Monthly Archives: November 2013

Letting go and finding new

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scary dudes Arch Sept 2012

 

Coming home from China, after three years as an expat resident in Suzhou, was one of the most difficult periods in my life. If I thought I experienced culture shock going over, it was nothing compared to coming back. China is a vibrant, noisy, exciting, boisterous, energetic world where life is lived out on the footpath and in large groups of extended family and friends. Suburban Brisbane couldn’t be more different. When we are out on the streets here, we are alone or in nuclear family groups, quickly attending to the busyness of our day. Come sunset, we close our gates and lock our doors. We eat behind closed doors, we love, argue and raise our children in the privacy of our own homes. We have space, lots of it, and we prickle when someone enters ours uninvited. Coming home was hard. The silence was one of the hardest things to get used to. Quiet evenings, no incessant beeping of bike and car horns, quiet, civilised supermarkets where everyone waits patiently in line. And no nightly fireworks outside my bedroom window.

I had to let go of so many things during that time, and it was a pruning that left me bare and raw; a sad little twig trying to come back to life after a dry winter. If I’m honest, there was a material shock in coming from a place where I was a relative affluent with disposable income up to my eyeballs, to Australia, a regular on the highest cost of living in the world lists. On one salary. We went from two international holidays a year to budgeting to the last twenty bucks in our fortnightly coffers. It was humbling and necessary, and it forced me to reflect on what happiness really was and what my family really needed.

I had to let go of a concept that I had of myself that I was competent, educated, valued and skilled. I came out of the best professional experience of my career, to staying at home with my toddler, failing at the job day after day and wondering who the hell I was. Suddenly I couldn’t do anything well. It was a new experience of hating myself and how badly I thought I was at mothering. It was a dangerous cycle that escalated over the next few years. So much of my identity had ben wrapped up in my profession, that when that was gone, I was lost.

Possibly the hardest part though, was letting go of friends. Not the friends I left behind in China, for those, despite the distance, stuck close by (electronically) and are close still. It was the friends I returned to. After a while, I realised it was time to loosen my grip. I knew that being the returning traveller was nothing special to those who hung around. We have all been away, come home, gone again, returned. It’s the job of the returnee to reconnect, I get that. So, despite being an introvert to the core, I committed myself to making the effort to reconnect with my friends. I phoned, I emailed, I Facebooked, I called again. It was an incredible shock to me to find that a few of my long term friends had simply moved on. I had to, for my own sanity, just give up.

I should add that this was all during the worst phase of my depression, when I was sad but didn’t realise, I just thought I was failing. So everything was sadder, more black and white, less logical and more tragic. I was just desperately looking for a safety net and found it not in old friends, but in new ones. I vividly recall one very very sad day, I was walking around with my toddler, six months pregnant with twins and just killing time as I seemed to do day after day. Heading toward home I considered stopping at the park for a while, to kill another half hour or so. I almost didn’t, but did. I was sad to the point of holding back tears. A woman came along, newborn in pram and toddler on foot. We talked. I found that I hadn’t totally given up because I had the courage to suggest we swap phone numbers. A little over a year later, I ran my first half marathon with her. We now babysit each other’s kids. She cooked for me when I moved house. She saved me. She never even knew it.

It was a painful pruning, but the spring came, as it always does, and the new has replaced the old. It took a really long time, several years in fact, to recover from reverse culture shock. I feel like China was a juncture in my life. There is before-China and after-China. My life BC after couldn’t be more different to my life AC. My work life, home life, social life, all of them are totally not what they were before. Many spring buds have blossomed into full bouquets that have brought me such happiness. Too much with the spring metaphor? I’m thinking too much. Yep, much too much…I feel a little ill….just threw up a bit in my mouth.

Saving your relationship from your kids

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A friend recently threw caution to the wind and bravely asked what all of us have probably wanted to ask a zillion times but were too skittish/scared/embarrassed. I’ll paraphrase her to protect the innocent. Is your relationship surviving your kids? Well is it?

Kids suck the life from your most significant relationship in more ways than you can count. I never seem to be able to write about a thing when I’m knee deep in it. Too emotional, too close for comfort, too much too soon. Maybe it’s dishonest of me not to, but I do know I have more insight when a crisis has passed. We all love hindsight right? I am also bound by my main rule of social media and blogging…husband didn’t sign up, so don’t sign him up. He gets right of veto on anything I put out there. My vow in social media and in general, is to never say anything publicly that would embarrass him, belittle him or cause others to think ill of him. I won’t discuss the intimate details of my relationship with him. But I’ll acknowledge that none of us are alone in various levels of relationship crises brought on by the little angels we, starry eyed and naive, brought into our lives.

There are things I know that see us through the tough times we’ve already had and are having and will have. One of course is dating. We have been totally crap at dating these past two years, but are determined to make it happen again. Leaving the house with nothing but your clutch in one hand and your partner’s hand in the other is a feeling like no other. For the first few minutes you feel like you’ve forgotten something, but then you ease into the quiet conversation that flows on and on without ever being interrupted for fight resolution, toilet assistance or apple peeling.

Quiet time alone has helped us too. We are both capital I Introverts. In the Myers Briggs sense. Time alone is not a luxury, it is a necessity. This is another thing that we are crap at, at the moment. When we make the effort to give each other quiet time, we stupidly wonder at the difference it makes. Like a lot of things, we know what helps, we just forget to do it. Running, for example. It makes me feel amazing, I should have my lazy ass out there every day but I’m doing well if I hit the road two or three times a week.

Some other things that help to kid proof your relationship…

Cuddle often in front of your kids. Don’t let them join in. Let them know that sometimes, mummy/daddy is more important than you are little one.

Let them see you fight, but make sure they see you say sorry.

My husband is trying to make me stop and take a few minutes, with him, just before sunset. The kids are playing, it’s cool, the light is lovely and he almost has to tie me down to stop me from being busy. When I do, it’s lovely. Stop together, every day.

This one I would like to do but it’s hard at the moment when my husband gets set upon the moment he walks in the door. I want me and him to be the first person he and I want to see and say hi to at the end of the day. We’ll get there.

When I am having a conversation with him, and the kids interrupt, they get scolded. I’m snatching some precious seconds here people, wait your turn! In a few ways and at some times, I do want them to know that he comes first.

Nothing new or particularly wise here. It’s hard. Young kids will make you or break you. They used to say that about travelling together. Nothing so far has been as hard as this for us. What is different now is that I feel great excitement for the years to come. I don’t have any doubt that it will be easier, more fun, full of laughs and maybe even some travel. I am already feeling moments of peace that I didn’t have for quite a few years. Just little pauses in the chaos that are coming more frequently and are lasting just that little bit longer.

Parenting Panel

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Join us on ABC Brisbane local radio 612 each Wednesday for our parentage chat with Steve Austin.

In recent weeks on ABC612, we have talked about child health and fitness….

Listen here!

And we tackled the minefield of kids’  birthday parties…

Listen here!

And we tried to figure out the stages of parenting…

Listen here!

And just because…here’s Mummy doing the gardening.

Mummy gardening Oct 2012