Tag Archives: memories

The sun also burns

Where to begin? More travels (to Canada and the US – blog post TBC), more questions, more sunshine? More indecision.

I suppose I should pick up from where I left off; that turgid post of doom in which I lamented a misfortune of my own making. Indeed, I felt horrible. I felt trapped. I felt stuck back in a city that I had longed to escape since childhood, and I felt physically and emotionally constrained by our choice of home. There were days where I cried and cried and missed my grandparents, and thought of all the stupid shit I have done in this town, and returned day after day to my trailer park home, where my boys were tanned from a day in the sun, and I was fatigued from a day of trying to wrap my head around laws that protect children from parents worse than my own, and systems that exist so that the State can be your parent when your own cannot.

I don’t know why I described myself in the above paragraph as struggling to understand the legislation I am tasked to review. This is something that is not difficult for me. The problem of course is that what we are skilled to do, and what brings us joy, are not always one and the same. This is complicated even further when a thing we are capable at, but which does not guarantee emotional satisfaction, also brings with it a steady stream of income. The choices are too many for me to compute at times.

Do something you love which pays little? Feel emotionally sated but perpetually poor?
Do something you can tolerate because it pays well and allows you the freedom to spend you income on things that satisfy you?
Do nothing but explore the world, funded by years of work at mundane jobs, in order to allow yourself to build bonds with your children and husband that 40+ hours a week in an office can threaten to erode?
Buy less, love more?

In an earlier post I wrote about finally figuring out – years later – that my reasons for studying law were always flawed. I was always one of those bright and annoying children, whose vocabulary surpassed my elders – a similarity I now witness in my son J. My personality and intellect, like everyone’s, was partly genes, partly nature, and partly situational (because my grandparents read to me often). I was always included in adult conversations and I performed on cue the role of precocious, entertaining child. I brought home certificate after certificate – art, writing, reading, public speaking (maths was noticeably absent from my skill-set) and my grandparents loved it. But while they heaped me with praise for my report cards that were littered with As, for every positive remark, there was a small jab. They were not happy with B grades. They were dissatisfied with the comments that always followed on my report cards about my apparent refusal to work to my potential. They were dismayed that I did not seem to take anything academic particularly seriously, and they asked me regularly what I planned to do with my life, suggesting along the way that with my love of words and performance, journalism or law would probably be a perfect fit (spoiler alert: it was not).

But why does all this come up for me? Why are all these issues at the forefront of my mind?

Because, Brisbane.

In an episode of the Simpsons, Lisa begs Chief Wiggum to not eat the clues. She appears to him in a backwards-speaking, Twin Peaks-esque scene where he is trying to solve the crime of who shot Mr Burns. Lisa appears to guide Chief Wiggum to the answer he already has. The evidence he needs is in his possession, he just hasn’t realised it yet.


Now, a month after my last post, I have figured more out about the evidence before me, and instead of eating the delicious, tropical clues, I feel like I’m finally making sense of them.

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This sunny, water-lined scene is the life I grew up in, with the islands of Moreton Bay my backyard (note: I have only been to Stradbroke Is AKA Straddie TWICE, such was my grandparents’ disdain for the Shire they called home). I grew up around families who went camping on these islands, whose parents threw barbecues poolside, and who spent their sunny weekends taking the family boat out on the bay. And now, as a parent myself, I see the cohort of names I remember repeating the lessons learned in childhood, played out before me on Facebook. Sand, surf, sea, sun. Rinse and repeat.

The life of sunshine and sea-spray could have been mine, but it wasn’t, and it was never going to be. My Nanny couldn’t swim. My grandfather despised the Queensland beaches, only ever surfing in Yamba. It was a shame I didn’t feel part of this scene because I was a reasonably good swimmer and I tanned beautifully in the sun. But I was so hell-bent on ruining my life before it even began, I didn’t pay much attention to all the beauty around me, and how lucky I was to call this place my home.

So now, some 20 years later, where I watch my children play every day in the pool, where my son turns brown in the sun as I do, and where I can walk to work from my apartment in South Brisbane, no longer needing to battle the daily commute, I am again trapped in this familiar sense of disconnection, because I could have everything I want here, but I can’t.

This place would give me everything familiar. Everything, except happiness.

I can’t stay in Brisbane, my home town. There are too many scars. The wounds are still raw in places, such was the force with which they were inflicted. I am re-truamatising myself continuously – with wonderings about the could-haves and what-ifs and the ongoing sense of guilt and shame for all I have done. And it’s not that I ever did anything particularly horrendous – I didn’t rob any one at knifepoint (or otherwise) or steal a car. I just view my past as all being missed chances to have been a better person, a kinder granddaughter, to have been more present, nicer, more caring. But I wasn’t that person. I’m playing catch-up now trying to become that person. So all Brisbane tells me is that I will never get that time back, and being here, in this place, is a constant reminder of what I have lost.

Family. Friends. A different kind of life.

I try to be kind to myself, and to console myself with words like, “Sarah, you were young when you were here. You didn’t know any better. You did the best you could. You didn’t have support or guidance. Everyone makes mistakes.” But the problem is that I am, and have always been painfully, frighteningly hard on myself. I have never understood the self-love movement as I am mired somewhere between dislike and apathy. I have tried for years to remedy this, but I fear that when you are told in your formative years that you are a burden, a mistake and a failure, a future in which you outwardly champion your own existence is asking a bit much.

As I alluded to in my last post, D and I decided to bite the bullet and make a financially stupid but psychologically astute decision to rent an apartment near the city and forego our caravan for a little while. A borrowed queen sized bed is our only furniture, other than a small coffee table and a little kids table for the boys to eat at. Our boys are sleeping on mattresses from the caravan; we have pushed the two single mattresses together and sometimes when we are lucky, little N will snuggle up to his big brother and leave us in peace for a whole night.
We borrowed a television from my best friend and a bar fridge from her aunt. While I am at work the boys hang out in the nearby parks playing outdoors or swimming the pool. Sometimes they will go to GoMA, or play in South Bank, or walk through the museum. The local public school – pretending I was to send J to it – is down the road, and I have heard coworkers speak of it glowingly. D’s boxing gym is a short jog away. We spend our weekends catching up with friends we have missed since moving to Melbourne seven years ago, or we drive to the beach. We are healthier than we ever were in Melbourne, thanks to almost endless sunshine and fresh air.

We could have been really happy here.

And, yet.
It’s me.
It’s not you, Brisbane. It’s me.

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There are days when I feel irreparably broken. When I believe with abject certainty that I will never be fixed, that I will never be ‘normal’ and that my father was right in all he ever said about me, and that my mother was right to flee. How could a parent not want to cradle the smooth, perfect skin of the life they created? My only answer for that is my own utter lack of worth, visible since I was merely minutes old. I can grow older, amass a new family, develop coping strategies and self-awareness, gain employment, earn a wage, buy nice things, but it means nothing if underneath it all I am undeniably ruined.

Does this come up more for me because I am back in Brisbane, the scene of so many crimes of the heart (and a few garden variety street offences)? Or is it because of something more sinister, something within me that I can never change? The creatives in the world are often the ones cursed with thoughts like these. I take comfort knowing I’m in good company.

But putting aside my oscillating thought processes, the other burning issue at hand is of course what we should do next. In no particular order, here are the options D and I have narrowed down for our family.

1. D goes back to work, I stay at home with the boys.  We want to be with them but the past 5 months of D being the stay-at-home parent have been fraught. He is a wonderful father and plays with the boys for hours. But he isn’t a great housewife, even if he looks good in an apron.  So if anyone is going to work, it will be him. And yet despite knowing this, and agreeing to it, I still complete job applications to random employers all over the world, because I am addicted to rolling the dice.

2. Stay in Brisbane. D would be happy with this. I would be happy for a few weeks before descending into some kind of psychotic break that paralyses me until I can be brought back to consciousness with a plane ticket.

3. Return to Melbourne. D is not keen on this idea, for reasons that make complete sense, namely that if it didn’t feel right a year ago it’s probably not right now. But yet, I do miss Melbourne. To me it feels like home, but that could be just because it’s the last place we were settled.

4. Find a smaller town somewhere and buy a big block of land. D claims he would love this. He wants to repair old motorcycles and have a shed again. We want our dog back. But I am terrified and unsure if my immediate response is a valid one or just one that has been honed from years of telling myself that I needed to live in a major city because that was the only way I would escape the small town mindset I came to view as normal.

5. We go somewhere rural. D is a country boy at heart, and assures me that the boys would have plenty of space and we could do cool stuff on the property to make it AirBandB worthy when we aren’t there. But how would we travel when we would have animals to look after? And how does a vegetarian get by in dairy and cattle farmer territory?

6. We try a new Australian city, e.g. Darwin. We like the idea of the tropics without the familiarity of the Eastern seaboard. We like the proximity to Asia. We like the multiculturalism. D could find work easily. Baby N could eat mangoes all year round. And we could have our crazy cattle dog Clancy back with us again. It’s an unexpected front-runner at the moment, though with everything we discuss, that’s subject to change at a moment’s notice.

7. We go overseas again and do some volunteer work. What better way to teach our kids about the world? We could find a villa in Bali, help with turtle conservation and help little kids to speak English. I have thought about doing post-grad study in education for years and for some reason I always back out. Maybe this would be a nice way to test the waters given that I did a 6 year double degree only to set foot in a law firm and realise I’d made a terrible mistake. But then I worry about the kids, and mozzie bites, and illnesses, and how we would manage it all. I want to challenge my children, but I don’t necessarily want to scar them for life.

8. In addition to all of this, I should add that D has a job offer in Vancouver. It would be a great job – perfect for him and would also let him work from home for most of the week. I love the idea of taking the boys out every day exploring a new city. But – Visas. We don’t think he can get a Visa without the assistance of the company, and for them to hire a foreign worker involves a lot of work on their part to illustrate that they tried to find a Canadian to do the job and could not.

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9. D could find a job overseas (Australian company with an international posting). But D will only go if it helps advance his employability; he won’t go if it is going to cost us money and makes no financial sense after you take away accommodation expenses/cost of living etc. I’m no mathemagician but he has a point.

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10. We pack up our lives again and just drive with the van. D is happy with this, and I am as well, although remembering how cramped I was in that tiny bed wedged between a sideboard, a toddler and my husband is not without its concern.

11. We go back to what is safe, D gets a job, I get a job, the boys go to school/daycare, we buy a nice house in a nice neighbourhood and we have a walk-in pantry and a big fridge and I drink wine in a coffee cup to quell the burning realisation that I had a chance to do something amazing with my children before they got too big, and instead I got scared, and returned to what is familiar. Maybe I could save turtles during school holiday breaks?

So there it is, Launderers. Now you know everything. Feel free to pass on your worldly advice because each day the weight of these decisions are eating away at the usually calm soul of my indecisive Libran husband, and are threatening to drive my erratic nature to doing something impulsive. Like, announcing to my employer that I will finish up in June.

Which I have already done.

But before I finish this post, let me stress that having options is a wonderful thing. We are blessed to have so many possibilities we could explore. We are fortunate to be educated such that we can find employment in various locations and forms. And above all of that, we are so very lucky to have two little children who are healthy and happy, and who could not care less where their crazy parents take them, as long as we are all together.

And that – that, I can promise, we will be.

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Countdown to D-Day

Since my last post much has transpired in preparation for our upcoming departure with caravan. Our new home is near completion and packing is underway. How exciting! I would love to say. I do feel excited, and I feel grateful for that when I do. But I also feel a range of other emotions, as is expected when one makes a life changing decision that affects their whole family. The anxiety is the worst; in the past few weeks it comes to me just at bedtime, just as my muscles begin to unclench from their permanent state of arousal, and just as my mind begins to blur into slumber. My legs, restless, kicking and jerking as though possessed by the blood of an athlete, my breathing frenzied and erratic. An overwhelming desire to scream as loudly as possible and to do something, take something, to just melt the friction away.

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I don’t though. I try to calm my breathing. Sometimes I’ll do yoga nidra. Sometimes I’ll annoy my husband. But most times I’ll do what seems to me to be the most natural thing in the world when faced with a sense of chaos – to read about the worsened state of chaos of another. My method for doing this is simple: coronial reports. Publicly accessible, these PDFs have lulled me to sleep more times than a lullaby ever has. The stories are harrowing, traumatic, often graphic and at times incredibly cruel. And yet despite my knowledge that feeding the beast that is anxiety is often fraught with danger, for me, sometimes, this is the safest way to view catastrophe without actually having to be within it. And while it is true that working as a lawyer and in public policy meant that there were times that I needed to read these stories for reasons purely related to work, I can’t rely on this exposure to the reports to make me seem less macabre and sadistic, because I would have probably sought these documents out anyway. Not just because I am a voyeur of tragedy, but also because I have an at-times insatiable need to explore and examine daily life. And to write about it.

Over the years I have of course examined my own life (mainly to confirm what I once suspected, namely that I possessed insurmountable flaws; fortunately these ended up just being superficial marks of wear and tear) and while doing this in recent times my husband and I agreed that we needed to shake things up a bit. Well, not just a bit. A lot. Hence the decision to quit our jobs, sell our house and go travelling around the country with our boys in a caravan.

I like those odds.
I like those odds.

I am writing this post in the one remaining chair that I own, which now has the honour of being the sole piece of loungeroom furniture in a pleasingly uncluttered room. The couch I nursed my J on for hours on end has been given away; so too has the side table I used to use to rest my makeup on in our old house in Queensland. We have sold our television cabinets, and given away our business suits. I have parted with more toys owned by my sons than I care to think about, not pausing to be sentimental as I pictured the joy they would bring to another child who has gone without for too long. I have taken down lovingly etched artworks done by my son, and I have photographed each piece, vowing to turn the stack of squiggles into some kind of memento. I had all his pieces in a box, ready for the recycling bin, and then it hit me. The bubbling waves of sadness that caused my stomach to flip. The gritted teeth. The clenched jaw. Then, the onslaught.

I wept, and wept, and wept.

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This home, this cozy, quirky little home is the place where I fell pregnant with J. It is where I looked down blissfully to see two pink lines on a test that confirmed I was to become a mother. It is where I paced the floorboards for hours with my unsettled first baby as he thrashed restlessly in my arms. It is the place where I warmed bottles in the night or rolled to my side, hoisting up my top to feed my child. It is the place that kept us warm on grey Melbourne days and where the sun shone in streams through the back deck on springtime afternoons.

This home is the location from which I have walked kilometres with a pram on bleary mornings after nights that involved pitiful amounts of sleep, determined to source a hit of caffeine. On these walks I have discussed the mechanics of ‘mixer trucks’ (which may or may not have been accurate), taught J to read numbers from the letterboxes we passed, and sung to baby N as he watched the world pass by from his cushioned, blanketed seat. I have walked my boys to our childcare centre, an amazing gem of a place that has become a second home to me, and where I’ve had long chats with staff who have become family. And while I can leave the material things behind, knowing I am saying goodbye to this friendly place, with its bright handprint paintings and its adjacent dinosaur park, and the staff who smile at me even when I am wearing food stained hoodies and a baseball cap to hide my hair, is too hard for me to even contemplate yet, so I won’t.

In the 34 years I have been on this planet, our home in the inner west of Melbourne is the only space in which I have ever felt as though I belonged; not just within the walls of my house but as part of a community. By the time I was 7 years old I had already been to five different kindergartens and schools, spanning three different states. I had said hello and goodbye to parents who dipped their toes into the murky water of family life, only to hoist their limbs away with a jolt. After living in the Redlands for almost 20 years, the only feeling that consumed me about my neighbourhood was the desire to escape it in one piece. Until adulthood, my experience of life was always on the outer, and when it wasn’t, I usually found a way to extract myself from attaching to anything with even a whiff of impermanence. My skills at building walls were impressive in their efficiency.

After making the agonizing move to Melbourne from Brisbane, away from the grandparents for whom I felt solely responsible and desperately conflicted, I rationalized my absence by telling myself I would last only a year here. One year south of the border, and then I would return home. But I didn’t, because something strange and unexpected happened, and that was I fell in love with my new home. I made friends with other mums who I visited with my sleep deprived, cranky children, women who fed me cups of tea and chocolate biscuits as we lamented our lack of slumber. My son made friends with kids from school with whom he acts out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle moves (he is Leo), and spends part of his weekend on the swings or running in the green expanse of one of the nearby parks. I have watched both my children grow in this place; our little house in the inner west, minutes from the city, minutes from parks, walking distance to the shops, surrounded by families, and soon, on the market for someone else to buy.

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I tend to do this – I leap into decisions with an air of impulsivity, only to have my emotions catch up with me as time moves forward. Now that my husband has resigned from work and our house is strewn with boxes do I realise the gravity of the choice we have made. But even so, I know it’s the right choice. I know it’s what we need to do. If we had felt fully content and settled, the need to shake things up would never have crossed our minds. So as we move forward to D-Day, I am optimistic about having no itinerary and no set ideas of where we will live next, although part of me hopes that one day we will come back here, to the place I never expected to live or love, because as much as I believe that home is where the heart is (and for me, it is with my boys), there is something beautiful about carving out a special place of your own in a world where you have often felt on the periphery.

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