That thing where you see your first real Mennonite and he’s playing volleyball with like 20 other Mennonites

And then you momentarily question whether you’re dreaming or actually awake, driving along a highway somewhere in Canada and this is just your life now. Yeah, you know, that thing. It happened to me the other day. And it turns out I wasn’t asleep and Mennonites have Volleyball equipment.

Yet again it’s been a while since I last posted. I’ve just been enjoying not doing uni work. It’s only been a couple of weeks since I handed in my last piece of assessment but already it feels like a long time ago. Or possibly even just a dream, moving to Canada to study an MA with two small children and no money.

On a walk through the ravine
On a walk through the ravine

***

And that draft post was all I wrote back in April. It’s actually July now, although I’ve set this post to publish with the April date so that all the stuff that happened is documented in order.

I saw these Mennonites playing volleyball on a drive out to a lovely little town called St Jacobs. We vowed to go back as we didn’t feel like we saw everything. We went on a Sunday which was apparently a mistake as the big market happens on a Saturday and then we found a cool toy shop where we stayed for way too long until the Dude had a meltdown and Thumper pooed and we had to leave. It looks like we won’t get to go back after all, time is not on our side. This was just one of quite a number of little drives we’ve done while we’ve been living over here, although there haven’t been enough if you ask Mr Chewbacca. I think he’d like to stay and explore more. But we can’t, we just can’t.

I recently posted on a mum chat group I’m in (an Aussie one) asking for people’s views on whether we should stay, even though it was about a month before we were due to fly home. There had been a little spanner in the works in terms of the employment situation for Mr C and the possibility of staying here in Canada suddenly seemed like something more than a momentary consideration very quickly thrown in the ‘too hard’ basket. In desperation, I asked a bunch of friendly strangers online. The majority of the 20 or so responses I received were for staying in Canada. And when I read through my post about our situation, asking ‘what would you do?’, I realised if I read that I’d have said, “yes, stay, have an adventure – how many times will you get this chance again?” It was then that I realised I was tired. Really tired. I thought back and realised it’s been nine years since I left my comfortable situation living in my own house in Canberra with a well-paid public service job, car and on-again-off-again relationship that was relatively unsatisfying. I really wasn’t happy, despite having ‘all the things’, and I’m so glad I took the chance and went to London in that July of 2007. I was adamant I was only going for six months and there was no way I’d go to any parties or do stupid and immature things like all the other Aussies over there. Of course I was wrong. But the day I left, I actually left my home behind. And I miss being settled in one place. I’m so sick of being in limbo. I remember having this conversation with Mr C six years ago when we first moved to Australia, and then again after a year or so in Sydney. And we definitely had it again when we decided to come to Canada. I really need to settle and get my family settled.

So, although it’s been a hard decision, we’re doing it, we’re actually going back. Home. There’s a lot more work to be done to get to the point of feeling settled, and time is one of the essential components of that feeling and I can’t control it. All I can do is plan and hope and keep that picture in my head of a settled, happy family.

Soundtracks

Do you ever step out your front door and a soundtrack begins playing in your head, as though you’re in a film? I do it all the time. It happens sometimes when I slam the car door shut, the music starts, something’s beginning. Often I am actually hearing music through my earphones. I see a lot of my life as a film, like I’m an outside observer. It’s full of cliches; both my life perceived this way and the actual act of doing this. But whatever. Before I did that unit on scriptwriting I thought I’d be really good at it, but it was such a disaster. It was part of my Grad Dip in writing. I had this teacher whose experience seemed to revolve around having written Neighbours episodes and she was one of those people that I just clashed with. Not in an angry way, we just didn’t really get each other. I felt like everyone else in the course was cruising along and writing up all these great ideas and mine was just poo, awful story about nothing written like a kid, terrible. It was such a rude shock, that scriptwriting could be a total disaster. But that’s actually what writing was for me for a long time, a total disaster. I always had talent, and I’m good with languages and spelling and grammar, but I’ve always been very immature, a late developer.

Anyway, I digress. I actually wanted to write about the future, or the next steps. I am about to complete this MA and I really don’t know where it’s going to lead. Potentially nowhere, which is a bit freaky really. I think the reason that’s possible is because I’ve never done study with a view to getting work. I was explaining this to a Walmart lady the other day, when she badgered me about applying for a credit card and I explained that I’m not eligible for a credit card because not only am I not a permanent resident of Canada, I also don’t have an income. She asked what I was studying and I explained and she asked where that leads career-wise. When I told her I wasn’t sure and that I’d never done any of my study with a view to getting a job, she was shocked. It was like it had never occurred to her that people did this. When she realised it was about happiness, she calmed down a bit and seemed to understand where I was coming from. But when I walked away, I realised I truly didn’t know what the hell was going to come of this degree, and that was because it was never what I really wanted to do. And what I really wanted to do, writing, was not what I got into. Because I haven’t shown myself to be good enough at it to warrant doing an MA. Italian, yes, I’m good at it, and this degree has been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding from a personal perspective, but I don’t want to do further study in Italian. I never wanted to do any study in Italian! Gosh that’s a hard thing to admit openly. But it’s true.

Regrets are a waste of time and I refuse to entertain them for even a moment. All I can do is look to the future, to where I want to be, and work towards that. It’s not Italian, and it’s not writing. I’d like to continue my editorial career in a freelance capacity, which will take discipline, and I think my study this past year has helped with building that. So that’s something. But as for my long term career, I’m not sure. Will it be teaching? I’m told I am good at that. I did a presentation a few weeks ago on King Lear and my fellow students all commented on the way I read the Shakespeare, how I engaged my audience. And I really enjoyed it. But teaching, that means I’m more like my mum than I’d like. That freaks me out. And teaching requires energy, giving of oneself. I don’t know if I have what it takes.

For now, I have less than a month left of classes before I finish this MA. So I’ll keep walking to my soundtrack, writing my snippets of stories, my to-do lists, my goals. One thing is certain: I will write a book one day soon.

That time we found our place in the world

So, it’s official: we’re going home! Yes, that’s right, after… what is it, seven months? I don’t know, something like that… seven months in Canada, we have decided we actually belong in Melbourne. So we’re going home. It’s not been an easy decision, not at all, and although it’s completely thrilling to think we are going home, it’s also somewhat scary. And there’s that feeling of… I don’t know, disappointment? No, that’s not the right word. Not regret either. I don’t do regret, it’s a waste of time. But… there’s this feeling that we should have known. But you know, the longer I stumble along through life, the more I become aware that some lessons can only be learnt the “hard” way. That is, there was only one way we were going to come to the realisation that we belong where we were, and that was by going away.

Freshly fallen snow while I wait for the bus
Freshly fallen snow while I wait for the bus

It’s been a pretty amazing journey in a lot of ways. Well, I can really only speak for myself here, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this MA here at U of T. It’s taught me so much, and that’s not even including the stuff I’m actually meant to learn for the program itself! The more I do, the more I put myself out there, challenge myself, the more chances I take, the more I realise I have a right to do this too. Just because these people here are doing PhDs or studying at this amazing, prestigious university doesn’t make them any more special or talented than me. And no, it’s not a competition. But I think when you’re sitting at home in some backwater like Canberra you develop a little bit of an inferiority complex. Or rather, you think that all those people studying at Harvard or famous people in Hollywood or people who work for The Economist in London or some top PR guru at some swanky firm in Sydney have something you’ll never have. And that’s just not true. You can absolutely be up at the level of anyone else. There is no one “better” than you. Just because you’re studying photography at TAFE doesn’t mean you haven’t got the same potential as someone doing a PhD in English Lit at Oxford. It’s all perception and self-belief.

Anyway, It’s time to go home to Melbourne. I still have about six weeks of study left (what?! Is that it?!!) and then graduation in May plus the Dude will see out the school year up until the end of June. We’ve booked to fly out at the end of July and now I’m gathering quotes from moving companies. We will have some rest time at my mum’s before heading back down to lovely Melbourne and reconstructing a life there. Hopefully we can both get work fairly soon and a mortgage will be on the horizon. I balk slightly at the amount of work this is going to take, but my heart is warmed at the thought of finally setting up home somewhere. To think I was complaining about not being settled some eight years ago when Mr Chewbacca and I met!

I'm not sure if squirrels are supposed to hibernate but they seem to be hanging around throughout winter this year. These ones are in Queen's Park.
I’m not sure if squirrels are supposed to hibernate but they seem to be hanging around throughout winter this year. These ones are in Queen’s Park.

Some people might say this is history repeating itself. My British grandparents came to Melbourne as Ten Pound Poms in 1959. The decision to leave London was, I think, partly motivated by my grandfather who had travelled a lot during his time in the army and knew there was more out there than doing what ten generations of his family had done before him working at the docks in London. My grandmother was very much attached to familiarity and found it hard to leave her home. She didn’t feel safe a lot in her life and London gave her a feeling of safety which she left when she agreed to go to Australia. So they went. And it was hard, I think. But granddad got work and things were going well enough. Then he had an accident at work where two fingers were severed. It was serious enough to land him in hospital for a time and the family without an income. I’m pretty sure my grandmother was either heavily pregnant or had just given birth to my uncle at the time. My dad, who was about 12 or 13 when his brother was born, was the eldest. The story goes that he ended up on some kind of game show that donates money to families in need and apparently this helped the family get by while granddad was recovering. In the end, the accident was the best thing that could have happened as granddad received an insurance payout and for the first time ever the family had the opportunity to put a deposit on a property. While waiting for the payout to be awarded, another spanner brought the whole thing to a grinding halt: they had word from London that my granddad’s mother was ill and may not last long. With the insurance money through, the family actually had the means to return home for her funeral. But that would preclude any home-buying in Melbourne. Granddad, typically, left the family’s next move in the hands of fate. He decreed that if the property purchase was approved by the following Monday, they’d stay. If not, they’d return. And as fate would have it, they ended up returning. It was a mistake, of course. Well, nothing is a mistake. But returning to the UK was like a step backward and wasn’t really good for anyone. There’s a lot more to the story, lots I don’t know and probably some bits I got wrong, but I wanted to share this to illustrate why what’s happening for me and my family now is something of a repetition. This time, however, this time we’ve done it right. We are making the right decision. I know, because I have no doubts whatsoever about it.

As I write this, the snow is falling outside – probably the last snowfall of the season before spring descends and humidity returns with a vengeance. It is probably as close to a perfect winter’s day as you can get, exactly what we came for. It’s been generally a disappointing winter for the most part, quite mild and so erratic, although I suspect the latter is normal. I will definitely miss the snow when it goes. But we will go to the snow back home and take the Dude and Thumper skating at the only rink in Melbourne.

So it’s all happening, the wheels are in motion. There’s a lot more to write about this, in the context of why we decided to come to Canada in the first place. There are a few unanswered questions. I’ll get back to you later on those. While there is a slight feeling of disappointment that our little experiment didn’t quite work out, there’s a much stronger feeling of happiness that this is exactly where we need to be, right now. We are going home and we are satisfied that it’s our home. No more searching and wondering and restlessness. We’re for Melbourne.

Six months in Canada

It’s been six months since we arrived in Canada and I’m pretty sure we’ve already decided to go back home to Australia. We will be here about another six months or so, depending on what happens with jobs and money and accommodation. I wanted to do a bit of a reflective post to be able to look at in years to come and remember exactly what this process was like.

Was it what we expected? I guess the answer to that is, “no”, but by the same token I don’t think any expectation could possibly have matched this experience because we really had nothing to base it on. I’d never even been to North America before and it had been over ten years since I’d last studied. Would we do it again knowing what we know now? Hmm, that’s a toughie. I think I probably would. There are two big things coming out of this experience for me:

  1. My degree. Yes, of course I could have got an MA in Australia, and it would have been much cheaper and saved us a whole lot of money and headaches. But I would never have had this experience being part of one of the best language departments in the world and being taught by all these incredibly knowledgeable and highly respected Italian professors. I think having studied here in North America is a bonus too because it’s not something most Australians get the opportunity to do.
  2. My Australian identity. After 37 years of rejecting my place of birth, grappling with where I belong, where I fit, I can now say that I am proud and content to be an Australian. Why has it taken me so long to come to terms with what many of my cousins, for example, don’t seem to have even thought about? I can’t answer that except to say that what I’ve inherited from my parents, my sensibilities, and what I was exposed to from birth, my cultural influences, created a multi-layered and disjointed identity with which I have had to work hard to be at peace. Sure, there are many things about Australia that I don’t identify with, many aspects that infuriate and frustrate me, but I know one thing for sure now: I am Australian and happy about it. And I am relieved to be at peace with it now as I know others, my grandmother for example, who struggled with this their whole lives and never came to a place of peace.

How did this all begin, going halfway across the world to try and find a new home? Did we really do this? I am still amazed at what we’ve managed to achieve. I pinch myself all the time, still, even after six months here. Aside from childbirth, I think this has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I’m so proud of myself and my family for the way we’ve handled it.

This is my current view:

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Why it’s rotated, I don’t know, just a quirk of WordPress, as it’s showing fine on my desktop. Ah well. I’m sitting, supposed to be studying, in the library. Across the road that creamy brown-coloured building is Carr Hall where the Department of Italian Studies lives. It looks quite nice from the outside but inside it’s not the greatest. It’s old and the rooms are either way too hot or way too cold. I spend most of my time either in class in that building, here in the Kelly library (which is the dedicated library for St Michael’s College so there are lots of interesting religious people around) or in the building next door to the library and across the road from Carr Hall, Alumni Hall. It sounds awfully grand and looks it from the outside but inside it’s old and tired and, like Carr, either hot and stuffy or freezing cold. Now that I’m not doing book history, I rarely go elsewhere on campus. Every couple of weeks I might go over to Robarts, which is the big library, about 10 minutes walk from here. It’s a cool concrete 70s monstrosity shaped to look like a peacock (although this is hard to see from most angles) and the collection of books is impressive, to say the least. There is also a Starbucks, Subway and some other food places in there, plus street vendors in vans out the front so it’s a good place to get food. I tend not to go there to study as it’s very busy, full of undergrads slacking off and just too big and distracting to really focus. I like the Kelly library for study as I can sit in the cafe area (yes, another Starbucks) in a comfy chair and it’s quiet but not deathly silent, plus there’s coffee if I want it. I can get free coffee from the Italian department any time I like actually, I must take advantage of that more.

This campus is really lovely, nice to walk around some of the older buildings, watch the squirrels jumping about, climbing the old trees and sculptures dotted around. I like being at uni, it’s very conducive to focus and study which is so enjoyable for me these days. Back in my undergrad days I almost never studied at uni – in fact I almost never studied at all – and I spent much of my time trying to avoid being anywhere conducive to focus and study. I never read the books or did any research, I just did the bare minimum to pass, wrote essays without citing any references and ate enough sausage rolls to sink a ship. I remember sitting in the computer labs checking my email, years before I ever had internet access at home. I had so much time, so many opportunities, and I blew most of it off, wasted it. I got by on sheer natural talent and arrogance, refusing to accept the very valid comments of lecturers and tutors who dared to ask me to cite a reference or read something. Someone must have been looking after me because I sure didn’t deserve to do as well as I did. I occasionally wonder what would have happened if I actually applied myself to finding a career, aspiring to something great, instead of just doing random things and ending up working for the government. I don’t know whether my parents could have done something differently and helped me to be more focused, but I will be doing what I can to ensure this doesn’t happen with my kids.

Anyway, I digress. What I’ve managed to achieve in the last six months is phenomenal. I’m pretty sure I’m in line for an A average grade thus far in my course and frankly I think I could do better but I’m very grateful for the marks I’ve been awarded and I will do my best to keep up this standard. Ultimately, this is a year out of our lives to do this Canada thing, just a year, and then we will be entering the next phase, gathering together more funds, building our life back up again, getting established and settling down for good. I want to do my PhD, perhaps to be able to teach, certainly to write and work in a field a little closer to my interests and the work I’ve been doing here in this course. I’ve come so far, managed to narrow down my research interests which is a huge achievement for me, an all-rounder and generalist from way back, and I’m super excited about the next six months here, finishing this degree. Financially, we need a miracle, but I know this has been the right thing and I therefore know we will manage this second part of the journey and find our way back home.

Oh, but Australia…

Not a day goes past now when Mr Chewbacca doesn’t ask me, “so, we’ve pretty much decided we’re going home, right?” And I inevitably reply with some shaky response along the lines of, “yeah, I don’t know, maybe, we need to talk about it…” It’s hard to find time to talk when we’re busy with study, work, kids and all we want to do of an evening is collapse on the couch and escape into tv. That’s also partly just an excuse for not discussing what is a really difficult issue. Do we leave Canada and go back home to Australia?

Ideally we’d make a list of pros and cons and that would help us decide. Regardless of the strategy, this is a super hard decision to make. There are a few reasons for that. Firstly, although we both miss home, we haven’t had a great deal of time to get used to Canada so it’s hard to differentiate between missing home and actually being sure we want to move back to Australia for good. Secondly, we are financially in dire straits, having spent everything to get here and do what we’re doing, so it feels like we stuffed up if we return with so much less than when we left. Thirdly, we haven’t ended up in the best place, in an area or environment that suits us, so even though it’s nice enough in our little neighbourhood, the awareness that we’re in the wrong area adds more weight to our wanting to go. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that it’s been Murphy’s Law from the get-go, from the moment we decided to leave. Not only that but Melbourne bent over backwards to get us to stay.

I actually started looking at places to rent in Melbourne the other day. Oh Australia, why are your houses so ugly?! I much prefer North American architecture. And so many rentals in Australia haven’t been renovated since the 70s, it’s awful. A bit depressing actually and made me hesitate about looking into going home any further.

But if we stayed? Oh, what a big undertaking! Visas, jobs, money, moving, schools, daycare… I don’t know if I have it in me. I would need to find full time work which I think would be a big challenge. And the kids, will they be overlooked while Mr C and I work like demons to satisfy visa requirements? Again, I just can’t see how it will work. I don’t think I want it enough.

Don’t get me wrong, the seasons and the trees are gorgeous and far nicer than anything you’d get back home. The northern hemisphere seasons are great also because it’s winter at Christmas etc… But I’m not sure that’s enough to make me put in the hard yards to stay. I wanna go home.

I actually have a home! It’s a revelation really, for me. I’ve always struggled with knowing where I belong so it seems logical to embrace what I know now that I have identified it. The irony is, now I know where I belong, I’m not there and it’s going to be an effort to get there! I also have to think about what’s best for the family as a whole and try to calm Mr C’s worries about it all, about whether we’d do the right thing in going back. It’s going to be big, whatever we decide.

The low

In life, you get ups and downs. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. You look forward to something, you have a great time, you reminisce with friends, it’s all good stuff. You tend not to remember the bad unless you’re wallowing in despair. You need a bit of bad to know just how good the good is. But when you’re experiencing the bad, it’s so hard to retain that perspective. 

Right now is a bad point. I’d love to blame it on PMS but I can’t. Since the very beginning, when we first talked about moving to Canada, there have been so many signs telling us not to go. I don’t want to say I’m reliant on omens or whatever because I’m not, I believe in putting in the hard yards and doing everything to achieve exactly what you want in life, but by the same token I’ve had too many experiences throughout my life to deny the existence of some kind of higher power, spiritual world, the universe, whatever you want to call it. The universe tells you what’s what, guides you along the path, presents you with opportunities to improve and progress, if you actually notice of course. The signs against going to Canada were there all along and it continues to be tough going. Not that it wouldn’t be even if the signs were positive and we were supposed to be doing this; no one is denying the enormity of what we’ve set out to do, moving halfway across the world based on a crazy dream of snow at Christmas and beautiful landscapes. We’ve done stuff like this before and it’s been so hard! But not like this. 

Since meeting, Mr Chewbacca and I have made many moves and overcome many obstacles during those moves. I remember finding our first place together in London, that was really difficult! Lots of stuff went wrong. I dinged the hire car. Our landlord was clearly dodgy and wanted rent paid by cheque or cash only. Then moving back to Australia, that was a massive drama. Not only did we have huge problems agreeing on where to go (I wish I’d stood my ground and we’d gone to Melbourne, things would be so different!), we struggled finding a place to live with only one of us working and just took the first thing that came along. Our wedding was organised last minute and my dress was accidentally transparent, I never tasted my awesome wedding cake that my mum bent over backwards to arrange at the last minute and I ended up in the worst job I’ve ever had. Our place turned out to be amazing but we had to move somewhere bigger because the Dude arrived. And that was shit as we had to settle for hell (ie. South West Sydney), the removalist wasn’t even a real removalist (just a small middle-aged couple with a graffitied truck), our house was fibro with no air con, and, well, other stuff happened that made it hard to remember that place fondly. 

Then, finally we could leave Sydney, but we had to move to Canberra for six months to live in my run-down investment property while we renovated enough to be able to sell it and afford a move to Melbourne. We actually did it. I got a job (narrowly losing to my job in Sydney as worst job ever), and somehow we managed to renovate and sell with no money, just credit cards. We did enjoy Canberra but the whole renovation was hard work and we got screwed by a dodgy handyman. 

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ah Melbourne. the Australian bush is so grey and washed-out compared to Canada

Finally, we made it to Melbourne. Okay, so it wasn’t perfect. It was super tough. Jobs were scarce and I was pregnant. We ended up with total assholes for neighbours. But it was Melbourne, and after 18 months there we’d begun to find our niche. I actually had friends, new friends, for the first time in years, and they were people that I had lots in common with. Mr C had a really great permanent job. Dude was in an awesome kindergarten. We had all we needed, a great car, nothing to want for. We were happy. Except, the weather. Those fucking 40 degree days. Bloody Australian summer. 

So why? Why did we go? The weather was a big reason, as I explained previously. I really wish people had been a bit more shocked about it when we told them. I wish I’d listened when people told me I’d be mad to leave Melbourne. Why did we take this leap, I asked myself every time something went wrong with this move. We’d ask each other as we ran up against barriers and logistical problems arose time and again and we grew slightly uneasy about whether we should really do this. But we knew that if we didn’t do it, we’d always wonder. 

 

Niagara Falls! you have to admit, it’s pretty awesome in winter. this is about an hour from where we live
 
I won’t go on. But this is a low point. One of those times when you just feel regret inching it’s way in, no matter how much you remind yourself how pointless it is. I hate it too because it reminds me of family who did stuff like this and could never stop going over the story of why they left and how big a mistake it was. This kind of a move, done wrong, can really screw up a kid. I’m just glad at least that ours are still little enough to bounce back. 

Every sign was there from the beginning. And right to the end. We almost didn’t even board our flight! And now, now we are left with nothing but the experience. And me with a degree. Is it enough? I hope so. We could be buying a house in Melbourne now but instead…

I end this post with an apology for its whiny negativity (a bit of perspective on my part wouldn’t go astray!) and a promise that the next one will be less ranty. I feel better already just for having written this!

To my extended family

I adore my immediate family, my husband and kids, and although they’re far away it’s nice to have a strong connection with my children’s grandparents too. But I don’t mention much about my extended family. I’m an only child, so I’m talking about aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This is because I haven’t made much effort to be in touch with them. Actually, I’m going to be honest here, I’ve actively avoided them. And now, at the age of 37, for the first time, I’m beginning to feel terrible about that. So this post is an apology to my family for cutting them out, even if they didn’t notice.

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my family. none of the people in this photo are alive any more and i never met any of them. this is my great-grandparents’ wedding, taken at St Bartholemew’s somewhere in London’s East End, Boxing Day 1923

I didn’t really grow up with my cousins. They mainly lived in Sydney and my parents and I moved to Canberra when I was two or three. We’d visit of course, but it’s not the same. And frankly, I don’t know why, but I always felt different, like I didn’t really identify with my family. On one side, I think the lack of language contributed – they all spoke or understood a bit of Serbian and I knew none at all. On the other side, I felt a little closer to them, but culturally, again, they were more ‘Aussie’ or something. When I was a teenager and even into my 20s I was a real snob. Yeah, this is an honest post. I was so stuck up, constantly comparing myself with others, insecure, immature, unable to accept that everyone is different, with different influences and ideas and desires and strengths and weaknesses.

Having said that, I was very anti-Australia for the longest time, despite having been born and growing up in Australia. I considered myself ‘European’, whatever that means. I think it meant that I didn’t identify with Australian culture and I felt like being European was classier, like people from Europe have more of a world view, are more educated, more intelligent, more refined. I was revolted by bogans. It really was snobbery on my part.

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countdown to departure, July 2007

I think there were a couple of pivotal moments that changed my perception about my cultural identity and where I belonged, but it’s only recently that my familial identity has begun to matter. Just after turning 18, my dad took me to the UK for five weeks. I was so excited as it was my first overseas trip and I was finally going to visit this mythical land of ‘England’ where I felt my cultural heart truly belonged. It was a shock, to say the least. I will never forget the feeling of weight I experienced; all those people, all that history, all mixed up, rushing, spilling, washing over me. I felt claustrophobic, weighed down by the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ that had happened in that place over the centuries of city living. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t wait to get out. I was amazed at how dirty all the London transit vans were, just smog and road dirt accumulating. Some of the roads, remnants of Roman walls, puddles filling in uneven pavement, crowds trying to enter and exit stations and trains, it was all so full and overwhelming to me, a very naive, immature teenager with very little experience of the real world. I’d come from Canberra, the cleanest, quietest city in the world, a population of around 350,000 neatly arranged in suburbs around a handful of peaceful ‘town centres’. This is a city that was planned. The closest thing to a traffic jam occurs when you have to slow down a little bit because the NRMA are jump starting someone’s Datsun in the Parliamentary Triangle and it’s 8am. Everyone in Canberra drives. It’s about as far from London as you can get in every respect.

So at 18, I realised I wasn’t European. I was so glad to be Aussie. We landed at Sydney airport on a warm January evening and I have never been so glad to get into a creaky Falcon with a Lebanese driver and try not to get car sick because the suspension on those things is like a roller coaster ride gone wrong! I was home. But the gratitude for being home didn’t last long. Four years later I embarked on an adventure to take advantage of a scholarship and I studied in Siena, Italy for three months. That was a great experience and my world view expanded quite a bit.

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at Telstra Tower, Canberra, in 2013

When push finally came to shove and I realised how toxic my life in Canberra had become, I went back to London in 2007. I was 28. I planned to stay for six months and I wasn’t there to party it up or take drugs or have fun. I didn’t do fun. So much for that. As I’m sure anyone who knows me knows, my London years changed my life. I met the love of my life, I grew up about 20 years in the space of two and a half, and my sense of cultural identity got a whole lot more complex.

Moving back to Australia in 2010 and having my son in 2011, the pull to find where I belonged, to find a home, was even stronger. But I didn’t yet equate home with family. I was starting a family, sure, but I still had this firm belief that ‘my’ family would be my husband and child(ren), and the extended family, some of whom I’d fallen out with by this point over various misunderstandings and overreactions, were not going to be part of my life. I am a fair person by nature, but I’m also a classic overreactor. If I feel stressed or under pressure, I will back out. I’ll just drop everything, push everyone away; it’s all or nothing. I am insecure, I hate intervening or getting in people’s way. I don’t want to disturb. But often this is interpreted as snooty-ness or rudeness when really it’s the extreme opposite! My worst nightmare is having to ask for something, even if it’s something I’m entitled to, something I own, I just don’t want to confront, I don’t want to state my case, I don’t want to attract attention to myself.

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London. Nuff said

So continuing on from my escape to London, I slowly began to extricate myself from any hint of connection to my extended family. They are all clever, sensitive, aware people, and I’m sure many of them wondered what my problem was, why I was trying to disappear from their lives. I worried that one falling out meant I’d automatically burnt my bridges with others connected to that one person, so I just unfriended everyone on facebook and set my profile to private and got on with life.

As my son grew up and my husband and I got to know each other better, questions arose. My husband was a bit miffed at not getting to meet my family, but I remember saying, oh, don’t worry, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Secretly, though, I knew that wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know how to make things right. I felt stressed out by all the emotional stuff I was going through and I couldn’t deal with the communication challenge. So I keep everyone at arm’s length.

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I just don’t like Sydney but I must admit it was nice living across the road from this

I think since coming to Canada and experiencing such homesickness I have also begun to feel sad about my lack of connection with my extended family. I unblocked everyone ages ago and my profile is no longer totally locked down. I occasionally have a little look around, see some comments and conversations on the pages of some family who I am still privileged enough to be friends with, and I see them loving each other, my family. I see how grateful they are to have each other, how much of an effort they make to stay in touch, and I envy that connection. I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and stupid. I don’t know if I’ve burnt my bridges, I hope not, but I don’t know what I could say that could make it right. All I hope is that my family can forgive my silliness and we can move on in peace. I hope we can reconnect, but if not, I hope they all know that I bear no one ill will and I am grateful for each person’s impact on my life.