‘Twas the night before Christmas, it was 28 degrees and the sky was light and blue.
I have experienced a total of 6 Christmases in Australia. Two from my travelling days (2001 and 2006), and four since we made the move here in 2011. No matter how hard I try, I still find it strange Christmas shopping in the sunshine and donning a bikini and Santa hat on Christmas day.
This year we deviated from a bbq and opted for turkey with all the trimmings (even sourcing bread sauce from the UK). Our children are now two and three so are beginning to get into the Christmas spirit (well they liked the fact they got a chocolate for 24 days and that some man was bringing them presents). I, like many parents, have exploited the fact that Father Christmas was coming using it daily as a form of bribery on the lead up. Sadly, as with last year, they totally freaked when I took them to meet the big fella in person at the David Jones Santa’s grotto – #nofilter #nophoto.
They were a little happier waving to him from afar as he flew by our house in a helicopter two days before – something I have yet to witness in the 30 UK Christmases I’ve experienced.
When my husband asked if it was ok if he flew to the UK for a couple of weeks with work a few months ago, I swallowed hard and said “of course it is, we’ll be fine”. We have a three-year-old and a 2-year-old. I can count on one hand how many times the two- year-old has slept through, my husband is very much aware of this plus the fact all of our family are in the UK, hence his concern at leaving me to cope on my own.
As the time for his departure drew closer I tried to maintain my positive mind-set, I wanted him to go away guilt free. Whenever the self-doubt began to creep in I reminded myself of some of my friends who cope amazingly with husbands who work long hours or are away a lot and aren’t often available to help out with the kids. I have one friend whose husband was away in the army for 6 months when she was looking after two very young children without any family close-by. I also have friends who have separated from their partners and therefore frequently have to manage alone.
34025.997 Kilometres as the crow flies, 24 hours as the aeroplane flies and a few weeks as the boat sails, we couldn’t live much further away from our families in England if we tried. While I do know of many people who’d jump at the chance to live so far away from certain family members or their interfering in-laws, this is not the case for us. We came to Sydney, Australia, a newly loved-up couple with a 2 year plan. Two children, now married and 4 years later, we’re still here.
When I fell pregnant the first time, as soon as I hit the supposed 12 week safety net, Mum’s flight was booked (Dad is on a cloud somewhere sipping whisky). Previously no real desire to come to Australia, the minute she discovered she was to be a Nanny again, there was no stopping her. Coincidentally my in-laws had already planned a holiday around that time (I’m sure they would have done the same if they hadn’t already booked).
I vividly remember the day our first daughter was born. She was tiny, like a sparrow, limbs so delicate and fragile my husband and I were petrified of breaking her. We gingerly passed our precious bundle into the warm, loving, safe arms of experience – THE GRANDPARENTS.
For the next 10 weeks, Mum lived with us. What she did in those 10 weeks was above and beyond what we could have ever imagined.
On the first night, after arriving home from hospital, the baby was screaming and wouldn’t settle. Suddenly the enormity of the responsibility I had for this baby struck me. I freaked. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL I’M DOING. I burst into Mum’s room, tears streaming down my face in despair and desperation. For the next 10 weeks, the baby and I moved into that room – with Nanny.
Nanny rocked her grandchild to sleep, held her, sang to her, bathed her, changed her dirty nappies, dressed her, had broken sleep because of her, was thrown up on many times by her and treated her as though she was her own. We were so lucky to share this precious time.
I was concerned my daughter wouldn’t remember Nanny when we saw her 6 months later in England. My concern was unnecessary. The connection was immediate, only this time stronger with her old enough to display more clearly her emotions. Six months later, Nanny visited Australia again and the love and bond between them continued to develop.
Eleven months later, when our eldest was 18 months old, our second daughter was born. All 3 Grandparents returned to Australia. Despite the fact our eldest daughter hadn’t seen them for a significant amount of time, quicker than a heartbeat she burst into their arms, hanging herself from their necks as she wrapped her body around them. The sound of her ecstatic, heart-felt giggles filled the house as she climbed all over them, tugged at their arms and legs for attention and snuggled into them with familiarity and trust. A comfort, connection and contentment she hadn’t shown with anyone else.
The Grandparents looked pretty happy too. Their glistening eyes smiling fondly as they laughed, played with and cuddled our girls, soaking up their adoration.
This time when the Grandparents left, it was harder for everyone.
The Grandparents were sad to say goodbye.
The girls didn’t understand why Nanny, Grandma and Grandpa were here one minute, living in the iPad again the next. The first few days our eldest was confused, continually asking to see them. Luckily, Peppa Pig and ice-cream provided a good distraction, she soon got used to seeing them back in the iPad. However, I’m sure her preference would be the non-cyber, cake-buying, patient, cuddly version. My concern for the girls is as they get older – how will they cope when they are able to understand the emotions of missing, or worse, losing someone?
My husband and I, of course, miss the help and an opportunity to go out together instead of playing tag team.
But it’s so much more than that.
We miss them, they are our parents.
The unconditional love they have for our girls is beautiful. We know that whilst they may not do everything exactly how we do, when the girls are with them they are loved. I can’t imagine any friend, babysitter or carer could love our children as much.
As time ticks by, the Grandparents are getting older -we have to accept they will not live forever.
I didn’t get the opportunity to know my Grandparents well. Dad lost touch with his parents when I was very young. Mum’s dad died before I was born and Mum’s Mum – of whom I have very fond memories, sadly left the world when I was 10.
Growing up I remember feeling envious when friends chatted about their grandparents (jealous of the presents but also feeling a sense of missing out). It somehow felt a bit unfair.
Recently I started to wonder if we are being unfair to both our children and parents, depriving them of precious time together, especially given they won’t be around forever.
The unique bond they have with our children seems to stand the test of time and distance. No matter how long they are apart, they pick up where they left off. The only thing that changes is the bond strengthens.
But knowing all that doesn’t make it easier when it’s time to say goodbye. I know what it feels like to experience the loss of a parent. The sadness I felt when Dad died has re-emerged since having the girls. Oh, how he’d chuckle at how utterly bonkers they are.
Could this goodbye be the last? The final time our girls see one of their grandparents? Should we be making more of their last few years? Would the relationship be as strong if we didn’t live far away and they didn’t get concentrated time together? Or is it possible it could be even stronger if we lived closer and saw them more often?
I don’t know the answer to those questions. What I do know is this:
No matter how long the gaps are between seeing each other, the connection has been there since the beginning –it’s in their blood.
When they are together my heart melts.
The love between them is reciprocated and unconditional.
Thank you apple for Facetime – the 34025.997 Kilometres as the crow flies, 24 hours as the aeroplane flies and good few weeks as the boat sails, somehow doesn’t feel so far with you around.
Today I had a Dr’s appointment in the city so grabbed a lift with my husband who works at World Square.
As I walked around the city with my youngest toddler (14 month old) in tow, I realised that the city has become an intimidating and alien place to me now. I felt like a fish out of water. Pushing along my pram, dressed in comfy trousers, a t-shirt and flip-flops/thongs.
It was as though I’d entered a parallel universe. Everyone was bustling around with such purpose, as though they knew something I didn’t or were part of something I wasn’t.
My husband has recently started a new job so he took me to his office to meet his work colleagues. I hadn’t planned on this and felt a little panicked that I looked rather like a homeless person he’d dragged off the street. I quickly ran my fingers through my knotty hair. I then did the obligatory once over check that all was in order (i.e. no sick on me, no food splattering on me, bra wasn’t on full display – my toddler has a tendency to yank my top down in her quest for milk, no milk leakage and flies were up), all good. I was relieved to have the remnants of nail polish on my toes from a rare night out a few days ago.
We walked into the smart, modern, stylish offices and I felt a little weird again. In my head I stuck out like a sore thumb, I shouldn’t be here in these smart offices with these busy and important people. I’m just a stay at home mum! Everyone was of course utterly lovely and welcoming, particularly excited by the presence, distraction and novelty of having a toddler in the office.
But it got me thinking, what is it about becoming a mum and having a certain amount of time out of the ‘paid workforce’ that makes us feel like worthless beings, no longer fit to enter the doors of the corporate world?
With 15 years’ experience in HR and recruitment, I spent a lot of time wearing suits and working in offices. I have worked in big cities in England such as Manchester and Newcastle. A year of my life in Australia involved working in Sydney’s CBD, I got to know (and love) the city well during that time. Today made me more aware than ever how different my life has become. Since exiting the corporate world in 2012 to go on maternity leave with my first baby (minus a brief stint in-between children for a couple of months), my life has changed considerably.
It’s challenging, fun, monotonous, rewarding and stressful – but in different ways.
I was lucky enough to enjoy most of the jobs I had throughout my career. That said, I do remember times when I wished I could pack it all in. I thought the role of being a mum would be easier, rewarding, fun; and I was definitely in favour of having no one to answer to.
I had a lot to learn.
Being a mum is the toughest, most challenging job I have ever done! Sleep routines, sleep deprivation, cleaning, making food, changing nappies, washing – at times it takes monotony to a whole new level. And as for having no one to answer to, Sir Alan Sugar has a lot to learn from my 2 strong minded and bossy toddlers.
However, the rewards of being a stay at home mum are immense. The happiness I feel when I hear my children laughing, being there to see them take their first steps or utter their first words, the smiles they give me when they do something silly or say something cute and the way they make me feel when they run into my arms to cuddle me. These are the things that make the hard work and monotony worthwhile. Oh, and the fact that I rarely have to wear make-up, brush my hair or dress in high heels anymore!
I don’t intend to be a stay at home mum for ever. I miss having a different kind of purpose and being meaningful in other ways. I enjoyed the social aspect of going out to work and the independence. I would also like to contribute financially to our family.
But for the time being this is my life, and it’s one I love and am truly grateful for. I’m sure one day the city and the corporate world may become familiar to me again. It might take a little adjusting to get back into the swing of it and require a new wardrobe!
Today is a very sad day for me. One of my gorgeous friends and neighbour is moving, not down the road or even to the next suburb, she’s making the big move from Sydney back to her home in Barcelona 17,183 kilometers away.
This is one of the downfalls of living somewhere like Sydney. It’s such a transient city, people are often only here for a short while and many people living here have family far away. I’m noticing more and more people making the move back to their homes once they have had children. In search of more help and support and to build stronger relationships between their kids and grandparents/relatives.
I often get asked by family and friends back home why we stay here. How do we manage living so far away from friends and family back in the UK now that we have 2 young children?
The truth is it is something I personally find very difficult to explain. I am also desperate not to be misunderstood by those who are so dear to us as it is in no way a reflection of how much we love and miss them.
I am incredibly close to my family, even more so since my Dad died 8 years ago. I also have lots of wonderful friends back home. Ironically some of whom have become even dearer to me since making the move here as their friendship has well and truly stood the test of time and distance, I have no doubt we will be friends forever more.
When we first arrived it was a 2 year plan. An exciting adventure to share with the man I’d fallen in love with only a few months prior.
4 years on, 1 marriage and 2 children later we are still here and currently no immediate plans to leave.
My sister often asks me;
‘’Is it just because of the sunshine?”
I’d be lying if I said that an average of 236 days of sunshine a year doesn’t play a big part in our decision to stay, but it’s absolutely not the main reason.
I miss my sisters, Mum, in-laws, friends, nephews and nieces more than words can express. That said, there is just something about the way of life here, even more so since having the children, that works for me and I just love it.
Considering the tough year we have had with our little owl who doesn’t sleep, and the various broken bones and trips to hospital, you’d think I’d jump at the chance to return home where we have a spacious house and grandparents just around the corner and an hour up the M6.
There have been times when we have been literally losing it due to exhaustion, screaming and desperation where we have both mentioned ‘going home’. My husband has a tendency to do this more than I. Perhaps this is on account of my being half gypsy (I’ve never really lived anywhere longer than 5 or so years). He on the other hand was born and bred in Manchester and his parents still live in the house he grew up in. His roots are perhaps more established. But when I call his bluff and say;
‘’Ok then, let’s do it’’
‘’Not right now then, but at some point in the future’’
When I got pregnant I thought that as soon as the baby arrived, I’d be struggling and desperate to go back. If anything I have felt the opposite.
Sydney/ Eastern suburbs is new mummy heaven (Unfortunately I can’t speak for the rest of Australia on account of only having lived here. I also can’t speak for the UK as again I haven’t experienced having children there). All I know is that from the minute I signed up to the ante-natal class and met some people who are still good friends of mine, to having the baby in the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick, where I received the most fabulous care and support and throughout that first year through my Mothers group and various classes I attended, I have never felt alone being a Mum in Australia, something I thoroughly expected to feel given I was so far away from home.
I remember arriving to the new mums meet and greet session organised by the hospital, anxiously clutching my brand spanking new baby. The room was full of around 40 new mums and there were a couple (as there always are) that seemed to dominate the room with their self-assuredness only reinforcing my anxiety as a new mum. About to turn and leg it my own Mum (who had made the trip to Oz for a few weeks) gave me a reassuring nod (and a shove) and reluctantly I went and sat down giving my neighbour an awkward smile. We both did a double take and then relieved sat and beamed at each other like Cheshire cats, turned out we had met previously in a work capacity.
And that was it, from that moment on I had a wonderful new friend who is still a dear friend to me to this day.
We decided to create our own Mother’s group with the people we had met in our ante-natal classes and they invited people they knew and it snowballed. We met every Tuesday on the grass overlooking the ocean offering each other help, support, cake and a shoulder to cry on. Sounds idyllic and to be honest most of the time it was. Sure some days I was knackered and wobbly and not sure I was doing the right thing especially given I had a reflux baby who was constantly sick, always very small and didn’t like solids very much. But I didn’t feel judged by these new friends, we helped each other through our wobbles and could relate to the struggles and the exhaustion.
I remember a good friend of mine who has 2 older children laughing at me saying;
‘’Yes, that’s how Mothers groups start, drinking coffee and eating cake, but give it a few months and you will be having vodders in your coffee and desperately booking in nights out without the babies”
She was right. We rarely meet up in the daytime now. When we arrange a meet up it generally involves copious amounts of alcohol.
2.5 years since establishing the group some of us met up for a night out a couple of weeks ago.
The group consisted of 4 of us, 2 of whom began the discussion pre-meeting stating they would be driving and 1 requesting to share a bottle, I was more than happy to oblige. So it started out 1 bottle. Who were we kidding? It quickly turned into 4 bottles of wine plus a cocktail each for all of us.
So I have great friends here. Work friends from the jobs I have had, mothers group friends, random playground friends, playgroup friends, people I’ve met on the bus friends, people I knew in England who now live out here friends, friends of friends, neighbour friends, literally friends from all walks of life and all over the world. Connected by the fact that many of us are living thousands of miles away from our families and friends. I’m not trying to gloat, I’m not exceptional I’m fairly certain this is the case for any expat.
We are there for each other, not a replacement for friends and family back home but an extension of it. Whilst in the UK I’d never have thought to spend Christmas with friends however that is the way it’s usually done here. There is an ease to making new friends here.
I am a huge believer in the view that people come into your life for a season, a reason or a lifetime.
I have friends (and I include family in this) back home who are so dear to me that I have tears streaming down my face thinking about them as I write this. We have been through so much together, they have stood by me no matter what, loyal and honest and absolutely will be my lifetime friends. But I know that it doesn’t matter where in the world we are, that will never change.
However, it’s such a wonderful feeling when you realise you have made a new friend.
This was reiterated to me last week on a trip to the playground with the girls.
My eldest (2.5 year old), was a little out of sorts as she was getting over an ear infection. On arriving at the playground she was unusually clingy and quiet. A slightly older girl came over to her and asked if she could play with her. She was such a beautiful spirit, so kind and gentle. My daughter cautiously cocked her head to one side, looked up at me and then back warily at the girl. The little girl waited patiently, she then moved away returning a few minutes later, as gentle and patient as before. Never have I seen such emotional intelligence in someone so young! Slowly but surely my shy little girl began to warm to her, letting go of my leg and moving away from me. Within 10 minutes they were best friends. Giggling and laughing, playing merrily on the swings and running up and down the slide, sitting side by side to protect each other from falling off.
I will always miss people back home and nothing can replace my family and friends there. However living in Australia is sunshine-filled, exciting and challenging. It has brought my little family together, tested and pushed us, offered us new experiences and lots of fabulous new friends.
Whilst for the moment Australia is our home, moving back to the UK will always be a discussion point, particularly when the going gets tough. I absolutely understand why my dear friend and neighbour is making the big move with her little family to Barcelona. She will have her Mum living in an apartment downstairs and sister down the road and I’m certainly more than a little envious of that. However for now, I love living in Australia with my little family, it suits us and feel incredibly lucky to have been given this amazing opportunity.