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.

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.

The heart, it aches

I’ll be honest. The way that Mr Chewbacca and I ended up together was a bit of a whirlwind; pretty quick, too quick for some probably. At the time, I was about to turn 30 and he’d turned 34 at the beginning of that year. At some level, I think we considered ourselves old and we were both pretty clear on what we wanted from a relationship. It was as simple as realising we were both keen for marriage and children really. But there was also a meeting of the minds when it came to our mutual interests. And values, our values were always fairly similar, which I knew to be extremely important.

But it’s only fair to say that we jumped into the deep end and didn’t really give ourselves a chance to hesitate. Met in August, moved in together in December, got engaged the following August, moved to another country the next January and married the following April. Then got pregnant in July. It was fast, yes, but I think that’s just how it was meant to be. I might not have been so certain of this early on in the relationship but looking back I can see just how right it all was. Not necessarily the moving overseas part, but that’s another story!

I don’t really know when I actually fell in love with him. I don’t think it was even ‘falling’; it was just love. Almost like I was in it the whole time but I needed time to realise it. Anyway, like all couples, we have our emotional mountains to climb; it is quite intense, our rapport, I think because we are both very passionate people.

Since the birth of the Dude in 2011, I don’t think we’ve been apart more than the odd night here or there. Maybe two nights once? And that was torture. The older the Dude gets, the more entwined we become as a family. The connection between our threesome (and soon to be foursome) is really intense. I think it’s probably on par with plenty of other families but what is particularly confronting for me is that I’ve never had this feeling about family before. Most of my family I don’t have much to do with, mainly because I have nothing in common with them and no real pull to them. There’s a detachment there, the opposite of attachment. In fact most family connections are pretty weird, squirm-worthy really. I never enjoyed cuddling any of my family members; I’d just endure it. I never knew what it was to enjoy a hug until I met my first long term boyfriend at age 21. I’d look forward to being with family, but within moments of being around them I’d be disillusioned, realising that these people, while they had some agreeable traits, did not feel ‘right’ to me. I didn’t want to be a part of whatever it was they had. I never enjoyed spending time with family to any great extent. Until I had my own, of course.

I’m thinking about all this stuff now because Mr C is away for two weeks. He’s due back in a few days and I am so glad of that. Two weeks has felt like an eternity. And it’s not because I’ve had to be the sole parent and that’s been really hard. It’s hard, but not unmanageable. It’s a fantastic feeling to love my husband as a man, a partner and a father to my children. It is the most fully-rounded, complete feeling I’ve ever known.

Starting a family, especially so soon after we met and married, has been stressful to say the least. Having children is stressful in general, let’s face it. And it’s been a massive learning curve for us, particularly because we were simultaneously learning about each other and how we relate. We’ve had some huge changes as well, with not only moving to Australia but feeling completely unsettled the whole time and moving interstate twice. We’ve renovated and sold a house, persevered through numerous bouts of stressful unemployment and problems with work, and now we’re having our second child. We have managed. And not just managed but actually come through it all much stronger than we ever were before.

I am missing Mr C like I’d miss a limb. The Dude is too, desperate to drive to the airport, suggesting daddy is about to walk through the door, that he’s ‘back now’. While the missing is painful, it’s also joyful; I am so grateful for it. I am grateful to feel so deeply, so genuinely about another person in the world. This is new for me and oh so profound.

Love and happiness

Here I am blogging at 10:03pm on New Year’s Eve. I wasn’t aware until a few hours ago but apparently this is the kind of thing that people with 19-month-olds do at New Year’s. I am, however, drinking a gin and tonic and have found an episode of Sex and the City to put on that I’ve seen a hundred million times. Party time or what?!

No, seriously, I must first apologise to anyone wondering (probably no one!) for not posting in a while. It was near impossible while we were overseas – no time and no computer – and since we’ve been back it’s just been go go go, Christmas and now New Year. Secondly, I’m planning a whole series of posts around our trip and all the topics around travelling with a young child, visiting family, being a tourist, being an expat and finding home all over again, so stay tuned for all that. I’m also thinking a lot about a lovely comment from an even lovelier friend, Ms Lulu, and where my blog is headed. I’m pretty bad at being organised and focused about marketing my blog, that’s not really my thing, but I would like to write more and I kind of hope it’s interesting. At least I’d like to make it more interesting. So I’m feeling better about my stream-of-consciousness style and I’m not shying away from ‘mummy’ posts about all things baby and child. As the Cranberries said, ‘everyone else is doing it so why can’t we?’

I won’t lie, it’s been a pretty full on year for us. I mean, let’s face it, it’s always full on with a baby, or a toddler, or kids in general really.  Life moves faster when it’s full. And although I’m almost certain that the pace of life and events in the last few years has all been about the arrival of the Dude (more of an explanation on that another time), it hasn’t made things easy for me, or for my relationship. Lack of time, money, control, they all create tension and angst. We’ve been working our butts off to keep things running smoothly in the relationship stakes recently, butting heads and doing it tough big time, but every time we manage to pull it together I am reminded of how lucky I am to have found The One. Love is always there, and that’s an amazing thing.

image

A few weeks ago, I think soon after we got back from the UK, I went to write something on our shopping list, which involves a fantastic ‘stick a post-it on the pantry door’ system that we just love, and I noticed the uppermost item was ‘love and happiness’. Mr Chewbacca had written it. For some reason, maybe because it just didn’t need to be said, I never mentioned anything about it. I knew he knew I’d seen it, and so when I started the next list, I added ‘love and happiness’ back to the top. I haven’t spoken to Mr C about it yet and we’re three lists in but I think it’s going to be our mantra for 2013, like an affirmation. He’s started the next list and put it at the top again. I truly believe that if you repeat something enough, it becomes true. That’s not to say I’m going to sit around eating icecream and watching crappy tv reciting  ‘I’m in love and happy’ but I think the more we see those words, the more we’ll remember to live them. And let’s face it, those two things are everything. I’m not totally in agreement with John, you need more than love, but love is really the root of things, it covers so many bases and can totally change the way you experience life if you are in it or feeling it.

image

So I propose that 2013 be infused with love and happiness, in as many shapes and forms it can exist. And now I’m going to hit publish, refresh my gin and tonic, and hope the Dude stays asleep through the loud party over the back fence, the bogans setting off their fireworks two streets over, and the idiots next door who leave their dog to bark right outside our open bedroom window. I’ll be back shortly (hopefully tomorrow) with my 2013 resolutions post.  Happy New Year!

Hindsight and commitment

One of the first things I did when I began my UK adventure four and a half years ago was take a nine day tour of the Scottish highlands. I’d been in the country about two weeks when I flew up to Edinburgh and, on the recommendation of a good friend, took a tour with a small but awesome company. The brilliant thing about the tours this company ran was that they were limited to small groups – maximum 15.

Ewan McGregor at the Stormbreaker London premiere.
Image via Wikipedia

I knew no one, and I hated Edinburgh. But early one morning I ventured onto a Mercedes bus with an eclectic group of fellow tourists. There were two groups in two buses; the other group had been assigned a guide/bus driver who was a goody goody version of Ewan McGregor. Damn. I noticed a questionable looking individual in a kilt loitering nearby with a cigarette. He looked like he’d just come from fighting a battle against Vikings. When he stormed onto our bus, I realised he was our guide and driver for the next nine days! “Everyone like loud music?” he shouted over his shoulder from the driver’s seat. No one answered, probably terrified. “Well if you don’t you can fuck off!” and with that he put his foot down and we experienced his maniacal driving for the first time. I loved it. The bagpipe rock he had blaring, speeding past massive dawdling campervans on single lane roads as Kilt Man yelled “fucking Germans!” out the window. Others were confronted, amused, intimidated, scared, offended, unimpressed. Ewan McGregor told us later that he had a bit of a reputation with the ladies. At first I was too mesmerised by Ewan’s green eyes to understand why any woman would be attracted to that dark, hairy, swearing, chain smoking, argumentative storm cloud of a man, but soon I began to see the attraction. And he really looked great in a kilt. Although his penchant for flashing anyone nearby at any given moment was a little unnerving.

Pretty sure this was somewhere near Glen Coe...

I ended up having a little ‘thing’ with a very cute Spanish boy who was eight years younger than me. Kilt Man was six years older; I was never interested in older men. At one point, I said to my friend, “it’s going to be first come, first served,” and I meant it, although I’d decided if Kilt Man made a move, I’d have him. But he didn’t. And I shagged the Spaniard. Which lasted about eight minutes.

I’d always assumed Kilt Man was never keen on me. He was so confident, and I felt like such an amateur. Although I was surprised Spaniard was interested. But saying that, Elaine from Seinfeld had a point: “It’s like trash collection. As a woman you just have to put your trash out on the street and eventually the next trash man will collect it.” Something along those lines anyway.

I never saw Spaniard again after I went back to London, even though I came back to Edinburgh three weeks later for the Fringe. Kilt Man made friends with me on Facebook (or rather I friend requested him I think) and we had a few conversations here and there but nothing much over the last four years or so.

Then he sent me a message. He’d been chatting to one of the other girls from our tour and apparently my name had come up. He ended the message with a ‘X’. Which doesn’t mean anything. You know, some people call everyone ‘babe’, or sign off text messages with ‘xx’. It’s how some people roll. Like husband, for example, is very anti ‘xo’, but he’s a big fan of the smiley face. I tend to work out what others do and then go along with that, so if they do kisses at the end of an email, I might too.

It was great to have a little fun banter going back and forth with messages. I wondered, had he been keen on me? So I asked him, in a roundabout way. Turns out he had been but it would have been inappropriate of him to make a move, given he was our tour guide. I was chuffed. I looked over at husband and thought, I’m lucky, I managed to get a guy who is just as attractive (for many of the same reasons). I may have missed a chance for some fun with a hot Scotsman, but I’ve got a hot husband who can also do an awesome Scottish accent.

I thought we’d leave it at that, laugh about not having managed to hook up and that’s it. But it seems he didn’t have that idea. And he began to ask what I’d have done if we HAD hooked up back then! I’m only too familiar with this sort of thing, having done my fair share of Internet dating and suggestive chatting with prospective lovers… If I were single, it’d be different, fantasies up the yin yang! But I’m married. And my husband and our relationship are everything to me. So when kilt man said something just that bit too leading and suggestive, I had to bring him back to reality. My reality. I had been playing along and I do like the guy, so I didn’t just say, hey, I’m married, that’s not on. But effectively that’s what it amounted to. I basically left him to his fantasy. I prefer my reality.

The Dude’s birth: post script

Our little Mr I, aka The Dude, was born on Monday 9 May 2011 at 7:57pm in the pool at home.  The birth was transforming, as expected, but beyond anything I could have imagined.

There are a few key lessons I learnt from this birth.

First, my relationship with my mum completely transformed.  During the pregnancy I was able to identify the fact that I’ve not relied on anyone for a very long time, since I was a very young child in fact.  I’ve always been independent and headstrong, and I had some kind of complex about relying on others, probably because I couldn’t be sure they were reliable.  No one had shown much in terms of reliability.  It wasn’t so much anyone’s fault, it was the situation, the circumstance.  My mum, through no real fault of her own, let me down somewhat because she didn’t stand firm with me.  It was hard, I was clever and angry and strong and lacked empathy; I’d be so adamant about what I wanted and she found it impossible to stand firm against that, she actually needed to protect herself.  So when, during the birth, I lost control, lost faith, lost hope, and was running from the very thing that would bring the baby down and out, my mum did something heroic and unlike anything she’d done before.  She stepped up.  She didn’t let me escape.  She wasn’t mean, she just supported me and she didn’t let me down.  She was there, no matter how long it took, and she was prepared to go through it with me and be my rock.  And I needed her, I really did.

Second, I couldn’t take shortcuts.  All my life I’ve been really good at most things without exerting as much effort as most people.  I was always healthy and strong, tall and flexible, clever and funny, and I managed to cruise through most things others would consider a challenge without much effort.  When I had to put effort in, it would be half-hearted, and if I wasn’t great at something firs time, forget it, give it away, not worth doing anyway.  I didn’t take direction well and would ignore teachers at every interval, from the ice-skating teacher I had at age 8, to the maths tutor I had at age 14, to the flute teacher at age 16, I wrote them all off, did whatever I wanted, scraped through and escaped the challenge.  My mum always said, ‘you’re living small’ and that made me angry.  I know my dad could see it too, as he does the same thing.  But this labour, this was by far the biggest challenge of my life, and I couldn’t escape it!  There was a way out; hospital, intervention, drugs, disappointment.  I couldn’t do that.  I knew that was wrong for me and for baby.  So I did it, I rose to the challenge, I pushed through pain a hundred times beyond anything I could even imagine feeling, and I achieved a huge goal.  I overcame this without any shortcuts.  I don’t ever want that feeling to go away; I want to always remember how it was to beat myself and overcome this, so that I can achieve really great things in life and not wimp out or make excuses like I have in the past.