Returning to my hometown always feels strange. Not because I've changed, but because I haven't. Since I've been away a decade and had a long journey, it always seems like I should be coming back wiser, transformed, but I am not that guy from The Odyssey and real-life journeys don't usually do that, they just give me jetlag. Sometimes when I come home, people are disproportionately nice to me because I've been away so long and I feel like I have to justify their expectations by pretending to be more interesting than I really am. But living abroad hasn't made me an interesting person, which isn't really surprising because all I do when I'm there is go to the supermarket, moan about my life and search on youtube for videos of cats. In other words, I am exactly the same person I always was.
And that person finds it really exhausting to spend lots of time around people. Without my customary seven hours per day of time alone, I start to seize up and quiver and become prone to unexpected fits of weeping. The dilemma when I am here is that there are so many people I want to see, so many people I want to spend time with, so many people I really love, that I end up vastly overcommitting myself. I don't want to do it, I always swear I won't do it this time, I come up with strategies to mitigate it, but when it comes to the crunch I do it anyway. I have a big extended family – to give you an idea of scale, I have twenty cousins – and they are all great people who I love spending time with, who I can't imagine not spending time with. But when I divide the amount of time I have by the number of people I want to see the answer to the sum is always FAR, FAR TOO BUSY. This trip, with the babies, everything feels multiplied by ten. It seems ten times as important to see people, to introduce them to their large and enthusiastic fan club who have been loving them from afar since before we even knew who they were. These people are so important to us as a family; seeing them is not negotiable. And yet.
And yet. It seems I am not the only person in our family who finds day after day after day of seeing people to be utterly draining. They are totally over it, ten times more over it than me. We've been here about ten days now and the babies have officially had enough. Every day they have been meeting new people, going new places or waking up in new rooms and it's too much for them. This feels like one of those times when I need to say a whole lot of Yeses, even when the babies' immediate needs would be better met by Nos. The big picture tells me we are doing the right thing by being here – I am sure of it – but the small picture we are living in feels really difficult. They are overstimulated. They are perpetually tired. After a week and a half of the 'Turns Out My Family Is Twenty Times Bigger Than I Thought' show, Pink is constantly crying and clinging and Blue is ricocheting from person to person, charming all the ladies and striking fear into my attachment-paranoid heart.
And so we are perpetually tired too. Looking after them is five times as hard as it usually is, and it is usually pretty hard. My parents in particular are being great at supporting us and helping with the childcare but I feel like someone has held me down and beaten me with a plank, and I know J feels the same. We're at the beach at the moment on week away with my parents, siblings and all of our kids which is amazing in lots of ways but it's more change and ….. well, see above. Also it turns out that Pink is sort of scared of sand, which makes beach fun more challenging than expected. I know how lucky we are to be having this long, long holiday and taken as a unit, a month in Australia sounds like a lot of fun. But each one of the thirty days feels tough at the moment.
J and I had been planning on taking two nights and going off on a mini-holiday on our own. I cannot tell you how much I was looking forward to this, but what with the clinging girl and the sudden reappearance of ping-pong boy, we're no longer sure this is quite such a good idea. Yeah, cue the violins, I know. First world problem, definitely. But man oh man, I have been looking forward to that break for I don't know how long. I wonder if I could just make a singing hologram of myself, if that would fool them into thinking that their mother hadn't prioritised sitting next to a pool somewhere drinking a cocktail rather than staying by their sides working on remedial attachment parenting. So I don't know what we're going to do about that. I know that we need to put their needs first, but I don't honestly know what their needs are in this case, and I also know that cocktails are delicious. D'oh.
But it's all about the memories, right? In ten years time, I probably won't remember that Pink refused to eat yesterday and Blue had four tantrums in the space of an hour. Well, I wouldn't if I hadn't just written it down. But I will be glad that Blue loved the beach so much he got a head full of sand. I will be glad that I bought Pink a swimsuit with a built-in tutu, even if she only wants to wear it in the house. And I will certainly be glad that I got to watch Pink reading Shades of People with her uncle. Here are the obligatory heartwarming photos:
Hard bits and good bits aside, there's always a lot of stuff about coming home that's always just plain weird. Like the fact that in a city of well over a million people, I just happen to run into an ex-boyfriend's sister. Or the fact that a disturbing number of people always feel the need to analyse my accent, with conversations that go like this: “Oh, you totally have a British accent now! Oh hang on, you just said 'chips' and that sounded Australian. So I guess you don't have a British accent at all. Oh but then you said 'dancing' and you sounded British again. So you do have a British accent. And then when you told me you were going to punch me in the face if I didn't stop assessing your accent you sounded sort of a bit of both. Hang on, now your fist is connecting with my nose! That's not very Australian!'
Anyway. It's late, and I'm rambling. I should really go to sleep and recharge for the day ahead. I keep thinking - tomorrow, we'll just have a quiet day. But then tomorrow comes and somehow it never is. But what can we do, huh? I've got no idea.
*With apologies to Bob Dylan