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!

Never love

It’s been about four months now since we landed in Toronto. I’m proud of how we’ve managed to pull ourselves together and make a life here. I hate that we have no money and are financially so much worse off here. I knew that would happen but somehow it’s a worse prospect now it’s actually happened. The weather is beginning to cool down, not enough really, and the amount of snow thus far has been pretty pathetic, but Torontonians assure me there is plenty of time for that and I should just be grateful for the continued lack of it for the moment.

I miss Australia desperately. I don’t remember ever missing it like this. It’s not so much because I don’t like Canada, there’s a lot to like, the weather and the nature being two of the best aspects. I like that my son has made friends and we know our neighbours. I love my uni course even though I don’t know how I will get through the amount of work I’ve got. I’m not really liking how conservative Canadians are and how they don’t seem to get saracasm and are a bit up tight, but they’re not all that way – you get different people everywhere, it’s silly to generalise. I absolutely hate the safety obsession though and I’m not overly impressed with my son’s school. The way they’re teaching, the behavioural policies, the way they relate to the children, everything is sub par. People are nice, but that doesn’t account for everything. The systems and processes and ‘the way things are done’ are all pretty lame here in Canada generally. Well, no, I can’t speak for the whole of Canada. Here in the GTA, there are a lot of crazy, convoluted, ridiculous, weird, confusing, illogical and just plain stupid ways of doing things. I come across something every day that make me pause and say, what the fuck?! So that drives me insane on a daily basis.

Autumn leaves I collected while waiting for Thumper to wake up – she fell asleep during a drive to Niagara on the Lake

My course is great, really. I kind of wish I wasn’t doing the Book History program, as, aside from it being yet more work, I’m not particularly inspired by it. I am enjoying aspects, like researching the assignments, but the reading is a little boring and the size of the class just isn’t conducive to good discussion. I find myself wondering whether it’s all much ado about nothing a lot of the time. Like seriously, who cares what database storage application you use to access your journal articles and whether it changes the way you approach your reading of those articles? Okay, well maybe some people do care about that. I don’t. On the other hand, I’ve been privileged to be able to handle some very rare books, read some interesting articles, hear about really fascinating topics, and study some wonderful primary source material. I’ve used a hand printing press and flipped through a first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I think my feelings about this course are telling me that I really don’t have a future in pure literature, like I’m not meant to do this sort of stuff.

The varsity stadium, I think they call it. The oval, sports ground, at the uni

So what is thrilling me? Well, my favourite course is philology, although there’s a lot about that which is just fun and interesting rather than something I’m actually going to pursue at the next level. I think the course that’s made me realise where my future lies is one on a particular diaspora. I am really inspired by the process of gathering the stories of exiles and emigrants, by this question of home and cultural belonging. It’s something that plagues me constantly, and probably always will, and I feel as if I have a lot to say about it and I just want to know more. So if and when I do a PhD, it will be something relating to that. I would like to do comparative literature but you need a third language for that so I’d need to learn one. Maybe German? Or would French or Spanish be easier? Because of my German blood, it would make more sense to learn that I think. But it’s a hard language. At least I don’t have a mental block about it like I do with French which drives me mad with its ridiculous pronunciation! Anyway, that’s the plan.

I got into a subway carriage that was only Star Wars ads, and lots of them!
 
But I digress. What this post is really about is what I’m feeling about staying here in Canada. Mr Chewbacca wants another year, and I do too, kind of. I can see why it would be an advantage. I feel terrible about uprooting my kids, the Dude really, as Thumper is still little. I guess no matter what he’s going to be uprooted and sent to a different school regardless. I feel like I’m working so hard and not getting enough time to enjoy life here, plus the constant worry about money and when we’ll ever settle is really getting to me. I want to go home, find a niche. But at the same time I know we still won’t have money. It’s all gone, all that we could have used to buy a house in Australia. I don’t know if I can come to terms with that just yet. I feel like we might have made a mistake. And yet, I know if we didn’t come here, we’d always have wondered.

On my side of the family, they did it, they took the plunge and moved across the world. Twice, in fact. Both sides of my family actually.  On Mr C’s side, they didn’t. There was talk of that possibility and it just never eventuated. Lots more stories to be told there. It certainly feels like history repeating itself for me, anyway.

One thing’s for sure, and I thought about this as I glanced out the window as my train approached the city: I will never love Toronto.

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.

 

How not to return to work after having a baby: part two

As you may recall from the first instalment, I didn’t go back to work after having Dude. I did keep looking for work, preferably something I could do from home. In my heart of hearts, I knew that leaving the Dude to be cared for by someone else regularly wasn’t right for him. I did start to feel more confident about him being ready for a little ‘away’ time from me as he is so very independent whenever we go anywhere. He runs off, gets involved in other kids’ games, climbs things, goes really far away from me without a glance back to check I’m there. I thought maybe he would actually benefit from a couple of half days away playing with other kids.

A few weeks ago, I took him to visit my mum up at Byron. I thought I’d get heaps of time to myself while grandma gets her fix. How wrong I was! He was very suspicious of everything she offered him to eat, due in part to the fact that she mixed up some ricotta and avocado in mashed potato and he wasn’t a fan of the whole mixed mushy thing. And towards the end of the week he started having a tough time teething and just wanted to be held and fed for hours and hours.  He really clung to me, even when he wasn’t teething, and I realised that I really am his security point, so because he was in strange surroundings, he kept me close by.  The whole idea of putting him in some kind of care for a few hours a week completely went out the window; he clearly wasn’t ready.

I must say I was beginning to find it really hard going having to justify my choice to stay at home all the time, and deal with not having enough money to do what we need to do.  Mr Chewbacca stresses out about it all and feels he just doesn’t earn enough to keep us all going comfortably.  I think he’s a bit resentful of the fact that he has to be at work every day and I’m at home, and while he understands the importance of what I’m doing with the Dude, he still feels a bit ripped off.  I guess that’s fair enough.  It’d be different if he earnt a lot more money and we were more comfortable and living somewhere we love.  But that’s another story for another post.

I would still log onto various job-finding websites a couple of times a week and search for work-from-home jobs.  They are few and far between, especially doing writing or editing or online work.  Most jobs working from home involve telemarketing or something equally hideous and I just knew that kind of thing wouldn’t be suitable.  It would have to be something that at least utilised my skills in part and I wouldn’t want to be on the phone all the time.  I half-heartedly searched and found nothing much, although I did apply for half a dozen or so positions over the last few months, with no success, barely even an acknowledgement.

Then, a break! A close friend texted to ask if I was interested in 12 hours work from home doing what she’d been doing for a past few months, admin type work, mainly online.  Yes!  I immediately said I was keen and we had a chat about it. She and I have known each other so long that she knew immediately it would be up my alley, and I knew she is always on the money. She recommended me and I met with my prospective employer, Dude in tow, and she offered me the job!  It’s not great money, but better than nothing and at least a start.  It’s possible the hours may change, so who knows.  I’m actually enjoying it, enjoying the forced routine, and the Dude is coping well too.  It feels like such a smooth transition, no stress, no pressure, defined hours, and a very flexible employer.  It’s been only two weeks so far but I certainly do feel very lucky to have secured something like this.  I now realise that it’s unlikely I’ll ever go back to working 9-5 in an office; that’s so last century!

And the winner is… Melbourne!

So it’s official. Actually it’s not official at all, I’ve hardly told anyone. But most people I know don’t read this blog so I’m saying it here: we’re moving to Melbourne! I have no idea how we’ll afford it, but the plan is to go early next year, once life has settled down after the New Year but before the Dude’s birthday in May. I’m thinking March or April. I can’t believe it’s finally going to happen. Mr Chewbacca has been reluctant for a long time, and it’s really my fault we didn’t end up there to begin with, instead of crappy Sydney. Back in June 2009 he actually agreed on Melbourne, even though he didn’t like it, but I felt bad for him so I agreed we’d go to Sydney. Big mistakey!

But now it’s here. Mr C has finally seen the light about why Sydney doesn’t suit us and why Melbourne might. I’m not under any illusions that it’s going to be some kind of utopia. In fact I think we’ll probably end up back in the UK at some point down the track. But at the moment, it’s Melbourne. I’m excited because it means we are finally settling somewhere. I can actually look around and think about buying a house, once we’ve been there six months or so and have a feel for the place.

It’s all happening at the moment in our world. Not only have we made that big decision, but we’re off to the UK in November (again, how we’ll afford it I don’t know but I have faith that it’ll work out).

Actually that’s more what this post is about: faith. Positive thinking actually. Mr C gets shitty with me for just believing stuff will work out when it’s an impossibility but from my perspective, unless we’re going to change our plans, what’s the point in being negative? Even realistic can be a trap.

Take our UK trip, for argument’s sake. We have paid for our tickets in full but we really don’t have spending money. In addition, Mr C will not be working while we’re gone and will therefore not ve getting paid for three weeks. To top it all off, our car rego is due then, which is close to a grand. Fuck! Sounds freaking impossible, right? Yeah, it’s shit. But I believe that we are meant to go on this trip. And because the Universe is on our side, somehow we’ll manage to make it work. Not sure how, which is the scary bit, but I just know we will. Like that song… Who was it, Paul Simon? Can’t remember. But it went something like:

We are going, heaven knows where we are going. We’ll know we’re there.

We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there. We know we will.

It will be hard, we know, and the road will be muddy and rough but we’ll get there, heaven knows how we will get there. We know we will.

Yes.

Northern lights and southern poverty

So there’s a lot going on for me at the moment and I’m just going to pour it all out as much as I want into this blog.

In the immediate future – tomorrow – I’m going to Tromso in Norway for three nights and four days and it’s going to be amazing.  I’ve got an odd obsession with Scandinavia, and I just know I’m going to love it regardless of what happens.  Of course I’m keen to the see the Northern Lights, but that’s not my main reason for going and I won’t be completely disappointed if I don’t see them. Just being anywhere in Scandinavia and particularly 350km north of the Arctic Circle in an amazing place like Tromso is just the ultimate getaway for me.

My partner is excited, of course, but he’s so down in the dumps about money at the moment it’s really difficult.  I completely understand, we really can’t afford this, given we’re moving permanently back to Australia from London in January, and there is so much to pay for. We’re also getting married in April, so there’s lots to organise and pay for there, and coming back to Australia we’ll have no jobs and no house, it’s going to mean starting from scratch with no real savings to speak of.

Last night we talked about it a bit and were asking ourselves, what are we doing? We came to the conclusion that we’ve still got to go, it’s what we want and there’s nothing to be gained by waiting around in London and prolonging our temporary living situation here. Of course we both have jobs here, but we’re deliberately not establishing ourselves as we’ve known for a while that we’re going back to Aus to live.

I think a massive issue is that we’ve decided to move to Sydney. I didn’t want to at first at all, and he didn’t want to go to Melbourne, which was my first choice as lots of my friends are there. I have a lot of family in Sydney, and I know they’d happily put us up temporarily but I just don’t want to do it, I don’t want to stay with them. There’s this feeling that I want to keep my life separate, that I don’t really want to spend that much time with them, that being around them doesn’t actually do anything for me as a person, it’s not the right path to take, in a sense. It’s such a strange and irrational feeling that it frustrates me to even try and articulate it.

I think about flying into Sydney in January and I can’t picture it, I can’t picture how it will be, how our first moments of our new life will play out.  I feel really lost going home, not because I don’t know it or don’t want to go, but because I don’t have a niche or a home there any more and I have to begin again.  The lack of money is a huge issue I guess, and if that wasn’t dominating things then the transition would feel a whole lot easier to digest. I think the way I’m going to handle this and get through it and find a workable solution is just to have a brainstorm. It’s different for my partner as he is not from Australia and really is starting a new life. I must make a lot of the choices about establishing ourselves there as I know the place, I know how things work etc.

I feel a bit weird not having a job at home. I’ve never been in this situation before, and while of course I have job hunted a lot in London it works totally differently in Aus. There isn’t this big market for recruitment agents over there, you just apply for jobs as best you can.  I’ve been applying, but there’s really not much out there and until I’m in the country I can’t do that much.

I guess up to that point I’m planning to get some extra money by selling a whole lot of stuff on ebay before we leave, and then when we get back I’ll hopefully get some tax back from the UK government plus perhaps National Insurance.  God knows what my tax situation will be like in Australia after not having submitted a tax return for two years!  But to be fair, I’ve been out of the country.  The only problem is that I’ve technically been earning income, as I own a house that I’ve had rented out the entire time.

It’s all very stressful but I do have faith that it’ll be okay in the end, it will somehow work out because this is my life and everything happens as it should, even bad things, it’s all for a reason which will reveal itself eventually as long as I keep my eyes open and learn the lessons coming my way.