Thursday, July 17, 2014

Whale Watching

Two posts in one week, this must be a record. We had an unexpected adventure today that turned out to be amazing. This morning I had planned on spending our day running little errands like getting a birthday present for a party Ella is invited to this Saturday. I happen to look at Facebook when I saw a post on a local mom’s group I am a part of, someone mentioned there was a pregnant whale off of Long Reef Beach very close to the shore. As I was getting ready I just kept thinking how much fun it would be for the kids to see a whale up close and how much I want to see a whale up close, not just off on the horizon. I decided to make a detour and see if we could find anything, we grabbed the camera and headed out the door.

I had never been to Long Reef beach so we had to find it and then we trekked down to the beach only to find it empty and no sign of anything. We walked up and down a bit but there was nothing to see but at this point I had been selling a whale sighting pretty hard to the kids and I was determined to find something. Maybe chanting “we’re whale explorers!” should have waited until I knew if we would actually see a whale. There was a headland at the end of the beach so we drove down further and before getting the kids out I jumped to see if there was any sign of a whale or a crowds and didn’t see anything. It’s amazing how helpful things like a community group could be, there must have been multiple people like me driving around looking because when I checked the mom’s group again someone had just posted that she was a Warriewood beach and the whale was right there. We quickly headed down and got to the beach as fast as we could.

It was unbelievable, there was a Southern Right Whale about 30 yards off the shore. There were people above the beach taking pictures and people on the beach watching but not huge crowds, the kids were able to run around on the beach and play while the adults took pictures. The first thing I noticed was a woman in an orange vest walking around handing out fact sheets on the southern right whale, she came up to us right away once she saw the kids. She immediately reassured us that the whale wasn’t beached and appeared to be perfectly healthy and happy. There were NPWS rangers there that were out in the water at a distance from the whale and on the shore, I assume they were there to assist should the whale become beached or to prevent people from getting too close. While we were there I didn’t see anyone trying to get close or in the water, everyone seemed happy to just sit back and watch. It sounds like later in the day they had some problems but while we were there it was one of those unique environments when everyone is just excited and happy to be seeing something so rare.

We happen to run into a mom I met through the mops group I joined so we just sat on the beach and chatted while the kids played. I found myself too slow to catch the more dramatic photo opportunities and reminding the kids to turn around and look at the whale. Turns out a 2 and 4 year old don’t quite appreciate how amazing the experience of seeing a whale up close is but they did get some good sightings in between running around with their new friend. The whale wasn’t doing huge jumps or putting on a show but instead it just seemed to be swimming around the area, rolling over, and poking its head out.

We ended up not accomplishing any errands today but it was a very good day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Life Down Under

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, at different times I’ve thought about writing something but really our life has been plugging along and I figured only two people would be interested in hearing about the ins and outs of Kellen’s day at preschool or Ella’s ballet lesson. Since I talk to my mom and Jamie everyday there didn’t seem to be a need for a post. Since we arrived I’ve really felt like Australia is nice, or more specifically Sydney, but it is so similar to the US that I’m not sure it is different enough to warrant the high cost of being so far from family. I was lucky to take a trip back to Seattle in May so I could be there for Elizabeth’s wedding and as people asked how Australia was I really felt somewhat indifferent to it, we like it but I don’t feel drawn to stay, there are good aspects and bad aspects, it’s just ok.

What I wasn’t expecting was the effect a trip back to Seattle would have. Once I got back to Sydney I was able to see a lot of the things that actually are quite different and unique here that we just won’t get anywhere else. It is currently the middle of winter and we were at the beach playing in the sand on Sunday, Jamie asked where else would we be able to have the combination of how beautiful, clean, air quality (a co-worker just moved to Beijing so this is a very real consideration), good public schools, and a city that is large enough to have good jobs. I think the initial reaction was because it is so much more like the States than England is, I just read Bill Bryson’s book Down Under and he had a good way of explaining the unique blend of British and American influence here in Australia.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was. Insofar as I had accumulated any expectations of Australia at all in the intervening years, I had thought of it as a kind of alternative southern California, a place of constant sunshine and the cheerful vapidity of a beach lifestyle, but with a slight British bent – a sort of Baywatch with cricket, as I thought it. But this was nothing like that.

What’s more, and here we come to the real crux of things, I like it, straight off, without quibble or doubt, in a way I had never expected to. Something about it just agreed with me. I suppose it helped that I had spent half my life in America and half in Britain because Australia was such a comfortable fusion of the two. It had a casualness and vivacity – a lack of reserve, a comfortableness with strangers – that felt distinctly American, but hung on a British framework. In their optimism and informality Australians could pass at a glance for Americans, but they drove on the left, drank tea, played cricket, adorned their public places with statues of Queen Victoria, dressed their children in the sort of school uniforms that only a Britannic people could wear without conspicuous regret.

I think where I’ve landed is that for a family this really is a utopia. When I compare it to the States I should really say Seattle, as so much of the difference centre around weather, and when I say Australia I should really say Sydney, or more specifically our area of Sydney. Where we live is an almost bizarrely ideal area. We have the beach on one side and the bay on the other. There is almost no crime, we are surrounded by parks and it is extremely child friendly. The flip side to that is that the cost of living is the 3rd highest in the world, I wanted to get an oil change only to find out they are $150. There is also almost no diversity around us. There is relative financial diversity but while I have met multiple people from South Africa and Western Europe that really makes up the extent of the diversity in our area. There are suburbs that are predominantly Asian but we make up most of the diversity at Kellen’s preschool here.

But day to day it is great for the kids. In the summer Patrick was meeting kids at the beach every day, now that it is winter he is meeting them for pick up rugby games. The Xbox playing time is a fraction of what it was before. Kellen is always outside, at school they do most of their group time and activities outside, every time I even open the side door to hang laundry he somehow manages to dash out to the backyard. Last week was school break and we went to the library, as soon as we got home his first instinct was to take his book outside into the sun to look at it. I love that keeping him busy over break didn’t involve indoor play centres or endless hours of too much TV. Ella is happy to run errands with me because most of the time they involve walking around town where she can stop and look at things, she usually scores a doughnut from the outdoor bakery counter and gets to pet a few dogs along the way. It doesn’t sounds all that ground breaking that kids should play outside but after Seattle and then England it is a huge difference to be able to spend time outside year round. I was a real challenge was to try and keep kids entertained when it was either raining or freezing temps for months at a time. Being able to just head down to the beach on Sunday morning for the kids to dig or collect shells and have the chance to spot whales or dolphins is amazing. We are also starting to actually social with adults and no kids along, which again sounds obvious but when you are new somewhere it takes a while. Through school, ballet, and soccer I have met more people in the area so don’t feel quite as isolated as I had earlier in the year.

I also came back with a reminder of how nice it is not to live in a climate of extreme politics whether it be over women’s rights or gun culture. The lack of vast expanses of new housing developments and strip malls. Or the thought of trying to fit in our English size house with Ella now being as active as Kellen is sounds overwhelming to say the least.

So I was trying to think, why the sudden change of heart from indifferent to liking it here? Then I realized that in 2 weeks it will be 1 year in Sydney. I remember when we hit that 1 year mark in England suddenly feeling much more settled and comfortable, in a way that makes you realize that you weren’t fully comfortable before. I think I’m going through the same process here. The physical settling in was faster here, it was easy to figure out where to live, where to shop, brands, etc. But I do think when you move to a different country it takes a year to fully settle. Basic things like what the weather is like each season or what to expect during the kids’ school year. We just renewed our lease on the house for another year and it is nice to know we aren’t moving anytime soon. Ella has her spot in preschool for next year and Kellen is enrolled at the local public school to start kindergarten next year.

This isn’t just an open love letter to Australia. There are drawbacks to being so geographically remote. The school year here is longer similar to England so the kids actually have quite a few breaks throughout the year. Living in Europe we took advantage of every break and there were so many places close enough to drive or a cheap flight away that we tried to go somewhere of every chance we got. Here even traveling within Australia is long distances and expensive flights so to go almost anywhere is a longer and expensive family vacation. We are also so far from family, we’ve priced what it would cost to visit for Christmas and we would be looking at something around $10k just in airfare to get there. It is also very expensive here so we try and do as much shopping as we can when Jamie goes back for work and just bring an additional suitcase back. Plus my kids are growing up resistant to wearing shoes or anything that resembles warm clothing.

While we would jump at the chance to move back to Western Europe in a heartbeat we are finally settled here. The thought of where our next location might be is exciting but I no longer feel like we are just waiting our time in Australia out and that is a nice change. When I look at the environment and lifestyle for the kids I can think of few places that are better for them to be right now. While I won’t be applying for citizenship anytime soon I’m starting to see how this place will eventually be hard to leave.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Should I stay or should I go?

Lately I’ve been struggling with a feeling of restlessness, which seems kind of ridiculous given we have made 2 international moves in under 3 years. But as we are now settled in Sydney, the boys are in school, Ella has her activities, and the house feels like our home, I can’t help but feel l personally need more. I really do love most parts of being a stay at home mom. When I was working and Kellen was a baby I wished I could stay home and when the opportunity came up I jumped at it. For me the most challenging part of staying home has been trying to make sure I have interests or activities outside of the kids and the house. In England I had a great circle of girlfriends and I would take the occasional evening class so I felt like even though my days are dominated by baby and toddler related tasks I still have brief breaks of conversation or learning something completely removed from them. Here is Sydney I’m having a harder time finding those outside interests. When we first arrived I did some basic research on classes but we don’t live 5 minutes from a university campus like we did before. I have also started to make friends but for the most part still feel fairly isolated out here. So now what? Lately I’ve really been feeling like maybe it’s the right time to go back to work. Right before we left England I had started networking again and thinking about going back. At the time it was really more financially driven and when it became clear that we would be moving again shortly my 1 week job search was over. Now it is more of a personal desire to have interaction outside of the house and the chance to focus on something non child related.

It seems really simple, if I want to work I should find a job and go back to work. The reality is a little more complicated. If I were to go back to a full time job then the kids would need to be in full time day care. That means that Kellen would have to stop going to preschool and both Kellen and Ella wouldn’t be able to continue their activities. That also means I would be gone as often as Jamie is given that where we live is a long commute to almost anywhere an office would be. Do I really want to disrupt them again after having gone through a major move less than a year ago? No. Would I be able to handle only seeing them a few hours a day to get breakfast and dinner in them before they need to go to bed? No. Unless the position was so great that we could afford a nanny to watch the kids and keep their current schedules uninterrupted this doesn’t seem like an option. Even if a great nanny is a possibility do I want to miss things and be away from them that much? I don’t think so. Part of me feels like the reward for being housekeeper, primary potty training, and the target of the tantrums is that I can go to the ballet recitals and school concerts. When you stay at home you get all the worst parts of young kids but the balance is the ability to pick Kellen up from school and have him show me what he’s been working on all day. Ella is 2 ½ now and Jamie questions whether it is just a year or so too early? Next year Ella will be in school 2 days per week, Kellen 5 days and every year after that I will be on my own more so will have more and more flexibility to pursue what I want.

So I’m trying to figure out what does make sense for us. If money were no object I would not hesitate to enrol in Le Cordon Bleu and eventually open a little bakery. Or go back to become a nurse and work in a local family practice. My interests are varied but unfortunately most require going back to school full time so in that scenario we would have full time child care costs, school tuition, and no income. That scenario is easily ruled out for us at this time.

The ideal balance would be a position that would be a contract, it would be part-time, and it would allow me to work remotely. I remember when I was working as a full time recruiter and we would bring contractors on to help with sourcing and I would hear about people who got to work remote from around the US and had flexible schedules, I would always wonder how they managed to work that deal. So that’s what I think I’m trying to do now. I don’t even know if those types of opportunities exist here is Sydney or if you really have to know the teams in order for them to allow that kind of work but I figure it is worth a try. In my head I imagine myself going through our normal morning routine and then spending 3 or 4 hours working while Ella plays and naps, then once they have gone to bed at night I can work another 3 hours or so. As it is I’m sitting next to Jamie on the couch while he is working away, there is no reason I couldn’t either. This might be totally unrealistic and in reality they end up wanting you in the office in person a lot more often or for the amount of money the contracts pay here it isn’t worth trying to find backup childcare on occasion or whatever it might be. But the thought of having a job and a focus outside of our household is really appealing right now.

I miss feeling a sense of accomplishment, while it is a miracle when all the laundry hampers are empty at the same time it’s not quite the same thing. I want to interact with people even if it is primarily via email. An income would be nice too although I can’t imagine part time remote work would be a major windfall. What I don’t want is the daily stress of which one of us can get off work early enough to get the kids from day care. Or when one of them is sick what do I need to cancel and fall behind on to stay home. So really I want all the benefits or both working and staying home.

I can’t imagine I’m the only stay at home mom trying to figure out how long this job lasts. Sometimes I think about how great it is when Patrick gets home and can spend an hour talking about something from school, by dinner he has moved on and is just trying to get excused from the table as fast as he can. So does that mean to have the same experience with Kellen and Ella that you can never go back? I just can’t believe that.