Come over for a salmon board sometime

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.

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Autumn in our street

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!

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Timmy’s!

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!

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Have child, will travel

After numerous heated discussions and difficult exchanges, husband suggested I go to Melbourne and just chill out with friends for an extended weekend.  At first I was reluctant, thinking about how hard the flight would be with the Dude, who just doesn’t do the comfort feeding thing and doesn’t just fall asleep, but I finally agreed to go and booked some flights on Qantas.  Luxury!  Normally we fly dodgy Tiger but with the Dude I wasn’t taking any chances, and besides, it wasn’t actually much more expensive.  I booked an 11am flight out on the Thursday, thinking that would be cruisy, and a 4pm flight home on the following Monday.  But it wasn’t to be so cruisy!

Firstly, about a week beforehand, husband revealed that he’d volunteered for a day out accompanying some deaf kids into the city to the Botanic Gardens and on the ferry etc. Which is lovely, except it happened to be the day I was due to fly to Melbourne.  And he had to be at the school by 8:30am.  In North Parramatta.  An hour’s drive away.  And my flight was booked for 11am.  Urgh.  We discussed the possibility of him bailing out, but he’d already saved the day as someone else had pulled out and I thought it would be pretty slack to bail at the last minute like that.  So after discussing the possibilities – him taking public transport to North Parramatta (erm, that’s like having a death wish!), me taking public transport to the airport (erm, again, a bit of a death wish, given I’d have the baby and my wheely bag), me taking a taxi to the airport (for $70? Hmm, think again) – and finally settled on a plan.  He dropped me in the city at about 7:45 and I strapped the Dude to my chest, put my nappy bag in my wheely bag, and took the airport line straight through from St James – easy!

A few things to explain here: I decided not to bother with taking a pram as the Dude isn’t a fan and I can’t fathom how one person can possibly handle a wheely bag and a pram at the same time.  Seriously.  How is that possible??  The other thing is that I don’t own a nappy bag.  My nappy bag consists of a rather tatty Target ‘green’ bag.  I have the material at home, just haven’t gotten round to making one, and there’s no way I’m spending $100 on a proper one, what a total rip off!  Plus I’m not a fan of carting round a whole bunch of shit just because I have a baby.  Sometimes I take a nappy and wipes, occasionally a change of clothes, a hat, socks… that’s about it.  So anyway, all I had was my modest wheely bag, my handbag and the Dude strapped to me in the Ergobaby.

The train trip through to Sydney airport’s Qantas domestic terminal was a breeze.  Fast, easy, simple.  The only drawbag is being subjected to extortion when you pay $15 for a ten minute train journey!  Freaking rip off!  But that’s Sydney for you… Anyway, I got there, decided to check my bag, and was impressed with how easy it was despite the fact that Qantas seem to have now gotten rid of actual people to check you in and you do the whole thing yourself: check in and print off your boarding pass and bag tags, attach your own bag tags, then drop off your bags yourself.  Pretty cool really.

I headed through security and grabbed a bacon and egg muffin at Hungry Jacks and a big veggie juice at the food place next to it – yum!  I found a nice seat facing out over the tarmac, finished my food and drink and gave the Dude a feed.  I had a couple of hours still before my flight at 11am, and I planned to get him to have a decent sleep so he’d be cool for the flight.  It was great, I strapped him to my back, then grabbed a coffee, then found a bench and stood rocking him while crocheting and sipping my coffee, too easy!  At 10:40 I went to board my flight; and that’s when things started to go awry.

The flight was delayed 25 minutes, so boarding at 11:05.  I kept walking round with the Dude, gave him another feed… It was 11:30 and we still hadn’t boarded.  Finally we all filed on.  Apparently the flight before had been late in.  I was beckoned to the front and slipped on board first, which was brilliant.  My seat was right at the back and the one next to me was empty, perfect!  The male and female flight attendants immediately flocked to me and took the Dude, who was happy to hang out with them, a total miracle, as normally he screams as soon as I pass him to someone else, unless it’s daddy.  This was going well! And then we sat on the tarmac.  For an hour!  The Dude got restless.  The lovely male flight attendant brought him some baby food, awful artificial Heinz vanilla custard (I read the label enough to notice the second ingredient was ‘sugar’ and then pretended not to notice), which the Dude of course absolutely loved and ate about a third of the tin!  But we weren’t flying anywhere on this plane it seemed, and were soon asked to disembark as the flight had been cancelled due to electrical problems.  I filed out with everyone else and stood in line for 10 minutes whereupon we were booked onto a 3pm flight.  Hmph.

Anyway, eventually we did fly out on the 3pm flight, but sadly the attendants on this flight weren’t of the calibre of those on the first and basically ignored me the whole time.  The Dude had had enough by this point and promptly screamed the plane down for most of the flight, even though I tried to soothe him by walking around and feeding (it only worked for the first 15 minutes during take off).  I finally arrived in Melbourne at 4:35pm and had to wait for my friend to pick us up as because of the delay she was stuck in traffic!  What an ordeal!

Some general observations about flying:

  • Baby change area at the airport? This had to be the most impractical place to change a baby, unless the baby in question is completely covered in poo and you need to give him a bath to clean him up… Where is the bit you change them on? I really do need to invest in a portable change mat, as the changing area consisted of a narrow, hard metal bench.
  • People that work at Sydney airport – really, this is your career? Reminds me why I want to leave Sydney!  I watched people working behind counters and in shops and thought, damn, what a way to live, how boring and average.  Yes, I am a cynic.  And a snob.
  • Are people really that lovely and helpful when you’re travelling with a baby? Some, yes, but judging by the stupid article I read in the Age about flying with a baby, some are just callous assholes who probably wouldn’t have the guts to say to your face what they’d say in an online comment.
  • There is a huge difference depending on the flight attendants.  I guess they see a million babies complaining on flights every day, but it made SUCH a difference to have those lovely flight attendants on that first flight.  I personally thanked them both before getting off the plane, and the female flight attendant came up to me in the airport after we got off the first plane to check if I’d been successfully rebooked and commiserate.  So nice.
  • Some people are tolerant and understand just how embarrassing and stressful it can be when your baby is screaming and you just can’t do anything.  As I sat waiting to get off the second flight to Melbourne, waiting for everyone to get off first, a smiling guy in a suit leaned down to me and said, “don’t worry, we’ve all been there before”.  I smiled.  Thanks man, I really needed to hear that.

My conclusion? Having kids and participating in mainstream society do not exist in the same dimension! But what’s new right?  All I know is, I did it, I took a flight alone with my baby and it was all good.  In fact he slept for the majority of the flight home – miracle or what!  I can’t say I’ll be doing it again in a hurry but at least now I know I can.