Hard

I’ve never heard this music before but my dad has recommended it and the artist is Italian so it’s fitting. I plug my free Apple earphones into my broken Samsung and hit shuffle. Within moments of hearing the opening bars there are tears in my eyes and for once I’m grateful for my vision being obscured by my child-scratched sunglasses. It’s piano, reminds me a bit of Michael Nyman and I remember the story my friend K told me about him propositioning her one late night in London.

This MA study, it’s hard, in all respects. It may even be one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced to date. The work is hard, the commute is long and complicated, and I feel totally conflicted about leaving my kids, neither of whom like being without me.

This music is my soundtrack now. Ludovico Enaudi. If I have another child, I think I’ll call him Ludo. Or maybe that’ll be a good name for a family dog. I won’t forget what this music has done for me. Although damn it, stop with the tears already!

I wrote this on the third day of my first week at uni. I was sitting on the bus at 8:15am having just forced my protesting 13-month-old into the arms of a lovely stranger while I put myself through the torture of a complex class conducted all in Italian. I think in those early days I understood about a quarter of what was said, if that, and what made it worse was that the other three members of the class understood everything.
At this point I’d been to five of my six classes and I was feeling overwhelmed. And to top it off, other than Thumper’s separation anxiety, the Dude was having huge meltdowns about catching the school bus and Mr Chewbacca had just messaged me saying he was almost in tears too at having to take Dude to school against his will because he’d point blank refused to get on the bus.
Looking back, yes, it was hard. But we’ve moved on now. That first week, wow, I’ll never forget it. And I’m glad I wrote this as it reminds me just how easy I have it now in comparison.

Can I really do this?

So I’ve officially started at uni. My Master’s. I still don’t even know whether to use the possessive form Master’s or not. Because it’s a Master of Arts. Gah. Stupid language. Why am I doing this again?

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The view exiting Museum Subway station

Anyway, this week has been all about the orientation sessions. I went to one first about the School of Graduate Studies and it was great, so interesting and inspiring. I felt really excited and empowered when I left. I had another look around the library where I’d been once before to get my student card. I went over to the Italian department only to discover that I was referring to an old timetable and this week is just orientation sessions.

I had to leave Thumper at home with daddy which is hard. Normally I handle all sleeps as she is fed to sleep and expressing/bottles is way too much of a headache. She’s one now and I know she can go without a feed the whole day but it’s an easy way to get her down for a nap and I had no idea how Mr C would manage. Luckily he’s resourceful, and by the third day he was into a groove and could get her to sleep easily by standing in the dark and rocking her then putting her down in her cot. I’m pretty sure I’ve found her home daycare nearby, just need to work out how to pay for it! And the Dude begins school on the same day as me. School bus for the first time!

The Italian orientation was okay, a little odd and a little intimidating. Thinking of it now, it reminds me of my first Italian class… oh my god! I was just calculating in my head how many years ago it was now. Seventeen years ago!!! Man, that makes me feel ancient! Anyway, so in 1998 I began a BA that I’d transferred into after a year of a BA (Visual). I enrolled in Italian thinking it seemed like the easiest thing to do as I’d already learnt some in high school. Despite my bad grounding in the language and my inability to speak much, my comprehension was above that of a beginner. I met with the department head, a gorgeous, wonderful woman who spoke Italian to me and quickly established that I should begin at the intermediate level. I was excited until that first class. I remember sitting in the room with a bunch of other students and in walked the lovely department head. Following her was a tall, funky-looking dude wearing 3/4 length shorts, Doc Marten’s, and red, thick-rimmed glasses. He sat on one of the desks at the front and swung his legs while the head introduced herself and welcomed everyone and I assumed he was another student. Then he stood up and introduced himself as the teacher! Suddenly everyone around me was speaking Italian, not just the two professors but all the students! Words, jokes, phrases, casual remarks were flying through the air and it was just all too fast and overwhelming. I had no idea what was going on but I knew one thing: I wanted to start from the beginning.

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It's a nice campus

I don’t regret it, starting from scratch, even though I could have toughed it out at the intermediate level. I was 19 then, I had zero life experience and even less maturity. I would have struggled. Now, sitting in a similar classroom across the other side of the world feeling slightly overwhelmed by the speed at which some people were speaking, and being somewhat taken aback at being asked about my research interests up front, I had a different experience. I put that down to maturity mainly. It was intimidating but not to the point of not wanting to continue.

I think Italian departments must have parallels the world over. There’s always something old-fashioned about Italian. Like no one’s updated their decor since the 70s. And they refer to things as being “in internet” which has this kind of fuddy duddy ring to it, like they are still using dial-up modems. They always make you sign to say you’re present. They have some really specific expectations, pet peeves, odd sort of stubborn requirements. It’s like, “oh this series of talks isn’t compulsory but if you don’t attend it’ll be noticed”.

Suffice it to say, I’ve got six full time courses to get done this term, when a normal full time load is four. Oh and I have a clash between my book history program class and the fundamental pedagogical one for Italian. I don’t think that’s ever happened. Certainly I’m the only one from Italian doing the collaborative program. And I can understand why, six is a lot! So wish me luck. My first official week begins 10am Monday morning and I have no idea what that first class will even be about be a use my Italian isn’t good enough to read up further.

Thumper turns 1 (and we almost forget!)

My little girl is one year old. Amazing! How did that go so quickly?

She is the most amazing little girl, really happy and outgoing. She is also loud! And a climber. She is bold and strong and she does everything possible to keep up with her brother.

It’s been such a crazy time since we arrived almost a month ago that we almost forgot about our girl’s first birthday. Every day is shades of the previous day, getting up and getting out of the house as quickly as possible, some days going to Grug’s Sunset, as the Dude calls it (Sunset Grill – he was reading a Grug book when we told him the name of the breakfast place). Other days we just do a quick Tim Horton’s drive-through and head straight to whatever we’ve got on the list – buying stuff, picking stuff up, looking at cars, wandering around shops trying to work out if they have what we want. And then later in the day we might do something for the kids, go to the splash pad or the park or check something out in an area that we haven’t seen. Then there’s dinner. Urgh, the dreaded dinner. We had expected our Aussie stuff to have arrived by this point but it hasn’t (long story, too boring to mention here but I’ll put a footnote for the sake of documentation*) which means we have no dishes or cooking things. So we haven’t really been grocery shopping. Which means we don’t eat dinner at home unless we get takeaway which is Pizza Pizza. Most days we don’t even eat lunch. I take fruit and crackers for the kids, Dude sometimes gets something bought for him if he is hungry after the bits and pieces I take from home, and the little one usually eats most of the fruit during the day. It’s not ideal and it’s expensive. Plus we’re really getting sick of going out to eat. Okay so we could just buy a few things. But why do that when everything we need is about to show up on the doorstep?

So for the little girl’s birthday we decided that we should do something to mark the occasion. She is one so has no idea what’s going on which means we get to decide what to do. We decided to head to Niagara Falls, take some picnic food and have a little cake out there. It’s about an hour from us so a perfect distance to take the kids. And it’s a pretty cool place to go to celebrate your first birthday! The drive was great as we got to see a little bit of the land that we hadn’t seen before. The lake and all that surrounds it is lovely, and I’m appreciating the green that we don’t get much of in Australia. Some strange traffic along the way, seemingly there for no reason, and then on the way back a random car on fire on the side of the road – now the Dude thinks that cars just “go on fire” every time they have a crash!
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Niagara itself was busy but fairly easily accessible. And of course amazing, it’s an extraordinary place! I can’t believe the First Nations people don’t consider this a sacred place and there’s no hint of any kind of preservation campaign. Or maybe they do but they’re happy for it to be exploited, what with all the casino type stuff around. It is an amazing natural wonder, it’s almost like being in a dream seeing it up close. It was lost on the kids of course. Bub just wriggled a lot and after waking up properly after her nap on the way over, she was just keen to crawl around which was impossible around the falls themselves as it was big crowds of people, dirty concrete, and just not a good place to crawl. Dude of course demanded an icecream so after getting some great views, snapping some photos, and dodging other tourists, we got an overpriced icecream and walked back in  the direction of the green space. Both kids enjoyed just being outside I think. We ate some lunch, followed by cake, and a special first taste of it for Thumper, which she of course loved! The boys “played baseball” – ie. Dude tried to hit the foam-covered ball with his kid-size foam-covered bat and succeeded about fifty per cent of the time. Not bad actually, for a four-year-old who hadn’t heard of baseball until a month or so ago.
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It was a lovely day out, beautiful weather, stunning natural wonder. I wish there wasn’t a whole bunch of shops surrounding the falls and the buildings so close, on the other side too. It’s amazing to just look across and think, hey, that’s America just over there! Weird, anyway. But I guess for a European it’s like, um, what’s the big deal? The falls, however, cannot be dismissed. The water just cascades away, it’s incredible, it’s almost too amazing to conceive of, like you can’t take it all in and realise that, yes, you really are looking at this.
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We jumped back in our grossly undersized yet awesome Ford Focus hire car and drove home. We did think about going to Niagara on the Lake as well but it would have been a bit much for the kids to make two stops and expect bubs to sleep and/or cope with being awake in the car for an hour without getting restless, given her need to practice walking around holding on to things.

There was the usual discussion about whether we should go to Kesley’s or Jack Astor’s or some other delicious but unaffordable place we’ve been numerous times and are actually quite sick of now. So we decided to try something new. Chinese food, in fact Asian food in general, doesn’t seem to be as prevalent here, or at least it’s not done as well as in Australia from what I can gather. If we were in downtown Toronto, we’d find something cheap and delicious from any part of the globe but here in Oakville it’s a little bit of a backwater. So we took a hint from Google (I had nothing to do with it, as everywhere I’ve suggested so far has been a disaster!) and went to this Chinese place nearby with great reviews. It turned out to be quite swanky and all the servers were dressed in full on traditional dress. Every time they served a particular dish they rang this gong, it was quite cool (and slightly odd). It was a little intimidating going there with the two kids as the atmosphere was very quiet, gentle music playing, everything laid out just so to a high standard, lots of beautiful traditional decorations all around. But the people were nice and didn’t seem put out by us. We ordered some dumplings for the Dude which are not 10 for $7 here like back home, and it was very pleasant, despite the usual trying to commandeer both kids, stop them running around and trashing things. Thumper doesn’t like to sit in a high chair for long, especially if there is no food on offer, so I always bring little snacks while she’s waiting for her meal but inevitably she ends up climbing out of the high chair (or screeching until I undo the belt, if it’s a really good one that she can’t get out of herself – most of them aren’t and she does a Houdini type escape).

Anyway, the food was delicious and the people were very accommodating. Luckily the restaurant wasn’t full, probably because we were there at 5pm, and we managed to get through the meal without totally destroying any possibility of going back again. Near the end, as we drank our coffees, the Dude went off to the toilet for the hundredth time, and Mr Chewbacca and I had a rare few minutes with just Thumper. And then the most amazing thing happened: she walked! On her birthday, she took half a dozen steps to walk from daddy to mummy, just like that. So typical, she’s such a “normal” baby, hitting all the milestones exactly on time and in the way described in the most mundane of parenting manuals. She just did it, and was like, hey, now I can walk! We just looked at each other and laughed, not really believing what we’d just witnessed! She did it once or twice more before the day was done. It really topped off a brilliant day where we were so proud of our girl and momentarily distracted from worrying about the giant task of settling in here in this new place.

*So the story with our stuff: Allied Pickfords told us the expected delivery is between 10 and 12 days after uplift in Melbourne. Then they sent us some form to fill out for Canadian Customs. We couldn’t do that straight away as we were flying across the world and had no access to phones, Internet or printers for ages after we arrived but we thought we had time because it’s a Canadian form. Turns out, no, they wouldn’t even put our stuff on a flight leaving Australia until we’d sent them back the stupid form! And they decided to let us know about this around the time we were expecting our stuff to arrive. Gee thanks. So we did that but it meant our stuff took like 27 days. Yes, it arrived the day after Thumper turned one. Phew!