Tag Archives: moving

Wherever I lay my hat, perhaps??*

And so, after 6 months, we are moving again. Our landlords are returning unexpectedly from overseas and asked us very nicely to move out so they could have their family home back. We asked them not so nicely to pay for everything and they eventually agreed and so here we are, moving again.

Which has got me thinking again about the topic of “home”, which I tried to define in this post. When I wrote it, the house didn’t feel like home at all, and when I got the phone call asking us if we’d consider moving, I thought “Yeah, why not, it’s not like this is our home, we’ll find another house”. And yet in the few weeks since then (yep, we move quickly!) all I seem to have been able to think about is how much that rental house does feel like home now.

I’d say it’s taken me about 6 months to settle in. And by “settle in” I mean get a routine going, feel comfortable going about the activities of daily normal living that make you feel like life is pottering along happily. I’ve got my supermarkets [a- close and cheap] [b- the only one that sells the rolled oats I like] and [c-nice bread and earns us Airpoints]. I’ve figured out which bread to buy, where to get a takeaway coffee (an even more complicated algorithm consisting of options a-e) and where I go to hide on my child-free days to get free internet and do some work. We’re only moving 5 minutes away and so none of that will change, but moving still feels like an upheaval.

And so, when I suddenly felt unexpected pangs of “Oh but this place feels kind of like home now” I asked myself the question WHY? I started with “What will I miss?” Well, the trampoline and the cubby house for the kids for a start. So we’ll buy a trampoline if the kids miss it that much. And we left the world’s best cubby house in Sydney and got over it. We’ll buy/build/create another one.  The spa, which we poo-pooed initially as an indulgent luxury, we actually love, as it seems like such an indulgent luxury! Well, there’s a (currently non-functioning) spa at the “new house”, which we’ll ask the landlords to get working. And we’ll have to leave it when we go back to Sydney anyway, so it’s not the be-all and end-all.

So I started to think instead of all the things that annoy me about the house- the chopped-up living space, the smallish kitchen, the loose door handles, the stupid French phrases stencilled on the bedroom walls (which would be wanky even if you were French, and these landlords are not!) The new house has much more living space downstairs and a much nicer flow to it, which will suit us much better. That started to make me feel happier about moving.

We went away over Christmas and coming back to the “old” house, it felt nice when we first walked through the door to be “home” but after a few minutes, I realised it was being back with the convenience and familiarity of our own belongings that felt good. But then I thought it wasn’t about “stuff”….

And so as we gradually make the change to the “new” house, I’m coming to realize that home isn’t about a house or a corner shop or a supermarket or a selection of cafés or a cubby house, although those things help. I think it’s really about being with the security and comfort of those you love- with them, you can make anywhere “home”.

*And yes, I do realize that song is about a guy who doesn’t have a home, well not as I’ve tried to define one, anyway.

Moving countries- 6 months on

It’s almost 6 months since we moved country- admittedly not a huge cultural leap from Sydney to Auckland but nonetheless, a move which brought with it significant logistical and psychological challenges.

This is the second time in my life I’ve moved countries, the first was from the UK to Australia at the age of 12. While there are certain aspects that are easier to deal with now, as an adult, there are several things I wish I’d realised back then, which might have made the transition a bit easier. I will endeavour to remember them for next time, should there be one (back home or onwards elsewhere).

  1. Embrace the differences– it’s so easy to moan and groan about how much you miss x, y or z about home, about how things “just aren’t the same here” (anyway, if they were just the same, what would have been the point in coming?). We moved to NZ in winter, and while I was prepared for NZ winter weather being awful (which, as it happens, it wasn’t), I wasn’t prepared for the seeming absence of a spring. The wet, cold weather seemed to go on forever. As I drove home in an icy rain from Miss L’s swimming lesson one day in early November I lamented that it was only 12 degrees in the middle of the day! I’m used to high 20s and low 30s in November! While our friends in Sydney showed off about swimming in the ocean on circa 30-degree days, I just got sick of hearing “November rain” on the radio (yep, hilarious, every DJ seems to think they’re being clever playing that song when it rains in November). This last week or two, however, I’ve been really enjoying the weather. Yes, the rain has eased, which helps, but I actually much prefer 20 degrees to 40- you can’t DO anything in 40 degrees. The kids are hot, no one sleeps well, it’s just horrid. And the odd rainy day is easier to bear, because I’ve valued the nice ones so much more. One of the other things I’ve missed is breakfasting out- we haven’t really found any café that does a decent, reasonably priced breakfast. But we’ve found alternatives: breakfast at home (pancakes, scrambled eggs, home made bacon & egg rolls) and rediscovered the pleasure of lazing around in our pyjamas till 9am catching up with the in-laws on FaceTime, or driving out to the Farmers’ Markets at Clevedon, where they do awesome bacon and egg rolls and coffee, the kids can run around and we can stroll around and pick up some free-range eggs or farm-grown veggies and make a whole morning of it.
  2. Get involved– in September I joined a playgroup. I had always avoided them in Sydney, having had a couple of mediocre experiences which left me wondering why I’d bothered dragging the kids out to sit around with a load of strangers watching everyone fight over the communal toys. But here I have been lucky enough to find a lovely playgroup and have met some very nice, very normal Mums. A couple have become people I can catch up with at other times during the week, a couple more are just people I run into every now and then at the library or the supermarket, and it makes me feel so much more at home in our new neighbourhood to be able to say hello to people I know in the street! Maybe taking up a new sport or joining some other group might have helped me at school, too, instead of sitting around with my instant group of 4 arbitrary friends waiting for more people to come up and initiate contact.
  3. If something’s not working, move on (but give it a good go first)- Next year we are changing swimming schools. I’ve given our current one 6 months and have decided it’s not for us. I sometimes wonder if I’d been truer to myself at the age of 12 and not bothered with things I wasn’t really interested in (like some of those arbitrary friends, perhaps), or didn’t feel rewarded by (the violin, the agriculture club), I might have avoided a lot of the angst I felt then.
  4. Pursue your pre-existing interests but also look for new ones There are so many running events- long, short, on-road, off-road, local, far away, regular, one-offs etc around here. I’m really looking forward to getting into some of them after Baby L is born. We bought a stand up paddle-board shortly after arriving and (to my surprise) I’m actually not too bad at it. Somehow putting on a wetsuit and paddling out on the harbour when It’s 14 degrees doesn’t feel as crazy here as it would in Sydney! When I left England I had just discovered I wasn’t a bad runner and had started playing rounders with a team after school. When I moved to Australia, the spots on the athletic team were all taken and I didn’t know the rules of softball so decided there was no way I could play and clearly I’d never be considered a good runner at my new school if the places were full already, so they went by the wayside, to the detriment of my fitness, weight and probably general well-being.
  5. Put a positive spin on things– so my job isn’t my dream job and in retrospect I should have taken on more hours, if for no other reason than to help me settle in a bit quicker. But hey, that leaves me the luxury of being able to pick up extra shifts when I want to, for a higher hourly rate, and also gives me the flexibility to get some new experience doing other things. I’m enrolling to do an extra qualification while I’m here which will hopefully not only be useful and interesting, but make me more employable next time I apply for a job, as well as giving me something concrete I can say I’ve achieved whilst here.
  6. Make the most of it– we have made a big list of places we want to see and visit while we’re here, and we’ve been making an effort to go to as much as possible around Auckland too- from Christmas carols on the local village green to visiting waterfalls, volcanoes and bike tracks further afield. Not to mention the zoo and the various museums. We don’t want to turn around at the end of our time here and say “Well we always meant to see more of NZ but somehow never got around to it”. As a 12 year-old who’d migrated permanently without any say in the matter, it was harder to see our move from England as something finite to be “made the most of”, but when I look back at my high school days, what I really regret was finishing school and feeling like I’d missed out. On friendships, experiences, hobbies, all sorts, essentially due to the giant chip on my shoulder, which constantly whispered in my ear “It’s not fair, I hate it here, these people aren’t my friends, I wish I was at home”. With an attitude like that, it’s clear to me now that it’s no wonder I didn’t feel like I fitted in. Maybe if I’d been less concerned with fitting in for the sake of fitting in and more concerned with taking an interest in other people, places and activities because they might actually be fun and new, I’d have found my company was much more appealing to other people. No one (really) seeks out unhappy, bitter, grudge-bearers to spend time with. Someone who’s enthusiastic and willing to give things a try, whether it’s sport, music, language or anything, really, is always going to get more out of life.
  7. It’s not just you having to adjust– something I never really thought too hard about after we emigrated to Australia was that maybe my parents found it hard as well. My mother, being the way she is (and possibly because she was the one who drove the move to Australia) was very vocal and somewhat patronising about how wonderful Australia was and how fabulously we were all doing, while I personally thought nothing could be further from the truth. Whether that was cover-up or what she truly believed, I’m not sure. Rather than this false bravado, I don’t think it would have hurt for my parents to have asked how we were doing, or at least acknowledge that things might have been hard for us, and for us to do the same. I remember my sister telling me years later how she’d been picked on and at times pushed around in the playground because she had different shoes to the other kids and because of her accent. I was really ashamed to hear that, because I’d never for a moment considered she might have had trouble settling in too- she was only 8 and I so I thought she was too young to feel any kind of adjustment shock. She seemed to have a close group of friends so what was the problem? Teenage self-centeredness to some extent, but sometimes, even now, I find myself assuming it’s all so hard for ME changing jobs and leaving my friends, when in fact I also need to think about the kids (ok they are really tiny, so probably not analysing the differences too much!) but also Mr L, who has taken on a whole load of new challenges himself, not to mention gaining a (at times) homesick and complaining wife!

Of course, some of these things are lessons learned not through my specific experiences but just as part of the general process of growing up. At 12, belonging to a “group” at school is the most important thing in the world- having people to eat lunch with or walk from the train station with are make-or-break issues in the daily happiness of a teenager. I remember asking my Mum when I started at my second new school in 6 months and she started her second new job “Is starting a new job as bad as starting a new school?” I just couldn’t bear the thought that for the rest of my life I was going to have to deal with the overwhelming feelings of loneliness and fear that starting a new school brought, every time I started a new job (which both my parents did frequently so I assumed this was the norm). Fortunately, her answer was “no” and, even more happily, she was right. Partly I suppose, because adults are generally better adjusted and more considerate of social niceties than kids, and of course, a professional setting is very different to the largely social setting that is school.

But what I really like about being a grown-up trying to make new friends is that if I don’t like someone very much, or don’t have much in common with them, I don’t have to spend time with them. It’s ok to have friends who belong to more than one “group”. It’s ok to have friends who are different to all your other friends.

The other thing I know is that if we decide we were happier back in Sydney and that’s where we want to be, then that’s where we’ll go. But I need to be mindful of the last lesson in the list:

      8. Everything changes– Just as you are changing and moving on, so are the people “back home”. When I was 16 , we went back to the UK for a visit and the hardest thing was realising there wasn’t a space reserved with my name on it, people had moved on, they weren’t sitting around waiting for me to reappear (I had flattered myself!) I need to remember that if and when we go back, my job will have changed, my friends will have changed, mothers group may no longer meet, Master L’s preschool may have closed down, neighbours will have moved out, our nanny may not be available any more. But that’s just part of life really, all the more reason to make the most of now.

Choose your own adventure

When I was about 10, I went through a phase of reading “Choose your own adventure” books. It’s probably around that age that many kids fancy themselves as Nancy Drew, or the Secret Seven, or whatever the current trend is (I must be dating myself terribly, now I’m sure it’s all Harry Potter and Wimpy Kid books). Regardless, when I was in primary school (before all this “tween” nonsense and at 10 you were still a kid) all I really wanted to be was a character out of Swallows and Amazons.

I liked the idea of choosing my own adventure and having some part in deciding how the story ended, even if most of the books seemed to be based in haunted houses fighting various ghouls rather than doing anything I really fancied, but they frustrated me no end as I always seemed to end up in a loop. Instead of getting to the end of the story and out of the house, I’d keep being directed back to the same page, having to make the same decision over and over again. Trying to choose a different door to leave the room by somehow never seemed to work: no matter what different options I tried to take, I’d keep coming back to the same page until I eventually got frustrated and gave up.

Of late, on our own big adult adventure, I’ve had a couple of moments (ok days) where I’ve really struggled. I like to think I’ve maintained perspective, that I’m acknowledging that changing countries is going to be challenging and going to take time to adjust to but even so things have, at times, felt a bit miserable.

During my latest bout of negativity, exacerbated by work, child and stress-related sleep deprivation, I got a bit sick of myself and my own attitude towards things and decided I was tired of feeling rotten and looking on the negative side and that it was time to pull myself together. I embarked on this adventure upon without coercion, with my eyes wide open. I agreed to leave my job, my friends, my home, and come here for a change of scene and to experience new things. To be sitting around feeling homesick because I liked Master L’s old swimming school better or I was missing my weekly catch-ups at the local park with 4 women known only to me through the random birth-dates of our eldest children, seemed pathetic, but much to my dismay, it was how I felt.

So I decided I needed to focus again on choosing my own adventure, embracing the positives and trying to see through or around the negatives.

Friends & Family

When we left I boldly declared “I only see each of my friends once every 3-6 months each anyway, I don’t think I’ll miss them.” Besides which, now that no one has phone conversations any more, I wouldn’t even miss talking to them, as the main acceptable mode of communication these days seems to be via text message, email or Facebook.

As you are pottering around the house one morning you decide to:

a) Facetime a friend

b) Skype your Applephobic parents

c) Both of the above

 You choose c. Fuelled by the success of a (long-planned) Skype chat with your parents once morning, you suggest a Skype chat later in the day with a friend. Her kids are at daycare, Miss L is asleep and Master L occupied, and you have a lovely long chat with fewer child-related interruptions than if you’d been face to face on a “playdate” (as catchups with kids now seem to be known).

Kids

Not a patient person at the best of times, I sometimes (ok frequently) wonder how I will keep from going insane and how my kids will ever turn into functional humans who don’t hate me, if I keep yelling and screaming at them. I hate myself for getting frustrated and angry at them but it’s hard when I’m tired, bored and not really sure what I’m doing.

One evening after a particularly angry day, you decide to

a)    Take a vow of silence. Maybe if you don’t speak and just ignore them they will feed, dress, toilet and basically raise themselves

b)    Ask the dog to look after them some afternoons to give you a break

c)     Seek out a simple, more socially acceptable (and legal) strategy to help you change your approach

You choose c. Surfing the good old net (again!) you stumble across the Abundant Mama website and in particular this post strikes a chord. You adopt “Just be kind” as your new mantra and it probably helps reduce your yelling by about 30% on the first day. Plus it has lots of other useful-looking bits and pieces on it to check out.

Things to do

I must admit, at times I’ve been a bit bored. I scratch my head to think what it is I would have been doing at home that would have prevented such boredom, I can’t think of too many worthwhile things there were to do at home that I don’t have here. Perhaps playdates and coffees and catch-ups did happen more frequently than I thought. Or maybe I just spent more time than I like to admit surfing the net and watching TV. Loneliness is probably boredom’s best friend, so not having much to do has certainly not helped me feel any less homesick, either.

Given you have a surplus of free time you decide to:

 a) Bake lots of cakes and eat them

b) Take up stand-up-paddleboarding

c) Plan lots of fun and exciting things to do with the other Ls, in and out of town

You start off with a but then realise your pants are too tight and you have gained 3kg. So you try b and have an awesome SUP lesson with Mission Bay Watersports and learn to stand up and paddle the SUP Master L bought on the weekend. You are also going to do c, but one thing at a time, right?

Work

Possibly the biggest challenge. I’ve taken a slightly less senior job than I had in Sydney, as there wasn’t anything directly equivalent available. While being very positive about this on a good day (I’m getting out of the house, maintaining my skills, not getting caught up in bureaucracy and, if nothing else, earning money), on a not-so-good day it can be a little frustrating being condescended to (on occasion) and constantly explaining myself to people and trying to tell them I’m better than they might think.

After a particularly demoralising day at work you decide to:

a)    Skulk around complaining about how bored and under-challenged you are

b)    Roll your eyes and mutter how no-one realizes you’re more senior than this

c)     Prove yourself by performing and acting appropriately for your level of experience and ability and in time maybe there’ll be an opening for you at a more senior level (unlikely if you choose a or b)

You choose c.  As soon as a vacancy comes up, you are put into the position and everyone expresses their admiration that you were humble enough to get a foot in the door this way, as well as the more junior people confessing they felt secretly threatened by the fact that you are more senior to them.

So there you have it: my very own choose your own adventure. And hopefully, unlike the books, with this one I won’t end up in a loop coming back to the same page over and over again.

No Place Like Home

And so, we have moved.

The change has happened, the page has turned, it’s done. It was fluttering in the breeze for weeks, if not months, before we left. Yet I could somehow delude myself it was reversible until the removalists arrived, took our stuff and suddenly… our house no longer felt like home…. Or didn’t it?

Strangely, the most emotional I felt leaving our house was walking around it empty, the morning after the furniture had gone, checking all the rooms, picking up the rake lying on the back lawn, looking back at the cubby house, the empty chicken coop, walking up the steps that Mr L built last year so Master L could toddle up and down the back garden more easily. His preschool teacher had suggested we say goodbye by lighting a candle and going through each room, recounting a memory we had from that room. This was a ridiculously impractical suggestion, apart from the fact that at age 2, Master L has little concept of time as well as a limited number of memories, it would have been incredibly time-consuming and I would have essentially been talking to myself and thus felt stupid. And light a candle with a toddler??? Are you serious?? Just as well it was a stupid idea, I don’t think my fragile emotional state could have withstood such an indulgence of sentiment. It was bad enough watching Mr L tear down the jungle sticker frieze from Master L’s wall that we’d carefully chosen and mounted in the months before his birth.

And so we camped out in limbo for a few weeks, sleeping on an inflatable bed in the rented house that had seemed so fabulous with a full complement of (another family’s) furniture. It’s hard to feel at home sitting in a camping chair and eating out of plastic takeaway containers in an empty, echoey dining room, but I consoled myself with the fact that if I thought I felt strange in this (lovely) empty house, how downright awful it would have been in any of the less lovely (ie totally grim) houses we looked at.

And when our belongings and furniture arrived, I thought “Hooray, now it will feel like home!!” Unwrapping our plates and cups, our bedding, our pictures, our DVDs and books, the familiarity and comfort rating soared…

So is it “stuff” that makes a house a home? Before we left I would have said no, it wouldn’t matter if our house burnt down (I mean it would, but not that much) because our stuff is just stuff and we are more than that. So when all this “stuff” arrived and I felt the excitement that came with it I thought maybe I’d been wrong, maybe home is where your belongings are, after all, not for what they are, so much as what they represent and the memories they hold with them.

But less than a week later, all (well ok almost all) unpacked and our stuff squeezed into our lovely rental house, this place does not feel like home. I have felt more homesick this last week than ever, yet when I try and figure out what it is I miss, all I can come up with it the very thing that motivated me to come on this adventure in the first place- the familiarity. The old cliché says familiarity breeds contempt and I didn’t want to end up feeling that. But there’s a lot to be said for routine, familiarity, comfort. The big things like work & friends, I never expected leaving them to be easy, and even the silly little things, like which supermarket you decide to go to depending on what else you need (you want a coffee as well? Go to supermarket [a]. Need a bakery? Supermarket [b]. Side-trip to the playground? [c]), I wondered if familiarity with details like this made a place feel like home. Well, I have sampled approximately 10 supermarkets in the last month and still it doesn’t feel like home.

Some languages have a word for a feeling that’s kind of like fond, happy memories of home or times gone by. In English we don’t really have a single word that I’m aware of that translates… I think nostalgia is probably the closest. I knew as we made the decision to leave that we were closing the chapter on several happy years and saying goodbye to our home. And so, as we try and establish ourselves in this new place and turn an adventure into a lifestyle, I know that we will gradually start writing our new chapter and filling it with fond memories. Eventually, it will be less about homesickness and more about that foreign concept approximated by nostalgia.

Changing Country

All Good Things Sarah Turnbull- a review

 I’ve almost finished reading All Good Things at the moment, by Sarah Turnbull. She’s also the author of Almost French, which I read at uni (almost 20 years ago) where, as a late twenty-something Australian woman, she moves to Paris and describes her experience of trying to adapt and live alongside “les Parisiens”. When I discovered she had a new book, I resolved to re-read Almost French and remind myself of her experiences and her writing style, but I was caught by surprise when All Good Things popped up in the Sony reader store on special, and I was too impatient to go and source a copy of her earlier work first.

All Good Things has taken me a long time to read. As with everything nowadays, some of that can be blamed on situational factors (too tired, too busy, the kids, conflicting electronic demands (ie too much time on the internet) but I can’t help but feel that for a really compelling read I’d put these things aside. I didn’t really know what to expect of the book, I knew that Sarah and her French husband leave Paris to move to Tahiti and that was it. If I’d thought about it, I suppose I’d have realised that a personal memoir of life on Mo’orea was probably not going to be particularly fast-paced.

 But overall I’ve enjoyed reading it. There are several aspects of her story that I was able to identify with- her experience of Polynesia, her journey to becoming a mother, even her scuba-diving adventures are all things I can relate to although perhaps in rather different ways to her.

 However there are two things that really appeal to me. The first is her writing style. Much of what I’ve read over the last few years has been, quite frankly, trash. Predictable, formulaic, albeit page-turning chick-lit. In some ways I’m a bit of a literary wannabe. I like to appreciate good writing, I enjoy thinking about themes and imagery and all that stuff, but I don’t want to have to think too hard about it. I want it to be there for me to appreciate without having to expend too much mental energy. And All Good Things allows me just that. Sarah Turnbull writes beautifully. Admittedly her subject matter (mostly the history and natural environment of Tahiti) lends itself to vibrant prose and imagery but her descriptive passages are so… vivid (fortunately she has a far broader vocabulary than mine) and her command of adjectives (although the excerpt below isn’t actually great example of adjectives per se) is astounding.

“Waves pounded the reef, sending white caps scudding across the lagoon and vibrations travelling through the air. Ferns shimmied and shook, coconut palms tossed their heads like impatient ponies, the rubbery papaya tree arched acrobatically. When the rain fell the power of it was thrilling. Water rolled down our iron roof, falling over the eaves in fat glass ropes that glittered under the bright garden lights. The percussive din was so load we had to shout to be heard.”

My English teacher, Mrs Wade, would have been in heaven with all this imagery, albeit a rather frustrated one due my inability to understand the difference between a simile and a metaphor.

While reading passages such as this and in particular her descriptions of her lagoon and ocean forays (swimming and scuba diving), I often wondered how Sarah translated her observations to paper. Did she take notes as she was pottering around the island (surely she must have)? Sitting on a beach with a notebook I can easily imagine, but scribbling notes straight after a scuba dive, all sandy and salty and dripping water on the paper? Did she ponder for hours searching for the perfect adjective or did they all just pop into her head? (Actually an early passage describing some of the writing drills she attempted to overcome her writer’s block would suggest there wasn’t a lot of popping. Nevertheless, I was impressed!)

The other angle that seems particularly pertinent to my own experience is her perspective on moving countries. She describes perfectly (I cannot find the passage at this point- annoying e-reader) how she felt on a brief visit to Australia after some time living in France, how she somehow expected everything to be the same and felt quite indignant that, in her absence, people had dared to move on. I clearly remember having the same feelings during my first trip back to England after we had emigrated to Australia. It was 4 years before we returned which, in anyone’s book, is quite a long time, but in the crucial years of adolescence, may as well be a lifetime. I remember naïvely expecting the comfortable niche I’d left as a 12 year old to be there when I returned at 16 and all my friends just sitting around missing me, as I had missed them since I’d left. Realising they hadn’t been doing that at all and that my niche had been solidly filled in for some time generated such feelings of sadness and loss that I found my visit really difficult in some ways. (Actually it was also exactly what I needed to realise where home really was now and get on with life instead of wallowing in sentimental thoughts of where I’d be now if we hadn’t moved).

Of course, with our imminent move to NZ, this theme becomes relevant again. At the end of the book, Sarah moves back to Australia with her husband and son, and in the final few chapters she describes the physical steps that contribute to such a life-change:

“Changing country requires commitment and energy. Finding or starting work, making friends, developing new rituals, locating favourite restaurants and pastimes- the process of settling in, or “blending in”, as my mother used to say, takes time and energy. Finally, if you’ve been diligent and your efforts prove fruitful, you end up with precisely what you left behind: routines and a regular life.”

As an adult, fortunately, these steps are easier. Not just because they are conscious but because you feel more in control of them than when you are dumped in a foreign country at the age of 12. The fact that you’re the one choosing to move in the first place probably has a lot to do with it as well. So does the fact that you feel much more confident in who you are and all these new discoveries are accessories to your life rather than the definition of it.

So I’m sorry it took me so long to get through the book. Whilst I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that I wasn’t compelled to read it faster, I think the fault was largely mine rather than the author’s. I’d be keen to go back and visit Almost French again. It did spend many years sitting on my bookshelf, only to be discarded in a fit of de-cluttering. But hey, that’s what a library is for, right?

Work-life balance

I’m back at work now. The “change” has come about and we are in a new phase. Along with my return to work, Master L has started preschool, Mr L has had a promotion at work and we have decided to move to New Zealand in June. Instead of the page flipping and finding ourselves in the new 2014 routine, the pages are fluttering in the breeze as we prepare ourselves for an even bigger change.

All this fluttering of pages has been quite stressful and I feel at times like I’m about to lose my place. Last week I really struggled with it all. And then it occurred to me today: it’s not so much the change that bothers me as the uncertainty. There isn’t an abundance of jobs for me in Auckland, so I’ve had to think outside the square and take a bit of a leap of faith that “something” will turn up. I have made a few enquiries and managed to find something that looks potentially promising. I’ve been struck by how much more cheerful I’ve felt each time I’ve made progress with this job opportunity. Not because it’s the perfect job, not because the idea of not working for a while bothers me unduly and certainly not because this job’s all in the bag… but because it reassures me that I can find something and it gives me something more tangible to start planning around.

I’ve always maintained that my job doesn’t define me. I like to think I work to live, not live to work. And that’s true. If I had to choose between my job and my life, my family, the job would be gone in an instant. And yet it is more to me than “just a job”. “Career” isn’t even the word I’m looking for… the job I do has required me to do a lot of study, gain a lot of experience and acquire a fairly extensive (yet specialised) set of skills. What really bothers me about not having a job to go to in NZ, the uncertainty I fear, is that if I don’t work while we’re away, I will lose a lot of the skills and knowledge I have. On the back of 2 lots of maternity leave fairly close together, how on earth would I going to function competently in my job once we get back at the end of 2016?

My job is part of who I am. No, it doesn’t define me, but it is part of me. That is, part of ME. Not “me” the mother or “me” the wife but just “me”. I go to work and leave the rest of my life behind for 10 hours. Not that I don’t think about them, show people pictures of the kids, text Mr L and curse that I forgot to take that night’s dinner out of the freezer but at work I get to talk to people about things that don’t need to involve any of that. And it’s nice.

I’ve worked for my current employer for more than 10 years. I like the people I work with (most of them, anyway) and in that time some have become good friends. But even when I do the odd bit of work somewhere different, where I don’t know people so well, I get the same feeling of “me”-ness. So I can’t even say it’s just about my work friends, it’s obviously more than that.

People talk a lot about work-life balance. But I wondered exactly what they say, so I Googled and ended up on Wikipedia (where I end up a lot). Surprisingly and somewhat reassuringly, it sums up what I’ve been trying to describe, only much more eloquently (but with annoying Americani”z”ation):

“By working in an organization, employees identify, to some extent, with the organization, as part of a collective group… However, employees also identify with their outside roles, or their “true self”… In other words, identity is “fragmented and constructed” through a number of interactions within and out of the organization; employees don’t have just one self. Most employees identify with not only the organization, but also other facets of their life (family, children, religion, etc.). Sometimes these identities align and sometimes they do not. When identities are in conflict, the sense of a healthy work-life balance may be affected.”

I don’t think my identities are in conflict, as such, in fact I think I have a pretty good work-life balance. But if I return, deskilled and unable to function at the level I do now, I know I’ll find that really hard to deal with.

Happy Australia Day!

It looks as though January 26th this year was the last Australia Day we will spend in Australia for a while. We’re moving to New Zealand!

Mr L has, for some time, been looking for a new challenge at work and so when one presented itself he was keen to seize it. I had known of his aspirations to spend a couple of years working overseas ever since I met him and, although “live overseas” was also on my Life List (kind of like a mega to-do list), I still find the prospect of upping and moving (even if it is just across the ditch) somewhat confronting, especially when everything seems to have fallen so nicely into place for 2014.

Funny, because in many ways the thought of stagnating here scares me too. So many people say “It seems like only yesterday my son was in nappies/learning to walk/starting preschool. Last week he turned 18/35/52”. I love our life here at the moment but I don’t want that to be me, saying “Master L turns 21 next month, maybe we should look at moving/renovating/getting a life of our own”.

So I drew up a quick list of pros and cons.

Starting with the pros:

  1. I’ve always wanted to live overseas for a year or two
  2. We love NZ, at least to go to on holidays
  3. Mr L is convinced it’s the right thing for him and is clearly excited about it
  4. It’s really not that far away
  5. It’s exciting!
  6. Now is the best time to do it, before the little Ls are settled in school
  7. It might be the change I need from my job, which I love but I have started to think “what next?” a bit.
  8. It’s a great chance to declutter!
  9. It might be the perfect opportunity to have that 3rd baby

 In fact, the only cons I could come up with were:

  1. Master L is starting preschool and it looks amazing!
  2. I’ve managed to establish a very neat work, preschool & childcare schedule
  3. We love our nanny
  4. We love our house
  5. Mr L has just finished building a cubby house
  6. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get a job

1 & 2 were, literally, the first objections that came to mind. Matters of convenience. When children (and life in general) have a tendency to be inconvenient, it’s tempting to hang onto the bits that work. But there will be other preschools and other serendipitous work-life arrangements. (Hopefully, that is. See con #6)

3, 4 & 5 are really matters of sentiment. Ok, so having a nanny you love is also an issue of convenience but there will be other nannies. And who’s to say our current Mary Poppins won’t get her umbrella out of her bag & fly away soon for her own reasons? The house will still be here when we get back. (I keep trying to tell myself it’s just a house, but it’s not, it’s our home. It’s the first home Mr L and I bought together and it’s the first home for Master and Miss L.) We like our neighbours and our neighbourhood. But I know there will be other amazing houses, nice neighbours and great places to live. And, should Mr L see fit, there will be other cubbies.

6 is slightly more complex. Being a few years older than Mr L, and in a different line of work, I’ve reached a point in my career where the major hurdles are overcome. That’s not to say I’ve gone as far or as high as I can go, but from here on my career path is more of a ramble- I can go to different places and visit things that interest or stimulate me, but as far as money and career-standing go, I’m pretty much there. It’s a fortunate position to be in but it does lend itself to a bit of “what next?”-ing, or else it’ll be this until retirement.

I do, however, have a job that I need to actually do in order to remain up to date and skilled. Finding another job would help me maintain these skills (to varying degrees depending on the job) but the main issue is there doesn’t seem to be any jobs for me where we’re planning to live in Kiwi-land.

So, the options for me would be:

  1. Keep asking around and hope something comes up
  2. Get occasional work either back here in Sydney or out of town in NZ
  3. Study something
  4. Get a job doing something totally different
  5. Have a baby

I should point out that having another baby isn’t meant to be a last resort. We have been talking about having a third anyway. It’s more a question of: if I’m going to be off work anyway, what better time?

I don’t have a lot of experience with uncertainty. I’d say every year since I was born, I (or my parents, before I could talk) would have been able to tell you at any time where they saw me the following year. And we’d have been right, probably to the nearest hectare. So just saying “we’ll see what happens” is a pretty big deal for me. Yes it’s exciting but there is a nagging apprehension at the back of my mind, when I say that this time next year, I don’t know with any certainty what I’ll be doing.

But I’m fairly certain we’ll have wished our friends at home “Happy Australia Day” from afar and that we’ll be gearing up for Waitangi Day instead!