Oh, the Conundrum

It’s August already and sun has come to us for most of the week, which cannot help but put a smile on my face. I love sun! I miss that Colorado sunshine…..I keep reminding myself how beautifully green everything is here, and how much I relish that green, and you need lots and lots of rain to make everything so green. It definitely helps. But when that sun is out….aahh!
With the blessing of sunshine, we have also all emerged from our few weeks of minor illnesses and everyone is happily sleeping at night and going through their days snot and cough-free. Love it!
The weekend of the 20th was our last full weekend with Cheryl. We took her down to South Bank for a rainy, cold evening and enjoyed ourselves. We also went, as Drew says, to “the place where the birds land on my head,” one of our favorite places to visit and to take visitors, Lamington National Park. We enjoyed a chilly rainforest walk, picnic, and of course, birds on our heads. It was great fun.

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Fun with birds

During her last week, we took her for a very cold evening picnic up Mt. Coot-Tha, another fun touristy place with beautiful views of Brisbane. It sounds like we were trying to freeze her out, doesn’t it? I don’t know why we insist on being outside so much when it’s cold—it must mean we are all officially becoming Australian. That’s what they do here, and therefore, so do we. 😉 I am definitely re-buying warm winter gear when we are back home in December, so we at least are dressed appropriately for it.
We also made chocolate chip cookies together, an American classic and my favorite. She even helped me make dinner a couple of nights. She seemed to enjoy the cooking, which was fun. She also had a great time staying up in the evenings watching footy with Steve. She continued to teach us one Chinese word each day, which the boys really enjoyed, and she even helped us sing “Happy Birthday” to my Dad on Skype in Chinese.
She left very early last Sunday morning, and I woke up later that morning to the sound of Drew sobbing his little heart out. I went into him and asked what was wrong and he said, “I don’t know why she had to go!” It was so sad.  But later that day, we started rearranging their rooms and getting things back to normal and they both really enjoyed it. Zach has now switched from a toddler bed to a single bed (and has only fallen out once so far, poor little guy), so they have new bedding and he has a slightly different room configuration. They did happily go back to their own rooms.
We have also Skyped with her a couple of times already and Drew is working on some drawings to send her. Yesterday, she and her brother both took turns playing the piano for us on Skype. It was very cute.
Aside from being our first exchange student, she qualifies as our first actual visitor as well. It was great for all of us to have someone here with us every day for a while, someone to take to our favorite places, to show our area to, to cook special meals for, to shop for food with that person in mind, all the things we all enjoy doing whenever someone comes to stay with us. It was a great few weeks. As always, however, it is also nice to get back to routine, so this past week has been nice, especially so with the addition of sunshine and good health.
We had a conference with Drew’s teacher last week, after he got his first official report card. Boy, it all happens so fast! I guess even more so for me, because he started full time school nearly two years before he would have if we hadn’t moved here. He is no longer quiet in class and is now very talkative and social and has to be reprimanded for talking sometimes. That’s the boy we know! The teacher will also have him see a speech therapist at the school because he is having trouble making some language sounds. While hearing this news of course, made me cry at the time, it is an issue we have been concerned with as well and just weren’t sure how long to let it go. It also makes sense—if he has had two sets now of ear tubes, and experienced hearing difficulties without the tubes, obviously his language processing is going to be off a bit. So far, it can be handled right at the school during class time and I hope it will be a relatively easy issue to correct. I think it will be.
I wrapped up my counseling sessions a week ago Friday. The public health system here pays for 10 sessions in a year and that’s what I did. I had to pay $45 out of pocket for each, which is not too bad. She feels, and I agree, that I am in a much better place now than when I started seeing her. I think I will always have grief related to leaving the only home I have ever known, right down to the country and even the hemisphere, but I am handling it better now and enjoying the experiences here more. Our social life is improving and I have made great strides in terms of my own identity and what I want to do, both professionally and personally.
Unfortunately, I will never be able to have my family nearby, or even in the same country, and I will never be able to be fully American, if that makes any sense, while we are here. That is going to be hard pretty much on a daily basis. To go from seeing my parents at least twice a month to not at all in the past 12 months is hard—there is no way around that. To not be able to have them more involved with my kids, and our little unit with our nieces and nephews and cousins will always be sad. But I just have to deal with all of that and acknowledge that this is the decision we have made for our family and move forward. If we moved back, there would be the now Australian part of me that I would miss and people here that I cherish that I would miss. Missing people, places and things will be part of all of our lives. I think it makes us cherish even more our loved ones, the connections we have with them, and the time we are able to spend with them. It makes us grateful for the multitude of experiences we get to have, the knowledge we are able to gain, and the places we will come to know and be a part of. We embrace the grief and longing and are grateful for it because we know it means we have the fortune in our lives to love deeply and have long lasting, beautiful connections.
This past Friday was the most social day I have had since we moved here and I loved every minute of it. At my first counseling session, I believe, she pointed out to me how much more social my days back home were compared to my days here. That is definitely shifting and Friday was a beautiful testament to that. Our neighbors dropped by in the morning to walk to school with us and then three of us Moms took our younger kids to the park. Then a friend came over to our house with her kids for the rest of the morning to play and have lunch. Our neighbors came back to walk with us back to school for afternoon pickup and then four of us Moms and ALL the kids went over to the park to play. We all made our way home and then that night I had my playgroup Moms’ evening out for dessert at a local restaurant. I have realized now that social connections are what really make me thrive and that I just feed off a day like that and am energized from it for a while.
On another positive note, speaking to the lifestyle here: We were able to put more than $800 into savings this month, just straight into a savings account, no need to spend it now! That is just mind-blowing to me. Back in Colorado, we couldn’t even put aside $50 per month, much less $800. A chunk of this month’s savings comes from the government assistance we are eligible for. This month, we got an additional $200 from the government that every family in the country receives to help with school expenses, and another $200 from the school to help with the cost of hosting an exchange student. Those benefits really are amazing to me!
I have to keep those benefits, and our current wages in mind, when I head down the road of complaining. I had a sweet date with Drew yesterday, part of our regular attempts to ensure we have one on one time, and we shopped a bit and then went out for dessert. It was $22 for two desserts, juice and a cup of tea! That sounds like highway robbery to even say the amount! However, we can pay that price and still save over $800 for the month…..hmmmmm. Interesting.

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My handsome Saturday afternoon date

The other area that would make me want to complain is when the topic of getting my Australian citizenship arises. We have said several times that we all want dual citizenship and I am the only one currently without it. I am not eligible for it here until I have lived here for four years. However, it is not a true democracy here and, as an American, it is really tough for me to consider becoming a citizen of a non-democratic nation. I know I need to do it, but that will be a struggle for me; I would like to meet an American who that isn’t a struggle for.
I had always thought Australia was democratic and I think people here believe it as well. I remember saying to Steve years ago when he first came to the U.S. and I had visited here, how odd it was that we Americans sing so many songs about our freedom when there are so many other countries that are also free. He agreed.
But I have now learned that there aren’t as many countries that are as I thought there were, and I wonder which ones truly are. The prime minister of this country (the LEADER) was replaced last month, while everyone was home eating dinner that evening, just replaced, just like that! No campaign, no vote, no say of any kind whatsoever from the population. And that can happen whenever the government would like it to! AND, the government just announced that the next federal election will be the first Saturday in September. No, not every year; that’s just when they feel like having it this year. They have one whenever they want. I don’t even know if there’s a required amount of notice people are supposed to get beforehand. You would think it would be more than a month, especially because of the final tidbit that makes me cringe, and that is that people HAVE to vote! It is mandatory; they are fined if they don’t! I would think they could at least get the courtesy of a standardized election day to plan around! Holy moly!
For an American, this is tough stuff to swallow. So, when I start to question my future citizenship, I have to remember our $800 savings this month, and the assistance and support we get from the government. To an American, true freedom is precious; you don’t realize how precious until it’s missing. However, I like the security of putting my babies to bed at night knowing I just put a sizeable chunk of money in the bank to help support our lifestyle and enable us to continue our overseas travel habit. I didn’t have that security in the U.S. I know plenty of other people do, but there are also plenty that don’t. I guess in our case, when you truly think about it, sacrificing some of those freedoms for the tradeoff of a better lifestyle is worth it. But, I tell you, it’s a tough one. I think all Americans would always wonder: Is it really? Yes, it is. Is it really? Yes, it is. Is it really? And so it goes….

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