off to some far-away tropical island, as delightful as that sounds!
A love for the wilderness began to bud in our boys that night as we snuggled up in our sleeping bags and they laughed so much as dad snored and miraculously the baby slept all night long. For my husband and I, a return to nature was the perfect place to take a deep breath and enjoy the quality, restorative time together we had been longing for.
Suddenly, all our free time was spent roaming in country parks and as the children grew and their passion and stamina increased so our outdoor expeditions grew bolder. Hills were conquered, then mountains. Now, bouldering up a river on a Sunday morning, or ‘getting lost’ on a new trail is what we love to do best.
My Saturday evenings are often spent preparing a picnic and setting out hiking clothes so that after breakfast on a Sunday we can get ready quickly and head to the Mourne Mountains, about an hour’s drive away from our busy lives in the city. It is here that we come alive, where anxiety slips and way and smiles are etched on grubby, rosy-cheeked faces.
Now, our children are aged 6, 8 and 11 and weekends spent hiking and enjoying free outdoor fun is natural for them. Learning to read maps and walking for miles is their idea of a day well spent and thankfully for us it is all achievable on a small budget.
I’ve returned to work part-time now that the boys are all at school and we have been fortunate enough to be able to take them on several foreign holidays over the past few years. The years we spent counting the pennies and being careful with our money have taught us many valuable lessons which influence our holiday choices now when money isn’t so
tight. Our holidays aren’t luxurious. We rent a gîte or a farmhouse in the countryside where the kids can run around and be free and we can enjoy exploring a new region without splashing the cash to the extreme. Yes, we have climbed up the Eiffel Tower to enjoy the view across Paris and we have toured around the chateaux of the Loire Valley but for the majority of our time away we play ball games in the garden, climb hay bales, hunt for crickets or simply lie in a hammock under a Silver Birch tree reading a good book or talking about all kinds of silly things.
We have learned how to spend time together and have discovered new hobbies, such as fossil hunting on the Causeway Coast. Through the financially tough times, we have hiked mountains, chatted, laughed, let off steam, cried, talked about our hopes and dreams, made plans and gotten to know one another deeply and intimately. We feel in tune with one another, we are connected and we enjoy each other.
When I spend time browsing through pictures from the past ten years or so the backdrop of so many of the snaps is beautiful green forests, rocky mountaintops or sandy beaches. It makes my heart sing to look through the photos and recall the days so fondly.
“Remember that time dad fell in the river and got his foot stuck?” comes a little voice over my shoulder. Or, “It was so funny when your wellies rolled down that hill”. And we laugh all over again.
The boys have learned how to light a campfire and cook a meal on it, as well as how to wash up the dishes afterwards. Together, we sit around crackling campfires, sharing stories and watching mesmerised as shooting stars zip across the night sky – and it costs so little to create these precious memories.
It is easy to become nostalgic and recall times from when the children were still very small. However, we continue to spend together outdoors whenever we have spare time. We cycle, run, hike, camp and explore at every opportunity, no matter what the weather.
It rains a lot here in Northern Ireland but decent boots and a waterproof coat soon overcome that problem. On particularly wet days, getting out and about is even better, not only is the rain refreshing, but usually the forests are deserted and we get to feel like we are the only ones in the world. It’s a fun game talking about how we would survive, building dens and wondering what we would eat. It’s a whole new education without a textbook or classroom in sight.
I cannot say that struggling financially is a pleasant experience. It puts a huge amount of pressure on relationships and limits what you can do in a lot of ways. For us though, being broke had a silver lining. The hard times jolted us into a connection with the natural world around us and that in itself has brought us so much comfort, perspective, nourishment and enrichment. As the seasons come and go we watch the world change colour and every day nature paints a new picture to fill us with awe. And with the passing of the years I watch my children grow and blossom, all the while learning about the wonders this majestic planet has to offer and their responsibility to protect it. On top of all of that we have benefitted beyond words in our connections with one another as a family. Just as the seas and land, the sky, moon and stars are all networking together in symphony so we too
are linked in our bond. In that respect, we have all the wealth this beautiful life has to offer.
Kelly Hargie is mum to 3 brilliantly boisterous boys and is married to Trevor, the love of her life. She works for Cancer Focus NI, is studying English Literature and Language with the Open University and blogs about finding the silver lining moments in the everyday at www.everytreasure.wordpress.com