Even with the long flight and time it took to settle the kids, even with some truly magnificent toddler meltdowns as we all grappled with time change, climate change, living quarters change – it was a summer nothing short of idyllic. The kids were outside almost permanently, pottering around the garden with nana, swimming in the sea, lying on their bellies on the deck birdwatching. It was hot and sunny, the cicadas sang everyday, outsung only by the kookaburras. The kids got bitten by mozzies, die Lüdde copped a jellyfish sting, there were spiders, a gecko, a wallaby, a clutch of bush turkeys to watch and, okay, feed but only occasionally. The kids learnt to differentiate between cockatoos, lorikeets, mynahs, kookaburras, and king parrots. We barbecued most nights, found the best fish and chips and every morning there’d be a call for the tennis to go on, often from my own little daughter, who’d pull up a chair and yell ‘come onnnnn’ at the screen. It was wonderful.
It was also hard to leave. The hardest it has been in a while, perhaps ever. Normally, towards the end of a long trip away – and trips home are always long, they have to be – I am ready to return home and get stuck back into daily life, refuelled by family and sun and Aussie-ness. But this time I could have stayed another month. It was a reluctant departure, a slow trudge back to the cold, back to the other side of the world, alway from my parents and sister and aunts and uncles. Away from my Nana, whose mind and memories are being constantly, cruelly reshuffled by Dementia. Away from old friends and their kids who would otherwise be over to play all the time. Away from a certain type of ease that defines being in your birth place, your language, your culture.
In the lead up to this trip, we lost my Pa and his wife in an unexpected double whammy that made getting home seem desperate. On Christmas Eve, my cousins’ Oma, a tough, funny, loving Dutch woman who made northern NSW her home in the 1950s, had a massive stroke she never woke up from. She died a few days later, closing out five weeks in which our family lost three of our stalwarts. We’ve only really just stopped reeling; started exhaling, letting in the fresh air of a new year. Peeling away from everyone after a period of loss and then a period of family time we haven’t had in years, tested a lot of the resolve I have built regarding life here, on the other side of the world.
And tucked in there somewhere, was another element of this adventure I am on, the one I have chosen; as my children grow, their relationships with their Australian family do too. It is simply the nature of the beast that friends and family don’t see your children for chunks of time and with that can come the sense and heaviness of things missed – birthdays, milestones, babyhoods. The flipside is, of course, that when we do see each other, it is concentrated and held tight and the kids spend weeks with Nana and Pa that they wouldn’t if we lived closer. But one feels the glibness of time so keenly with children, because they are in such a hurry to grow up. Three years ago we were proudly showing off a four-month old baby; this time there were two carseats in the rental and an opinionated 18-month-old in the mix. A few years, at this stage of our lives, can include change both incremental and seismic; a hole in the sky opens and new souls enter, others depart.
I think, and I have been thinking endlessly about why I am still holding on so fiercely to the past six weeks, is that it wasn’t long enough. It wasn’t long enough to carry me through the next pocket of time. Or perhaps, conversely, it was long enough for my toes to dig deeply enough into the sand; long enough that we had to be unearthed.
I suppose, this is the next little while. The next part of this that I need to sit with and adjust to. It is a lucky life I lead, only enriched by all that makes it difficult. Now that the babies aren’t babies anymore, and the shine of foreign life has dimmed to a more normal glow, now that I have established my own relationship with my two homes, I can see what awaits; overseeing my children put down their roots in two countries and being sure to nurture their relationship with the other side of the world.