Touchdown

After the buildup, the tension, the emotions and now finally being able to tick the box “Resident returning to Australia” – actually landing in Australia felt like a bit of an anti-climax. Without so much as a “welcome home” from the immigration officer, we were through and shopping at the duty-free before we knew it. We collected our luggage…all 19 pieces…and staggered out the doors without so much as a second glance from the Customs officials.

By now it was about 8.30 pm. Feeling tired and slightly eager, slightly apprehensive, we lugged our stuff to the meeting point and looked out for the taxi man who was supposed to collect us in his pre-booked people mover. To our dismay, he was nowhere to be found. Hubby grabbed my Singapore mobile and went off to investigate while I stayed put with the six bags, five backpacks, four suitcases, three kids, two oversized totes, one car seat and a computer bag. And so we waited…and waited…and waited until the moment I’d been dreading arrived.

“Mum, I need the toilet!”

Eying off the mountain of bags I knew there was no way I could shift them and the kids into a cubicle, no matter how desperate T was. Unable to spot my husband in the crowd, I tried to gauge how urgent the nature call was. He wasn’t quite hopping from foot-to-foot yet so I figured I had at least around ten minutes or so before I had to find an empty plastic bottle.

Eventually I spotted hubby in the distance, still on hold while the taxi company tried to locate the driver who was probably only ten feet away from us. I started to wonder whose kidney I’d sell to cover the cost of the call. I gesticulated madly for him to come back to watch the bags while we took off for the nearest toilet.

We took up residence again next to our bags and pondered what to do next as the power drained slowly from my mobile and my resolve to stay calm. But how friendly are Australians? A lady from another cab company must have sensed our predicament and wandered over to ask what the holdup was. I explained the situation and she knew the taxi company concerned. She jumped on her phone and finally, after another half-hour, we located the driver who was parked in a random coach bay about a ten minute walk away. By that stage we were beyond caring about why he wasn’t at the meeting point – we were just grateful that he was there.

So, lesson learned? Before you fly, confirm the meeting spot with the relocation company and/or the taxi company to make sure that both you – and especially the driver – get to the right spot at the right time when you land.

And so we were off and crikey, it was cold! After the haze and heat in Singapore, the air here was so fresh it hurt my teeth when I smiled. We shivered in the back of the van until the heating kicked in. The day caught up with the older two and there were a few tears along the way until S noticed the sky.

“Look Mummy, up there!”

The night sky was clear, studded with stars twinkling high above as far as the eye could see. A crescent moon smiled down, seemingly upon us and the tears dried up as the kids saw the Melbourne skyline lit up at night for the first time.

We were home. And I can’t wait for the kids to make it their home too.

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Farewells and goodbye

Our final weekend – a long weekend – was very bittersweet as we squeezed in as much time as we could with as many of our friends as we could manage.

As you’d expect, it was a highly emotional time and the kids were fantastic throughout it. There were wobbly moments from all of us but it seemed that for every person we farewelled in Singapore, I’d get a message from someone in Melbourne looking forward to catchup. That sense of feeling torn is hard to reconcile, and I don’t think you ever fully come to grips with it.

We’d organised final play dates for the kids with their best friends and it was like ripping a bandaid from a wound when they had to leave. After a good cry, H was surprisingly matter-of-fact about it all. “It’s going to happen.” She shrugged and gave me a crooked smile. “We can’t change it now.” Kids can be astonishingly realistic sometimes.

I don’t think any of us slept well that night and to be honest, we were all pretty glad to head out to the airport the next morning. As we drove on the ECP for the last time, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my book. They say “life imitates art” and it’s been quite surprising to see how much of what I’d written three years ago come to life over the past few months.

H had a few tears on the way and we were a fairly subdued crowd that passed through the immigration gates. But honestly – how resilient are kids? Once we were through, they spotted the playground and they were off. It seemed that after we’d gotten through that final barrier, their tension evaporated and they were now on an adventure.

We’ve been incredibly blessed to have met so many wonderful people who have loved and supported us, both in the countries we’ve lived in or when we’ve come home to visit. Our experiences have been enriched by each and every one of you and although it’s exciting to be starting a new life in our home country, there’ll always be a part of us remembering where we’ve been.

So for now, it’s goodbye Singapore, and hello Australia. Our next chapter begins.

Last day of school…

I’d been dreading this day for a long time. This year had been a great one for both of the kids – they loved their teachers and had a great group of friends – but it was time to go.

T took off to the playground as soon as we arrived at the school, simply happy to be with his mates. We walked H to her classroom and she seemed OK, just a little quiet. Predictably I teared up as soon as the teacher started handing over her work books so it was time for us to go.

I spent the day worrying about how she was getting on but vowed to keep it together for her class party. They did a terrific job – movie and snacks – the kids were having a great time. H was given a beautiful handmade card signed by her classmates and full of photos of her year in Grade 4. Fortunately, just then the bell rang.

We had to walk the entire length of the school to collect T. She was being really brave, but the calls of “Goodbye H, we’ll miss you!” echoing along the hallways were her undoing. Such a lovely bunch of kids and so sad to be leaving them.

T had just arrived back from an excursion and was staying at a friend’s house that night. He was so tired from the outing and excited about the sleepover that he seemed to forget it was his last day of school.  We said our goodbyes to him – which he barely acknowledged – and he took off blindly into the haze that had descended upon Singapore.

Perhaps that was his way of coping? Just focusing on the positives to keep the sadness at bay? Or maybe he just takes each day as it comes?

Whatever the case, we made a quick departure to get H home and that was it – their schooling in Singapore was over. After dinner H dragged out her learning journal and we thumbed through it together, remembering.

The kids have experienced such a lot in their short little lives. I hope they never forget.

Now what?

The packers have gone, the apartment is no longer a millstone around our necks and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck sideways, so stressful the last few weeks have been. So now what?

Well, life still goes on. There’s never a dull moment, particularly with the end of the school term looming. Swimming carnival, athletics carnival, basketball round-robin – it was great for the kids to have so many activities on the go because they didn’t have time to dwell on leaving. They still viewed our stay at the serviced apartment as a glorified holiday; there were play dates and sleepovers galore, and they were really, really busy. Periodically they’d become sad about leaving their friends, but generally they took it in their stride – much better than me.

Since we’ve had the kids, I wear my heart on my sleeve a lot and I find situations like this incredibly hard to deal with. Anything that I know will cause the kids pain resonates deeply, so when H’s teacher had a chat to me about the party they were planning for her last day, I had to dash from the room before I turned to mush. The thought of their last day and both of them being old enough now to really understand what that meant really tugged at the heartstrings.

But don’t you just love the honesty of kids? From that point onwards, if they were ever within earshot of me saying goodbye to someone, they’d quickly look to see whether I’d turned into a blubbering mess.

“Why is your face red?”

“Are you crying again?”

Such sympathetic little souls we’re raising! But was that how they were coping? By making light of the situation? Their laughter – at my expense – seemed to help us all and it’s been amazing to see them so stoic.

It’s such a strange time, just waiting to leave and I know they feel as emotional as I do. Some days you can’t wait to get on the plane and go, yet other times, a chunk of you wishes you were staying. Sometimes, however, I think the kids just get on with things without over-thinking the situation. As H said one day, very matter-of-factly: “No point worrying about the move, it’s happening.” I asked her if she really meant that and she did. “I can’t change anything,” she said. “No point worrying about it.”

And she was right. But we still had to get through the last day of school.

Nitpicking

The house was spotless: the walls gleamed whitely in the morning sun, the floors shone so brightly it hurt to look at them and even the rusty metalwork in the ancient kitchen had been restored to its former glory – well almost. We weren’t miracle workers. We were ready for the handover with the landlord – or were we?

“There’s a mark on the curtain. Must be from your kids…”

“Nooo…it was there beforehand. And here’s a picture.”  Dutifully show picture of stained curtain before we moved in.

“That hose – the one behind the toilet. It’s not working. You broke it.”

“No – it wasn’t working when we moved in. You had plumbers in for six months and they couldn’t fix it. You turned off the water supply and told us not to use it.”

And so it went on. Full of importance, the landlord strode around with her list of things that were broken before we moved in. We argued that it’s not our job as tenants to renovate her house for her. Our agent provided proof to support our claims. Her husband tried to explain to her the “wear and tear” clause in the rental agreement in rather heated Mandarin. I suspect he was slightly embarrassed by her behaviour.

Anyway, after a rather spectacular argument in front of a prospective tenant over an oven light that had never worked, we conceded $45 for its repair. She was happy with her victory and we were simply relieved it was all over.

And we were free, leaving me some time to read Friday’s school newsletters. I skimmed through the articles, looked at the photos, glossed over the notice of the head lice outbreak…

I didn’t think too much more about it until the kids were in the bath that night. Although the only time the kids had been scratching their heads was when I asked them where their library books were, I thought I’d do a quick check, just to be sure.

So, expecting nothing, I idly ruffled the hair of the kid who was first in the bath. Imagine my horror when I saw a few creepy crawlies jumping about happily in their hairy little playground. Ewww. I checked the next child, and the next… and then I had a flashback to a week ago, when I was packing up the kids bathroom.

Remember those moments when you look at an item and think, “No, won’t need that. We’re only in the serviced apartment for a couple of weeks…” Well, I did that with the head lice kit. I always had one in the cupboard for times like this. I remember holding it my hot little hand, looking at it for the longest time before deciding not to pack it. And now I was kicking myself for not bringing it with me.

Hubby was dispatched to  the shops for whatever he could get to kill the little blighters while I raced about stripping pillows and trying to keep the one, unaffected child out of range of the other two.

Unfortunately, the bamboo comb and treatment shampoo wasn’t a patch on the metal one that was sailing the high seas to Australia. So, my first evening free of packing was spent doing what I’d done all morning – nitpicking!

Last day of school tomorrow…

“Mum, I’m sad…”

Poor H – tomorrow’s going to be tough. Conflicting emotions are really surfacing tonight. She’s worried about saying goodbye to her friends, but she’s a bit excited about the little farewell party they’re throwing for her in class. And then she remembers the reason for the party and she’s sad again.

I noticed that she’s packed the school year book in her hand luggage so she can have it with her when we land. And T’s been thumbing madly through the photo book his friends gave him on the weekend. There’s a great picture of him and his little mates beaming out from the front cover and I must admit, that’s as far as I’ve got – it’ll be a while before I’m brave enough to look inside.

They’ve got a wonderful bunch of friends here and it’s been such a pleasure getting to know their buddies and seeing the friendships develop. Knowing that we’ve put them – again – in a situation where they have to say goodbye and start afresh weighs heavily on me. It’s simply awful seeing them trying to deal with a situation that you, yourself, are struggling through. Kids, like us, form strong bonds with their friends and mine are certainly old enough to understand how the move will impact them. I know they’ll stay in touch via electronic media (and I hope through snail-mail too), but missing the games of tag and a good laugh after school will leave a void.

I still remember the last day of school in The Hague and it was a shocker. Lots of people were leaving at the time and after everyone had said their goodbyes, there wasn’t a dry eye in the playground – parents, kids and the teachers alike. The kids had friends who were British, Irish, Dutch, Finnish…and we all knew it’ll be a long while before we see each other again, if at all.

We’re luckier this time around, as quite a few of their friends here are from Melbourne. It’s comforting to know that eventually they’ll come home too – either on visits or for good, which makes it a little easier to leave them. But only just.

Tomorrow’s going to be tough, but in a lot of ways, so are the kids.  I honestly think they’ll get through this day better than me.

And as for me – I’ll just keep my sunglasses on.

The day after the packers

You walk in and the house looks like a tip. Your heart sinks at the sight of the cardboard fragments and tiny strips of packing tape stuck to the floors, knowing you’ll soon be kneeling on the marble tiles, scrubbing them off. The walls hold shadows of your furniture and the house is eerily silent. Mechanically you attack the walls, the floors, cleaning away until every trace of you has gone. But you can’t erase the memories. And this is the day that I usually come undone.

When we moved from The Hague, I went from room to room, mop in hand, blubbering like a small child who’d lost their favourite toy. I was bereft, as this was one place I did not want to leave. All my kids were born here – we had a real connection to the country.

This time though, I wasn’t particularly emotional and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because we’re moving home for good? Maybe I’d become inured to our temporary existence? Or perhaps I was so cranky with our grasping, greedy landlord that I didn’t have time to be sad? Despite the house being in a much better state than when we moved in, I was still worried about the handover because despite our best efforts, she’d still find something to moan about.

Anyway, I thought once the kids were here and saw the empty house, the full impact of the move would hit them and we’d have a good old cry together about leaving. Wrong again.

Them: “Cool, I can do cartwheels in the lounge room!” “No, let’s play tag, there’s more room now…”

Me, screaming: “Don’t touch the walls, we’ve just spent the day cleaning them!”

I watched carefully for a reaction, which was pretty hard as they were bounding from room-to-room, their laughter echoing loudly off the empty walls. The only tears occurred when one of them ran into a doorframe.

Perhaps it’s just time to go home?