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. 

Advertisements

History is a bitch

I say that in the most spiteful, selfish way I know. I say it that way because I know now that I should have paid proper attention to the lessons history was offering to teach. If only my judgment hadn’t been so clouded. If only I’d felt strong enough to confront the next steps.

Exactly where I’d like to be now

As we reached the end of 2015 and tumbled abruptly into January and a sudden return to work, study and hectic family life, Mr Chewbacca and I knew we had to make a decision and get the ball rolling based on that decision. It wasn’t an easy choice, whether to stay in Canada or return to Australia. It wasn’t a good time to be making such a decision. It was finally really cold, which was lovely but also beginning to present difficulties. I was facing a whole new set of courses at uni and I found myself feeling relieved that this was my final semester as it was hard work. The schedule of work, school, daycare and uni, then family time fitting in around that, was a challenge. And Canada hadn’t been kind to us, with Murphy’s Law dominating through much of our early months. We were still in shock, trying to adjust. I was tired. Weary, as my dad would say. I wasn’t up for yet more paperwork. I certainly wasn’t in love with Canada, and think that was because Toronto, for me, isn’t the most inspiring city, and then Oakville, while nice, is sort of devoid of character. “No love”, as I wrote at the time.

I met half-heartedly with an immigration advisor at the uni to find out the next steps for staying longer in Canada. Two separate applications were needed, one to work immediately following graduation, and one to set the wheels in motion for PR, which wouldn’t be a quick process and required proof of our good financial standing (ie money in the bank). With, let’s face it, a low salary, plus all the expenses and having shelled out so much money for uni fees, the thought of a hard slog to get these applications going was just too much for me to bare. I think I just gave up at that point. Staying was in the too hard basket. And I wanted the stability and familiarity of home. Canada was pissing me off, it was just too different and not in a good way. I know Mr C tried to get me to see why we should stay another year but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be receptive to him, plus he was feeling a little disillusioned and raw as well I think. So we decided. Home in July, as soon as Dude finished school.

I knew what had happened previously when my grandparents came to Australia from the UK. That move, and subsequent ping-ponging between the two countries affected the family to a depth that still impacts today, over 45 years after the last move. The ties to Britain are so strong, even stronger than my ties to Australia. I’m sure more than one member of the family would argue that they should never have come, they should have stayed at home. But it was my grandad who was perhaps idealistic and had itchy feet, yearning for a more relaxed lifestyle after having travelled quite a bit during his time in the army.

And now the same is happening to us. I have this desperate need to find a place we feel at home. I thought it could be Australia but I’m not so sure any more. I can’t believe it took coming home again to realise this. I feel like a fool.

I’m writing this post two weeks exactly after getting back to Australia and we aren’t even in Melbourne yet, where we plan to live. Maybe it’s too soon but we’re feeling entirely regretful about leaving Canada. I have no interest in going back to Toronto or Oakville but I think the positives over there may just outweigh the positives here. I’m not sure I want to stay in Australia.

I won’t publish this yet, it’s too shameful. But when you read this, know that I had only been home two weeks when I wrote it so maybe, just maybe, I was wrong.

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. 

wpid-20141204_123511.jpg
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.

hector-and-gladys-wedding-boxing-day-1923.png
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.

20131209-205701.jpg
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.

20131209-205156.jpg
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.

wpid-20121211_153535.jpg
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.

Pacific Ocean
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.

The mountain

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!

Seven years

On 13 Aug we celebrated seven years since we first met. Seven years! This is officially my longest relationship and I think Mr Chewbacca’s too.

image
Our dessert at the end of a very expensive meal at an Italian restaurant in St John's Wood on our first anniversary, 13 August 2009

This won’t be a long post because, although I tend to blab to whoever will listen about anything and everything, privacy is important, and some things are just, well, private. Especially things that relate directly to others upon whose behalf I wouldn’t like to speak without prior clearance. I just wanted to mark this moment because seven years is an important milestone.

When we first met I was a couple of months off turning 30 and I felt old. Mr C was 34 and I think he felt old too! We met at Liverpool St Station outside a small Starbucks next to the Bishopsgate entrance. We went to a pub in Wapping, The Captain Kidd I think, although I could be mixing it up with the other one nearby. Which one is the oldest pub in London again? I forget. Shame on me!

We discussed the work of the famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the possible names of our children, but ironically not at the same time. He told me about the tunnel under the Thames at Rotherhithe and we went outside to look at where it begins. I expected food but none was forthcoming, just beer, which I attempted to drink but didn’t get far as it doesn’t agree with me. We swapped music players to go through each other’s music and draw conclusions. That was important. I can’t be with someone who has no ear for music. It didn’t seem to matter that, despite being Aussie, I hated rugby. Or maybe it did, who knows.

image
One of the best photos I've ever taken. Hyde Park, London, at the Christmas Market, December 2009

I went home and told my flatmate I’d met my future husband. We both fell hard in love. I was surprised, he wasn’t who I’d pictured myself with, yet somehow I knew there could be no one else. He was like a male version of me. Reminded me of that Seinfeld episode where Jerry meets Jeannie (Janine Garofolo) and, upon falling in love with her, remarks to George: “Now I know who I’ve been looking for all these years. Myself!”

I don’t know why we were in such a rush to complete our courtship – perhaps it was the age thing – but we were virtually inseparable from that day on. Gee it’s been some kind of crazy ride. But I wouldn’t change it, I really wouldn’t.

Happy seven years to us. The beginning of a new cycle in a new country. How apt.

Money, cars, houses, decisions

Reading a blog recently detailing the life of a man who migrated to Australia with $7 in his pocket and within a few years had bought a house, car, and established a successful career, I began thinking about nature versus nurture when it comes to practicalities, choices and material successes in life. It struck me that this story illustrated perfectly why my belief that my capacity to plan and organise is entirely inherited is actually total rubbish. I realised that being successful, making sound choices and managing finances sensibly is a skill, a lifestyle choice in fact. What is interesting about this story is that this man adopted a child from a very poor orphanage in a third world country who in turn became very successful, investing in property at a young age and running a number of businesses. So many of the choices the son made were based on parental advice and parental demonstration of good planning and hard work. Many of the qualities I would consider to be inherited genetically were actually passed on by example to the adopted son.

It’s hard not to feel envious of the kind of success this family enjoys. But I know that any envy is counterproductive and a waste of time. These people do not envy. They get on with being successful. That is one of the secrets of their success, not wasting time and energy comparing themselves with those they compete with.

For most of my life, I’ve had the distinct impression that my lack of success financially and my inability to plan and organise is genetic. I think this belief was cemented by family members, with their actions and words. There was always an undertone of lack of control over circumstances, a helplessness and despair that infiltrated my life growing up. Ambition was encouraged (the sky’s the limit, you are talented and capable) but ultimately there was no demonstration or guidance around the practical realities of achieving goals. Something was disconnected along the line somewhere.

I think it must have been about 1960 when my great grandfather – my father’s father’s father – died suddenly. He was only about 60, fairly young, but not for our family. He actually had assets when he died – a bit of savings and a house. My dad was 11, the eldest of four at that stage. He related this story to me a few times but I really don’t remember all the details. Suffice it to say, the six of them – my grandparents and four kids – were driving in their very old heavy car up a steep hill. My grandparents were having an argument about the money my grandfather’s father had left him. My grandfather had it with him, a wad of cash. I dare say this probably had to do with my great grandfather keeping his money in the mattress in cash. He was apparently a communist and didn’t like banks. He’d had an experience during the first world war that instilled this believe in him.

As the argument came to a head, my grandfather got frustrated and stopped the car halfway up the hill, throwing the pile of money up into the air and turning his back on the car to stomp off up the hill on foot. My grandmother didn’t often lose an argument, even if in the wrong. Like me.

Unbeknownst to grandad, the car’s handbrake wasn’t on properly and the heavy, iron chassis began to roll backwards down the hill. My grandmother would have been terrified as she never learnt to drive and was always stopping her children from doing anything that might result in an accident. Grandad heard screams and turned to see the car rolling down the hill so he began sprinting back down after it. There was no way he could catch up. My dad, having been around cars and mechanics fairly often, knew what to do. He jumped into the driver’s seat and applied the brake. All were saved.

This is so typical of my family, at least on my dad’s side. We end up in these ridiculous situations and they’re always to do with cars and money! Everyone used to talk about how cursed we all were when it came to cars. What it illustrates to me, however, is this constant lack of control over life. The car running down the hill is symbolic of this. I used to have nightmares as a child of being in a car rolling down a hill, out of control. It wasn’t the fear of crashing that was most frightening, it was that sense of helplessness.

I once heard someone say it is all about attitude. Attitude to life, to success, to finances, to relationships, to yourself. What what is attitude, exactly? Is it a choice? Those that have a bad one would probably say it isn’t. But I believe it is. And I believe making the choice about one’s attitude is easier if you have the results of maintaining a positive, confident attitude demonstrated to you growing up. I don’t think I had this, and I think it did me much damage. But I will do all I can to choose a positive attitude for the sake of my son, to make good choices. Everyone takes risks in life, but there’s a massive difference between a risk based on carelessness and disregard and one based on respect for yourself and those around you. I’m choosing the latter.