Our Nation’s Capital

A flash back to last weekend, where we traveled to Canberra for my sweet nephew’s first birthday. We did a road trip – it’s only a three hour drive away – but those three hours can seem like eternity with a munchkin who thinks the car is cruel torture (second only to the cot). We were lucky though – this time, she slept and played and only cried for about half an hour, so it was definitely a win.

This time of year the road is studded with wattle (and police cars). While she slept, we speculated about our first week in Switzerland – we’re planning to orientate ourselves in our new town, get as much sun as we can, find some local markets (for me) and parks (for her), and have a lovely lunch somewhere special on Sunday for Tim’s first official Father’s Day. It was surreal making plans for the unknown against such a familiar backdrop.

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Catching up with my sister was, as always, wonderful. The party was lovely; he’s an adorable child and it tugged at my heart a little that we won’t be closer to him as he grows. The little cousins don’t really play together yet, but they played sweetly near each other (and sometimes not so sweetly. Fletch pummelled into Adelaide’s butt and she poked at his eyes and pulled his hair, while Jen and I kept saying ‘gentle, gentle’ fruitlessly). They’re coming to visit us for Adelaide’s first birthday and the second Christmas for both kids, and I am already excited (mainly as I intend to make my sister decorate for the girl’s party).

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Bubbles flowed freely (mostly!) as we celebrated not only the smiley, chilled, ridiculously chubby lad but also the fabulous job his folks are doing, and how much nicer the world is with him in it. (We also let the lass try cake for the first time. I am not sure how a child of mine is suspicious of cake.)

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Hotel living

It took one shipping container, two days, three coffee runs (precariously juggling trays of coffee and a baby for several blocks), four cleaners and eight removalists but we are now out. Our worldly goods are separated into sea and air freight, and although there was a moment when we realised the coffee machine had been packed with water and beans still in it, the situation was rectified and we’ll see it all on the other side. Leaving our home, I grabbed a handful of the newly blooming jasmine from our fence, and it’s now perfuming our otherwise blandly generic hotel room (well, jasmine and eau du weetbix, lopped everywhere by the baby this morning).

The night we arrived things started to feel real. As we were loading our car (passports, check; baby, check) it hit me – it’s just the three of us now, exploring the world together, unencumbered by possessions, routines, rules. I felt light, free. (Of course, as soon as we arrived at the hotel, possessions, routines and rules became the thing I tried to organise and establish immediately. Ha.)

I had done a bit of research prior to moving here about hotel living with a baby, particularly around food preparation (our girl is a good eater, but still primarily eating purees slash mush). There were a surprising number of articles on how to make toasted sandwiches with an iron, how to cook soup in a coffee pot, and how to reheat food with a hairdryer. Wow, people, just…wow. Surely if you are going to procure everything to fix a sandwich, wrap it in foil and proceed to iron it you could just, I dunno, buy a toasted sandwich? We decided to go with fresh fruit and yogurt (which we’ll feed to the baby and sneak out for pastries for ourselves, I suspect).

We’ve tried to set the place up to be as comfortable as possible, since we’re here for a week. We’ve obviously unpacked, and made the baby’s room up with the monitor and her little travel cot and change station. We’ve set up a play area for her, with the few toys and books we’re taking with us. She promptly ignored it and has spent her time playing with the bin, television remotes and any and all power points. She is halfway through learning to wave (she’s got the action, just no idea of context yet) so a fair bit of time is spent by all of us waving aimlessly at each other. Living the dream, so we are.

The rest of our time is being spent catching up with friends and family, and finalising the last few chores before we go. We need to sell our car – and speaking of scams, we were hit with one ourselves. Tim’s advertised the car on a prominent website for car sales, and we’ve had several queries. One, fairly early on, came from ‘Henry’. Henry was a (supposedly generous) father who wished to buy our car for his son; the pickle was that he is a sailor and lives on board a boat. He claimed he has no access to his bank account or his credit card (yet he does to the internet, email and car sales dot com). He offered to pay us an extra $300 to remove the ad, but stipulated that the car would need to be couriered to Darwin as a surprise for his son. Tim was immediately suspicious, but I am embarrassed to admit that I thought it was feasible; primarily because I didn’t see how we would be at risk. We wouldn’t be handing over either the car or any cash so I wasn’t sure how we’d be hoodwinked. Tim sent a fairly lengthy email back detailing what we’d expect before any transaction occurred (‘Henry’s’ license details, a paypal contract, no liability with couriers etc) and of course we heard nothing back. I later googled it and it’s known as the Oceanographer Scam (rather than being a sailor often the scammer poses as an oceanographer, whatever that may be) – basically, people agree to a paypal transaction where they receive the money and then send on several thousand to the ‘couriers’. After this is done, the Henrys get a full refund from paypal (which generally favours the buyer not the seller), leaving the seller a few grand out of pocket. We had a brief encounter with scammers on holidays a few years ago, so I am totally mortified I thought it may have been legit (sketchy, but legit). Anyhoo, no harm done, and we have a real life guy coming to look at it this morning – although given the fact we’re living in a hotel, he may have some question marks about how legit we are.

The last supper

It’s the final night in our house. Tomorrow, between half 8 and half 9 depending on the weather, the removalists arrive and pack our worldly goods into either sea or air freight. We’ll see everything on the other side (I’m kinda thinking it might be like a really predictable Christmas, where you sort of know everything you’re going to get but are still mildly surprised when it arrives).

I love this house. I love cooking in the kitchen while chatting to people sitting at our table. I love the busy front yard, sitting on the stoop, watching people go by. I love balmy nights with the back doors open and cosy winter nights cuddled in the front room. I love stormy days huddled in the girl’s room, feeding and snoozing and hearing the rain pelt outside. Perhaps the thing I love the most is lying in bed before dawn with the balcony door open; the chill air, glimpses of trees and bird song juxtaposed against the snuggly warmth and comfort of my bed.

I don’t consider myself to be a sentimental person, but this week I’ve been almost maudlin. I realised this afternoon that it would be the last time we would hang out in her nursery as the day wound down. It’s my favourite part of the day. We head up there after she’s had her dinner, glass of wine in hand (mine, but she’s usually grabbing for it. That’s my lass). If we’ve guests over, they frequently come with us for an unconventional cocktail hour, but more often than not it’s just the two of us. I plop her down and let her roam. When she was small, she’d lie on the mat and I’d watch, exhausted and scared, as she struggled to raise a tiny arm or keep her eyes focused on one of the dangling toys. The most subtle of movements became everything when she did it for the first time. Sometimes we read, but generally my girl is more interested in moving, exploring. There are days I ignore her and read a book, play on my phone, watch something on the computer; these afternoons are more about restoring my sanity than active parenting. On golden afternoons, like today, we play off each other. Each of us does our own thing (she chewed paper, I packed her winter clothes) but keeps the other in check – a side glimpse, a brief touch, a feverish shake of the head when looked at (her new best trick) followed by a guffaw (she thinks she is hilarious); it feels natural, relaxed. It’s our time, and it feels like we both know it.

Mel came over for dinner tonight, armed with two bottles of wine and a platter of presidential proportions. I lived with her when I first moved home from Ireland, and we moved to Marrickville together not long after (and it was through her I met my Tim) – it felt fitting to spend my last night in Da Ville necking wine and scoffing cheese with her. I feel so grateful for her, for all the friends we have and love here – but as I said, maudlin.

So, tomorrow. They’ll arrive and pack. We move to a hotel for a week. Then there will be 22 hours of hell, after which we arrive in our new home. I am the luckiest girl in the world, but if I get to have one more wish come true, it’s that I hope that our new home holds as many happy memories as this one.

Beautiful Barossa

My mother grew up in a small town called Nuriootpa. It’s about 5000 people strong, and it’s one of the villages that cluster to make the Barossa Valley. We spent many holidays there as kids and many more as boozy adults, enjoying the wine and food that the area has to offer. I can think of nowhere else in Australia that I love more, for its familiarity, deliciousness and beauty.

We took the girl there to say happy birthday and farewell to my other grandmother. Late winter is one of my favourite times of year to be in the Barossa. The vines are bare, black and twisted, criss-crossing over the lush green hills. The almond trees are starting to bloom, their white flowers delicate yet stark against the grey winter skies. The cream pebbled roads have the same smell they’ve always had, an indescribable earthy scent that I’ve only ever smelled in the Barossa, sucked greedily through chilled nostrils. And, as always, the food and wine is indulgent, an unashamed feature of the area. We ate our fill of mettwurst, fritz (!), black pudding, horseshoes; all the German delights I’ve been eating since I was a child which astoundingly taste the same, year after year.

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I have so many memories linked to this place from my earliest years. Many are hazy: more shadows, senses, than tangible recollections. Amongst those that stand out is of Papa, my great grandfather. He was a man who always wore a three piece suit, and looked well in it. He lived across the road from a bakery in Tanunda; I was visiting one afternoon. Granny, his wife, gave (in hindsight faux) strict instructions not to visit said bakery and definitely not to buy any jam filled doughnuts. Papa took me there directly, and we walked together around the block multiple times until I had finished eating the afore mentioned forbidden treat. It was my first feeling of being a co-conspirator. I like to think that Granny enjoyed the view from inside.

There are later and more concrete memories too, of course. Holidays with my sister, drinking butchers at the local. A fortnight spent with Hotel fixing up my grandparent’s house – hard labour during the day and delicious wine to soothe the pains at night. But more than anything, the Barossa is synonymous with my grandparents*.

My grandfather, Merv, was a joiner. Skilled with his hands, he turned wood for a hobby long after he retired. Our house is peppered with his craft – the nut cracker he gave me for my 21st birthday, a small lidded vessel that holds my wedding ring, countless small bowls with the inscription of the type of timber on the bottoms in his familiar hand. Each is turned lovingly, the grain of the wood showcased. He saw beauty in fallen trees he’d find on the side of the road – he collected these for years, filling two whole sheds with future projects. He passed away a few years ago. I loved him dearly and I wish he had a chance to meet my girl.

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Elinor, his wife and my grandmother, could well be a contender for the sweetest woman that ever did live. She is the perfect embodiment of a grandmother – soft, grey, kind, endlessly interested, and always with a lolly within close reach. My mother says her dream was to be a school teacher. Instead, she was a wife and mother in an era when it was quite normal for this to be one’s career. We worried when my grandfather died – this was a woman who’d never managed the family budget, who’d been supported all her life. Of course we underestimated her completely. She volunteers in the library, catches up with old friends and remains as sweet as ever. She calls Adelaide ‘that dear little girl’ and my heart sings every time I hear her say it.

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It’s not possible to do the Grandparent Farewell Tour without being acutely aware that it could be, will likely be, a final farewell. When I left to travel overseas in my youth, mortality (of both myself and my grandparents) was insignificant, not on my radar. (I was far more interested in the mortality of my liver.) The passage of time and the advent of my girl have completely changed my perspective. Logically I know that my grandparents will die, and likely soon, but conceptually I can’t make heads or tails of it.

The funny thing is, although he passed away several years ago now, I don’t feel that my grandfather is gone. Perhaps because although a constant part of my life, he was also distant – he lived far away and I only saw him irregularly. Perhaps because grandma is still here, and I can’t think of her without thinking of him. Perhaps because I’ve not encountered much in the way of death and haven’t really processed it. Perhaps I am a complete hippy and can’t think of death being the end, while memories remain so strong, particularly when I return to the town where he lived and raised his family. I don’t feel he’s missing, for want of a better word, and I can’t imagine feeling differently about my grandmother either.

However it turns out, I feel incredibly lucky. To have memories, connections and history with these people, this place. To have stories to tell my girl of the family who came before her. And maybe even to walk with her around the block while she shoves illicit baked goods down her gob.

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* And, um, shiraz.

Irma Irene

We’ve started the first of the family farewell runs. Last weekend was Wagga Wagga, my home town, to stay with my parents and have lunch with my 91 year old grandmother. My aunt brought fondue and rosti, my cousin a strawberry Swiss roll, and since we’ll be so close to Italy we all drank prosecco.

I have been so fortunate as to know all my grandparents, and I have memories of four great-grandparents. Although an unquestioned part of my life, something I took for granted, I realise now it’s a luxury my girl may not have. Watching the delight of our own folks becoming grandparents has given me a new perspective on this relationship (and indeed parents, although that’s another story for another day).

The first words Grandma Noller said to me after Adelaide was born were ‘and how is your bottom?’. Apart from not having spoken to her in a while, we aren’t a particularly open family at the best of times and much less so about bodily functions. Partly due to the shell shock of recent labour, partly because she had been a midwife for years, and partly because she caught me completely off guard I told her in detail how said bottom was (over the phone, in my local pub). Fear not, that story shall never be repeated, either here or anywhere else.

A piece of family nomenclature, if you’ll indulge me: Grandma’s mother, who we knew as Grandy, was named Irene. She married a German immigrant farm worker who thought the name Irene was the most beautiful in the world, and together they had four daughters and a son. Each of the daughters was given the name Irene somewhere in their names (the son was named Ron). My grandmother is Irma Irene, and the family tradition has continued as it also my sister’s middle name, and is the planned middle name of the future niece I may have.

Like any grandchild, my thoughts of Grandma are a mixture of memories and relayed facts, often peripheral to her person; more of the ‘Grandma Noller Experience’. There’s the colourful popcorn chains we would make whenever we had Christmas at her house; her gorgeous blooming gardens with all manner of flowers; Spot, the paper dog she’s had in her apartment for years for reasons of which I was never sure; a bacon and tomato dish and handcut egg noodles that she made especially well. There are also her stories – just this weekend, she spoke about her mother nailing the dress of one of the Irenes to the floor so she would not crawl into the open fire while Grandy went to get more wood. She has a motorised scooter to take her into town which she has named Dobbin, and for as long as I can remember she has signed all personal correspondence with a five petalled, scrawled daisy. 

I’ve been wondering how to speak about my grandparents to the girl when she’s older. There will be stories like the above, of course, historical snippets and ‘when we were little’ tales. But I’ll also tell her how taken my grandmother was with her. How she couldn’t take her eyes off my girl, clumsily crawling across her carpet. How she laughed in delight when Adelaide giggled, and how she asked multiple times (thanks to both a slightly faulty memory and my girl being on unusually good behaviour) whether she ever cried. How she’s only ever met my girl twice, and may not see her again, but the love she has for is blatant, obvious, unquestioned. How she didn’t think she’d have any more great-grandchildren, and now within months she has two new ones; and maybe now I’m starting to understand why that matters.

(I probably won’t mention that Adelaide’s best toy of the weekend was an unripe mandarin and that despite eating the peel and recoiling, she nonetheless persisted doing this all afternoon. Bless.)

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The Australian timbre

Hotel and I have been cataloguing the things we think we’ll miss when we leave. Partly because we’ve almost exhausted the ‘where will we visit’ discussion (answer: all the places) but primarily to try and make the most of the things we love during the few short weeks we have left. It goes without saying that family and friends, the people we’ve known forever, will be the gap most sorely felt. But the other, smaller, daily delights that make Australia home are always interesting; it’s a nice reminder of the things we current enjoy.

Food, particularly Asian food, is going to be a killer. I remember coming home from Dublin for a month long holiday and wanting to eat ALL THE YUM CHA. We have a mediocre Thai place across from our house at which we semi-regularly indulge (spicy duck noodles for him, chicken pad see ew for me), and I’m partial to a steaming pork bun from Kylie Kwong’s market stall most weekends. I also cannot live – I exaggerate not – without dumplings. I’ve heard that Asian food is hard to come by in Switzerland, and I already know I’ll be craving all the delicious things. In this general eats category also falls coffee – not such a big deal for me but Tim loves it the most (well, maybe second to red wine). Having said that I sorely missed it in the States; but Italy is a short trip away if Swiss coffee turns out to be a dud.

To continue the gluttonous theme, I’m also going to miss the procurement of food. I have a dreamy routine that I’ve held for years – my Saturday morning excursion to the markets. It was lazier before the girl arrived, but happily it continues: I arrive early, choose my fresh flowers. Shop for veggies with the same people who’ve served me for years and who never fail to ask how the girl is doing. I then grab a coffee and stroll through the other vendors to grab my eggs, bread, the afore mentioned pork bun and then anything that jumps out at me. Last Saturday it was avocados and pine mushrooms, sometimes it’s rhubarb or mandarins or lamb cutlets or broad beans. Anything that looks delicious and will give me an excuse to potter in the kitchen. There will be markets in Switzerland of course – apparently excellent ones – but I’ll miss the comfort of the routine I’ve carved over the years.

We’ll also miss our ‘burb. There’s a park down the end of our street that the girl and I play in most days (by play, I mean I stare vacantly and she rolls around), which has a pool where she does her swimming lessons with Tim on Saturdays (by lessons, I mean goes in and splashes a bit while Tim sings to her). The trees that line our street are spectacular in Autumn and blossom in Spring; we have jasmine on our fence and gardenias near the stoop that scent the night air in summer. We have a local that we love, great cafes close by, and wonderful neighbours who share a wine and kid complaints at the drop of a hat.

I’ll miss – surprisingly to me – my mothers’ group. It’s a story in itself I guess, but I’d assumed I wouldn’t be into it, or at least dreaded the people I’d meet. As it turns out, mine’s great, and they’ve been a big part of helping me feel more settled with my girl. It feels like I’ve just found a gang and now we’re leaving; but one of the awesome things about the facebooks is that I’ll still be in touch and able to spend hours discussing sleep / baby food / gross nappies with people who are vaguely interested.

Tim grew up in the mountains, and we’re both big fans of hiking. One of the attractions of Switzerland is the alps and the walking we’ll be able to do, but we’ll miss the Australian bush. Ostensibly sparse, its hidden surprises of intricate wildflowers, undercurrent of primeval danger, and ever changing microcosms of life are a paradox of which we will never tire. We have been trying to steal snatches of walks where we can, to breathe in the heavy damp eucalypt scent and feast our eyes as much as possible on the wattle which has just started blooming.

Switzerland is land locked and our beaches will be missed, but more than that we’ll miss our harbour. Sydney is a stunning city – her harbour is majestic, captivating; we’ve both lived here for years and yet that sparkling blue or moody grey can still take our breath away. A lazy stroll through the Botanic Gardens, a drink at Opera Bar or even a flirtatious glimpse through the backstreets of Glebe all bring a thrill that make you feel like she’s both a first date and an old friend.

We’re also city folk. Sure, Australia is backwater in some ways and sure, Sydney ain’t no NYC. But we’ll be moving to a teeny tiny town where apparently shops! aren’t! open! on! Sundays! (or after 6pm, but I’ve already used about ten years’ worth of exclamation marks in this sentence so enough already). We’ll miss being able to nip out to see a band, to go to the Wharf theatre, to view the gorgeous fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Admittedly we have done none of these things since we had the girl – man, I was in bed by nine last December 31 – but it ain’t the point.

But most of all, we think we’ll miss our home. We’ve been here for four years, and it’s the place we chose to build a future together. It’s the first place that was purely ours, the two of us together, and it’s the place to which we brought our girl home from the hospital. We’ve had family stay with us here, many drunken dinners and parties, nights where the two of us danced around the kitchen, and a regrettable evening getting tanked and reciting poetry in honour of Banjo Patterson’s anniversary. I’ve spent countless hours watching our girl grow here – from sleeping all day in her mosquito net covered crib downstairs to wobbling precariously on her knees just this afternoon. I’ve spent rainy afternoons cuddling her to sleep. I’ve sighed with relief when we cross the threshold after a day out, knowing we’re back home, at our own place with its familiar enveloping comfort. None of these are tethered, though. It’s cliched, but I guess there’s a reason for that: we can create our own home wherever we are. It may not have amazing – or indeed any – pork buns each Saturday morning, but it will have the three of us.

Working girl

So, we got hitched. It was exactly how Tim wanted it to be, which is exactly how I wanted it to be. I don’t feel any different at all, but I didn’t expect to. The thing I’m liking most of all, oddly, is him wearing a ring. I’m not sure what to make of that.

I do feel that I can move on to the next stage – preparation for the move overseas. I’ve mentally categorised everything in the house so I’m not too worried (possibly naively) about the packing. I’m not looking forward to the flight, but as an experienced internationally travelling mum told me, it’ll end. It might be hell for 24 hours, but it will end. I am particularly not looking forward to the resettling we’ll have to do with our already unsettled bub, but if she’s already unsettled I guess, logically, how much worse could it be?

The pickle that has been playing on my mind most is work. Gainful employment. Bringin’ home some (as opposed to the) bacon. I wouldn’t describe myself as a career driven person, yet for the last eight or so years I suppose I have been, almost by default. I like being interested in things, and I like doing whatever it is I do well. As such, I had done quite well in my career (in that I definitely had one and talked about it as such). However, about six weeks after I had the baby I took a voluntary redundancy.

It was an extremely difficult decision to make at the time. Not for Hotel, who was probably going to forge my signature on the paperwork if I didn’t make up my mind in the positive. For him it was a no brainer, but for me…I dunno. Part of it was the weird uncertain headspace I was in shortly after she was born; but there was also a sense of giving away part of my identity, something I had worked on for years. Half of me really wanted to keep that but the other half strongly felt having my identity so tied up in work was also kinda lame. Mostly, I felt so disjointed from everything that work was the only part of the old me left – and although it would have been completely different too, I guess I was hanging onto a hope that if I still had my job I’d still feel like me, somehow.

However, after innumerable discussions, spreadsheets and vinos, I signed the papers and let the NSW public sector. It has now been nearly eight months since I worked and although I readily admit that being home with her is not always awesome, I’m not missing my old day job at all. Which brings me to Switzerland. Because Tim is considerate and awesome (there wouldn’t be a ring on it otherwise), he negotiated work visa support for me as part of the relocation package. I’ve had to send over my CV and had a teleconference with the agency, during which we discussed various work options. The upshot is I’ll focus on settling in with the lass first, and then in January start scoping options.

And yet, for the first time that I can recall, I’m not sure I want to work. I don’t mean from a ‘stay at home and live a luxurious life perspective’ (because if it were feasible, I’d have no qualms about that whatsoever), but from a ‘don’t quite know what to do with myself’ perspective. Partly it’s because I haven’t mastered life with a baby enough to be bored yet, but also because I feel a little like I’m in a vacuum. I’d intended to return to study after taking the VR; not really logistically viable in Switzerland. Although to be honest, even if we weren’t going, I’d be in no rush to go back to study either. For the first time I feel…inertia.

Perhaps it’s because so much has been going on, or perhaps because I find motherhood challenging. But whatever the reason, I don’t have a drive or ambition for work that I have had in the past. Apart from not knowing what to do with myself, I just don’t feel ready. Which, like everything else to do with becoming a parent, is the exact opposite of how I assumed I’d feel.

The only reason this is a problem (for want of a better word) is that I don’t want to deskill myself, to feel I’ve wasted time, to lose any independence I might have in the future. I don’t want to regret making this move, or blame it for any outcomes that may be different to those I’d hoped for earlier in my life. I’ve also heard it can be challenging to find work there, particularly part time work, and there is a cultural expectation that women support the family rather than work. I’m unsure how true this is, but it adds another layer of consternation. I also have zero competency with the language – I can’t even order wine or swear yet – which obviously will make it even trickier.

There’s no answer to this yet. I think I need to wait, to pack our little family up and to move over there. To support my husband in his new role and to keep our little girl safe and secure throughout the change. But in the back of my mind I need to work on what the next step will be for me, because these last eight months have gone past in the blink of an eye and before I know it the girl will be 18 and I will have spent the better part of my life sitting around eating raclette. (Although, when I write it, that doesn’t sound too bad at all.)

Rush hour

It’s been hectic around here the last few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still time – always time – to sit on the couch and google the Beckhams, but it’s been all systems go otherwise.

For my girl this means solid food (banana and avocado are currently favourites, but what’s not to like?), sitting, planking (she’s better at this than either of her folks), six month immunisations, and a new regime where we’re desperately trying to introduce the bottle and stop comfort feeding overnight. It’s hit and miss but I am slowly learning that this is just babies.  I have no wish to jinx myself but for the last few days her sleep has been slightly more manageable; it could just be the afore mentioned immunisations. If this is the case those anti-vaccers are even more crazy than I previously thought.

For me, for Tim, there’s an upcoming wedding, an international move, a house and life to disassemble and rebuild. The wedding planning was surprisingly easy; registry office followed by a big party in the State Library. It fell into place like a neat jigsaw – time constraints eliminating any predisposition to fuss or overthink the event. Despite my general lack of interest in marriage, I confess I’m excited. I don’t want to say ‘meant to be’, because that’s nonsense, but it almost feels like it.

The move to Switzerland was signed off a few days ago. There was surprising hesitancy and caution from Tim – it’s been pretty much a done deal for a while but the actual signature was hard in the end. But! It’s inked, there was champagne, and everyone knows that means it’s for reals. It doesn’t feel like it yet, of course. I’ve spent any time that I’ve not been looking at the Beckhams googling Switzerland, maps of Europe, researching food blogs and looking at real estate. It’s exciting but abstract, like I’m spying on someone else’s life. I’ve also started The Great Cull. We’ve been in the house for three and a half years now and while I think we’re not particularly hoardy (Tim still bemoans the panama I discarded when he hadn’t worn it for a year) (and because it was horrid) we’ve still got a lot of stuff. I’m not sure how it happened, really. On advice from Tim’s colleagues over there already we’ll take most of our things, but there’s still….more things. It gives me a slight headache.

In terms of these changes, I feel like I’m in a bit of a vacuum. The monotony (happy, delightful, giggly and skwarky monotony) of having a child has put a counterbalance to the big changes going on around us. I’m nervous about not making friends, being isolated due to an inability to speak the language (although that apparently won’t be so hard for the girl), of the actual flight over there, of being super lonesome when Tim is off travelling for work. This is managed – not eradicated, but eased – by thinking of next little meals for her, activities we can do, gentle scheduling throughout the day. It is perhaps the first time the monotony has been a panacea. I wonder if we’d have been able to do the move any other time – my expectations would have been so different, the pressure perhaps too much.

I’m most excited about seeing the world as a family. Parenthood has already been a massive adventure, and even after an hour of crying (not always hers) at 3am, Tim has frequently commented on how much love she’s brought into our lives. I feel so fortunate that we have this, and can take our little family to places we’d previously only fantasised about going to. I know it will change us and shape us, together, and to me that’s the real embodiment of the marriage we’re about to have. (That, and all the baby meals in Switzerland based around warm cheese. Hurrah!)

Here and now

I’m writing from a hideously garish couch, sitting in front of large glass windows that look out over Avalon beach. The weather is wild and wet; the sea and the sky are both so grey it’s hard to discern the horizon. There are three Norfolk pines scraggily framing the view. It’s calming. We went for a walk yesterday evening down to the beach and wandered around the ocean pool, spray mixing with the light drizzle. Moody winter beaches are always so much more appealing than their brazen summer counterparts.

I’m away for a mid-week break with Tim’s mother and his sisters three (I like to phrase it that way as it sounds like they might be witches, although of course they’re anything but in all senses of the word). We’ve got three kids here too – my girl and two of her cousins. She’s fascinated with the older lad and watches his every move.

There’s shakshuka cooking on the stove for breakfast and it smells warm and spicy, rich. There’s chatter from the kitchen; I’m enjoying not being involved but rather at the periphery, on the edge of the bubble. I’m slightly groggy from a poor night’s sleep; nothing prohibitive but I’m aware I’m slower than usual, like the air is slightly thicker and it’s harder to move, to think.

There’s nothing to do today. It’s deliciously indulgent. There’s a book I might start to read, whales or dolphins or surfers to spot, a girl who is learning to sit, a recipe book to leisurely flip through and a cheese platter to nibble on. But mostly, I’m going to look out at that grey-on-grey, and think about the horizon.

Reinvigoration

My week has ranged from the minute to the massive.

We’re battling sleep again (which feels massive but is, in terms of dinner party conversation, even less than minute). She ate solids for the first time; minute in a lifetime of eating but massive for a small mouth that’s only ever tasted milk and whatever lies on our floor. Massive eyes, too, when that burst of flavour hit for the first time (again: Daddy Doppelgänger). A conversation yelled across our busy road to a new friend, also the parent of a wee bub – it lasted about a minute but made me feel part of a neighbourhood, supported. It may also have been my only adult conversation that day which is becoming normal but remains massively incomprehensible in comparison to my past life.

Parallel to the churn, there’s been a formal offer from Switzerland, and the ensuing punch of reality. (Also, lots of number crunching.) Some big decisions to be made and correlating consequences to deal with. There’s a potential family illness which has brought with it a range of conflicting emotions, none of them what they (technically) should be. There’s been a birthday celebration for my sweetheart. There’s been high levels of stress and seemingly endless time to be stressed in, which feels like an odd juxtaposition and possibly one of the circles of hell.

For the first time since finishing work, I’ve felt that I am on the outside. (Not that I can articulate what the inside is; I just don’t feel I’m there.) Tim’s thick in negotiating around the transfer – of course my opinion matters, but it’s not my negotiation to orchestrate. For someone used to being in control, this is unbelievable frustrating. My life is focused on tiny daily battles and successes (she keeps having poonamis in public! She likes pear! There may be some correlation!) but these are not powerful things. They don’t give me any sense of control or direction – quite the opposite. And this shouldn’t matter, in some ways, but this week I’ve sort of felt that it does. (Also: it’s not that my work was all that, either. There were days, weeks, maybe even years of public service nonsense that I sat through like a bad farce, so I’m not idealising my time there. It’s more that I had something that was external to the operation of our home and the beautiful, boring intricacy of our lives.)

To balance this, I’ve been trying to catalogue the things I’ve done for myself this week. I love the things I do for the baby and my family, and I’m not necessarily asking to change it. I just wanted to remind myself that I have that time, that it can be taken and used as I wish. I get a shower every day – of varying length, but it’s there. I’ve started reading Station 11 (from that Writers’ Festival panel) and I’m engrossed in it. If I’m honest, I’ve shamelessly watched several hours of exceptionally embarrassing television (and have more lined up). I’ve planned meals and cooked, the chore that brings me the greatest calm and satisfaction, such that it’s no longer a chore at all. I have spent more time that I am prepared to admit on social media. I went to the grocery shops yesterday by myself and actually stopped to get petrol to score more alone time. Desperate, but enjoyable nonetheless. This doesn’t include the ‘things for me’ that the baby comes to – we could add mothers’ group and coffee and the pub to the list if this were the case.

Clearly, I am not hard done by. I’ve got time and the capacity to direct it; I’ve just chosen to use it somewhat poorly. Perhaps this is why I feel on some imaginary outside. It’s not that I need the external interaction to be validated; I am possibly letting myself down with the small daily choices I make. I mean, really, the FaceBook stalking that has occurred over the last week borders on pathological (although it’s also awesome). So rather than jump to the conclusion that I should return to work, to uni, to some sort of life outside of this one, I want to focus on making decisions that will help me feel more in control. Maybe it’s an afternoon run. Maybe reading articles that don’t appear in tabloids. Maybe listening to more podcasts, if only to improve afore mentioned dinner party conversation. This might not work and it may be external reinvigoration I need, but it’s worth a try. Right after I polish off the sticky date pudding while watching an episode of Scandal.