The hardest decision of our lives

It will change everything. I don’t know how it got to this. But now we are at a point where we have to make what feels like an impossible choice. It feels so hard because it will change the course of our lives entirely. It’s terrifying. 

A week ago our Canadian visas were approved. Our flights are booked for a month from now. One month to move our entire lives to Canada. We don’t have the money this time. There’s no going back. But if we can’t find decent income, a house, an au pair, all the stuff that goes along with settling, we fail. Who knows where we’ll end up. The kids get dragged around the world. It’s not good, not what we’d hoped for. Even if we do find enough income, we won’t save money. Which means we can’t buy a house. Which means continued instability. And even if we did eventually save the down payment, we’re getting to that age where a 25 year mortgage really isn’t viable. We’d be working far beyond normal retirement age. We’ve left everything so late. 

I actually have regrets. I really can’t believe I do but it’s true. It’s so counterproductive to have regrets too. I need a fresh start, drop all that past and just begin afresh now. 

So then we stay. We build up more savings until we have a decent ten percent deposit in 12 months. We find a place in Melbourne. We buy it. We move. We settle. We make it our own, as close to anything we could get in Canada. We stay forever and have a happy, comfortable life, casting aside our discomfort at hot summers and mediocre seasonal traditions because we’re comfortable. We don’t have to worry much about money. We cruise along and forget all about how much better it might have been as Canadians. 

Is this it? If we stay will we never achieve anything else? A Melbourne future used to be my dream for many years. And then I lost it, for the sake of a new and illogical yet idealistic dream. Can we return to the happiness we felt at the prospect of moving to Melbourne five years ago? We need to decide now, tomorrow is the final deadline. I have no answers and neither does Mr Chewbacca. This is so very hard. 

A reminder that things sometimes do work out as they should

I just have to document what’s happened over the past 48 hours because I feel like if I don’t I will forget and start to think maybe it never really happened this way. 

It’s Friday night now. On Monday, we were pretty down in the dumps. We haven’t been back in Canberra too long, and at that stage it was about a week and a half. But already we’d run into what we thought were barriers stopping us getting work here and building some savings back up. Going to Canada was expensive and coming home too soon made it even more costly. I do believe the decision to come back after a year was not the right one. But all that aside, that’s what we did and we chose to come back to Canberra and not Melbourne because it might afford us more opportunity to work and build back up to being able to afford to buy a house. But those opportunities for stable, well-paid government jobs were proving elusive and we were both wondering if we’d made yet another mistake on a spur of the moment decision. We had managed to rent this kind of nice place, we were gathering furniture and bits and pieces but no one was earning any money and it was all getting just a bit scary. 

At that point I realised I needed to ramp up applying for jobs through recuitment agencies so I sat up late a few nights and fired off half a dozen applications. Mr C had registered with many but my way of registering was not to call them directly. Instead, I’d just apply for the jobs they had advertised and let them come to me. No follow-up call, not even a cover letter. Just an emailed CV. That’s the way I’ve always done it. It may seem a pretty arrogant and even foolish way of doing things as we were getting pretty desperate but that’s what I did anyway. 

I’d set up a meeting last week with an agent and it didn’t sound particularly promising. She was on leave for a few days, not super keen to put me forward for anything, but it was the only lead I had. The same agency was representing Mr C for two jobs, one of which he hoped he’d get but hadn’t even heard about an interview. It was a long weekend but we had no idea Monday was a public holiday until we went to Vinnies and discovered it was closed. I crept out of the car and shamefully rifled through some of the piles of donated goods blocking the closed door and we got some new bowls and casserole dishes. It felt like a low point. 

So yesterday rocked round and I met with the agent at 9am. I felt frumpy and less than confident but it was a pleasant chat and although I thought she was genuinely nice, I didn’t expect her to find me any suitable roles. My CV, for one, is full of holes, short term contracts mixed with some freelance work and study here and there, big gaps where I was in baby land, just not as impressive as it once was. I realised just how much technology has advanced since I last worked full time in the digital sphere and I felt a little unsure when I left the meeting. But little did I know, the Universe had earmarked this day as “massive crazy change” day. 

I took out my phone to text Mr C to say I was on my way back home but he’d already texted me. He had an interview at 11:30! Better get home! He doesn’t know the city or where to park yet so we drove him. As we dropped him off, I got a call. The agent had two jobs she wanted to put me forward for. Of course I agreed to both, and she told me she may be in touch about one short term contract later in the day as they needed someone to start Tuesday (as Monday is another public holiday). I drove the kids to the shopping centre and we hung out in Big W toy department while we waited for Mr C. I felt like the worst parent on the planet as I was on my phone virtually the whole time. The onslaught had begun! I checked my email for an update on the potential job interviews to find a message from another agent wanting to represent me for a role paying another half as much again as the base hourly rate I’d hoped for. I played it cool and agreed to let him put me forward even though the job was asking for technical knowledge that I don’t quite have. 

Mr C appeared and immediately told me they’d virtually offered him the job on the spot! We got home and as Mr C chatted to his agent about how his interview went, I got a call from mine. She told me she’d sent my CV across to the short term role and they thought I was great and wanted to interview me that afternoon as the job would be starting Tuesday! Oh, and with a handover on the Friday. I agreed shakily to a 4:30pm interview. 

All went well. I turned up on time to a lovely building tucked away in a quiet corner of the university campus surrounded by bush land and views of lake and mountains. There, I met the guy I’d be filling in for and working with when he returned. It was to be a six week job and yes, handover tomorrow. I had to tell him I didn’t know how I’d arrange daycare at such short notice and he told me they had been unable to find anyone suitable and that I, as their last resort, was perfect for the job. I had to accept. 

Mr C was just as stunned as I was when I told him, especially when I found out the pay was a bit more than expected. He was simultaneously stressing out as he’d heard nothing to confirm he had his job despite the verbal offer at interview. We drank wine that night anyway. I just knew it’d be fine. 

And it was. About 16 hours after my recruitment agent confirmed written approval for me to commence, the same happened for Mr C. And that was it. 24 hours prior we’d been shitting ourselves at the prospect of destitution and now we were employed. Surely a miracle, definitely a relief. We ate fish and chips from our local takeaway shop (absolutely awesome and not expensive), and we felt normal again. What a crazy time! Organising daycare at short notice was hard but I did it. We met with the lady and the kids start on Wednesday, when Mr C starts his job. I can’t believe it. This Canberra thing might just be the right decision after all!

One of those catch-up posts

I am kind of obsessive about record-keeping, but in a quite eccentric way. I like to write dates on everything. Even little post-it notes I write with story ideas, I’ll put a date on there. I’ve always done it. The problem is that I don’t always keep up with my documenting everything, so while I keep records, I don’t always get to complete them. And that’s what’s happened with this blog recently.

The last time I posted was in April and now it’s September. I have at least half a dozen part-complete posts sitting in my drafts. And although the things I was documenting in those have passed, I absolutely must finish and publish them. So I’m going to do what I did when we first went to Canada. I’m going to publish them in order, dating them when they occurred, and try and catch up to now.

One of the reasons I’ve been hesitant in posting stuff, aside from having no time or reliable internet connection, is that the stuff that’s happened since deciding to come back to Australia has been a bit hush-hush. Not to say it’s a secret as such, more just that we’ve been a bit wild and crazy with our decision-making and we didn’t really want to broadcast stuff to the world. It’s just what we do.

So, stay tuned, if you like, for updates since that time we saw the Mennonites playing volleyball somewhere outside of St Josephs, Ontario, and we’ll go from there. The updates will contain many child-related anecdotes, stories about rush decisions (what’s new?!), and document the pain of adjustment as a result of yet another move when, in actual fact, I’d decided I was completely over moving and wanted a house like six years ago. Funny how some decisions impact immediately on your life and others just seem to fall by the wayside.

Ping pong

Back and forth, one side of the world to another, this is what we do now. Now that the reality of starting again in Australia is setting in, I’m finding myself feeling somewhat panicked and unsure. Was this the right thing to do, coming back? Nothing about Australia has changed over the past year, and I didn’t expect it to, but there is a lot that just doesn’t seem right, seems like such a hard slog for such little outcome.

One of the last photos I took in Canada. I think this was the view from our hotel room in downtown Toronto where we stayed in the days leading up to our departure.

Mr Chewbacca wasn’t keen to come back. I wasn’t really sure, I think I was still adjusting to Canada. I remember someone telling me long ago that she always gives new places two years before considering moving on. I thought about that when it came time to make the decision to stay or leave Canada and I dismissed it quickly, but I know she was right to do that. I should have given it longer.

We started talking about whether to stay or go before Christmas, as we figured that if we were staying, we’d have to be working on our applications in January. I’d seen info at uni about the work permit I’d be eligible to apply for as soon as I had official word that I’d fulfilled the course requirements and would be graduating. I set up an appointment with this immigration advisor in the international student centre at uni and he told me I could apply but he made it sound awfully difficult. Or maybe I wanted it to be too hard, I don’t know, but I remember coming home and telling Mr C a fairly negative story about the steps I’d need to take to stay another year. I think I’d already somehow got it into my head that I wanted to leave. And really, it made a lot of sense. For one thing, financially we’d be much better off.

The reality of our return to Australia settled in with the five year old…

In January, we went to Oakville mall and booked our tickets at Flight Centre. I remember taking a bus in the falling snow to pay for them. I organised quotes for shipping back our stuff. We knew we’d need to stay until after Dude had finished school for the year. I finished my last course at the end of April and soon after that I got an email from uni saying I’d be graduating in June. We booked for exactly a year after we’d left, literally to the day. We were flying back to Brisbane so we could stay with my mum and acclimatise.

I don’t know why I thought it was too hard to apply to stay. I remember feeling overwhelmed at the time, like I just couldn’t deal with the unpredictability of it all. I felt like I just wasn’t strong enough, like I wanted the safety of home. I was okay with settling for that somehow. Or at least I convinced myself at the time that I’d be able to rationalise the decision once we were home.

The final trip to school on the big yellow bus

People at uni, professors included, had been telling me from the beginning that I should apply for a PhD. I was quite excited about that, although I didn’t like the idea of doing it in Italian. But the deadline for applications came and went in January and I reluctantly told the small group of friends from my course that we were going home. They were all pretty surprised. Only a year, that’s not long, they all said. I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t long enough but I thought I could embrace a new “Australianness”. I thought somehow that the hot summers interrupting any attempt at Christmas tradition could be ignored. I thought I’d be so glad to be home and I was so ready to choose Australia as home.

We were missing these kinds of winter sunsets

We actually emailed the shipping company and told them to hold our stuff as it still hadn’t left Canada. We frantically emailed the international student office and the immigration department and tried to get the uni to confirm that I’d been officially notified of graduation at the end of May, as the work permit needed to be applied for within three months of that date, not graduation itself. We toyed with ideas of stopping in Sydney to go to the Canadian Consulate and apply in person. I pictured Mr C negotiating a massive campervan down a partially deconstructed George Street and me having to get out and walk because of all the roadworks and the insanity of Sydney roads and traffic. It was pointless. There was no way we could just turn around and go straight back, as desperately as we wanted. We both moped about off and on, even more depressed by staying in a house that was just not designed with actual humans in mind. We were uncomfortable and miserable and unsettled. The kids took it all in and behaved like nutcases.

We decided that, somehow, we’d get back to Canada. How, we didn’t know, but we’d find a way.

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.

Setting up the basics

We’ve been working hard to get some basics set up this week. I wanted to mention a few things we have done that might be helpful for anyone else moving to Canada.

Our house contained no furniture whatsoever on that first day we arrived. And of course having sold everything before moving except for a bookshelf and our son’s bed frame, we needed to buy some replacements. Our budget wouldn’t allow for new stuff and with little kids it’s really not practical to buy brand new as you’re constantly worried they’ll trash it and you’re having to make a whole bunch of rules about being gentle with the furniture when really there are more important things to be policing. So it was second hand all the way.
The problem with buying second hand is that, these days, you need the Internet to find stuff. And of course not only did we not have Internet at the house, we didn’t have Canadian numbers so couldn’t text or call people advertising things for sale. So an Internet connection became our primary focus and because cable TV goes hand-in-hand with wifi, we had to buy a TV as our first piece of furniture. Ridiculous! But that’s just how things seem to go with this move, one thing depends upon another and so on until you find yourself having to buy an electric screwdriver in order to use the toilet.

We bought our TV from Costco and it sat on the borrowed dining table while the cable guy connected our Internet. We asked around and went to half a dozen furniture places but realised very quickly that our thoughts about buying second hand were spot on and we couldn’t afford anything new, even heavily discounted.

The next options were Kijiji, kind of like Gumtree, for those in Australia and the UK, and various buy/sell/swap groups on Facebook. The trouble with buying stuff like this, aside from not having the Internet or phone numbers, was that even if we settled on something, how would we actually get it? The hire car we got is just a Toyota Rav4 (what a crap car, I’d never buy one!) so not much room to carry big items of furniture.

We met our neighbour on the other side (not the burly, bare-chested towtruck driver guy) who very kindly invited us to dinner with her family which was delightful and very welcome given we were starting to get sick of eating out after five days of it since arriving. Someone mentioned it was possible to hire trucks for the day from Home Depot, more or less like Bunnings in Australia or B&Q in the UK. So we thought, great, we’re set.

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A sign out the front of the consignment store. One of many scattered throughout, all fabulous and funny!

After doing a bit of hunting around, I discovered something called a consignment store. We drove down and it was basically just a second hand furniture store. After looking at new stuff in other stores like The Brick or even Ikea, we knew even the cheapest new stuff would be out of our price range. The stuff in the consignment store was priced well and the sales assistant was fantastic, showing us everything they had that we could have missed just browsing around by ourselves. We discovered prices were flexible so we chose what we liked, based on what we could afford predominantly, and we ended up with two big chests of drawers, a TV unit, an armchair, an ottoman, three side tables, a padded blanket box, a matching bedside table and cupboard for the Dude’s room, an oversized coffee table and a glider for about $900 all up. We took what we could on the spot and arranged to pick up the rest the next day in a $20 hired truck from Home Depot.

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Cars. Some of these North American ones are just stupidly big!

Well. It wasn’t straight forward. When Mr Chewbacca rang to ask about availability of trucks he was told they will not hire to someone without an Ontario driver’s licence. So he rang U Haul and was told something just as ridiculous. It’s like they didn’t know that people from other places might want to hire a truck and they really had no idea what to say. I did some quick Internet research and discovered a bit on U Haul’s own website saying they’d accept a licence from overseas and eventually we convinced them. What a stupid ordeal! Like most stuff of this nature in Canada, it’s bureaucratic and any systems in place are antiquated.

Anyway so Mr C picked up the stuff and that was great, we had some proper furniture finally! We found a lovely couch on Kijiji and after some research, traipsing around various different shops, purchases and returns, we settled on some rugs from Walmart and Canadian Tire as the house has no carpet in it.

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I spy a moving truck... finally, our stuff from home has arrived!

Oh, the house. I could write a whole series of posts about how dodgy it is in terms of the quality of workmanship, materials, everything. It’s not the age of the house, it’s clearly just been built to a very low standard. And over the years it’s been painted or updated or repaired but never to a good standard. I now understand fully why Mike Holmes is as successful as he is. I think he may be the only Canadian thus far to realise that you need actual standards to construct a house properly. Anyway, we’ve got toilets that get easily blocked, walls that are slightly curved by accident, strangely undulating floors, warm patches on kitchen tiles, doors that don’t fit properly, just cheap, shoddy workmanship all round.

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The truck arrives. Yep, that's the extent of what we brought!

The fridge, which is from Ikea, of all places (generally speaking rental properties here come with whitegoods), looks pretty but the water dispenser gives very odd-tasting water and the water hammer is so loud. Oh and it doesn’t fit in the space properly so has been rammed in and actually warped the surrounding cupboards. No air circulation. And you can’t open the cupboards above it because the doors get stuck on top of the fridge! The microwave (another fixture) is balancing on a weird shelf that juts out at just the right level for you to take out an eye of you move while standing in front. The oven is this huge white standalone monster, self-cleaning apparently, and all gas! It’s a beast and looks ancient but apparently isn’t and works well. Virtually all the kitchen cupboards are too small and not easily accessible. It’s like the whole kitchen was built for show, not to actually be used.

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Setting up the only piece of furniture from Australia that we weren't willing to part with

Anyway, enough whingeing, suffice it to say the house looks cool but pretty much needs to be rebuilt from scratch and we now have furniture! We also have a car, the purchase of which and inevitable associated drama is a story for another time. And our stuff arrived from Australia. We spent thousands to send toys to Canada apparently…

The cloud of doubt has drifted away

We are going to Canada. Definitely. At 29 days til takeoff, I am finally, just now, not having doubts. Only 29 days. Up until just a few days ago I was still not quite convinced that this is what we should be doing, despite doing what I can to get the wheels in motion. The path to the top of this hill has been long and full of obstacles that I allowed to sit there threatening me, but now I can say that I am at the top of the hill and slowly letting the brakes off to coast (and eventually hurtle almost out of control) down the other side.
So what changed? Certainly not this. This was here.

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It may have just been a combination of things, selling some of our stuff and telling people what was happening. Plus I think finding a few rentals over there that look nice and that may actually be available to us, as we’d previously been shocked to note that the law, in Ontario at least, favours tenants which means landlords require very stringent checks before they’ll let you rent something.
I’ve been putting myself out there for months now, really since we sat in a noisy play centre over a year ago now and agreed we really did need to do this, at least try. If you don’t try, you’ll always wonder, we said. What if we had tried to live elsewhere? What if? Maybe we’ve missed out, sold ourselves short, lived small, compromised, settled. No, we must at least give it a go.

Settling. Now there’s a thing. We want to settle, oh how desperately we want to settle. We’ve wanted to settle from the beginning, for years now. It’s funny how things work out because, really, if settling down had been the priority we’d have done it wherever we were. But it was more than just finding a niche; it’s finding our niche that matters.

“I suspect you may be slightly crazy,” said my dad, when he first heard of our plan. And I know I inherited my craziness from my family who also weren’t able to settle in one place. My mum tried various diplomatic methods of talking us out of it initially, trying to bring home the realities of living somewhere ‘cold’, even though that’s one of the most attractive elements of coming to Canada. And then she attempted to showcase Australia’s good points, many of which do nothing for us (the hot weather and beaches are top of that list). I think Mr Chewbacca’s family are just happier to have us a bit closer in distance and time. There certainly haven’t been any complaints about our plan thus far from the UK contingent.

I feel good about this now, not to be just going with what I already have. I am always about getting the absolute best, not compromising, and I think what’s best for someone else isn’t necessarily for me.

This is a rather rambling post so I’ll stop. I am falling asleep.