The love blog: for Haakon

When Haak and I were first together, I woke up one morning, rolled over and pretended to be surprised to see him.

“You again???!!!” I asked and we dissolved into giggles, drunk on the idea that for the first time, there was someone there who we were happy to see again… and again.

This weekend, we celebrate twelve years of waking up together.

2007Melbourne, 2007. 

Twelve years of comfort, twelve years of chatting late into the night, of tea in bed [which is my favorite thing and which you participate in even though it’s not yours]

Twelve years of stomach bugs and those late night fights where you still sleep side by side but try not to even brush against each other.

Twelve years of one or the other of us crawling into bed late and cold, maybe a little beery, to nestle up against the warm skin of our bedmate.

And seven years of late night and early morning adventures in parenting. Sitting up by the light of a lamp, befuddled, exhausted, fuzzily deciding who would change the nappy, you always there for me to hand the screaming baby to while I took respite in the toilet for a minute.

We were together for the long, hungover days following a wakeful night with a baby. Tired, we snapped at each other and argued over small details.

I accused you of trying to cook the babies when you put piles of blankets on them.

And I discovered new things about you as a parent. Like when you are REALLY tired, you sleep with your lips puckered. Sometimes you do it when you are driving, which worries me.

You are harsh with the kids sometimes – but I’ve never caught you being unfair. You teach them things – thank fuck! because I’ve realized I’m not a great teacher. I’ve learned a lot about the benefits of an explanation from you.

You create a solid world for the kids. A  world that they understand.

I love the way whenever we’re alone you always have some small confession to whisper in my ear [“WHO was that who I was just talking to?”].

And every time we do the moving across the world thing, I’m blown away by the fact that you’d do that, with me.

That you’d live in Australia for years at a time, away from your family and the woods and rivers you love.

I really never thought we’d end up here – our marriage was so tentative and did not include any of the traditional marriage promises.

We just wanted to keep spending time together.

I didn’t know then the detail of the challenges that an across-the-world romance would bring, but I knew that the big picture was doubtful – not just looking at the stats of marriage in general, but with the addition of deciding which country to live in and the strain of someone always being away from their home.

Also, we’ve both been skeptical of having a monogamous, committed relationship, scared about the isolation and about doing all the intimacy with one person.

All our intimacy eggs in one basket.

It wakes me up at night sometimes – the worry that we’ve melted together so much, we’re becoming one person. The further in we go, the deeper the risk of loss.

If we left each other, who would we be?

So I don’t assume for one second that you’ll be with me forever. I try not to take your presence for granted.

If you did leave, I’d spend half my income on plumbers and I’d really miss all the things you just whip up – computer stand, a house, baby bike seat, a tap just where I need it in the garden.

But I know I’d get along alright. I know you’d get along without me too.

This week, you’re passionately into making baskets out of willow. This morning you laughed and said, “I’m going to make you a house out of willow, lady.”

As we come out of the early parenting years and start to reclaim ourselves and our time, I’m delighted to realize that you’re still someone I want to spend time with.

This morning I rolled over and there you were – again! I bit your shoulder gently and said it: you again.

I love waking up with your warm body and your kooky surprised face so close.

Each year we spend together is a triumph. Each year convinces me more that this is worth working for and fighting for.

This morning you suggested I use a coaster to put my tea cup on. I said I spill so much tea I need a bucket. You laughed at me and said, “I love you.”

I love you too Karuzas.

I’m still in it for the giggles.

 

 

 

 

 

More cake! – how we can support each other as parents.

We’ve all been there, as parents.

You tell your child that they have had enough chocolate cake and then, while you are distracted by good company and a second coffee, your toddler climbs onto your lap and starts eating cake from your plate, carefully at first, watchful of your reaction, and then with more confidence.

One of the biggest surprises, to me, in becoming a parent, is how exhausting the constant decision making is. Especially so since all the decisions can seem equally important in a harried world – does your child need to wear a hat today? can they have another cookie? watch another episode of PJ Masks? should you vaccinate/send them to kinder at age five?

So many of the decisions we make every day and every minute mean nothing in isolation but can have a huge impact on how simple our parenting lives are in the future. I don’t care if my child has another cookie today, or skips toothbrushing once a week, but I think that when I’m consistent, it works out in my favour later.

Just as I’ve found myself in the toddler-sneakily-eating-cake zone, I’ve found it painful to watch other parents in similar situations. The firmest “No,” turns into “maybe later,” and finally ‘OK then, just a bit,” all in the space of five minutes.

I must admit, I notice this mostly in women parents [partly because I mostly hang out with mums] and I think it’s probably a really important point to address in terms of bigger issues around women and assault.

Getting clear and committing – even to something as small as “we’re leaving the playground,” or “no more cake,” helps women set up boundaries and tune out social pressure, which provides an example to all kids that women are to be listened to and respected.

I’ve long tried to figure out ways we can help each other stick to our words, especially in social situations when we are distracted and want to enjoy being with our friends.

One way is to physically back each other’s decisions. Say the parent has said no more cake. If the child reaches for the cake, you can, as a supportive co-parent would, reach out and move the cake out of the child’s reach, saying in a friendly way “I’m going to make it easier for you to listen to your mum.”

Maybe you think the child should have more cake. Maybe you don’t care about the cake. It’s not the point. The point is to back each other up, no matter what the issue.

When you know someone really well, or if you are co-parenting, you could offer to remove the child or hold the child so the parent can focus on the goal [eg. getting the car ready to leave]. In this situation, the child may cry and scream. [Read more about listening to kids feelings here].

So often, parents back out of hard decisions in social situations, not wanting to face judgement or be the one dragging a screaming child down the street. We make split-second decisions according to what’s easiest at the moment, but having back up can help us follow through with what we know will pay off in the end.

Strong physical responses in parenting can be seen, beautifully, by watching animals parent.

My darling husband and father to my children has a charmingly animalistic approach to parenting – when our daughter decided to protest walking even short distances by dragging on our arms as we held her hand, he decided that if she dragged, he would let go of her hand. After explaining it to her, they began walking.

Every time she dragged, whack! her tiny two-year-old body would hit the snowpack. I had to look away – no one enjoys seeing their child upset. But she only did it a handful of times before deciding it wasn’t worth it to drag on his hand.

We parents tend to feel that we can’t do anything right. We sometimes fold guilt away into little pockets that remain in the fabric of how we identify as parents.

Having another adult or another parent make it clear that they will back anything we do as parents [obviously if it is safe for the child] is a huge relief.

It confirms what we know in our hearts – that we love our kids and that we’re doing our best.

 

 

 

Wandering folk/mind the gap

“The train on platform two goes to central station. Please mind the gap.”

The familiar droll announcement on the Sydney train network greets us when we first arrive back in Australia. I stand at the station, jetlagged, exhausted and with tears in my eyes, letting the routine, dependable noise wash over me.

After a flat white and a lamington under a winding fig tree, we’re off and away to my brother’s house in Canberra, but the gap is ahead of us:

A strange by-product of moving between the US and Australia every few years is the period we’re living right now – when work, housing, cars and all the routines that keep us grounded are not [yet] secured.

It’s either an empty space, a gap in our lives, or a long holiday – depending on how you think about it.

Although I now have more time to lie in bed with the kids, rock hop on big granite boulders at the creek and breathe in the sweet smell of flowering pittosporum, I can’t shake the feeling that life gaps are associated with negative events.

It seems we take gaps only when we are forced to, and that these times are often thought of as setbacks or gaps in the resume. We take time off because we are caring for a loved one, caring for our own health or in a period of unemployment.

Although we’ve chosen our current situation, and planned for it financially, I feel the absence of routine – every day is wide open, a Wednesday just as good as a Saturday for hours spent reading the paper over coffee.

Haak and I find ourselves having regular meeting-chats to narrow our focus and cocoon our goals.

Not having a job title, project or business to identify with feels a little raw in our society which values economically productive work above all else.

Wanting to find out more about how to thrive outside the bounds of 9-5, I talked to Sharnee Thorpe of Wandering Folk [who happens to be a family friend] to find out how someone who has designed a [gorgeous!] range of waterproof outdoor picnic rugs, pillows and coolers and shaped her life around the idea of freedom and travel deals with the ups and downs of being on the move.

Sharnee laughed when I suggested she was an expert traveller. “I’d like to think I’m an expert on wandering,” she said, “my family was always travelling and I knew from a young age that I wanted to work hard so I could travel more.”

There’s a well-known phenomenon in Australia, known as a gap year, often taken between high school and uni [college], when young people are excused from having a proper job and encouraged to travel, work seasonal or temporary jobs and explore the world.

Australians have worked at least this bit of socially-sanctioned free time into our culture, while Americans tend to jump straight from high school to college to a full-time job to cover the higher costs of health insurance and student loans.

Sharnee echoes the Australian ethos when she says: ” travelling is more important than university. Travel first then go to uni. Travel teaches you everything you need to know in life – how to live on a tight budget and make your money last, how to make new friends, learn a new language and learn about new cultures.”

Her 33,000 Instagram followers show that Sharnee’s life is appealing to many people – something to fantasize about when they are deep in the humdrum of work, gym, latte, meeting.

But having a business means never being away from work and Sharnee said she checks emails daily when in service. “As a freelance print designer and with running Wandering Folk, I always have to work when I’m travelling,” Sharnee told me, “it’s a blessing …and a curse at times.”

Sharnee has worked gaps into her working life, but not everyone is comfortable with so much change and lack of routine.

I’ve talked to two people in their 20’s since I’ve been back who are about to accept promotions and change jobs and both of them looked confused when I asked if they would take a few weeks or months off in between.

It’s not the done thing, but there’s good reason to pursue big changes and breaks in our lives, especially for encouraging creativity.

Sharnee says she tries to keep her work commitments to one day a week while she’s travelling, and saves big projects for when she is settled in her Northern NSW studio – but scrolling through Wandering Folk’s expansive Instagram feed, it’s clear that travel brings inspiration to Sharnee’s design work.22708792_132988623959006_8074818904829984768_n

Our friend Michael Menager, an American musician and songwriter who has lived in Australia for thirty years asked me last week how I was going with moving back.

We were doing some digging to level out Michael’s new deck area, and when I answered that it was a bit gappy but going well, he squinted at me in the bright Aussie sun, kicking up dust with his shovel, and said in his Aussiemerican accent “well, you know what I think? having these spaces in our lives is a good time to be creative. So get into your writing.”

So maybe I’ve been confusing a life-gap with emptiness and doing nothing. Wandering Folk functions because Sharnee works as hard as she plays, the beach picnics in her Instagram feed a well-earned reward for balancing work and play.

Finding small routines within a period of travel or uncertainty is helpful too. “Most of the places I travel now have yoga, which helps me keep in a vague routine and maintain my health while on the road,” Sharnee said, “but I do miss being able to cook my own meals while travelling – especially being vegetarian.”

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There are only a few reasons people don’t feel like they, too, could become wandering folk. Money is one reason [re-structuring your financial commitments is possible barring unusual circumstances, check out my $20,000 annual budget here] identity and fear another.  But habit might be the most common reason.

Once we’re in the habit of a 9-5 routine, it feels impossible to imagine anything else.

If you threw it all in and took a sabbatical, what would bloom in the sweet panic of empty time and space?

It’s important to remember that you belong on the magic picnic rug as much as I do and Sharnee does. If you’d rather be dancing on an empty road and experience days stretched out ahead of you, or just think you might like to try it, go ahead.

This world is yours. [but pack speakers, Sharnee’s most-often used item when travelling].

Wandering folk don’t mind a gap. We just jump.

climb [Haakon climbing at Tantawanglo river. September 2018]

Special thanks to Sharnee Thorpe, who provided me with stunning pictures and the quote below.  Please buy one of Sharnee’s stunning weatherproof picnic rugs before you quit your job and can’t afford to anymore!

And check out the Wandering Folk website, Instagram and Facebook page for inspiration as to what your gap might look like …

 

“Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” ― Ibn Battut

 

 

Smoke gets in our lives

When we left Montana in early September, smoke from local and regional forest fires was thick, for the second summer in a row.

My tomatoes hung, unripe, on their bushes, a disappointing reminder of how little direct sun we had received this year. Dips in the lake were always accompanied by the throb of helicopters and light aircraft overhead.

The sorrow of losing the last bluebird days of summer to smog was nothing compared to the suffering of those who couldn’t go outside because of compromised lung function [there’s a few of them in Lincoln County because of a vermiculite mine that operated in Libby in the 70’s and 80’s].

When we returned to Australia a few weeks ago, we returned to smoke from bushfires. The Yankees Gap fire – a highly unusual winter fire which started last month and has burnt for over 30 days, flared up again on the day of our welcome-back picnic at Kianninny bay, driven by strong warm winds.

It’s unsurprising, given how dry it is, especially for this time of year [you can read my first impressions of arriving home to drought here]

When my brother drove us from Canberra to my parent’s place in rural NSW for the first time, the dry was evident, especially after living in the relatively wet and green forests of northwestern Montana.

As Laurie drove us closer to mum and dad’s house, along their dirt track driveway, and saw the bush full of tall, dead wattles draped in long strands of crackly bark, I said: “you know what this place needs?”.

My brother and I looked at each other and at the tinderbox out the car windows and said in unison “a good fire.”

Despite summer after summer of preparation for the inevitable, for over 30 years the bush around my parent’s place has never burnt. Perhaps this will be the year.

In many ways, in Montana and in the Bega Valley, it’s the same story. A noticeable increase in the frequency of wildfires year by year. An increase in how hot each fire burns, and in how long it’s out of control for – and in how many structures are lost.

But the narrative I hear about wildfire is vastly different in each country, in each place. Here on the far south coast of NSW, a dominant narrative is about human-induced climate change – words that are never spoken in rural Montana.

Instead, the narrative in conservative Montana is that because environmentalists [often presumed to live elsewhere/in California] have held up logging operations with litigation, causing economic decline, the loss of a beloved timber industry and now ever-worsening wildfires.

A Facebook post that circulated a month ago showed the rage felt by some rural Montanans towards this “other”: “…. all you environmentalists that wanted to save our forests up here, I’m inviting you to live in what we have to now, you think air pollution is bad right now where you are? Let me tell you, when you can smell smoke from your basement, and you have ash raining down on you on a daily basis, then we can talk. I invite you to our state of Montana, so you can see what your responsible for. You might think lightning is responsible, but in all reality it’s your ignorant thought processes that hold up timber sales and logging in litigation that leads to disasters like this.”

Ironically, the environmentalists living in California and trying to stop logging in the north-west are living in a state that has had a hell of a fire season for the last few years, so it’s safe to say that smoke gets in their eyes too.

In the last few days, firefighters have finally contained the Mendocino fire, the largest and longest burning fire in California’s history. The blaze has killed a firefighter, destroyed 280 structures and covered an area about the same the size as California’s beloved sprawling city, Los Angles.

While everyone looks for someone to blame for the increase out-of-control wildfires, one thing is clear: the fires affect everyone, rich and poor. While money, to some extent, can provide an escape, our recent global trip showed a sameness about this year’s extreme heat and dry that is unavoidable.

A quick peek in the Guardian this morning confirmed the global nature of this year’s heat – Africa recorded it’s hottest ever temperature [of 51. 3C! that’s 123 F] at a weather station in the Sahara desert, and Sweden, a country which usually experiences an average of three wildfires in a summer, has had over 50 this year.

While global warming is certainly implicated, other weather factors, such as a weak jet stream [a core wind pattern that moves weather around the globe] and changes to sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic [known as the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation] are at play as well.

[Thanks to Simon at simonsweather.org who first explained these concepts to me].

The Facebook post which circulated this summer in Montana ends cheerfully and with an admirable maturity level: “We as Montanan’s, and I as well, think I can say this for the entire state to personally hold you responsible for what our living conditions are. And you wonder why we don’t like you!

On the subject of heat and fire, it’s clear that my Montana community is not alone in searching for someone or something to blame.

But we must think globally on this one – humans don’t like extreme heat and dry and we don’t like how accustomed to the milky blue haze we are becoming.

Smoke is in our lives and it makes us all anxious, searching for an escape route, or an escape goat, or a scapegoat.  Like the animals we are.

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Smoky goodbye party at beautiful Milnor Lake, Troy, Montana. Late August 2018.

 

 

 

 

For roadkilled native animals, the problem is the solution.

It’s an iconic Australian sight – the solid dark mass of a dead wombat on the side of a dusty country road, one stout leg thrown up as if in warning to other animals.

One every now and then, sure, but the sheer number of roadkill deaths hit me as we drove from Canberra to my parents’ place with my brother last week – kangaroos and wombats in various stages of decay were clustered along the roadside in groups of four, five, six.

My family and I have just moved back to my hometown of Bega, NSW from Montana, a US state which has a strong culture of hunting [and has had a hunting season in effect since 1872!] a fact which means the native animal populations of common animals like deer, elk and bighorn sheep there are kept in check.

There are, of course, roadkill deaths in Montana but a new scavenging law introduced a few years ago means that those who are hit are quickly moved off roadways – and eaten.

When we left Montana, the contents of our freezer included white wrapped packages labeled “roadkill buck,” meat that was gifted to us by a friend who saw a deer hit and salvaged it.

[Thanks to our friend Ben’s humor, we also had packages of meat in our freezer labeled “tender meat snake” (instead of the more conventional “backstrap” and “tenderloin”)]

“Were there always this many roadkill animals?” I asked my brother, wondering if three years away had caused me to gloss over the reality of the situation.

“Nah, it’s just really bad at the moment because of the drought,” Laurie answered.

It is dry. It’s not the driest I’ve seen this land, but the grass is shorn down to brown stubble and the creek makes a narrow path through its bed.

The dry is causing animals to roam further to find food and water, crossing more roads in the process.

Looking out the car window at the carnage, I can’t help but wonder: could Australia learn from Montana’s long history of managing its native animal populations?

On the same road we were traveling – the Snowy Mountains Highway – our mate Zac counted 200 dead roos one night this winter driving the 20 minutes between Canberra and Michalago.

“It was the combination of it being a Friday night and there being lots of snow traffic,” Zac said, “I stopped counting when I got to 200.”

Zac also told me that the owner of the Tathra caravan park had mentioned that her international visitors had been distraught at seeing so many roadkilled animals – the very animals they had come to see and hoped to see hopping and fluffy, not smeared on the highway.

Australia’s success as a tourism destination relies, at least in part, on healthy populations of native animals. But historically, white settlers have not been good stewards to native animals – the Tasmanian tiger was declared extinct in the early 1930’s, the result of overzealous hunting and koalas were taken to the brink of extinction, shot for their thick fur.

Australia protects by law the majority of native plants and animals. In my state, NSW, native animals are currently protected under the biodiversity conservation act of 2016.

But have we taken it too far?

Australians eat vast quantities of meat every year, more than any developed country in the world, according to the world economic forum website. Reading this, a gem from a permaculture course I took years ago in New Zealand floats to the top of my mind: the problem is the solution.

Although Aussies have come to terms with the idea of eating native animals [kangaroos are now hunted commercially and roo meat is commonly available in supermarkets and restaurants] the mainstream has yet to embrace the idea of harvesting the meat ourselves.

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Roo meat is very similar to venison – lean and dark – but in recent years, I’ve not heard of anyone eating other Aussie animals.

Wombat, by folklore, is tough and chewy [there’s a song about wombat stew: “ewey gooey yummy chewy wombat stew”] and tales of early white settlers include despondent descriptions of living on nothing but pumpkin and bear [koala].

While we may not be able to do anything to make wombat taste good, a roadkill salvage culture and the associated laws or indeed, a huntings season similar to Montana’s would at least save some kangaroo meat from being wasted.

Meanwhile, good people ease the suffering of animals by doing clean up on our roads, rescuing infant kangaroos and wombats from the pouches of their road killed mothers and euthanizing where necessary.

This morning we went to see an old family friend, Pauline, who is 76 and a very busy volunteer with WIRES, a wildlife rescue organization.

Pauline has five babies in her care, four kangaroos and one wombat, which she keeps in woolly shoulder bags to mimic a pouch.

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Pauline’s orphans were rescued out of their mother’s pouches or found wandering on their own but still needing milk to survive. Once they hit the magic weight of six kilos, they will be weaned and released onto the bush property of another WIRES volunteer and eventually into the wild.

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The work that Pauline and her fellow volunteers do is pressing right now [she said WIRES takes in several new animals every day in this region] and her access to these cuddly animals delighted my American tourist children, who, two weeks into our time in Australia, still shriek every time they see a kangaroo or wombat.

 

 

But the work of WIRES doesn’t address the overall problem – which is that the populations of these animals continue to grow in good seasons unchecked, leaving a large population to die slowly when the drought inevitably returns [Australia has a shortage of native predators, with birds of prey and the dingo at the top of the chain].

Native animals are officially protected in Australia, but the way I see it, we’re not doing everything we can to protect them.

But we can – we have hardworking scientists at our disposal who could come up with a sustainable solution for kangaroo and wombat populations which would thrill animal lovers, meat lovers and your car insurance company in equal parts.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Why having kids or not is the hardest decision you’ll ever make.

I’m at that age [34] where some of my friends have teenagers, some have newborns and some haven’t arrived at the question: should I have kids?

And then everything in between – friends who are decidedly no, friends who tried to conceive but couldn’t [how can I tell you, tenderly, how sorry I am that there won’t be a piece of you, more of you in this world], friends who have lost infants and small children and friends who are in communication with their partner or a fertility clinic about how and when they’ll try to conceive.

It’s an age where many of us end up doing a lot of explaining our choices. I’ve seen one end of this in the subtle reactions to my friend Kat, who is 37 and visiting us with her youngest child, 15-year-old Luka.

Kat is graceful at introducing herself and alleviating the quick, curious glances between mother and daughter. “My son is nineteen,” she’ll explain, “one of the benefits of teen pregnancy is that my kids will both be out of home when I’m 40.”

Although I’m grateful that we live in an age when people in the western world mostly get to choose when to conceive [you can read my post about that here: Contraceptives: the real measure of inequality]  – or not to bear children at all, I also think that such a wide window leaves many people reeling.

Kat and I met a couple in their early thirties with no kids last week that I knew a little and she had never met before. After Kat had said her above introduction, the woman cast a pointed, sideways glance at her boyfriend and said firmly “I think 32 is the perfect age to have kids.”

When I asked her why she thought that, she answered that she has really good health insurance right now with her job.

So this is America, where people base when and whether to have kids on how good their health insurance is.

But this woman had a point – when it comes to a big life decision like having kids, the idea that we are making a reasonable, calculated choice is a facade because we can never know what it’s really like to be a parent until we are deep, deep into the swan dive.

So we cling to some vaguely pragmatic reason like “I’m 32” or “I have good health insurance.”

When I asked him later if he wanted kids, on a blue inflatable raft floating lazily down the Kootenai River, the woman’s boyfriend looked around him and said  “I’m not sure. My life is pretty good.”

Five years ago, I would have said something encouraging about having kids but lately I take pause in this conversation: I work hard at saying nothing. Because this guy and everyone who is looking at kids realistically deserves to be listened to: their message is clear.

Why would we have kids?

The next generation of fertile people in the USA is not stupid – according to figures from the CDC in 2017, birth rates have hit an all-time low of 62.0 births per 1000 women aged 15-44.

Americans already work so much, too much, and one thing you can say about having kids is it is work.

Our friend and housemate, Laura, has lived in our basement for the last two years. Laura moved in pretty certain she wanted kids one day, but has since has referred to living below two kids as “excellent birth control.”

Sometimes the contrast between our lives is comically different: while Laura uses her superpower of rolling out of bed five minutes before she has to be at work, I am up and working instantly: called to wipe a bum before I’ve made it to the bathroom myself.

I don’t say this with any bitterness or regret but have kids if you love to work from the minute you get up to the minute you fall asleep.

carry

Parenting work isn’t just the physical labor of hauling our children around and doing the housework and work to bring in money to look after them. It’s also the hundreds of tiny decisions we make about our children every day, which start well before our kids can ask these questions:

Can I watch a show? can I watch another show? can I sleep over with a friend? can I have an apple? can I have an ice cream?

Parents need to become excellent at delegating because a huge part of parenting is taking care of yourself so you can function, which means outsourcing childcare and housework as much as you can.

I’ve noticed there are two camps when it comes to advice about having kids – the 50-60-year-old women who tell you to “cherish every moment” and “relish the little angels” [how did they forget so fast??!] and the realists, of which Kat definitely is.

Kat, a parent herself for 12 years then, told me before I got pregnant: “having kids is like being the designated driver. Your kids are off their faces. You have to guide them across roads and make sure they don’t stop to look at shiny things for hours in the alley. When they throw up, you clean it up and make them food. Then you put them to bed while they cry.”

Asking people whether or not they plan to have kids, and if so, when, is one of those questions that falls into the category of it ain’t my business –  at times I’ve started my enquiries, genuinely interested and Haakon has melted away in a way that tells me “you are being nosy and overstepping the mark.”

I’m convinced asking people about their reproduction plans can be helpful – I want people to know that it is a choice, and they can get out of the riptide of societal expectation that children have to be part of the plan.

That it’s OK to not want to add work to an already full life.

The hard part about parenting is that we don’t get to jump into it fresh every day- our kids may well be angels from heaven but we can’t treat them like that because we are so.damn.tired and emotionally wrung out.

I do see the moments of glee and love between the endless bowls of uneaten oatmeal and tiny decisions and barrages of guilt.

But when you have kids, at some point the exhaustion will catch up and your responsibilities will hit you like a speeding train. The train is coming whether you are 18, 28 or 38.

The train will change your plans, as it did for me last week when a quick dip in the creek on a hot day turned into a counselling session for Atticus, who is six and worried about moving to Australia next week.

As Atty shrieked and kicked the water and trains screeched over our heads in the pool under the railroad trestle, I tried to find a minute to dunk under the water and cool off as planned.

Kids don’t wait until you are in a good mind frame to break down – they do it when everyone is stressed and we have to step up and be there for them, which sometimes feels like the hardest thing in the world.

After three long days of random screaming and being irritable and argumentative, Atticus said to me as we were driving: “I’m just scared.”

“Of what?” I asked.

“I don’t know, just scared,” he replied.

Those three days were rough – thank goodness for Kat, who laughed at me gently while I cried, so confused as to why my kid seemed so angry.

As we work towards our big move back to my hometown [Bega,Australia] next week, we’re doing it with our kids –

Serious, scientific Atticus wants a book about Australian insects as soon as we arrive and Calllie is mildly worried we’ll fall out of the plane and narrates everything with song.

And Haakon, who I loved so much I wanted there to be more of us. I remember vividly telling Haak in bed in the dark that I was pregnant with Atticus and the words hanging in the silence for awhile.

While I waited for his response, I told myself I could do it by myself.

And I heard a slow smile spread across his face and he said “well, that’s exciting.”

Phewwwww.

I wanted to have kids so we could have those moments of exchanging glances because our kids are so cute/infuriating/amazing/hilarious.

We do get those moments, but I never knew how hard we’d work for them.

Maybe if I’d really known I would’ve opted for no kids and weekends in bed with frothy coffee followed by long hikes and hours of uninterrupted netflix.

But the decision is behind us and I’m so very glad because it’s one that humans have not yet been well equipped to make.

It’s just so big.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding home in small town America

Last night I found myself in a bar that’s located just a block from our house in Troy, Montana.  I’ve only been there a few times although it’s our local.

The bar has been there since 1914, on what’s known as Bar Street, a wide street that runs into dust and train tracks on one side. The freight trains that rush by are menacingly close, their horns a scream that shuts down all conversation.

Our friend Kat is visiting from Australia and we were at the bar with some friends to show her Troy nightlife, sitting outside in the heat surrounded by thick smoke from forest fires.

Kat took in the chainsaw carved motorbike, country music, group of Canadian bikers and the wooden sign in the bar which says: This is America: we drink beer, eat meat and speak fuckin’ English. Her mouth made that perfect little O that comics use to illustrate surprise.

The bar is not my scene [although I really dig the penis mural painted in tiny, delicate flowers on the back of the bathroom door], but it’s part of our community here, and Kat’s shock at seeing small-town, racist, conservative America makes me realize how far along the road to becoming American I am.

I’ve clung to being an Australian in America for many years, and clung to the right to ask, as Kat frequently has in her week here: “what is going on here, people? what even is this?”

But after three years in a row in the US and a citizenship ceremony, the split in my identity is happening and it does feel a little like being split in half, a painful but necessary division of cells.

Being American means accepting the shitshow that I see sometimes out my window or at the local bar.

I’m not usually a fan of country music, but a song that played at the bar last night by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow captures a special kind of American self-destruction and a mournful sentimentality that reminds me of life in Troy.

A kid at the high school introduced me to this song years ago, and I could see how he related to the internal fight described in the song: I was headed to church/I was off to drink you away.

In a wider view, I see lots of folks who are finding that the American dream doesn’t live up to its reputation –  I met an upbeat guy from San Diego recently who retired from the oil business and told me that most guys in the business are miserable.

“I can see how they could be unhappy,” I responded and the guy emphasized “not just unhappy. MISERABLE.”

The group of Canadian bikies at the bar last night were as torn as I am about America: they kept asking us if we knew how lucky we were to live in such a beautiful place, but also how could we, how could we, be so impulsive and self-destructive to vote for Trump?

The bar we were at has something of that blend in its generous pours of alcohol. Last night I ordered doubles and regretted it instantly when I saw a full half bottle of vodka go into my glass, followed by a brief baptizing from the soda stream.

In 2003, when I made my first connection to the US through my friend Shawna, who was studying in Melbourne, Bush junior had just enraged the world by sending troops to Iraq, and Shawna copped a lot of anti-Americanism.

With an even more globally unpopular president in power now, Kat told me this week that when she said she was going to America, many of her Australian friends and family asked: “why would you go there?”

Since the glory days after the second world war, the US has slowly slid towards an international reputation as a country which readily foists its culture on other nations but is empty and broken inside.

Growing up, my dad resented the change in Australian English towards the American way – “creeping Americanisms,” he would growl when I used slang as a teenager.

I still don’t know if being American makes me less Australian – if I’m being diluted like my vodka last night wasn’t.

“Will they think you have an American accent when you get back?” our friend Al asked me last night.

“For sure,” I answered “I’ll get so much shit about it.  Don’t you think I sound American?”

Al and his wife Kate giggled at me, warmly amused and so sure of my Australian identity.

Yesterday we took Kat and Luka rafting on the green and roiling Kootenai river and afterwards she confessed to me: “I had no idea what you meant by rafting. I thought maybe we were going to rope some logs together but I figured if you were bringing kids it was probably safe.”

I’m not sure how safe I’d feel about riding logs strung together on the Kootenai, but I’ve grown so accustomed to other things about living here I almost feel I’ll miss them –

The other night I called 911 when a domestic dispute dragged on past 2 am, and was able to get the police to the fight with some very basic directions which didn’t include any street names or house numbers.

We know the guy a bit from passing in the alley behind our house and I feel like I know the couple pretty well after listening to their screaming insults float through our open bedroom window all summer.

The guy seems nice, but fighting with his lady is part and parcel of their existence – is this the “slow hell” Kid Rock describes?

“You’re a crazy bitch!” the guy yelled on that night over the top of her shrill shrieks. Haakon, half asleep, rolled over and put his arm around me, holding tight.

“You’re not a crazy bitch,” he said, rather smugly I thought.

This morning, in a conversation with Kat and Haakon, Kat talked about seeing herself as a New Zealander, although she’s lived in Australia for 12 years. And Haakon said he thinks of himself as “just being me,” although he is a citizen of the US and Australia.

Last night, at the Home bar in Troy, Montana, I listened to Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow crooning “come back home,” and thought about returning home in a few weeks as an Australian – American and one of 325.7 million US citizens with contrasting and dividing identities like mine.


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