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. 

“The most beautiful day in Chicago this year.”

I overheard a guy say this on the phone as he sat down on a bench in Millenium Park in July 2016. I guess this park wasn’t in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off because it didn’t exist yet.

It really was perfect weather
It really was perfect weather

Chicago is an amazing city. Maybe it made a greater impression on me because I had no expectations, unlike New York where you expect what you’ve seen in movies or something. Chicago just exuded this vibe of confidence. It is charming, crazy, interesting, just the kind of place you want to spend time. I completely understand now why John Hughes set so many movies there.

The view from beneath the giant silver bean in Millenium Park. It was sitting opposite this that I overheard the guy on the phone.
The view from beneath the giant silver bean in Millenium Park. It was sitting opposite this that I overheard the guy on the phone.

I have nothing else to say at the moment but just needed to capture this moment, sitting on a park bench in a park in the city of Chicago.

The silver bauble in its element. It reflects the city around it perfectly.
The silver bauble in its element. It reflects the city around it perfectly.

A bed

In the UK, or at least in my experience sharing flats in London, as a tenant you don’t usually need to have your own furniture. Many places come furnished, even with beds. I remember when I moved into Castle Aspenlea at the beginning of my crazy London years, Blacksnake mentioned he’d considered swapping the beds over between what would be my room and his because his had a dip in the middle. I got the comfy bed in that house. Similarly, the bed in the flat where Mr Chewbacca and I first lived together was part of the package.

A crappy shot of a profound exhibition in the National Museum of Australia about home and belonging. Very apt.
In Australia it’s different. You’d rarely get a furnished place. It’s great to have your own things when you first move out of home, but beds are expensive so futons are big amongst the young flatties. I had one I bought for $100 and used for years, it was great, and my mum still has it, some 15 years later. I bought it because I got my first serious boyfriend and I only had a king single at home. Funny, seems childish to think of that now!

When we moved to Sydney we ended up with a furnished place. The landlady, who lived above us in the mansion, was Chinese and apparently they are very big on hard beds. Ours was hard as a rock, and squeaky. But we liked not having to buy one and luckily we enjoy a firm sleeping surface. It was in this bed that I went into labour with my son. And that was when I started to think about the significance of a bed. We spend more time there consistently than anywhere else, a third of our lives prostrate on this surface perfected according to designs developed and redeveloped over hundreds of years. Yet we don’t think much about who’s been there before and why. Because that’s kind of gross to think about I guess!

We bought a fantastic bed when we moved from that first Sydney place, the best mattress in the world, it would seem. We loved our bed. It was an incredibly painful process to go through to sell it, realising with horror that the new owners were only willing to spend a quarter of what we’d paid, an eighth even, because it was used. By two people. For three years. Yet, inexplicably, somehow those same people would pay double that to stay one night in a hotel, sleeping in a bed they’d never seen, in which a plethora of strangers had done who knows what for years, a bed whose sheets may or may not have been cleaned to the standard required… The lack of logic is unbearable! But such is the way of things.

When we got to Canada, we bought another lovely mattress, brand new. I think we did it mainly because we thought there was a good chance we’d stay. And because we were sick of lying on some ancient, stained single mattress and there weren’t second-hand options around. We didn’t spend quite as much, about half what we’d spent on our Aussie bed, but it was still a great mattress. There’s nothing more comforting than a nice, comfy bed.

And of course, when we left Canada, yet again we had to sell our lovely bed. I couldn’t believe it when people began enquiring and were just interested in the frame, or didn’t particularly care what kind of mattress it came with. We eventually sold it to a Brazilian couple who’d just moved to Toronto for about a third of what we’d paid less than a year before. Yet again it struck me how extraordinary it is, the way we think about and treat our sleeping surface. Particularly because that point marked the beginning of a long period of sleeping on uncomfortable surfaces. Hotel beds, which are usually great, then the plane, horribly uncomfortable but temporary, the beds at my mum’s which involved a choice between an ancient, soft mattress that gave Mr Chewbacca a back ache or a fold out couch with a chunky futon whose contents constantly redistributed themselves so you could feel the wooden frame beneath. That had been my couch when I lived alone, years before. We were grateful though, to have somewhere, and to attempt to readjust to Aussie life, transitioning gently in this place that most consider paradise in Australia, the Byron Shire.

The sleeping arrangements became yet more complex when we eventually hired a campervan and embarked on our journey down the east coast of Australia from Brisbane, stopping along the way at caravan parks and with friends. We invited ourselves to sleep in the spare room at some good friends’ house on the NSW central coast and in Canberra my dad put us up in a nice serviced apartment but other than that we slept in the campervan. It was actually really comfortable sleeping up the top above the driver’s seat but it sucked getting up and down to deal with Thumper who of course never sleeps through the night. The kids shared the other double bed at the back of the camper which would also have been okay if it weren’t for the night wakings. While it was really fun driving and staying in campsites along the way, we were clearly all pretty over not having any fixed abode. We stayed with some other good friends when we got to Melbourne and were so grateful to have an ensuite room all to ourselves with little beds either side of ours for the kids.

Once we’d decided to go back to Canberra to live, we knew that beds were the beginning of piecing our lives back together. Staying with my dad was really difficult in a one bedroom place which isn’t really set up for us. The day after we arrived we had an amazing stroke of luck whereby we went to look at a place we didn’t think we would get because we had no income, yet because the landlord was desperate for tenants and the agent could see we were genuine, we found ourselves signing a lease that afternoon! So suddenly we had a house, after two months of being without. We bought some airbeds (which, incidentally, are freezing cold to sleep on if the air surrounding is in the slightest bit cold!) and once again realised just how important beds are.

Reading a bedtime story on the makeshift floor bed, towels on top in case of accidents
This time we didn’t buy new. We didn’t have the money. We cut it so fine actually, down to our last few dollars before receiving a first pay packet and suddenly everything was okay again. So we got a couple of second hand mattresses for the kids – one was free, I think, brought by an incredibly kind and generous mum of a good friend. Our mattress we bought for $30 off a lady selling her house to move in with her ageing father. She told me she paid $2,000 originally and I’d believe her, it’s super comfy. She also sold us a Dyson for cheap (although it turned out to be clogged up with urine-infested cat hair and gunk). We’ve not bought a bed frame, and frankly, that feels like an extravagance and somewhat unnecessary. We’ll see how we feel come winter.

Anyway once we had beds, then we could finally relax. A couch, tv, kitchen table, other bits and pieces, all great, but the beds, those are the fundamental building blocks of a home. Without beds, you have nowhere to rest. The bed is home.

Backtracking

I’m writing this months after the events actually transpired in an attempt to fill the gaps in the story and keep a record of what happened. I’ve published roughly around the time I’d have published if I’d actually written this then.

On Thumper’s second birthday we hired a campervan from Brisbane in the pouring rain. We planned to drive all the way down the east coast to Melbourne, where we’d attempt to build a new life back in Australia. The caveat to this is that almost a month earlier, at the beginning of August when we arrived back in Australia from Canada, we realised we’d made a big mistake coming back. I rarely accept the blame for things as I don’t think it’s constructive and usually I make sane decisions but on this occasion, I think it’s safe to say it’s my fault that we took this wrong turn.

Just a side note about straying off the path, if you’ll indulge me for a few minutes: I feel a bit like I’ve been veering off into the unknown since my mid 20s. When I first left Canberra nine years ago (and I know, I go on about this a lot, bear with me), I stepped firmly onto the path of my life, which was a new path but I was still on track, still going the right way. I did a few things and had a few experiences in London that were very out of character for me and I was still on the path, the new and improved one. Something big shifted when I met Mr Chewbacca and was essentially swept off my feet in the true meaning of the phrase: I had very little control over what happened to me. Suddenly I was in love, I was in a relationship, I was talking about commitment and living together and getting engaged and having kids and it was all unfolding before my eyes before I could even take a breath and check whether this was exactly how it should go. As it turns out, it was all the right thing. But from that point, decision-making took on another level of complexity. Not only was there another person whose opinion and decisions affected me and had to be taken into consideration, I had to find a new way of making important choices with objectivity. It’s fundamentally part of who I am to adapt and try to please everyone in my decisions. I like to keep the peace, keep things balanced. And sometimes I’ll compromise on what I choose a little too much. I find my judgment is clouded by all the factors needing to be considered. The first time this happened was in London when I agreed to go to Sydney and not Melbourne. It’s not black and white, you can’t say ‘that was the wrong decision’; there’s no room for regret anyway. But it was at that point in 2009 that I didn’t stick to my guns when I should have. Similarly, perhaps Mr C should have argued for us to stay in the UK and not even head home to Australia. Who knows, I’ll leave that up to him to think about.

Anyway, back to the story. So we took off from Brisbane, me driving the kids in my mum’s little old car and Mr C negotiating the traffic in heavy rain in the massive camper. It was a bit of a pain in the butt actually getting the camper as the one we ended up with was a little old and seemed way too big, but the next size down didn’t have anchor points for two car seats so we had to stick with the big old one. Somehow we made it back to my mum’s place, which is just south of the Gold Coast and then had to install the car seats in the camper and pack all our nine suitcases plus worth of stuff in, finding ways to secure the massive suitcases in a vehicle that really wasn’t designed to carry massive suitcases. All of this in the rain (you know, that tropical rain that starts to drown everything at the beginning of spring and it feels like it’ll never end). It was a total mud bath and not a great start to our big road trip.

So we set off, later than planned, aiming to stop near Coffs Harbour for the first night. We made it, but it was hard going. We ended up getting some dodgy Chinese food for dinner and finding a caravan park which we only just managed to get into before the reception closed for the evening. We planned to have a few wines and chill out after the kids went to sleep but in reality is was so cold and wet and we were so exhausted that we just skulled a couple of glasses while shivering under the canopy next to the camper in the dark and fell into bed.

The next morning we set off for the central coast of NSW where we’d arranged to meet up with our friends and stay with them for the night (or rather, we rocked up and treated their place essentially like an AirBnB that we didn’t need to book and that contained some of our favourite people in the entire world). It was a better drive when it wasn’t raining and we set the kids up with movies on the ipad and cruised on through, arriving late afternoon. Thank goodness for good friends! They laid on the food and drink and we relaxed a bit and caught up. Next stop was just Sydney, only an hour and a half or so away, so we could take it fairly easy. We had great difficulty finding a caravan park anywhere near Sydney and ended up lobbing into one at Lane Cove which was nice enough, although it was a pain in the butt getting all the way to Coogee to meet up with some other close friends but we just took a taxi and sucked up the ridiculous cost. We had a fabulous catch up with those guys and got back to the camper for another late night for the kids around 9pm.

No sleeping in though, as we planned to head straight through to Canberra the next day. My dad had kindly booked us into a lovely serviced apartment in the inner south and as we emerged over the summit above Lake George and had that first glimpse of the tower I felt myself begin to relax. Canberra does that to me. Technically it’s home, or at least it represents a place of safety and refuge. It was so nice to sleep in a decent bed. By that point, we’d established that the van we’d hired was faulty. It kept doing some really odd things, losing power during acceleration and the like, so Mr C organised for a replacement which was due to arrive that evening. We were told the driver would assist with moving all our things to the new van and it was all going well until a call saying he’d arrived unexpectedly interrupted us at dinner. Mr C quickly went back to the camper to do the swap over and my dad came back to pick me and kids up and take us back to the apartment. We arrived to a scene of chaos and an air of extreme frustration surrounding! The driver was rude and unhelpful, so Mr C and my dad had quickly grabbed everything and moved it across, a huge amount of stuff which wasn’t packed as we hadn’t expected the swap over to happen then. It was a real disaster, stuff everywhere, a huge mess, incredibly stressful. The good thing was that the new van was at least new and a vast improvement over the old one.

After a fleeting discussion, we decided another night in Canberra was a good idea. Now I’m not sure whether it was that first night or the next day, but something shifted. It’s hard to explain how this stuff happens but it’s a familiar scenario for us. Mr C and I don’t always agree on everything but more often than not, we’re on the same page without really having to discuss anything. This is what happened with Canberra. We gave each other a few knowing looks and we both knew before we even discussed it that we were compelled to stay in Canberra. We love Melbourne, it’ll always be a favourite, but we realised that Canberra would be the easiest solution, given that we were adamant we wanted to get back to Canada anyway. We never wanted to settle in Canberra but we just knew it was the most sensible plan to get decent jobs and live a simpler life while we built our savings back up and found a way back to the north. So within the space of 24 hours, by the time we left after that second night in Canberra, we knew we’d come back to live. It was such a quick decision that we’d told no one really, just my dad who happened to be with us when we were discussing it.

Anyway, we finished our road trip going further south to Eden for the following night, then around the coast to Lakes Entrance for another night and finally through to our friends who we’d arranged to stay with at Mt Eliza. All in all, the road trip was great but also absolutely exhausting and, being without a home this whole time since arriving back in the country on 2 August, we were a bit weary.

We told our Melbourne friends of our plans to head back to Canberra (and they of course just giggled at us and rolled their eyes knowingly – typical of us!) and we began applying for public service jobs. I never thought I’d have to do another set of selection criteria in my life but I ended up writing half a dozen for Mr C and a number for myself too. The prospect of being back in Canberra was somewhat relaxing, although I may not have said that had I known what was in store. After a couple of weeks we bought a little car, hired an SUV and drove both containing all our stuff to Canberra. We had no idea where we’d stay or how we’d begin again with no jobs and seriously dwindling finances. Here we go again…

Home is wherever I’m with you

We are coming to the end of our Canadian  adventure and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I kind of wish we’d have had the opportunity (or been coerced) to stay longer, another year. I wonder what may have happened had I been accepted at somewhere like Calgary instead, where the course was two years. I feel as if we’d stay in Canada for good if we were here another year. Like we’d be too ensconced.

A little collage I made to show the way the seasons passed along the ravine near our place in Canada
A little collage I made to show the way the seasons passed along the ravine near our place in Canada

One thing’s for sure: I’m not in love with Canada. I don’t have the connection to North America that Mr Chewbacca does. He wishes we were staying. I kind of understand why but I still can’t quite get over not being ‘in love’ with Canada. It’s a beautiful country, the seasons happen at the right time of year and there are proper seasons that you really look forward to. The landscape is beautiful, as are the plants and animals and all of that appeals to me far more than the Australian equivalents. Canadians are good people, nice people. Similar to the Americans, they often don’t get sarcasm, they can be conservative and overly restrained but they love their country with humility and they welcome everyone as equals. You can’t fault that aspect. Australia could really take a leaf out of Canada’s book in that respect actually. I wish we’d had the chance to visit the west coast but it just wasn’t to be. I think we will return if only to see the rest of the country.

We did do some road trips to New York and Chicago which were awesome and I’m so glad I let Mr C talk me into it. I have to be honest and say I never really wanted to come to North America. It just never had that pull for me, I wanted to go to Europe instead, a place I imagined I’d fit into. And I did, when I went. I felt that connection to the place when I lived in London. Culturally it’s quite a homely place for me. Canada isn’t. But I suppose, given more time, it could be.

Anyway, it’s too late for that now, we’re off, in two weeks’ time. Almost on a daily basis someone asks me, ‘but why are you leaving?’ as if there’s no good reason. And to be honest, when I hear myself explaining the reasoning, it really doesn’t sound convincing.

“Oh, well, I came to do a masters and it was a one-year course and so I’ve just graduated and, yeah, that’s it, I’m done…”

“So what will you do with it, when you get back? What sort of work will you be looking for?”

“Oh. Well, nothing to do with my degree. I didn’t really do the degree for that. I did it so we could come to Canada really, for the experience, and because I knew I could do it. Yes, I like what I studied, I enjoyed doing it and I want to do more, but at the same time we really wanted to see whether Canada might be our forever home.”

“And it wasn’t.”

“No. I guess not.”

“Why is that?”

“Um… I… I don’t really know. I’m not even sure… Yeah. I don’t know.” <cue the awkward silence and rapid change of topic>

“So I hear this year we’re in for a big snow fall. Typical, just when we decide to go back, we’ll miss it!”

That’s pretty much how all the conversations go. Daily conversations. I find myself questioning our decision to leave all the time in my own head, but any time someone else questions it I try to justify our decision to go home. I guess I’ve just come to the conclusion that it needs to happen, that we’ll all be happier at home, and that staying here is like staying in limbo. I’m not sure if that’s right or not really, but I do feel really excited about the prospect of going home to Melbourne and starting something new, finally settling.

So… should we?

It’s been only four months since our arrival in Toronto, but it feels like an eternity in some respects. Life isn’t easy here. Not that I thought it would be easy to study full time with two small children in a foreign country. I really don’t know how I’m doing this, but I am. No, it’s more than the general challenge of managing the workload and juggling priorities and responsibilities. I’m being reminded, yet again, that life in Australia is generally easier.

I don’t know how I’ll explain this properly, but I’ll try. From the age of about 11 or 12 I watched a fantastic teenage high school drama called Degrassi. Well, it has many iterations of that name: Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High. There was even a movie. And then came Degrassi: The Next Generation. It’s still running now but I don’t watch it any more, I’m kind of past it and none of the characters I used to watch are in it any more (well, technically a few are, playing parents and teachers, but still, it’s not the same). I watched during the “golden years” (the 80s!) and I attribute much of my sex education and learning about morals and ethics to this awesome show. Degrassi, for anyone who doesn’t know, was set at a community school in Toronto. So anything I knew about life here prior to moving was pretty much based on what I’d watched over the years.

Some of the original characters of Degrassi. Image taken from http://www.urbanexpress.ca/degrassi-high-where-are-they-now/
Aside from all the wonderful storylines and themes and amazing lessons I learnt, I think back now and I realise I did get a vague sense of life in Toronto. Nothing concrete, it wasn’t like they were trying to give an impression of life in this city through the show – it was about teenagers and coming of age and life lessons, not about Toronto. But there were references and because I watched every episode over and over again I absorbed every tiny detail of the characters’ lives. I gained insight into the types of people that lived in Toronto in this time, and I think the way they were portrayed was very realistic. These were everyday kids, some poor, some middle class, some from broken homes, some from stable families; some kids were from true working-class backgrounds, from different ethnicities, and a variety of cultural persuasions. This sense slowly emerged of life in Toronto being a little bit of a struggle. Perhaps not so much for the middle class kids, but most of the characters in the show had real struggles, and their socio-economic backgrounds were very clearly portrayed. Life was hard. I think this is still the case for the majority of Torontonians.

Okay so Degrassi was a dramatisation. And it happened in the 80s, coming up to 30 years ago now. But there’s something… yeah, I knew this would be hard to explain. There’s something hard about life that infiltrates the corners of many an episode, some kind of feeling or impression – walking in the cold, catching an old streetcar, dealing with money problems – something difficult about life that is there in the background. Maybe because it’s got a semi-industrial feel to it, I don’t know. And that feeling is here in Toronto. We don’t even live in Toronto proper, we live about 40km outside it, but I travel in most days to go to uni and I have a sense of the city now. I catch the subway and I see all the people doing it tough. I notice how many people are working their guts out for low wages, hating the cold, doing the same thing day in, day out, for what kind of reward? A badly constructed house? A Honda? A measly couple of weeks’ holiday a year?

This is a very inefficient city. It may just be a Toronto thing, or even an Ontario thing. I don’t think it’s a Canadian thing necessarily. But there are so many systems and processes that are outdated and a certain way because that’s how it’s been done for a long time. I think there’s a bit of this in the US too but I can only speak to what I’ve seen thus far. The point is, it’s getting me down. The frustrating protocols, ways of doing things, that are just so badly organised and out of date are the worst! I could list everything if I had a week. But I don’t want to put this place down because there’s a lot of goodness here. I’m beginning to realise that, for me, the bad outweighs the good though.

So… should we? I don’t even want to write it…

Should we go back? Was this a failed experiment? Will we return to Australia with our tails between our legs? Life was really good before we left. We had savings, nearly enough to put a deposit on a house. We had a fabulous new car, Mr Chewbacca had a great job and we had all that we needed at home. Oh I can’t bear to think of what we gave up to come here! The positive thing, and what I must keep reminding myself, is that I am getting a degree out of this, and hopefully it will forge a new career path that I will actually enjoy and be paid well in the process. I don’t even know what’s going to happen, maybe I should put all these thoughts on the shelf and focus on enjoying where we are and what I’m doing, because it is great. Now if only it would snow…

The right path

How do you know when you’re on the ‘right’ path? I feel like I used to know, before I got distracted by life. It’s like, in my teenage years and 20s I used to have huge amounts of time to ponder and think over things. Too much time really. An ex-boyfriend (who, when he was my boyfriend, wouldn’t commit enough to my liking and I desperately wanted him to buy me some jewellery to symbolise our commitment) once bought me a birthday present, I think when I was about 22. It was a silver ID bracelet and he’d had it engraved. On the front it had my name and on the back was “No Thinking Zone”. I think we’d been dating a year or so and he wasn’t really intellectually the right person for me but he easily saw my issue back then. I was thinking too much, going over every little thing, obsessing.

Oh if only I had the time to obsess now! Something happened, I think, around the time that first serious relationship started to break down, and life started to become full. I resisted, of course, and it was only because that boyfriend announced he was leaving for a stint in London that I pig-headedly pushed my way forward and ended up leaving for my own London adventure a few months before him. I resisted it all the way, was convinced I would be there for about six months, and I wasn’t going there to party it up like all the other antipodeans. Oh no, I was just going for, um, the experience, whatever that was… And I’d be back in six months anyway. I didn’t need to let my hair down and be stupid on the other side of the world to find out who I was. I was going to fix my relationship, get married, and settle down in Canberra. Or Melbourne. That was me eight years ago. I would sit and think things over, imagine myself in various scenarios, get a feeling, and know the right path. I don’t think that’s what I did with my decision to go to London, although I know for certain it was the right choice. I became a completely different person, a much better person, after living in London. And I met Mr Chewbacca, which is one of the best things that could have happened to me.

With my decision to step into a new life in London, I forfeited this process of assessing my future plans. I began to be spontaneous, and ended up doing a lot of things I would never have considered previously as a result. Some things I can’t say I’m particularly proud of, and I don’t know how positively they contributed to who I am now, but I’m here to tell the tale (not in a public forum though!) and I don’t regret anything. I do miss that clarity, however, those moments of contemplation which allowed me to see the right path. I haven’t got the time now, to sit and think and plan, and so much has happened, life and circumstances have descended upon me in layer upon layer of possible deviations from the right path so that there is now no going back. I can’t sort back through each layer, meticulously choosing my path at every turn. Too much has happened.

So now I am on the path I’m on. I’m here, in Canada, a country I never even envisaged visiting let alone living in, and I’m doing an MA at one of the top universities in North America. As a family, we’ve taken a huge risk coming here. A risk for what? Because we didn’t know for sure if Australia was the right place for us. We couldn’t handle any more 40 degree endless summers. We wanted snow and beautiful trees and piles of leaves and traditions at the ‘right’ time of year, to be in a place that feels like it’s a little more in touch with the world. The course I’m doing is certainly leading me in the right direction and it’s fantastic to be studying again, especially with a level of maturity that allows me to apply myself fully to the material and achieve good results. But it will be ending all too soon.

Many MA programs are two years but this one is unfortunately just one year. I love this university, I am so privileged to be taught by some exceptional academics. I seriously want to do a PhD. But there’s one problem: this university is in Toronto, in the city. I don’t want to live in the city. In fact although I live 40km out of the city, that’s still too close. I can’t wait to move. But if I wanted to do further study I’d have to stay close enough to commute.

I got some clarity around what we might do next yesterday and I know what our options are in terms of staying on in Canada once I’ve graduated next year in June. Unfortunately, none of those options is clearly the right one. We haven’t been here long enough to decide whether to go back home or stay on permanently, another year testing things out at least seems the right thing, but that’s not an easy thing to do. These decisions are depressing me! I wish it wasn’t so complicated, and so much about money!

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I listen to my Aussie music, stuff I never listened to when I was at home, and I actually miss home, I miss it for the first time since London. I don’t believe in regrets, they are a waste of time, everything happens exactly as it should. But there are so many things that, if I’d just thought at the time with some clarity, taken a few moments to sit and really make the decisions without rushing, I’d have gone a different way and things would be better. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’ll never know, there’s no such thing as Sliding Doors. Right now, we’ve got some serious thinking to do and big decisions loom yet again. Wasn’t it meant to be easier than this? Didn’t I plan to settle down and enjoy simple family life when I left London?

Melbourne to Toronto

There’s so much to catch up on with our story of the journey to Canada but I’ll document first our early days here now because I think the jetlag might turn my brain to mush and I’ll forget easily.

We left our hotel in Melbourne at 7:30am on Friday 31 July. A large taxi took us to Tullamarine with our six big bags, two car seats and pram. We had a decent amount of time to get on the first of three flights, a short jaunt from Melbourne to Sydney. But as soon as we went to check in for our 9:30am flight, the first disaster hit. QANTAS wouldn’t allow us to board the flight as the immigration requirement specified that all passengers need either a valid visa or a return ticket. The nature of our visas meant that while we’d received pre-approval, we wouldn’t be granted visas until border crossing in Canada. And while Mr Chewbacca had a return ticket due to his visa’s requirement to demonstrate intent to return to Australia, the kids and I had only one way tickets. Stymied at the first step!

Mr C in particular was fuming when we realised we’d need to book return tickets on the spot and I ended up doing all the talking to try and keep everything cordial which was very hard, although to their credit the QANTAS staff did everything they could short of copping a $30,000 fine for us. They put us on a flight at 10, checked through our many bags and we headed down to sales to sort out the tickets. Once we got over the initial shock of discovering we’d be maxing out the credit card in one hit, we relaxed knowing we’d book fully refundable tickets and get them cancelled as soon as we arrived in Toronto. Except of course something went wrong with the credit card payment and it wouldn’t go through. They sent Mr C and the Dude through security to board the flight and I stayed to finalise the booking with the little Thumper asleep in the ergo on my back. The Dude was crying not understanding where mummy was and both Mr C and I were on the brink of tears worrying we would miss the flight. We didn’t say it but I know we were both thinking that this did not bode well for the rest of what was always going to be a challenging journey.

Anyway, with ten minutes to spare I literally ran to board the flight, picturing how I’d apologise to all the other passengers waiting to leave. The staff were great, so kind, and they reassured me the flight was already delayed due to something else. I am normally calm in these situations but I was so stressed out at what had just happened. I also quickly realised that because we were on a later domestic flight, we’d be rushing to get to our next flight through to Dallas. So I asked the flight attendant to call ahead and try to make sure we’d be given swift passage. I never do stuff like that – asking for things goes totally against my Libran diplomacy! As it happened, it wasn’t too bad and we went straight through and onto the flight I was dreading: 16 hours, Sydney to Dallas.

It was long, yes, but somehow it just wasn’t that bad. Both kids were really chilled, and the Dude even let us do a modified bedtime routine and went off to sleep using his seat and the spare one next to it to lie down. He did keep flailing out his legs and nearly rolling off the seats so we had to hold him, plus the little one didn’t stay down for long in the bassinet so I mainly held her while she slept which was sweet but very uncomfortable for me. But overall we sailed through that long flight quite easily.
We collected our bags in Dallas and were surprised to find one missing. It was an odd setup at the baggage collection area with random baggage handling people hanging around suspiciously as though we were supposed to tip them when they helped us with our bags. After realising our bag was gone we traipsed to the lost luggage counter and a super helpful dude took down the number and wrote out a thing to give to American Airlines upon arrival in Toronto. We then went through to the baggage transit area which basically involved dumping our remaining luggage on the floor alongside about 500 other suitcases with a few confused baggage handlers hovering about looking thoroughly disorganised. We weren’t sure whether we’d see it again.

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Waiting at Dallas during a few minutes' peace

Dallas Fort Worth is a fairly big airport and because we were there for five hours we decided to get one of those 30 minute hotels and have a shower. We then ate a horrible McDonald’s and then just wandered down to our gate. For a few minutes we relaxed and I took a few photos of the kids playing and looking out over the tarmac. But that didn’t last long. For some inexplicable reason, they changed the gate where we were meant to board and so we had to rush to what was effectively the other side of a massive airport. It was so far we had to take a train!

We lined up to board our final flight, Dallas to Toronto, worrying about the hoops we’d have to jump through to be granted our visas. It seemed fitting that we’d run into obstacles there. Of course as soon as the staff saw us and realised who we were they took our passports and asked us to wait in an alcove while they boarded all the other passengers! No real explanation. We thought it might be because they wanted us to pay excess baggage as our heavy bags were over the allowance for American Airlines. But no, after some cautious questions we ascertained that there was yet again some technical glitch whereby the baby’s ticket wasn’t attached to mine or something. It seemed to take forever to get the go ahead to board!

Once on our final two hour leg, the tiredness really set in. We had the nicest air hostess in the universe do everything she could to make us comfortable but alas, both of us had trouble staying awake. The little one conked out again within minutes of taking off and the Dude chilled out eating some chocolate from a snack pack we were given. We were almost there.
When we landed in Toronto we roused ourselves and gave each other a hand squeeze and a look: we still had to get through immigration. What if they gave us a hard time? What if we didn’t have the right paperwork? What if they said no, we won’t be issuing a visa, sorry, you’ll just have to go home. Maybe it was because we’ve watched too many episodes of Border Patrol but I know we were both nervous.

We headed to collect our bags only to discover another piece missing, the baby’s car seat. I began to realise that the more pieces you have, the higher chance of something going missing. And you could probably guarantee that if it was the last item of yours to be checked in then it would be the most likely to be lost. American Airlines were awesome, and the three people working at nearly midnight were doing everything to find our stuff. They took our address at the hotel while giving some suggestions about nice places to live in the Greater Toronto Area and we were on our way with our somewhat fewer pieces of luggage. Through passport control who weren’t interested in our visa status at all, we arrived at immigration.

There were no other travellers there and a lovely smiling Canadian waved us over. He chatted away, pausing to give directions to the bathroom because of course the Dude needed to go at this most critical moment! I nervously explained that I’d left the “duration of stay” section blank because it wanted the exact number of days and I felt silly writing 365 when I truly wasn’t sure! He totally didn’t mind. He didn’t ask to see anything, just our passports and preapproval letters. The only thing that held us up was Mr Chewbacca rabbiting on about how we’re going to watch the baseball and the guy was obviously a fan and had a bit of a chat. He handed us some official-looking sheets of paper and we were off to customs! We couldn’t believe it, it wasn’t an ordeal, we’d sailed through just fine. Customs were nice too and I think impressed with me ticking the box to declare food “just in case”, just like a good Aussie always does. We stepped out into a warm evening and realised we’d need to wait a bit for the car we’d hired as we were early. It was nearly midnight in Toronto but we were still on Aussie time and felt like zombies anyway! We ate chocolate, the Dude pointed at all the giant North American trucks masquerading as cars and thus began our time in Toronto.

Our guy picked us up in one of those enormous SUVs and drove to our hotel which was a nice place from the look of it. We were barely upright yet still smiling and glad to be there at this point. We got up to the room and immediately got ready for bed. I’ve rarely been that tired in my life! The Dude crashed out on his sofa bed and the other three of us in the big bed and apart from one very scary wakeup from the Dude where he jumped out of bed and ran crying out of our room and down the hall, we slept until 10 or 11am. Toronto: we had finally arrived.

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!

Remember when you were young…

This must be the longest break from blogging I’ve had in years. I’ve been thinking about it the whole time, wishing I could just take that hour or so out and write, but it hasn’t happened. I have good reason for slacking off: we’ve renovated the whole house, painted every room bar one, most of the outside, replaced almost all the floor coverings, every door except one, and all the light fittings. I guess it probably doesn’t sound like a lot. We haven’t gutted the kitchen or anything, although we did replace the bathroom sink and both toilet cisterns. It hasn’t been a complete renovation but it surely has been a huge undertaking and the results are pretty good.  I’ll post some photos at some point.

Anyway, aside from that, which happened in the space of less than six weeks with a week in Thailand in the middle (we had it booked, we had to go!), I’ve also been working full time which has been a massive challenge. The work was relatively challenging although nothing  I couldn’t handle. It was dealing with the internal politics that took its toll. It’s the public service, typical really, but it’s been a while since I’ve worked full time and I’d forgotten just how carefully one has to play the game.

Part of a letter written in 1918 to my great great great grandmother. She seems to have been very kind to a woman whose son was killed during the war. Her own son was too. Nothing to do with this blog post, only that it captures a moment in time...
Part of a letter written in 1918 to my great great great grandmother. She seems to have been very kind to a woman whose son was killed during the war. Her own son was too. Nothing to do with this blog post, only that it captures a moment in time…

So it’s been full on, and I haven’t had a moment to even plan a blog post, let alone write one. I’ve had so many ideas jump into my head but I’ve been too busy to jot them down or draft something short to remind myself, so they’ve gone. I’d really wanted to do NaNoWriMo this year and try and beat my previous pathetic word counts or, shock horror, actually win, but no chance, just too much to do. The good news is that the renovation is done and the house is now on the market. I’ve also finished my contract at work, so in between job hunting and preparing the house for viewings, I’ve now got a bit of time to play with.

I got to thinking this week about the twists and turns life presents us with. Ever since I met Mr Chewbacca, my life has felt a little bit out of control. Not unmanageable or difficult, just a little bit beyond my grasp; kind of like chasing a horse but still holding its bridle. Life becomes complicated by relationships. But life would be nothing without them. The Dude has complicated my life immensely but I wouldn’t swap him for anything.

It’s bizarre to think about the hugely diverse situations I’ve ended up in so far in life. Once when I was 11 I stood around the back of my old primary school dressed as an Arthurian musician and kissed a boy.

When I was 18 I was fiddling with the car radio while driving after having had my license for only three months and didn’t give way at an intersection. The woman I collided with shouted at me and I cried in shock. My best friend’s mum happened to be there at that moment and took me to her place, which I was on my way to. My mum couldn’t afford to fix her 1979 Renault station wagon and we drove it around for months with the entire front panel dented in so far you could see the suspension.

When I was 21 I met a boy and had what can only be described as a religious experience, ending up randomly at his house somehow and not leaving until the early hours of the morning when I crept out past the open door of his parents’ bedroom as they slept. That relationship lasted six years.

When I was 28 I travelled through the Scottish highlands and was invited by an old man to become a weaver on the Isle of Harris. I reluctantly refused.

When I was 29 I met my mirror image, my soulmate, but I didn’t know it, and life has been surprise ever since.

When I was 32 I lay in a pool in the living room of a Vaucluse mansion and gave birth to a baby.

When I was 35 I tried to write and it just didn’t come out the way I wanted.

I am reading the autobiography of the father of an old friend at the moment. It’s not a masterpiece, just a detailed and interesting account of a varied life, a legacy of sorts, and it is quite inspiring. I find myself becoming so envious of other people’s ambition and drive to achieve. I wish I had that. It’s there but I can’t channel it outside of myself. I have my book idea, the main one, sitting right at the front of my mind, desperate to be written, and I know it is good, but it just won’t come out. Or perhaps I’m not making time for it. Yet again, my resolutions for 2014 will involve writing discipline. This time, I must succeed, as I feel I’m running out of time to write this book…