I am finally in bed. Everyone is asleep, for the moment. I notice the flash of distant lightning flicker around the shutter frames and wait to see if the thunder following is loud enough to wake anyone. It’s not. I think I can hear rain beginning to fall but it may just be wind through the trees in the ravine. I can hear the washing machine going. I wonder if Mr Chewbacca has remembered to turn off the ice-maker as it scares the shit out of you if you hear that ice tumble into the box downstairs late at night. You think someone’s down there.
We are close to the dream here, I know. There’s goodness to be had here, a good life. Years before we could buy a house and who knows where we’d live… (Guelph? Rockwood? Somewhere outside of Ontario? Because the government reminds me of the NSW government in terms of their planning, consideration for the inhabitants and corruption… At least there’s snow.)
But that dream, that’s going to be cut short now we’ve made the decision to go home. I want it to be the right decision and I’m looking forward to being back but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not quite right. I wish this stuff was easy like it used to be when I was in my 20s.
We are a bit meh about the area we live in and the town isn’t quite what we wanted but we have some cool neighbours. The kind of people who lend you doonas and lawn mowers and bouncy balls to amuse kids whose toys from home are still being shipped over. They invite you for beers and salmon boards and they couldn’t be more kind.
There’s a lot about living in Canada that I won’t miss, but there are some key things I will.
Firstly, the neighbours, and friendliness of the neighbourhoods. I suspect our town is particularly rife with Canadian niceties but it’s great not just knowing your neighbours but genuinely enjoying being around them. I’ve never experienced this before. I’d always avoided seeing neighbours and if I did have to confront them it would be somewhat awkward and minimal conversation. Awful. Okay, so we don’t know everyone. But we know the inhabitants of the three houses on each side of us which I think is amazing. I’ll miss them.
The second element I adore is the school bus. It was a difficult transition for the dude, catching the bus every day to and from school at the tender age of four and a half. After a couple of weeks of him melting down every morning at the bus stop, it dissipated. I only ever had to physically place him on the bus once (after Mr C had done many a difficult school bus drop off – either driving him to school after he refused to get on the bus, or just putting him on and hoping he’d be fine, which he always was).
What is amazing about the school bus is that, aside from being super convenient as you just walk across the road or around the corner or sometimes right outside your front door for drop off and pick up, it really creates more of a sense of community than the standard Australian way. We often drive our kids to school and back and we may only see a neighbour briefly while getting in and out of the car. Usually older kids catch buses they have to walk a couple of blocks to get to so while they do see their friends at the bus stop, there won’t usually be adults or little kids there and the bus can be quite a daunting, socially scary experience. I refused to catch the bus as mine was dominated by the bad kids who sat up the back and caused trouble. It was a nerve-racking experience.
Because of the school bus, we met at least half a dozen different neighbours from our street and the next street. We met the parents of kids our son goes to school with and our daughter played with the little siblings. We met kids we knew from the local park. And we got to know people active both in our local community and the local school community. The drivers were kind and consistent, they knew all the kids they drove and they were part of the positive experience. I will miss the convenience, the community spirit and the sight of that big yellow school bus roaring around the corner and putting out its safety barrier.
The snow is another thing. Okay so it’s annoying to walk through, it looks dirty as it melts and if it gets in anywhere it shouldn’t, you’re in for some uncomfortable damp. But it’s beautiful and it makes everything sound perfect. It is so cosy to be inside seeing the snow falling, the sound of the crunch underfoot, seeing those perfect hexagonal stars up close. Even shovelling it is great. I always found it so satisfying and like I’d burnt some calories for a good reason. The kids didn’t always enjoy being rugged up in their gear – it can be hot and difficult to move in – but I loved finding the perfect number of layers, a good pair of socks and comfortable boots and just the right combination of scarf, gloves and hat to be perfectly warm while walking in minus 25, a tiny bit of skin on my face feeling the sting.
The autumn was stunning. In fact the four seasons in general were pretty fantastic. I’ve always struggled to see how the beauty of a gum tree can compare to, say, a birch. Like some gums are beautiful – the ghost gum is one that immediately springs to mind. But look at those huge deciduous trees with their multicoloured leaves, bright greens and extreme transition from stark to vibrant over the course of a few months. It’s extraordinary to watch. I don’t hate eucalypts but give me an oak any day.
Skating. I’ll miss skating. I bought my own skates for the first time ever. And it didn’t cost much to go to the local rink. It was just an everyday activity, one of the few sports I’ve ever liked, and you could even skate outside which, as someone who sometimes went to the rink in 30 degree heat as a kid, was so exciting!
Okay I’m gonna say this, don’t get mad, Australia, but I miss the crappy coffee. We took a while to get used to it, this watered-down abomination, but you really can’t beat the price, the consistency, the availability and the quality of service. In fact let’s just go ahead and lump in the good service here. They really know how to treat customers over in North America. “But it’s because they work for tips,” say all the Aussies. Sure, I’m aware of that. It’s just awesome to not have to ask more than once for something, to have water brought to your table without asking, to have free drink refills. And you know what? Even in the US, perhaps not as often but still fairly consistently, we always had a server with the capacity to exude genuine care and consideration, a real personality who actually took pride in doing a great job. How refreshing. Our first experience eating out back in Australia (at a pizza place in Byron Bay) was a harsh reminder of just how far removed we are from the North Americans when it comes to service. After waiting quite a few minutes for menus, the waitress actually threw one onto the table as she bustled past, not even a word to say she’d be back to take the order or even “here’s the menu”. Nope, just hurl it in the general direction of the table and hope for the best. Appalling! But not uncommon. Compare that with an experience we had in Toronto. The server was pleasant and quick and helpful and a genuinely nice person. Unfortunately a few things went wrong with the food, things arriving stone cold and not as ordered. It wasn’t her fault but the waitress apologised profusely, sent us replacement meals and when we got the bill, all meals had been comped! We just paid $20 for our drinks. I actually felt terrible! But that’s good service.
There are plenty more things I’ll miss about being over there. I’m surprised really as I didn’t expect to like it after having found it so hard to like at the beginning. I clearly don’t cope well with change. Or maybe I am just like anyone else would be, slowly adjusted to a new life in a new place. Because that’s normal. There are good and bad elements but overall I’m glad we experienced what we did, it gave me new ideas and made me question my habits and beliefs, which is always a good thing.
We never did get to find out what a salmon board is exactly. There’s always next time!
The reality of the mountain of work I have ahead of me has really hit. How I will get through this, I have no idea. It is utterly overwhelming, no matter how much I attempt to break it down into manageable chunks or schedule it.
There are a few things that are adversely affecting things here, and I’m going to be brutally honest here. One, we are feeling a bit homesick. I don’t think I expected to feel this way. I have lived overseas before, learnt how to be adaptable and deal with change. But this is harder than I thought. Lots of the things we came here for are within reach – the lovely seasons, the traditions, feeling more at the centre of things. But I’m not sure if those things are enough. It’s not been long enough, only two months, so time will tell.
Two, I really want to be with my children. I feel like I’m depriving them of the best kind of childhood, where mummy is always there. I’m not and it’s not feeling good. The Dude has been going to school full time and yes, he can handle it, but he isn’t enjoying it as much as he should be. I don’t think much of the school either. In fact some aspects of Canadian parenting are pissing me off a bit at the moment, but that’s another blog post. Thumper is happy enough in daycare and I like her carer a lot, she is a kind and lovely person. But no substitute for mummy.
And three, I don’t really want to be studying Italian. I can struggle through it but it’s really not something I’m completely passionate about. I’m super glad I didn’t do French as I really don’t like it at all but to Italian I kind of feel a bit indifferent. I enjoy a chat in Italian but I don’t want to specialise in the language or its literature or culture. Surely there must be a way to focus my study more on what I like despite the context of Italian Studies. I think the Italians are pissing me off a bit too. I hate how formal and abrupt and arrogant they can be. They are not warm, they are strict. Not bad people, nice people, just not culturally my cup of tea. I’m not Italian and I don’t want to be.
So why are we here and what am I going to do? There’s really only a single answer to these questions: see it through. We’re here to see this thing through to the end and when I’m finished the requirements in April/May we’ll see where we are. Probably broke and uncertain, that’ll be where we are. But at least I’ll have some new career prospects. I need to focus on not feeling disillusioned and hopeless and just get this thing done!
That’s what Melbourne has always been known as, this city of four seasons in one day where it just rains at random. After three months here I’ve seen a tiny bit of that but nothing like what I expected. Having been here a number of times before, I’ve certainly experienced what people talk about, with a prime example being Christmas time in about 2004 where it was drizzling and 18 degrees on Boxing Day and then about 35 and scorching sun the following day. Unlike most people, Mr Chewbacca and I have been really looking forward to the rain and cold and were actually quite disappointed with Melbourne’s efforts on both fronts to begin with. Now it’s starting to cool down a bit and it’s lovely.
Somehow I’m managing to keep really busy. I think it’s got something to do with having a full on toddler but it’s also because I’ve really been making an effort to get involved with as many parenting and play groups as I can. I’ve just started taking Dude to a formal playgroup once a week which, although he had some crazy meltdowns the first time, he declared he loves, so we’ll look forward to next time. It’s a Steiner playgroup which is quite a bit different from any other formal one I’ve taken him to. When I say formal, I mean one that has a trained leader who involves the children with songs and activities, usually with a cost attached, and a schedule adhered to for the two hours. I was in two minds about this group, as I’m still not totally sure how Steinerised I want the Dude’s education to be and whether it’s really what would suit him. Mr C isn’t too impressed with anything Steiner, although to be fair he hasn’t really looked into it and just knows bits and pieces. There are some weird aspects that, even though it’s what my early education was focused on, I’m not sure whether I am too keen on the Dude being exposed, but what I do like is the rhythm, the wholesomeness and the wholistic approach to learning and creativity. Anyway, it’s been interesting, and now the Dude is enjoying it I think we’ll at least continue for this term and then see how we go.
I’ve made most of my connections via social media, facebook mainly, which I don’t feel totally comfortable with but I am grateful to have that tool to make my transition much easier.We have one weekly playgroup that we really love and Dude seems to get along well with most other kids he meets, or if he doesn’t connect he just plays by himself. I’ve also finally become a fully fledged member of the Australian Breastfeeding Association who do some awesome things for women and babies. But secretly the reason I became a member was so I could go to meetings and not feel like I was taking advantage not being a paid member. Plus I figure given I’ve been breastfeeding for almost three years now and will soon be taking on a whole new person to feed, I should acknowledge that in some positive way. Actually scrap all that, the main reason I joined was because I know I’m going to find like-minded people through the ABA. That’s not to say everyone who is involved with the organisation is ‘alternative’ or a natural parent or whatever. Far from this. There are members who exclusively formula feed or mix feed or haven’t yet had a baby to feed. The most fantastic thing about this organisation is the philosophy behind it which is clearly solidly backed up by leadership. I know from years of working with bureaucracies that without good leaders who live the organisation’s values on a daily basis, it’s misery and bedlam to work there. The ABA welcomes everyone with open arms, everyone is kind and open and genuine. Being a really awkward introvert, I find it so hard to slot into pre-formed social circles and especially given I’ve got some values that don’t always gel with the mainstream, meeting new people and feeling a part of something is a big challenge. I went to my second ABA meeting last week and it was absolutely freaking fantastic. I was there nearly the full two hours and really enjoyed it so much. I didn’t want to leave! And neither did the Dude.
Aside from the various playgroups and meet ups I’ve been immersing myself in, I’ve managed to catch up a fair bit with my closest friends here in Melbourne and that’s been great. It certainly does help knowing a couple of people. The other spare time I have has been taken up by appointments relating to the pregnancy. Doctor referrals, scans, midwife appointments, prenatal yoga… That has been good as it’s helped me get a feel for not only the geography of the city and surrounds (due to driving all over the place) but also the feel of the people in this city. I know I’m probably biased but I swear there is this lovely, kind, generous, open vibe here in Melbourne. Yeah, you get dickheads, don’t get me wrong (our neighbours and the freaky people across the road are in that category), but generally speaking I’ve had nothing but great experiences dealing with the people of Melbourne.
I must go off on a tangent here briefly and mention the incredible referral appointment I had with my doctor yesterday. Yes, I’m now referring to him as MY doctor. Now for anyone who knows me, you’ll know I have never once used this phrase in my entire life. I’ve never ‘had’ a doctor and usually only go to them when I really need a prescription, which isn’t very often as most things can be healed at home without paying out for pharmaceuticals and guesswork. But this guy, wow, I’m bowled over by him! The first time I went to him was upon recommendation from the midwifery practice I’m using to have this baby. I knew he must be fairly open-minded as he practises out of the midwifery clinic sometimes and signs lots of referrals for homebirths. We got talking briefly about breastfeeding and he actually commended me on having stuck with breastfeeding this long, despite my aversions. I was quite impressed! This time, I went for another referral for something a little more difficult to explain and he was so kind and understanding and said it was an absolute privilege for him to be able to refer me and that he was humbled that I’d been able to talk to him about the issue! I told him I wouldn’t feel very comfortable speaking to the majority of doctors I’ve met in the past but that he is different and I feel comfortable with him. He actually gave me a hug and was quite emotional about it! I was amazed and really quite elated. There are great doctors out there, they do exist!
Anyway, the most wonderful thing about being here in Melbourne, even though there is a lot more work to do in order to feel totally at home, is this feeling of genuine love for the place. There have been moments, one at the museum the other week, where I just stop for a moment and look up at the buildings and soak in the vibe and I genuinely like living here. I don’t know when I’ve ever had that feeling. Or at least if I have, it’s been a long time. Probably since living in London. I did try to give Sydney a chance, really I did, but my heart just wasn’t in it and I never felt any connection to the place. I don’t know that I feel a huge connection to Melbourne, as I’m realising more and more that I am really not connected to Australia in general, but what I do feel is an appreciation of where I am. I’m glad to be here. There is a lot of goodness to soak up in Melbourne and I’m really looking forward to continuing to soak it up for however long I am here.
I felt bad yesterday not giving some dude a measley 5p… and then I got over it.
So normally I have this whole thing about not giving people money for nothing. It stems, I think, from when I lived in Italy and I noticed no beggars on the streets during winter, but as soon as the sun (and the tourists) came out, suddenly there were all these poor people asking everyone for money! I spoke to a few Italians about it and they all said that most of the beggars aren’t actually beggars and that you should never give them money. So I became a bit of a hard-arse, and developed this policy that I wouldn’t give anyone money for doing nothing.
Now, living in London, I maintain that policy. Beggars here are pretty clever; they ask you for ‘just 25p’, a specific and small amount, so it sounds somehow more legitimate. But for me it’s the principle, I just don’t hand it out for nothing. And it’s not because I’m greedy with money, I’m not; I don’t have much myself and with my boyfriend currently out of work, money is very, very tight.
Anyway, so yesterday I was standing outside St James Park tube station, about to go in, and this fairly young but quite rugged-looking guy with a quilt bundled up on his back comes up to me. I knew he was going to approach as I made the mistake of making eye contact a few seconds before. He had lovely bright blue eyes, quite a sweet demeanour, although it was clear he was doing it a bit tough. I was waiting for the usual ‘can I have…’ question, but this guy began with the ‘sorry to disturb you…’ line. The problem was, he couldn’t spit it out! He obviously didn’t speak English as a first language, and he was a bit out of it, wanted to be more expressive than he could be. He began to speak, but just couldn’t tell me what he wanted to say. I wanted to ask him to ‘spit it out’, but I thought better of it, realising that, a) it would mean I want to enter into a dialogue, and b) he probably wouldn’t understand an idiom like that. So I looked him straight in the eye and waited. He stammered something about being a ‘bloody stupid Eastern European’ (himself) and eventually managed to articluate his apology for disturbing my ‘break’, or whatever if was he thought I was doing, and then promptly asked for 5p. It took him so long to get the words out that I found myself considering giving it to him – his eyes were so bright and I felt like he needed something, a bit of a lift, some encouragement. It seemed like he had something important to contribute, but for some reason hadn’t ever been able to do it. I hesitated momentarily, gave him the time to get his words out, and then said I don’t have any money, whereupon he went and hassled two guys standing nearby.
I quickly rushed inside the station, as if the interaction had made no impact upon me, and jumped on the next tube. As the train sped away, I felt an immense sense of guilt for not giving him the measley 5p (about 12 cents, I thought, immediately converting to Aussie currency). What was 5p to me? Wouldn’t it be so much more to him? Why was he asking for such a tiny amount? He phrased the question with, ‘I’m short 5p…’, making it sound like he needed that last little bit to make up a train fare, but I thought maybe it was something else, a pack of cigarettes, a coffee, something stronger… It took me a good while to get rid of that guilty feeling, and I found myself vowing to give money to the next person who asks; which is not what I’ll do, but if someone had caught me in that moment, I would have. And then I’d probably have felt silly for giving away money that I myself needed.