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!

23 days

It’s really coming to the pointy end now. We’re really doing this. Selling all our stuff. Even our beloved car! Oh Boadicea, we will miss you!

Some good news though, we have a house in Canada! Finally we were accepted to rent a decent three bedroom townhouse type place backing onto a ravine, as they call it. I picture this giant chasm ala Grand Canyon but in reality I know it’s probably what we’d call a gully.

New terminology:
– splash pad: children’s water play park
– den: kind of a study type area in your house
– broadloom: carpet
– real estate broker: someone who goes out of their way to help you find even a rental as they get paid a commission and not by you.
– GO: the train system
– TO: Toronto

We are still feeling quite nervous about how this will all work out and it doesn’t help that so many things seem to take ages and lots of effort. It’s certainly not just falling into place easily. That’s making it even more daunting as throughout my life I’ve relied on things falling into place as a sign that I’m on the right path. This Canada thing is proving hard work at every turn! It’s kind of like a test to demonstrate that we really do want to do this.

Coming to a friend’s place today that I’d never seen before I found myself smiling as a twinge of excitement rose within me. The house was lovely and big and open with enough play space that didn’t have to encroach upon the living space. A real home. That’s what we’ll have, I thought. So exciting. It’s not perfect but it’s closer to what I want.

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Paintings at CERES, one of my regular Melbourne haunts for playgroup

I’m feeling a little sad about leaving Melbourne. It really is the best city in Australia. I say that having never been to Perth or Darwin or Alice Springs. But it beats Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Brisbane. That’s just from my perspective of course, you certainly can’t say one place is definitely better than another overall. It’s all relative to what suits those living in the place. Most people hate Melbourne weather and not because it’s “the rainy city” as I knew it growing up but because of the four seasons in one day. And I must admit, it’s really annoying to have to adjust your outfit to prepare for any weather throughout a single day. In terms of life and culture, it’s the best. It also has great food places and plenty to do, even with limited funds. The cost of living is high but no higher than any other large Australian city. I would come back to Melbourne if I had to return to Australia.

It’s funny, everyone immediately mentions how cold it will be in Canada as soon as we tell them we’re going. Usually it’s people who’ve never been to Canada too. But they are more shocked when we explain we’re looking forward to the cold, that it’s one of the reasons we want to go. At first I dismissed these kinds of concerns completely, then I went through the “smile and nod” phase, but in the last few weeks I’m beginning to wonder just how much we’ve romanticised the snow. Sure, it’s great if you like the cold and you get rugged up and have fun skiing or whatever. But then you go back to your warm house/ski lodge and drink hot chocolate/mulled wine and there’s an open fire and lots of yummy food and you think maybe I’ll just read or watch a movie and then go skiing again tomorrow. That’s not what it’ll be like on a daily basis. I don’t even know how to dress for minus 20 with a wind chill factor of minus 40! I need snow boots.

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Everything is awesome! This is our mantra!

So, the car is up for sale and we’re slowly offloading all our furniture and electrical, except for our second hand bookshelf which holds so much sentimental value with the kids’ height measurements marked on the sides. Oh, and we’re taking an old CD player Andrew bought when in Canada 13 years ago. It has a tape player on it and it’s only right that it goes “home”. We have to be ruthless with our stuff as the size of the container we can afford is the same size as our dining table, so not big! I’m kind of worried about what will happen if our stuff doesn’t fit as we won’t really know until it’s being packed. Allied Pickfords are doing it all, even the packing, which is a massive relief as there’s no way we could do it ourselves with the kids constantly underfoot and wanting to help. Dude keeps grabbing random toys he’s playing with and announcing he’s packing them.

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All the books get pulled off the shelf while mummy is distracted with moving stuff...

Little Thumper has no idea what’s going on, just that there are some cool boxes to explore and the Dude is handling it really well. He’s been through a couple of interstate moves already so I guess he has an idea of what to expect. It’s really hard selling his furniture from his bedroom though. I thought he’d freak when I took everything off his shelves but he was amazing and didn’t seem concerned. He knows about Canada (he only recently stopped calling it Can-da-da) and recognises the maple leaf already. I’m hoping that, as he’s a bit older now at four and a bit, he won’t pine for home as he didn’t when we came to Melbourne. He was about two and three quarters and he was a bit concerned about the truck taking our things but mainly excited. The excitement lasted a few hours into the eight hour drive from Canberra to Melbourne but soon he was asking to “go home” every little while. We couldn’t even reassure him that we were going to our new house as we didn’t have one and were set to stay with old friends of mine from years ago. Anyway he settled in there quickly and then didn’t want to leave two weeks later when we needed to move into our rental place.

So, selling furniture etc – check. Finding place to rent – check. Enrolling in my uni courses and discovering that I’m actually doing a kind of Italian literature degree – check (phew!) Being really scared and excited at the same time – double check! This better be worth it!

Fifty days

Drafted when I thought we had only 50 days to departure. We ended up re booking so this was actually about 65 days but whatever.

So it turns out we really are doing this Canada thing. On the nights I’m really tired, like earlier this week when little Thumper was sick and wakeful, I thought to myself, “no, I can’t do this. It’s too much, I can’t handle the upheaval.” As I sat downstaìrs on the couch cuddling my squirming worm at 2am, I imagined turning to Mr Chewbacca the next day and just saying, “hey. Let’s just stay. Let’s not be insane. Shall we?”

But as it turned out, I didn’t feel quite so certain the next day. In fact I felt mildly excited about the move. It’s hard because our visas still haven’t been approved, and we’d hoped to have them locked down by now, our fault really. And the cost, urgh, it’s terrifying! I’d always wondered why people had ‘moving overseas’ garage sales but now I know: unless your work or someone else is paying, you can’t afford to take the vast majority of your stuff.
But we’ve spoken to a nice Canadian lady at a local relocation company to help try to take some of the stress out of doing this thing without local help. It’s making it feel a little more real. Just a little. We’re still on denial most of the time!

Coming full circle

It’s been over a month since we arrived in Canberra. I expected to be blogging sooner but our Internet connection got screwed up and we had to wait. So this was drafted on my phone and finished over the weeks after our Internet was connected.

The move itself was insane. An interstate move is hard enough without hiring your own truck and having few volunteers to help load and unload. We really struggled to get people to help, due in part, I think, to my inability to embrace Sydney as home and make friends. Those who ended up coming to help were amazing! We planned four hours to load, meaning we’d be in Canberra for unloading at 3pm, but it took a lot longer, over two hours longer actually, which meant the truck, with Mr Chewbacca and our good friend S in it, arrived in the dark! The house at least has good heating, and we had a few movies on a USB to plug into the tv and stare at while we wolfed down pizza and beer before passing out. Dude ended up being in bed two hours after his bedtime. It was awful having to pull the mattresses and bedding out of the truck in the dark.

Packing and unpacking boxes is a thankless task!
Packing and unpacking boxes is a thankless task!

The next day I roped a couple of people into helping with the unloading which was easily done in an hour while I fiddled about trying to locate the coffee machine and get caffeine into everyone. What an ordeal! Yes, we saved a lot of money that we really haven’t got, given we’re both unemployed, but I can guarantee I won’t be attempting that again. It was made extra hard by needing to clean the new place before we could put stuff away. We’re only now finally unpacked, with a couple of near-empty boxes still floating about.

I am so glad to be out of Sydney! Despite the fact that we still have no income and we can finally see just how great a renovation job we’ve got to face, it feels good to be here. The weather has been great, some frosts and cool, crisp days, and we’ve been doing a bit of exploring. I’ve even been going for walks around the neighbourhood, which is something I never did when I lived here before. It feels great to exercise again (more on that aspect in my next post) and I’ve realised more and more just how strangely familiar this move is for me.

When I was two going on three, the same age as Dude is now, my parents and I moved to Canberra from Sydney. My dad was to get a job in the public service. We moved in with friends who had raved about how great Canberra was for kids and had relocated there a few years previously. I have vague memories of being there in those early days, and I’m pretty sure I had my third birthday there. Our friends had two huge German shepherds that would run around and up and down the stairs that led down to the back yard, stairs that seemed to go on forever. I once slammed my ring finger in the thick, oak front door. Blood was everywhere and my finger is very different from its counterpart on the other had to this day. My mum was more upset than me, I think. Somehow she thought if I were let to run wild a bit I’d be damaged. Or something like that anyway. The other kids, three of them, with the middle boy being my age, were louder and more outgoing than me. I think back and wonder whether I’d be more outgoing now if it weren’t for being cushioned. I don’t know.

My blurry photo of the first house I ever lived in Canberra
My blurry photo of the first house I ever lived in Canberra

Earlier this week, on the first of my energetic walks, I walked to this first house I ever lived in Canberra. Coincidentally, it is only about 40 minutes walk from our current house. Typical me, I still remember the address despite not having been there in at least 25 years. I wheeled the stroller containing a sleep-fighting dude along the complex network of walking paths that extend across most Canberra suburbs, through the awesomely convenient tunnels under the main roads (they used to seem scary to me as a child; now they’re just very convenient, although I often expect them to smell like stale urine. Most don’t actually). I ended up approaching through a cul-de-sac, where some other kids our friends knew used to live. I won’t ever forget watching Dirty Dancing at that house, after being forbidden to watch it by our mums. I think I must have been about eight. The cul-de-sac leads into what used to seem like a huge park in a massive expanse of empty land. It wasn’t as big as I remember! I walked past where there had been swings once. Huge boulders that seemed even bigger when I used to climb them still lay as if scattered by some giant.

I turned right onto the street and the house was next to me. It was pretty much exactly the same, albeit smaller and a little more overgrown with trees and hedges. I wanted to stop and snap a photo but felt like whoever lived there now could see me, so I just pointed my phone in the general direction and took a picture without stopping. Hence the pointless image above.

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One of Canberra’s many footpath underpasses – Dude loves them, he shouts ‘echo!’ as we go underneath

As I walked up what used to seem like the steepest hill in the world, I thought that this move to Canberra, while great, is definitely not a permanent one. I now have a new-found love for this place and I will always love it as my home town but I think we need to do what we came here to do and move on to Melbourne where we can start fresh. In addition to my lingering need to get a feel for life in Melbourne and hopefully settle there permanently, I have this uneasy, suffocating feeling about repeating history by staying here. There are too many similarities between our move and my parents and mine over 30 years ago and while I’m eternally grateful to whatever force caused my parents to leave Sydney, many of the things that happened in Canberra to my family were not great and I don’t want any possibility of any more history repeating itself. There’s more to say, but I’ll leave it at that.

So after a brief chat with Mr C, the decision has been made to prep the house for sale and blow this Popsicle stand as soon as we can. So much more to do yet but at least we have a plan!

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One aspect of many that we need to do with at our Canberra place – the back yard. This is actually part way through the work we’ve done to date, which involved removing 40-year-old Banksia roses that were so overgrown, they were starting to collapse the fence. We’ve now planted cypress trees around the fence which will eventually grow into a high hedge.

Getting a grip on the next move

So we’re still looking to move within the Sydney area early next year. I have had such a hard time dealing with the fact that husband isn’t ready to move to Melbourne, but I am getting my head around it. I am still holding him to his promise that we’ll be there by the time the Dude is three, but that’s two years away still…

Lately I’ve been thinking maybe I’m crazy to want to move interstate, maybe it won’t be that great after all, maybe I should just accept the fact that I don’t know where home is and I never will. After all, isn’t home where the heart is? Well my heart certainly isn’t in Sydney. I’ve been thinking about all the possibilities, like even going back to the UK, a much nicer prospect than staying in Sydney. But it’s crazy, it’s not the right move.

I was reading a post from Lori earlier and it helped remind me why Melbourne is where we need to be. It’s real. I’m still going to strive to get there, no matter how many arguments it causes!

On the short term plan of moving within Sydney, I’ve just come to the conclusion that north is the way to go. So I’m going to push for that and see what happens. I’ll be slightly closer to my friends on the Central Coast, it’s well under the hour commute into the city, and the area is far less dodgy than west.

Pregnancy and nesting

So I’m now 27 weeks along and feeling just fine. It’s certainly been an interesting ride so far.  Baby’s head is sitting firmly in my pelvis (not a pleasant feeling on the bladder) and feet and hands are moving almost constantly. Which is good, it’s what’s meant to be happening apparently. Despite being overweight, I’m healthy, blood pressure is normal, baby’s heart rate is normal and I feel good.  Being pregnant hasn’t been hard yet, but I suspect as I venture into this third trimester I’ll start to feel a bit heavy.

I’m having the baby at home, not in a hospital, which has been my wish from before I even wanted to be pregnant (or had someone to get me pregnant!) and I’m really excited about it all. At first I was a bit apprehensive about giving birth in our loungeroom, as we live in a tiny one bedroom flat under a big mansion, so it’s not like I can dedicate a room as the birthing room, and baby won’t have his or her own room (not that it’s needed anyway early on). We’d talked about moving out to somewhere with two bedrooms before baby arrived, and I thought this was the plan until a couple of months ago my husband mentioned casually how he’d been telling people I was having the baby in our lounge in our current flat.  I was surprised to hear this!  Turns out he’d worked it all out in his own head but had forgotten to mention it to me.  He said he thought it made sense – we live in one of the best suburbs in Sydney, right up on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  It’s so beautiful that tourists come here from everywhere just to walk around across the road from our house, and it’s the perfect place – calm, natural, quiet, awe-inspiring – to bring a baby into the world and for him or her to spend the first few months of life.  He commented yesterday that the lounge is such a peaceful room, not too bright but not too dark, large enough to fit a big pool in, wooden floors to help deal with any, erm, spills, and just a generally serene place, perfect for the arrival of our first baby.  I soon realised that he was right and that we didn’t need to move.

And that brings me to the nesting part of this post.  I still can’t get used to Sydney as my home.  I don’t want to, the truth be told.  I don’t want to be a part of this place.  It’s like it bores into my soul, or strips something out of me every time I drive through the city.  Just being in Sydney often makes me feel like my life is at an end!  I feel hopeless here.  We’ve made some lovely friends, good people, whose company I enjoy; but at some level it feels a bit like we’re trying too hard.  It’s like Jerry Seinfeld says, you get to a point in your life where you have your friends, and you don’t need or want any more; you’ve only got a certain number of ‘slots’ to fill and those are all filled.  I guess I’m also unique in this sense because I don’t ‘need’ friends as such, or at least I don’t have to socialise to feel complete.  Socialising for me is an effort.  Don’t get me wrong, I usually enjoy it once I’m doing it, but sometimes I just want me time, alone time.  My husband is the opposite, and although he loves doing his own thing or just spending time with me, he really needs lots of people around him and lots of stuff happening constantly.  He’s an extrovert and I’m an introvert, in the simplest sense.

I’m really over complaining about Sydney; I don’t like it, end of story, and I will never feel at home here.  I want to move to Melbourne.  At least the city has no negative affiliations for me, I can start fresh there, and I do have some good friends there who I’d like to see more often.  More than anything, it’s about starting fresh and settling down properly, instead of this forced ‘plonking’ I’ve done in Sydney.  I’m only here because husband wanted to come here, and I figured it wasn’t fair of me to make him move to a city that he, at the time, hated; he’s coming to live on the other side of the world with me, so I should at least give him the choice of city.  Oh how I wish I hadn’t relented!

I’ll never forget that moment I chose my Sydney fate.  We’d had a few drinks, more than a few really, having come from an annual rugby club dinner at the Houses of Parliament (London), and we were partying the night away at the after party which was on one of those permanently moored boats along the Embankment – Tattersall Castle?  Or was it Queen Mary or whatever that other one is called…? I can’t remember.  It was somewhere close to midnight, and we happened to coordinate our air (read: cigarette) breaks up on the deck outside.  I wore a cheap, black cocktail dress I’d bought off eBay for 30 pounds and I was hot and sweaty from dancing downstairs in the nightclub.

“Okay. Let’s go to Melbourne then.”  He looked at me with the most forlorn look on his face.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and asked him to repeat it, which he did.  My reaction wasn’t what he or I expected; it was delayed, and not because I was utterly overjoyed at the prospect of moving to a city I’d wanted to live in for a good ten years.  I couldn’t handle allowing him to make that sacrifice for me, to move to a city that, four years prior, he’d experienced as cold, unfriendly, and generally boring, when he knew Sydney a little, and had found it so friendly, warm, sunny, full of fun and beaches and pubs and his favourite rugby.  I finally hugged him and said “thank you”.  But I couldn’t feel happy; I felt deflated, like it was a bit of an anti-climax.  And he was clearly miserable.

We went back downstairs and I told a friend from Melbourne that the decision had been made; needless to say she was very happy, as was her Kiwi boyfriend who was going to be moving down around the same time as us and knew no one in the city.

I really wish I’d ignored my man’s misery and ploughed ahead with the plan of Melbourne; but how would we have booked a wedding venue when neither of us really knew the city?  How could we have moved there any way?  We’d have had to organise every aspect of our wedding in the four months between arriving in January and getting married in April, and that’s ignoring the fact we’d need to find a place to live and get jobs.  Could it have been done?  I can’t answer that, because we never attempted it.  Maybe there’s a parallel universe somewhere with a version of me living in Melbourne, buying a house there, decorating a room for this baby, planting vegies in the garden, working as a freelance editor for some awesome publishing house… Or maybe that other version of me is just as miserable as this one, knowing that Australia is the wrong place to be.  Coming home has made me question why we ever did it, why we left London.  I know it was because I wanted to bring my children up and settle down somewhere more family-friendly, slower-paced, with better weather and more social freedom.  But that idealistic picture I had of Australia is slowly becoming eroded, as I realise more and more just how behind we are here, and how maybe being here doesn’t suit me as I thought.  Maybe that realisation I had at 18 that I was actually Australian and not European is being turned on its head, and once again I struggle with my cultural and social identity.  Time will tell…