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.

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.

 

Something had to give…

And sadly, it’s been my blog. Juggling work, the kids, the activities and trying to ‘fit in’ again is taking its toll. Work is crazy busy, and like the majority of the world’s population, I wish there were a few more hours in the day to get things done.

The kids aren’t particularly happy with the current arrangement, particularly S. Despite settling nicely into kindy, he’s taken to barricading the door again when I leave the house in the morning. And if that doesn’t tug at the heartstrings, he greets me at the door in the evenings saying “I’ve been crying for you, Mummy.”

I think he’s feeling a bit insecure; he won’t go into rooms on his own anymore, he’s frequently checking to see where we are and when once he would go to bed and fall asleep in an instant, he now constantly comes out to check what we’re doing. I’m not sure what he’s feeling but he’s definitely worrying about something and can’t articulate it, the poor little love.

He still talks about “yesterday, when we were in Singapore…” Maybe he’s worried we’ll move again? Or perhaps he just wants his mum? Who knows what’s troubling a four-year-old?

The other two are fantastic with him. They play with him, they make him laugh and hugs are plentiful when he’s sad. They understand – they’ve lived through what he’s going through numerous times themselves. It seems that even if their memories of life overseas start to fade as they settle down here,  one thing has been ingrained into their being – a whacking great dose of empathy. They fight, they bicker, they tell tales on each other but despite all that, they still look out for each other.

It’s been a mad few months for us all and for the most part, I think we feel pretty settled, except for those times when we don’t… Sometimes, some days, there’s a little niggle of “what if we’d stayed..?” But it’s not so much for the country we’ve left, it’s the people you leave behind. And I think that’s how S feels. He still rattles off the names of the kids he was in pre-school over there with.

Anyway, the end is in sight; the project I’m working on will settle down (hopefully) in a few weeks, and life won’t be so hectic. We just need more time.

 

 

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?

Mother guilt and the disconnect

“Mum…can you really work?”

When I announced to the minions that I had a job, the look of stunned disbelief I received was enough to send me headlong into morning peak hour traffic. How could they know so little about the person I was before they came along? It’s not like we’d never talked about it. Whatever the case, I was suddenly desperate to prove to them – and myself – that I could still make a positive impact in the workforce.

It took a few minutes, but finally the kids realised I wasn’t joking and yes, I was going back to work full-time. Everything went quiet, until a little, wavery voice broke the silence. “But we’ll miss you…”

The feeling was mutual. Apart from a few weekends away with the girls, I’d always been home with the kids. It was strange to think I’d be away from them now for large chunks of time over the next four months.

I must admit though, it felt great to be getting dressed up for work, knowing my clothes would survive the day without being used as a hankie. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t savour the half-hour train journey as I happily read my book without interruption, gleeful in the knowledge that I had another half-hour on the way home.

The guilt kicks in quickly though. A little niggle started from that first morning when I tried to leave the house. The kids blocked the doorway and then clung to my legs as I attempted to escape. The cries of “don’t go, Mummy” and “we’ll miss you” echoed in my ears as I rushed for the train. Was I doing the right thing? Personally and developmentally for me, yes. But given it was so soon after we’d moved, with so many changes already in their lives, maybe not? But it was a great opportunity, so why not? Guilty little arguments ran around my head for days.

And the guilt never stops. I’ve really enjoyed working again, but a few weeks in, I’m feeling a disconnect between their lives and mine. Hubby is doing a wonderful job, settling the kids into school, getting to know their friends, the teachers, and for the first time ever, I’ve not been involved in any of it. I’ve had to deflect questions about their after-school-activities to my husband and felt like such a bad mother for not knowing more than the vaguest of details.

Time is an issue now too. From the moment I leave the house, until I drag myself to bed, there’s hardly a moment to spare. Everyone wants a piece of your time when you get home and it’s hard to say no. The baking I used to do during the day is now done at night after bedtime stories and snuggles, and keeping up my writing is proving almost impossible.

Even now, as I’m writing my first post in weeks, I’m cooking pancakes, pouring apple juice and wondering what I’m going to feed the dinner guests we’ve got coming over tonight.

If nothing else, I think all of us – including the kids – have a new appreciation of everyone’s role in the household, both former and current. Whether you’re the breadwinner or the stay-at-home parent, both roles are not without their challenges and sometimes it takes a stroll in the other one’s shoes to work this out.

For now, I’ll keep peeling S off my leg in the mornings and rehashing the day with the kids in the evenings, trying to quash that niggling question of, “Am I doing enough?”

In the end, there’s only so much you can cram into each day, which I’m gradually coming to grips with. Which means right now, I’m trying to cram in only the stuff that matters. Easier said than done, but something to work towards.

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.

The day before the packers arrive

You wake early. You’ve barely slept and already you feel like the weight of the world is pressing down on your chest. Your breathing’s shallow and a million thoughts race through your head faster than the kids running inside for dessert.

Quickly you throw breakfast at the family, gulping down bites of your own while shoving items in boxes before you forget why you’ve got them in your hand in the first place.

You turn off the freezer, start emptying a cupboard and then rush to the bedroom to chuck things in a suitcase. In your haste to get back to the kitchen, you thump painfully into the doorframe right before you slip on the water that’s leaked from the slowly defrosting freezer. And then you realise you’ve just packed the towels that were meant to sop up the mess.

What a crazy day this always is! Emotionally-charged, frantically busy and no matter how much you’ve planned for it, there is always a ridiculous amount of work to be done before the packers arrive. The kitchen is the worst – any plastic containers need to be washed and dried, appliances need to be squeaky-clean else you’ll be in for a nasty surprise after six weeks of shipping, wet towels need to be dried lest they go mouldy in the container. And try explaining all that to the kids!

Finally, exhausted, you realise that no matter what – everything will get packed, including the flip flops that H forgot to put in her suitcase. She just won’t see them for five-to-eight weeks which is not a problem, given it’s winter in Melbourne.

And the serviced apartment? Well, you can eat at the hawker market and if that doesn’t work, cheese-on-toast is a good alternative.

After many moves, I’ve finally come to the realisation that you can’t think of everything. What you thought you would need – you don’t. What you really do need – you never thought of. But we’re lucky that we’re moving to a country where you can buy it.

So after a week of over-planning, I’ve called it quits. We’ll deal with the consequences in Melbourne and that’s not a bad place to be.

Life goes on…and H will just have to wear school shoes for a while!