I didn’t write over December 2010 and January 2011. Not that this was noticed by the literary or blogging world of course, but it was the first time since I learnt to put an HB pencil to paper that I didn’t want to write. Not a blog post, not a postcard, not even a list of things to do.
Ostensibly, my reasons were (in no particular order):
- Packing up our lives in Canberra where we had been living with my parents for a year;
- Renovating our new home in Sydney;
- Moving to our new home and unpacking our lives as well as the 200 boxes from London (who knew I had so many clothes I don’t wear or flashcards I don’t use?);
- Settling the children into their new school and the ridiculous range of activities aimed at developing them into well-rounded individuals; and
- Setting up a new internet connection in an old house.
The real reason (I didn’t write) was because I felt sad. So sad and worried about our new life in Australia that I couldn’t write about it. This blog is supposed to be an honest exploration of our migration South: the good, the bad and the ugly. Over Christmas, it got ugly for me and I was afraid that if I blogged about it, facing up to that was a little more than this sleep-deprived mummy could cope with. So I packed and unpacked boxes instead, because that is so much easier.
I don’t know why it happened in December, or why it happened at all, but for the first time since we left in November 2009, I felt the full weight of that decision. I suddenly missed the familiarity and security of our lives in London. Australia, the final frontier, became terrifyingly hard instead of happily challenging.
I missed the security of our old jobs in London, jobs we loved and were successful at. I missed my clients and colleagues at work, and that feeling you get when you think you are changing the world together, even if it’s only a little.
I started wondering if I had rolled the dice on my children’s educational and professional future by leaving an island that operated like a member state (albeit reluctantly) and bringing them to a country that operated like an island.
I missed my cousins in England who visited me, held my children whilst I showered and dowloaded movies for me when I couldn’t leave the house (legally downloaded of course).
I missed my beautiful mummies of Primrose Hill, the comfort of our Friday morning coffee and the weekly debrief of all things domestic and not.
I even missed Andy, the rotund and ruddy-faced butcher on England’s Lane (Belsize Park) who prepared my weekly meat order without me having to order it first.
I started doing crazy things like drafting an email to Prime Minister Julia Gillard:
Who does your hair? Perhaps you should consider toning down the iridescent red, it looks ridiculous on the international stage especially when you’re standing next to Michelle. And since we’re talking, our natural resources can not possibly last forever, a country that does not make clever things or sell clever services is not a clever country as one of your predecessors famously said we should be. Healthcare is expensive over here Julia, and not at all universal. Childcare is frighteningly expensive and more prohibitive than motivating for parents returning to work. And there is a world out there that will leave us behind if we don’t learn to engage with it, learn from it and compete with it on its level. On a happier note, the quality of Ice Magic, that uniquely Australian chocolate sauce that hardens on contact with ice cream, has improved dramatically in the ten years since I’ve been away.
I’m sure much of the above is unfair and unfounded. But I was having a bad day (couple of months). I suddenly realised that I was a Londoner who used to be an Australian who had now returned and felt stranded on big island that turned out to be a small country far away from the things, people and places I had grown used to over a decade; things, people and places I had grown to love.
Basically I had a very long panic attack. My anxiety escalated to Stress-Con 1 and I started thinking:
(a) what are we doing here? and
(b) I had made a terrible, terrible mistake by initiating this move.
After ten years of talking about returning, the full weight of actually returning to Australia felt heavy, then it felt terrifying and then it came crashing down – a growing ball of frustration, disappointment and tears exploded and was released. Husband might qualify that verb and say it was unleashed.
December and January were hard months for me people (by people, I mean my readership of three cousins). My sense of humour that usually amuses me, Newborn and no one else, failed spectacularly. My sense of perspective that usually reminds me of the world’s cruelty that I am privileged enough to avoid, also failed spectacularly.
All I could do was doubt, panic, cry and wallow. In that order: Doubt, Panic, Cry and Wallow. DPCW. It’s not a cool acronym. Let’s face it, it’s not SWAT, CIA or even BSG (hands up and Good Hunting if you know that one). But December was all about DPCW.
There was no watershed moment when things started to get better. It was just the little things:
- a holiday at the beach with the Australian contingent of cousins and old friends, cooking and playing board games together, all of our children learning to swim together;
- a slideshow of the photos my grandfather took in the sixties when he travelled Europe with my grandmother. My grandpa, Appappa, doesn’t really talk to any one now, he’s old. But in his youth: he explored the world; he took photos of my beautiful Ammamma, posing like a movie star by the Trevi Fountain, he loved to read Readers Digest and PG Wodehouse books, and he laughed until he cried at British comedies. I hope and pray that my children, his great-grandchildren, will remember him, even just a little.
- The hair on my children’s backs (hirsuteness being part of a rich genetic heritage) bleaching in the sun, their naked bodies revealing the swimming costume marks that are like permanent tattoos now.
- The weekly play dates I have with childhood friends who knew me before I knew my blackberry. We pretend we organise these play dates for our children, but I need them more than our offspring. Husband, cousins and old friends have anchored me against the panic.
- Watching husband go to Bunnings for a pack of screws and come back with a power drill that apparently converts into anything your heart desires.
- Eating Ice Magic with my children and teaching them all the different ways I used to eat it with my brother.
- Moving into our new house, our first real home together and watching the children’s delight as they claimed their castle, my husband’s pride as he claimed his.
And so the list goes on and the DPCW subsides.
It is a Wednesday in April today which means my little brother will come by with his son. My children are deliriously excited at the prospect of playing with their cousin and by 7:30 this morning I had cooked three enormous vegetarian quiches for my brother so I must be excited too.
Our lives still feel uncertain and insecure here. I feel like Captain Kirk: Australia, the final frontier. Actually, I’ve always felt more like Mr Spock: nerdy, unusual eyebrows and poor social skills. Even Mr Spock explored and enjoyed new worlds. I am counting the little things because it’s the little things that count – the small joys and victories of our new life here are accumulating into the big things, slowly but surely.
Anxiety down to Stress-Con 4. HB pencil to paper. There will be more Writer’s Blocks to come, some because of the above, some because of our internet connection. The only thing I am sure of is that with time, a little help from my husband, cousins and friends, and a lot of Ice Magic, they will get better.