Monday, 20 June 2011

Subtropical Hometown Blues*

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


  1. Whew. I feel for you, for sure.

    That said, I would still try to squeeze in some time away. Maybe later on when you've been there longer. You will pay for it, for sure, but it'll likely be worth it. You won't do lasting damage, you'll just piss off a few 18 month old kids. Which is really easy to do, so you might as well make it worth it.

  2. I feel for you so much and my family's about a quarter of the size of yours :) I know what it's like to go home and have all the family around constantly.

    Still your distance is a lot further and I tell myself "it's only a 2 hour flight" :)

    I would do a big "bring and share" lunch and cross off half of those family to be seen things in one go. Leveraging your time and all that.

    I wanted to say about the leaving them alone thing - DO IT. Again, grand scheme of things they're going to be fine with your mum and dad, or whoever (sister).

    I like that thought process because our last two days in Melbourne were just terrible (ppl things) but I never even think about it except that now I know I will never stay with friends longer than 4 days! All I remember are the good times.

    PS are you taking time off to relax (hahaha) when you get back?

    PPS I just thought about this now - are you in the UK for good, or are there plans to move back home?

  3. DH and I have been doing the two continent thing for 26 years now, 23 of them with kids and it only gets easier when you give up caring. I'll let you know when I get to that point. ;-)

    The Italians never actually lost their sense of humor over my accent so there's that but what they like to notice the most when we are away and then return for a visit is my weight. It's the first thing they comment on. You know, whether I've gained a kilo or dropped a kilo, right there in the airport with baggage in hand, "you've gained weight!" or "you've lost weight!" Every. Single. Time. It was always the first thing they said to be, even before they said Ciao.

    Don't get me started on the over stimulation of the kids. DS#1 was the ONLY grandchild -- only one-- for years and years and years. Yes. There was much fussing over him from ALL the relatives every time we went. It was pure frenetic madness.

    And yet I took him every summer for a month. And I am glad I did. Sometimes it was torture. Sometimes I wondered what the effe I was doing. Sometimes I was bored out of my skull and wished I could have a "normal" vacation like most of my friends. But now that most of DHs relatives have passed and DS#1 and DS#2 have memories of their time on the farm, I wouldn't trade those times for anything. That time was like gold. It was precious. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

  4. DO IT. Get away without them! You know that's the advice you'd give the rest of us. Don't let the stressful minutiae of the overall trip get in the way of your clear thinking. You need that poolside time together. Kidlets will be ok. And if they aren't ok without you for 2 days by now then there are bigger issues to tackle later and you'll be glad you had the refreshing time away to regroup! (Amanda - blogger won't let me sign in!)

  5. I totally feel you on this. We don't go on that many vacations (when we do it is usually just our family unit) but we have a LOT of company. My younger son (adopted) has a hard time, gets off-kilter, and vacillates between glee and misery.
    As for your time away with your husband, you're gonna have to follow your gut, but the fact is that you're probably gonna be doing a lot of make-up attachment stuff when the vacation is over. What's a little more? :)

  6. I'm an ex pat away from home 11 years. I hear ya! I think living so far from home makes those visits just insane, and not remotely restful. With two toddlers? Bravo. I second the suggestion to see lots of family in one go at some sort of event.

  7. Can you squeeze in that time that you thought was just going to be you J- but bring the kiddos with? I know it's not what you planned- but it might be good for your family unit of 4 to be together and decompress ALL TOGETHER. You might be surprised at how nice it feels.

    Not like I really know anything. Just an idea.

    I love the nod to Mr. Dylan.

  8. I hate leaving my kids over night and almost never do - just once to go to Ethiopia, and that was while pregnant and getting another kid, so I don't really know if that counts towards helping out marraige. But as a hypocrite I wanted to add a "like" to the wonderfulhappens comment.

    I support you going. Because a depleted Mama isn't a very good one.

    I totally get all of this, BTW. good luck.

  9. Families and kids is one of the hardest things. Our families are just a day's drive away, but man it's hard and my kids fall. apart. away from home. I bet yours will mellow out a tad in the middle since you have such a long visit. I'll be sending good vibes your way.

  10. Wow that is a LOT of family/friends to see...I feel for you!
    But those pictures are adorable. ADORABLE!

  11. I love the pictures, especially the first one of sandy Blue and the one of twirling Pink!

    Why don't you take a mini trip (within a trip) with the twins? It won't be the true break you were looking for, but might give you all a breather.

  12. I say go on the mini vacation with J. I find that sometimes if I don't meet my own needs that it is ten times harder to meet O's needs,

  13. omg, I need my 7 hours of alone time too!!! That does NOT include sleep time, of which I really have to have 7-8 hours of also.

    LOVE pics 2 and 3. That pink suit is the cutest thing ever and that child is smart, if she wears it near the sand the tutu will get crappy and dirty.

  14. Hmmm.

    Member of the Brisbane Diaspora - tick.
    Exhausted mother of special needs child/ren - tick.
    Even more exhausted when you visit "home" - tick.
    Tormented by need to catch up with loved ones when in Brisbane, despite knowing this will leave you depleted and resentful - tick.
    Possession of a very cute little girl's togs with tutu attached - tick.

    This post reminds to blog about when I visited Brisbane at 5 months pregnant to be a bridesmaid and vomited and wet my pants in the carpark of the hotel. It was awesome.

  15. I'm also going to say that I think you & J should head out on your own. The babies will be okay with your folks. Who knows, without someone else mirroring their stress it might lessen a bit. That sounded more accusatory than I meant it to. But you know what I mean - they're little sponges.

    I don't even have to tell you how much I love the tutu, right? Also - when did the braids come out? I missed that. And did you do it yourself? Was it awful, or easier than getting them? Or is it something you can't talk about yet? ;-)


  16. Can you get out at least for a dinner alone? Dinner and a movie? Could you manage to stay awake that late? ;-)

    Regarding the swimsuit thing- Leone refuses to wear his. Won't do it. Not in the mini swimming pool. Not in the house. Not on the changing table. NO WHERE. How in the heck are we supposed to get him in a pool if he refuses to take his clothes off his lovely, LOVELY body?!

    And finally- I love your pictures. I love your children. And I dig you lots.

  17. Random last thing- the only times we have gone out has been AFTER Leone has gone to bed. Is that super pathetic? I just KNOW he would be a disaster if someone else tried to put him to bed. Maybe even his grandparents. But then again, I'm a freak. So.

  18. I love the honesty in your writing. Such adorable pictures too! Your newest follower, Jen

  19. GASP! I just saw it. You're too dang sweet, that's what you are.

  20. I just found your blog and love it - especially this post. I'm absolutely positive I'm not the first person to tell you this, but in my experience kids the age of your 2 are terrible travelers! Our older (bio) son flew 7 times in his first year of life and was the best baby traveler ever. Then we went on vacation to CA at his 2nd birthday, and we spent the entire trip telling him (1) where he was sleeping that night (even though we were at the same hotel all week), (2) where the dogs were (back in TX - they'd never left), (3) no we weren't going home "tomorrow", but "soon", and (4) various variations on those questions overandoverandover. Ever since then, he (and later his brother) have acted about 6-12 months younger on any vacation we've taken, even if we're careful to stay in one place the entire time, not overwhelm them with activities, etc, etc. This year was the exception, as we've now gone to the same town in CO for 3 years running for summer vac., and even stayed in the same cabin 2 years in a row. So I guess what I'm saying is, expect comfortable travels sometime between 8 and 11 years old. :)

    Again, love your blog!


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