Eye-gouging and elbows

Singapore felt extraordinarily safe and I never thought twice about catching public transport home late at night. Sure, bad things did happen but as the local news rarely reported anything more serious than a handbag theft, you had a rather unrealistic sense of safety.

But particularly now that I’m walking home in the dark along dimly-lit streets while the media goes into a frenzy every time something goes bump in the night, my thoughts have turned to personal safety. How safe is Melbourne?

I’d always said that if I had a daughter, I’d get her involved in some sort of martial art so that if she was attacked or confronted in any way, she’d have some skills to try and fight her way out of the situation. She started karate two years ago, and we’ve found an excellent dojo in Melbourne to continue her training. Rightly or wrongly, I enrolled the boys in as well and I’m dreading the day they use their new-found skills in daily squabbles. But, I’m hoping that anything they learn will reduce their risk of becoming a victim.

With that in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to take part in the Female Urban Combat course that Samurai Karate were offering in my area. Sensei Paul Mitchell has been running self-defence courses for women in Australia for over 33 years. He runs them free-of-charge and is passionate about empowering women to defend themselves. Donations raised on the day went directly to support White Ribbon.

The emphasis of his training was not just to teach you how to survive a dangerous situation, but how to avoid getting into that situation in the first place.

We spent an enjoyable day learning how to punch, kick, elbow and eye-gouge along with safety techniques for day-to-day situations. Travelling on public transport, approaching your car in a car park – even walking down a crowded street should require a high level of awareness of your surroundings and Sensei Paul taught us well. He made it crystal clear that simple, everyday things that we do – like being plugged into your phone while you’re walking, or wearing your backpack properly on both shoulders – will significantly increase your risk of becoming a victim.

I can’t thank Sensei Paul and his team of volunteers enough for the skills he’s shown me. I hope I never need to use the direct conflict techniques but have definitely taken onboard the other skills he spoke about.

The course is open to females aged 15 and over and it’s a day that every women should experience. I urge you to  register online and find out where his next course will be.

Stay safe.

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Keeping positive

A recent horoscope advised “Rid yourself of toxic people…”

It made me laugh, but it also made me think a lot. Maybe my horoscope was right? Like a festering sore, negative people get under your skin, eating away at your self-confidence, leaving you insecure and unsettled – exactly the emotions you don’t need after relocating.

But for every negative person you meet, there are about five positive ones out there, all happy to have a chat.

A recent family reunion bore testament to that. Although we arrived late due to karate lessons because of an imminent grading, we got there in the end and I’m so glad we did. We’ve normally missed these sort of gatherings and my kids barely know anyone on Mum’s side of the family.

 

I find people fascinating and everyone has a story to tell. One cousin had run a pub, another runs her own business. One found romance after a chance meeting with an old acquaintance at a party a few years ago and yet another owns a bob-cat and a tip truck!

Cousin J rounded up the troops along with paper and pens and before long, they’d drafted up a family tree. It was a brilliant idea, generating much discussion and laughter as they tried to figure out who went where. But I think the most interesting…or rather, disturbing…stories came from the cousin with the voodoo doll and its uses.

I managed to persuade another cousin to stay for a drink and a chat after most people had gone for the evening. We’d gone to school together and it was really nice to reconnect after such a long time. She’d lived in the west for a time and knew exactly what it was like to relocate.

We had a lovely afternoon and I hope that there’ll be another gathering in the not-too-distant future.

A BBQ back at home with close friends capped off weekend – and my new resolution. Listen,  empathise – but be positive! I want my glass to stay half-full (well, full, actually, but that’s another story.)

Life’s too short. Be true to yourself.

 

Random conversations

Today I had to have some tests done. As the radiologist flicked through the pile of previous scans from various countries, she finally asked me where the most recent one was.

Good question – I have no idea. I’m sure it was packed but where it is now is anyone’s guess. I explained we’d been out of the country for quite a while and she became quite excited when I told her where.

“Me too!” she whispered, like it was a dirty little secret. And it struck me again how difficult it can be to talk about your former life lest you sound like you’re bragging. But what else have I got to say?

Sometimes, I must admit, I feel lost in conversations because I can’t relate to what people are talking about. Half the time I’ve got no idea what area, what group or which child they mean. The only experiences I can contribute see me starting a sentence with “in Singapore…” and each time I do that, I inwardly cringe.

I know it’s probably just my paranoia making me self-conscious and most likely people don’t notice, but in the early stages of friendship, I don’t want to come across as brash or overbearing by scattering snippets of our overseas existence into conversations.

So it was quite nice to have a chat with someone who had, as it turned out, a surprisingly similar experience to me. Same length of time away, we’d lived in the same country and her feelings of displacement when they first repatriated were exactly what I am experiencing now.

Basically, her husband had had enough after 10 years and wanted to return home. By that stage, they were living in Singapore and she was happy there but home they came. She said it took her approximately two years to assimilate and that she still missed the expat life. Despite enjoying her life in Australia now, she’s holding out hope that one day they’ll relocate again.

I wonder if the wanderlust ever leaves you?

And then the bubble burst

It was just a matter of time, really. Everything had been ticking along really well, so it was a bit of a shock when the kids fell to pieces within days of each other.

We’ve been talking openly about the move, about leaving Singapore, about how they were coping and everything seemed rosy, but all it takes is a playground incident, a photo, and what they’ve left behind comes flooding right back.

For H, it was the school camp. She was really excited about going to Phillip Island…until the night before.

“Why are you making me go? No-one ever goes on camp after being at school for only one week!” She burst into tears and no amount of reassurance could calm her down. And we understood – it was completely reasonable for her to feel nervous about a trip away with complete strangers so soon after starting a new school in what is mostly for a her, a foreign country.

We chose not to point out it had been her choice to go on the camp but instead tackled the task of finding out what had caused the emotional outburst. Eventually we figured out that she was worried about no-one wanting to sit next to her on the bus. That – and the memory of the camp she’d been on earlier this year with her Singapore buddies – was weighing heavily on her mind.

For T, it was Monday at school. His little mate was away and although he’d played with some of the other kids too, they decided he was ‘too tall’ to play and excluded him from their games. Luckily H saw how upset he was in the playground and looked after him, but his confidence had taken a massive hit.

When he came home that afternoon, he was really sad. “I just want my friends back…” he sobbed. “They don’t care that I’m tall.” OK, swallow that lump, blink rapidly and try not to think of how you’ve emotionally scarred your children by moving – again – while explaining that things will get better in time…

But the one that really threw me was S. When they’re so young, you think that they’ll just roll with the move and it won’t affect them too much, but once again I was proven wrong.

Out of the blue one morning, S became quite distraught and he came over for a hug.

“I miss school,” he cried. “I want Miss M and Miss K.” And then he rattled off the list of kids in his class. “I want to go there now!”

S had rarely mentioned Singapore in the whole time we’ve been back, and quite simply, appeared happy just to have the backyard and a few catchups with his little friend E. But obviously he’s thinking a lot but probably doesn’t have the vocabulary to verbalise what’s he’s feeling. And it was harder to explain to him why we couldn’t just ‘go back’ and see everyone – he clearly has no concept of time and distance!

Anyway, fast-forward a few days – H had a great time at camp and  she made a few new friends; T’s mate was back on Tuesday and all was well in his world again; and S had a playdate with E and was happy.

I know there’ll be more rough patches ahead as they try to fit in, but as we keep telling them, each day will get a little easier. And like all our other relocations, it’s just going to take a bit of time.

Family matters

“So, are you going to the party on the weekend?” Big brother raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to one side. “Well?”

I hadn’t forgotten…but the memory of the invitation had been packed away as carefully as our glassware in bubble wrap – which we were still discovering in the pile of boxes that littered the floor.

My aunt was turning 90 and a surprise party had been arranged quite some time ago – on the same weekend that our container was due to arrive. I’d expected to be knee-deep in boxes however, by some miraculous stroke of fate, everything had arrived a week early. But as I eyed off the clutter we were living amongst – and  trying to ignore – I realised:

  1. The bedrooms had beds in them;
  2. The kitchen was workable – and even contained some food; and
  3. There was a good stock of loo paper.

What more did we need? After all, she was turning 90. So why not?

The “do” was an afternoon tea in Corowa, a lovely little spot on the Victorian/New South Wales border. It was a good three-hour drive and I decided to drive up with my brother, leaving the family behind to enjoy a little more unpacking. Staying overnight would have been great, but timing was a little tight. My brother had to be in Queensland on Monday and I was starting the new job, so we decided we’d better go up and back in the day.

So off we went! W and I had done loads of these trips in the past and it was great to be on the road again. Before I left Australia, we used to talk almost daily but with time-differences, small children and school routines, the habit was not easily replicated overseas.  Those little routines, that closeness you have with your family – it’s sorely missed when you’re away.

After a quick brunch in a quaint little town, we drove on and suddenly we were there. And it felt wonderful. Over the years, I’ve lost count of the birthdays, weddings, christenings we’ve missed and to finally be able to attend something was fabulous.

There’s just something special about being immersed in your family – that sense of belonging, that you’re a part of something bigger. Of course, a lot had changed – we were all a little older, there were a few new additions to the clan and even I was rolling out the phrase “Gee, haven’t you grown!”

Auntie J had a terrific time and the afternoon rolled into evening far too quickly. Then it was decision time. Do we crash on a couch for the night or take the sensible option and head home? Big bro, always the party guy, surprised me by choosing the sensible option.

Perhaps we’ve all grown up…just a little.

An unexpected opportunity

“So, you’ll be back in October? We’ve got a project you might be interested in…”

I’d flown back to Melbourne for an awards night and was catching up with a good friend and old work colleague for a coffee and a chat.

“Sure,” I said, thinking nothing would come of it. How employable was I after ten years in baby boot camp? Certainly I can multi-task – heck, I’m doing it now as I blog – but to be considered again for a professional job? Really? No…but the seed was planted…and promptly forgotten when we started sorting out things for the move.

So imagine my surprise when shortly before we moved I received an email asking for my hourly rate, ABN number and an up-to-date CV. This could actually happen! I threw in a few clothes just in case I was called up for an interview and once again got lost in the world of packing.

A few weeks and a couple of calls later, I was staring in horror at my wardrobe, as I dressed for an interview. Why was there a hole in my dress? What  was wrong with my only pair of decent “work” shoes? Three years of humidity is rather harsh on leather and as I desperately tried to polish off the flaky bits, I hastily attempted to fix my dress. It wasn’t until I wobbled off towards the station that I discovered my heels had no caps on them anymore.

But to be on a train, heading into the city and having time to finally think about employment again, I realised how much of a confidence boost it was to be considered for a role.

I must admit though, I felt like a bit of a fraud as I skidded over the marble tiles to the reception desk. And as I sat there talking to my potential employer with a hand covering the torn dress and my shabby shoes firmly planted under the table, I felt like the poor cousin looking for charity.

Anyway, the interview went well and the role seems a bit like a new-and-improved version of my job 10 years ago. The people I’ll be working with are lovely and once I get over my confidence issue, I know I’ll be fine. The kids, however, weren’t too keen when I told them I’ll be working full-time for 14 weeks. Given the life we’ve led, working anything more than part-time from home wasn’t really an option for me. The kids have never given a moments’ thought that I might be the one to rejoin the workforce.

After the shock wore off, H fully embraced the fact that I’d have to go clothes shopping and as she teetered about in a pair of high, high heels, she confided that she felt “a little sad that I won’t be there during the day.”

There’s no doubt me working will be an adjustment for all of us, hubby included, but we’ll adapt – we always have.

So, feeling excited/nervous/flattered and incredibly grateful for the opportunity I start work on Monday and despite being excited/nervous/flattered, I can’t wait. Wish me luck!

It’s the simple things

We rolled up to school early on the first day. I’d discovered long ago that the kids deal best with new situations when we’re the first to arrive. I fully understand where they’re coming from – I dread walking into a crowd, particularly when you don’t know anyone. Ironically, I think my fear of facing a roomful of people stems from starting a new school when I was around the same age as T. Although I’m better at managing my fear as I’ve gotten older, it’s still something I’ve never quite shaken.

H had been quite nervous the night before and had had trouble sleeping. She took a fair bit of coaxing just to get her into the school grounds, despite us being the only ones there.

T, on the other hand, had been looking forward to starting school for the entire holiday break. He ran through the gates, yelling “Look at the grass – it’s real!” and took off. Within about a minute he’d met a little guy from his class, pinched a watering can from the Assistant Principal and was happily sloshing water around the school garden.

H was happy to sit with me in reception with the office staff and go through the laundry list of paperwork we’d had trouble supplying until we’d gotten a fixed address until the bell rang. We deposited her with her teacher and spent the day wondering how she was faring. We assumed that T, who had disappeared with the watering can and his mate, was doing just fine and hoped that he’d parked himself in the right classroom for the day.

When we went to collect them that afternoon, T bounded out of the building with a huge smile on his face. “There’s so much space!” was his only revelation about the days’ activities as he sped past us to start a game of tag.

H was a little more reserved, but had made a friend and was excited about the camp next week. She never ceases to amaze me – she was so terribly worried about her first day but excited to go away for two nights with a group of complete strangers?

No matter how hard we try to analyse a situation, or worry about how to make a tricky or stressful situation easier for the munchkins, sometimes it’s just the simple things that pave the way. Play equipment, real grass, some space, the thought of a trip away – and one friend. That’s all it took.