Those Awkward Gumtree Moments…

We’re on the move again. As bonafide empty-nesters, we’re going for a proper “downsize” this time into a grown-up, executive apartment with posh fittings, a dishwasher that works, and voluminous sheer curtains that we hope will keep the outside world at bay.

Collection of pieces of furniture.

The latest move means, of course, that I’ve had to rekindle my love-hate relationship with Gumtree to get rid of more of our shit – an experience I return to with mixed feelings.

While I like the premise of the online marketplace, (and so far, I’ve had a pretty good track record with it), I am always surprised by what people sell and buy on the site, ie. Kurt’s “chef set”, as well as the sheer audacity of buyers who persist in negotiating on items that are obviously already bargains.

But I like that the process is simple – even for me, a technophobe. And for most people, the prospect of a bargain or getting something for nothing is invigorating, hence it’s impossible not to get a little bit excited as you upload the prized images of your loot and its enticing copy. And there is a real sense of power as you watch your virtual pack of buyers fight over your item – YES! THIS IS MY STAINED MATTRESS! – somewhat akin to what those unsavory sellers on “Antiques Roadshow” must feel in those few precious minutes before the valuer tells them that the old, fugly plate they inherited from Grandma is worth zilch.

But there are, inevitably, trust issues that you need to be careful about: the buyers that turn up and still try to negotiate, in spite of the price you agreed – safe in the knowledge that you’ve already visualized your gorgeous new sofa in your lounge and will accept just about anything to get the old one out of the way; or the Photoshopped photos that conceal chips on furniture or that large scratch across the top.

I imagine that selling on Gumtree provides a thrill similar to the sense of gratification you get from gambling or the chase in a new relationship. Unless your item doesn’t sell, there’s little to lose from the sport other than your pride, (from the public confirmation of your obviously terrible taste) and the cost and inconvenience of getting your rejected piece taken to the dump.

But even in the event of a sale, there are compromises to be made, such as the loss of your privacy and comfort zone when the buyer turns up to collect their goods – particularly when you are of a socially anxious disposition.

This time – somewhat surprisingly – our most popular item was an IKEA chest of drawers. But in my haste to get rid of it quickly, I under-sold it to the first buyer that contacted me, and so – after the old man and I chipped it, lugging it (like two old people) down the stairs – any hope of a decent profit went out the window. Egg on my face, I called our buyer to inform him, and after re-negotiations that mirrored a car purchase, eventually, we agreed on a price. Suffice it to say, however, I was pretty deflated by the time we got around to discussing the pick-up instructions.

‘Make sure you bring a big enough car,’ I warned him, unable to mask the bitterness in my tone from being robbed in broad daylight and the impending invasion of my privacy for so little financial reward.

‘I’ll take it apart,’ he said.

‘It’s from IKEA,’ I reminded him, ‘and instructions weren’t included in the price,’ I added, under my breath.

‘It will be fine,’ he said, while I reached for the Valium.

He turned up at 6.30pm on a Saturday night (!) with the enviably large toolbox of a “man who can”, leaving the old man drooling behind the curtains of our front window as we watched him take the chest apart on the front lawn. I can’t describe the level of discomfort as the two of us – socially anxious adults – watched this stranger, (who also expected to converse intermittently), hack away at our sold IKEA chest. I assume that he expected to put it back together again.

You may also be able to imagine our relief as his tiny Sedan swung out of our drive.

Our earnings almost paid for two drinks at our local. However, I’m certain that this, our latest experience of the potential perils of Gumtree, will not deter us in the future. We finished the day with extra dollars in our wallet, and the high from that close-to-profitable sale was all the recompense we needed for a slipped disc and the PTSD from tough negotiations and a stranger with a hammer in our home.

Are Women Just As Guilty Of Disempowering Men As They Are Of Avoiding The “Emotional Labor” Of Christmas?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

‘But you enjoy it,’ the old man retorts defensively when I moan about him not chipping in with the organization of social events, the ongoing responsibilities of our adult children, and – dare I mention it – Christmas.

You might have read in the news this week about the disparity between the practical and “emotional labor” experienced by women versus men at Christmas – as in, (for the most part, it seems), men do fuck all. Even Caitlin Moran had a moan in The Times about being the only member of her family to turn on the table lamps in her house – a gripe I can sympathize with as the only member of ours who gives a fuck about creating a relaxing ambiance.

And yet, I have a confession to make. I am one of those women who is guilty of enabling that disparity. I take ownership of pretty much every Christmas chore, from present-shopping and wrapping to the organization of the food, (most of which, admittedly, we probably don’t need Turkish Delight, anyone?), and dressing the tree.

Similarly, Laura Bates highlighted the “third shift” of responsibility that women take on in her article in The Guardian last weekend:

“There is a third shift, which is less often acknowledged. This is the mental load of planning social engagements, remembering thank-you notes and praising kind teachers, keeping track of nativity plays and Christmas pantomimes and organising the logistics of travel and sleeping arrangements.”

And before any of you men turn on me with some petty argument that women do these things because they don’t work or are working part-time – I say, BULLSHIT! – I know plenty of women that organize Christmas, do the bulk of raising the kids, and work full-time.

However, in our case, the disparity between myself and the old man has arisen as a result of our disproportionate levels of interest when it comes to the season. I love Christmas and I have certain unhealthy expectations about how we celebrate it. I would go so far as to admit that I have an inexplicable need to celebrate the tradition in a crass ‘go big or go home kind of way’ that I hold my mother responsible for – in spite of my lack of faith.

But the old man hates it. To describe him as a “humbug” or Grinch would be doing a disservice to both, but having been raised by a mother who abhorred the celebration for personal reasons, and with an inherent dislike of spending money “unnecessarily,” Christmas is an annual decadence he could easily live without.

So, while it’s all well and good during the build-up of my December rage to feel like he’s taking me for granted, I am aware that my real reason for disempowering him has more to do with my fear that Christmas lunch will turn out to be nothing more special than our normal Sunday roast.

And I won’t do that to myself the kids.

I suppose he has a point when he ridicules my insistence that we continue to buy pressies for relatives we hardly ever see and nephews and nieces who earn more than us – but in my defense, the dog loves her Christmas stocking! 

It’s not like I truly believe that we have to buy our kids’ love (much). And yet, Christmas is one of the few occasions during the year that pulls us together as a family – particularly now that the kids have left home – and if I did pull the plug on our KMart Christmas, I’m not certain we would ever see them again!

The occasion is also an excuse to reconnect with extended family since we moved to Australia, especially now that the years seem to be slipping by so quickly.

But far be it for me to belittle the emotional labor involved and the pressure such holidays cause in the (often) vain attempt to cater to different personalities, food tolerances, and diaries. And although we have yet to reach the stage where our children are forced to choose between which family to spend the day with, when that day comes, I know that I will be devastated.

As it is, this year Kurt is working on Christmas Day, and it has taken every ounce of my willpower not to march up to his boss and tell him how personally responsible he is for wrecking our family Christmas – even though the shift is an invaluable step in Kurt’s journey to independence and I couldn’t be prouder of him for doing it.

So, as I open my pressie from the old man this year –  and disguise my bitterness that it was (no doubt) me who chose it and wrapped it in the dregs of the Christmas paper – I know that I will only have myself to blame. The truth is that the old man would share the load if I asked him. Begrudgingly, perhaps, and with the kind of unforgivable rookie mistakes that it would take the remainder of our marriage for me to forgive him for the request of a detailed manual and specification of exactly what to do and where to go.

But the simple fact of the matter is, that Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.

My Kids Will Be Able To Say A Lot Of Things About Me, But Never That I Didn’t Love them.

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A friend asked me the other day about how I felt about Mothers Day, and I knew that the question was loaded – you see, I haven’t had a mother for a long time. And for the first time, it struck me that I don’t view the celebration from the perspective of my own mother. I lost her too young to remember her as a real person, so my only association with the day is as a mother to my own kids.

 

There are times when I would love to be able to recount stories of our time together. And in those fourteen years, we did make stories  – on family days out, cheap holidays, when we grew vegetables together at the end of the garden or searched for our runaway tortoise – and yet most of those memories are clouded by her struggles as a single mother, her battle to keep working to provide for three small children, to keep the car running, to keep the smile on her face.

 

Perhaps, that’s why I’ve never allowed myself to fully commit to Mothers Day, with no mother to spoil, to take out to dinner, or to have a monthly spat with – which I understand is very common. And perhaps that’s why I can be somewhat cynical about these ‘special’ days, which can throw up all sorts of pain for those that are excluded or feel isolated – mothers that have lost children, children that have lost mothers, adopted children, mothers that have lost connection with their children. And Mother Day, in particular, sugarcoats a biological responsibility that is not necessarily ‘the best thing’ EVERY woman has ever done. The day can highlight shame and failure for some, as well as the smug gratitude of those women lucky enough to have cultivated perfect relationships with their children – if they do, in fact, exist.

 

Relationships between parents and their children are not always Waltons or Brady-esque. Sometimes, they are not straightforward, as Nikki Gemmell exposes in her book, ‘After,’ which I picked up recently as research for my manuscript. Nikki’s story covers the ways she handled grief after the death of her mother, and yet for me, the greatest comfort I took from the book is her honesty about her tricky relationship with her mother, because it forced me to recognize similarities between her mother’s behavior and my own.

 

Sadly, only after years of distance between them was Nikki finally able to make peace with her mother, only to be shattered a few years later by her mother’s suicide – perhaps, her final act of revenge, in Nikki’s eyes. Personally, I can’t imagine the guilt attached to losing your mother to suicide. Can you imagine the questions you would be forced to ask yourself, even if you knew that chronic pain was at the root of her reasoning? Can you imagine the sense of betrayal? That the person that gave birth to you should choose to leave you in such a way?

 

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: relationships are complicated –  particularly family relationships, where the blood connection can force us to continue with toxic, destructive alliances. Anyone who has produced a child that went against the grain will recognize the sense of shock and the grief for the child you expected to have.

 

The death of my own mother, along with the distant relationship I have experienced with my father at various periods of my life has affected my relationships with my children. Not necessarily for the worst. At times, my insecurity has made me cling too hard and suffocate them; at others, my aloofness, lack of empathy and lack of a filter have left them feeling confused and unloved. I am not a perfect mother; and yet I am the only mother they have. And in the end, when they describe to my grandchildren the ways I fucked up their lives, they won’t be able to say that I didn’t love them. Just like I can’t about my own mother.

 

The Perils Of Moving House

 

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NC was super helpful on the day

It is somewhat ironic that after weeks of persuading Kurt to allow us to buy him a bed base for his mattress so that our house no longer resembles a student house, our own base refused to bend those extra ten degrees necessary to get it up the stairs of our new house. I blame the sketchiest/cheapest removalists I have ever come across – and we’ve come across a few – but it doesn’t help that our bed base is obviously the only design not to come apart with the only Allen key size you don’t have when you need it.

 

 

‘It’s never going up the stairs,’ is a phrase I have become accustomed to in our career of house moves and in my own job of styling property for sale, and ordinarily, I would have begged to differ with them. However, having watched the sweat pour off our three burly lads as they managed to bend a double base in half, I had to accept with sadness that they had a point. There was no way that the only piece of furniture in our house not to originate from IKEA was going around that annoying little bend at the bottom of the stairs. I avoided the mental calculations of what that was going to cost us on top of the additional hours of trying to squeeze it past the banister, as well as the blame and weary acceptance in the eyes of the old man.

 

“Moving house” isn’t cheap when it turns out the truck is not big enough to accommodate everything in one load because some knob-end at Head Office skipped school on the day they learned how to calculate the volume of a 3D shape. Nor is it cheap when your team of “professionals” tear into the timber floors of your old house with the sharp corner of a box, hours prior to the final inspection with the agent.

 

I should have known as soon as one of them turned up in flip-flops (thongs) that this was more a merry band of amateurs rather than consummate professionals, who had more enthusiasm for nicotine than lifting.

 

Much to the old man’s chagrin, the garage has already evolved into a dumping ground storage area for all furniture that wouldn’t go up the stairs or hasn’t met the exacting requirements of my coastal theme. It is a large space, fortunately, but I secretly suspect that the old man had been counting on it as his new “shed” from the extensive list of strict rules that I found shredded in the bin at the end of the day.

 

Once again, I was forced to negotiate sexual favors for the rights of the artificial Christmas tree.

 

He was very quiet at the end of the day and I swear I saw him throw up in his mouth a little the one time he dared peer down the stairs into his new furniture showroom of “good money wasted in IKEA”. The artwork that fell on his head from the wall above our mattress on the floor as we fell exhausted into bed, was probably the final straw.

 

We are yet to work out how to get the internet or the tv to work and Kurt has already used up most of our data allowance, so it is already a “happy new home” with all the promise of our own distinctive brand of dysfunctionality – the type that you never read about in parenting magazines. Three nights with fuck-all to do has been costly to our livers, but I am trying to remember that we have a roof over our heads, hot water and we can hear the crash of waves from the ocean when the local teenage no-hopers – Kurt’s new friends, I assume – aren’t hooning down the road. So all is good with the world.

The Continuing Saga Of Co-Habiting With Young Adults

feet-684682_1920I would like to be able to blame Menopause for my recent bouts of insomnia but it is becoming increasingly obvious that my lack of sleep has more to do with the nightly comings and goings in our frat house and the entitlement of our young adults than my hormones. 

 

I get it. I know how hard it must be to budget for rent when you have Ubers, eating out and full body waxing to pay for, but surely there is a limit to what you should have to put up with as parents, who by rights, should be empty-nesting by now?

 

They don’t even take us for granted in the obvious way we used to take our parents for granted when we came back home under the pretense of a visit to get our washing done, be fed or for that sneaky twenty from Mum’s purse. But at least when we were their age, we were respectful when we snuck into the house after a skinful after midnight, and as quiet as proverbial mice until we were safely tucked under the doona. We also didn’t bring back the city’s homeless to raid our fridge, terrorize the dog and use up all the loo roll.

 

Friday night began with a call from Kurt at 1.30am to remind me that I owed him $20 and could I transfer RIGHT NOW before he finally returned home to Hotel Simmonds at 4.30am and morphed into Pete Evans to knock up a batch of Barramundi to feed the five thousand.

 

Meanwhile, NC, who in spite of years of education and some understanding (I assume) of biology, must have missed the lesson on how to whisper. Most nights when she comes home in the early hours, she marches into our room and throws herself between our sleeping bodies with a ‘let me tell you about my night.’ Other nights, she brings home friends who regale loudly over Vegemite and toast sessions about how awful men are before they switch on the tv to catch up on The Bachelor.

 

The icing on the cake is the recent behavior of our one perfect child, The Princess, who since she discovered the barefaced cheek of the cat we call The Tormentor from next door, (who prowls our front garden, goading her into what would be a highly ill-matched fight over territory), has started to growl throughout the night. I realize she is trying to protect her parents from the perils of living in such a high-risk suburb (!), but surely she must realize by now that she is no competition for her blue-eyed feline counterpart? Not the sharpest Spoodle in the box, she tries to scare the cat off with some crazy territorial dance that includes zigzagging around the garden and barking loudly while the cat sits on the fence, inhaling on a joint, a knowing smile of superiority plastered over her face.

 

Hotel Simmonds feels like Faulty Towers at the moment. It’s like we’re living in some black comedy when what we should be doing is going to bed each night with a cup of steaming cocoa ahead of a solid eight hours of sleep. Nighttime activities have changed somewhat since the early years of our marriage and now involve moving the dog from room to room, the fire prevention tactics of checking the oven is turned off several times a night, body counts and concealing alcohol. Home has become part frat house, part asylum, where not even the sight of Kurt shaving a Mohican on his head in OUR en suite in the middle of the night, surprises me anymore.

 

The Problem With Inviting People Over Is Then You Have To Clean The House

We had the surrogate family over for Easter lunch yesterday; no pressure really but it meant that my slovenly attitude to housework was at risk of exposure and that the dust on the floors may need more than a gentle push under the sofas. mini-pigs-2185058_1920

 

It’s funny how that works: how you can live in denial like a deliriously contented pig in shit for weeks and the only thing to push your shame button is the judgment from your friends. What’s even stranger is that once I commit to a clean, I get an almost perverse sense of pleasure out of it, and after thirteen house moves since the kids were born – a lifestyle choice they attribute to our general dysfunction – I’m actually not that bad at it.

 

In general, though, I give pretty much zero fucks when it comes to housework, mainly because I resent the archaic belief that it is “women’s work”, but also because at this age you realise that there are far more interesting ways to fill your time than cleaning the grout between tiles with a toothpick – such as watching Netflix and eating chocolate. NOBODY NOTICES, ANYWAY.

 

The old man does his share of the housework in our house, but badly, in the hope, I imagine, that his half-skewed attempts will be shameful enough for me to do them next time. So apart from the chores that one does to prevent the whole family coming down with gastro, the bare minimum normally has to suffice in our crib.

 

I’ve found that “training” is the key.  Usually, after six weeks, our bed sheets walk to the laundry of their own accord and “doing their own laundry” is one of the ways I’ve taught the kids about responsibility. So, in theory, all that’s left to do before guests arrive is a quick whizz around the bathrooms to pick up hair and to pop my head in the pantry for a quick head count of the moth population.

 

I am a tidy person, but cleaning is boring. It was one of the reasons I hated my maternity leave – that expectation that I would have time to clean just because I was incarcerated in the house for long periods of time. The old man might pretend to be clean, but the depth of toast crumbs and nose hair and the tesselating coffee rings on his desk tell a very different story.

 

Sometimes I think my paternal grandmother would turn in her grave if she saw how far hygiene have been compromised in our house. A mother of the fifties, she was one of those women who took pride in polishing her front doorstep until it gleamed with a brilliance that put everyone else’s in the street to shame. She used to spit on my glasses to clean them, much to my horror. She would be horrified if she knew that I’m the kind of lazy that will wipe the bathroom floor with bath towels in desperation and whose fridge only gets cleaned each time we move house.

 

Which, fortunately, is often.

 

But having said all that, the kids have rarely been at death’s door and I have always believed in building up their immunities through exposure to bacteria and dirt. In my opinion, the ‘sniff’ test” is a pretty good guide when it comes to clothes washing, especially since the old man decided that one wash a week is more than adequate. And as young adults, the kids do their own clothes washing these days, even if typically they are at opposing ends of the clean clothes spectrum – while Kurt washes his entire wardrobe every day, NC (for once her mother’s daughter) and ever the most logical of all of us, admits to reversing her undies to stretch the cycle that bit further.

Moving House Again

We’re on the move again. Or perhaps we’re running away.

 

house-on-the-water-937124_1280We do this a lot as the relationships in our family, that now comprises of four adults, continue to evolve. The average age for kids to leave home is now 27 due to rising house prices, as opposed to 21 in the past, so I imagine that many middle-aged couples are making similar adjustments for extended shared living.

 

We realise now that we jumped the gun with our decision to downsize prematurely two years ago. The driving factor back then was similar to a State of Emergency in that we had to find somewhere small enough to contain Kurt to keep an eye on him as well as reduce costs; the added bonus was that the apartment also minimised housework, an unnecessary evil.

 

We’ve enjoyed the view.

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The impetus behind this latest move has been the impact of us both working from home now, which has reduced the breathing space substantially in our three bedroom unit, even though in reality the old man’s desk only absorbs about one square metre of real space.

 

With one living area and my desk shunted off to a Harry Potter-esque dark corner of our tiny bedroom, the apartment has begun to feel claustrophobic over the past few months.

 

The snooty attitude of the other tenants/owners in the building towards us hasn’t helped. One of the younger couples, it has become quite obvious to us that some of our older neighbours have slid comfortably into a barely concealed intolerance towards change and rental tenants.

 

Of course, Kurt should never have snipped off the end of the garden hose or left those beer bottles in the sauna, and not everyone has an appreciation for the masterful lyrics of Kanye West. And if you don’t have a dog, it’s hard to understand how territorial they become when someone knocks at the door, nevertheless a little more tolerance might have made us feel more welcome.

 

We’ve found the cutest little chocolate box house in an adjacent suburb, that is walking distance to the beach if you carry crampons and rope for the uphill journey back; there is a local pool for my therapy sessions, and the local pub serves my favourite wine by the glass with $9.99 steak.

 

There is a small study for the old man, where we can lock him and his bad moods away whenever the stock market crashes so that they don’t permeate through to everyone, and he will be able to take his afternoon naps in there without judgment.

 

It’s the little things that bring happiness.

 

We know we’ll freeze our rocks off in winter because there’s no heating and old, drafty timber floors, and I have spotted the old man rub his forehead anxiously every time he looks at photos of the lawn that he will be responsible for keeping green, but as soon as NC and I walked into the house we got that tingly feeling and just knew.

 

I like change. Every now and again I have to brush away the cobwebs and breathe in different, clean air to provide me with the energy to carry on.

 

We’re not doing this for Kurt – although I can’t deny that the semi-contained bedroom under the house complete with en suite and spider roommates that we refer to as his ‘new flat’ to his face and secretly as ‘the dungeon’, was definitely a contributing factor in our decision. It also happens to be at the opposite end of the house to our bedroom so no more Kanye lullabies for us.

 

We accepted a long time ago that change does not alter Kurt’s approach to life and if anything this move will provoke two weeks of oppositional behavior because he doesn’t cope well with it, but a different floor plan will hopefully give us better separation.

 

Better still, there are stairs that lead down to his new abode so there is no door for him to slam.

 

I’ve already begun to dream about where to position the cushions and rugs, compiled a ‘what we will need’ list (secretly called ‘what I must have’) to make this house a home and spend every waking moment browsing the Ikea website for those little extra touches that are cheap enough not to draw the old man’s attention to any unnecessary spending, because I assured him that wouldn’t happen if we moved, and he believed me.

 

 

Family: You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

From what I understand, one of the few benefits of divorce is that you occasionally get a break from the kids. One of the benefits of migration is that you get to keep the day-to-day responsibilities of being part of a dysfunctional family at arms length. 

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Family and ‘home’

 

In spite of the logistics, my father managed to track me down from the Queen Mary 2 during his recent honeymoon, precariously adrift somewhere in the Atlantic. Which goes to prove that you can run but you can’t hide when it comes to family.

 

My close family are all still healthy and thriving, fortunately, but the tormenting fear that lodged itself at the back of ours minds when we made the impulsive decision to do this gigantic move to the other side of the world a decade ago, remains the same to this day; it’s that a parent or a close family member will become suddenly ill or start to struggle in some area of their life.

 

And we won’t be there to pick up the pieces.

 

And each time we go back, the guilt increases, and becomes a truly visceral pain; the sort of pain that only the tug of familial love can create.

 

For each time I see my family now, my happiness is tarnished with shame, even though I stand wholeheartedly by our decision to emigrate and would never clip the wings of my own kids to prevent them challenging themselves, if they made the decision to move away from us in the future.

 

Several friends here in Australia are coping with the ongoing physical and emotional demands of looking after frail, ageing parents at the moment, and it is an intensive, gruelling stage in our lives that contributes to recent statistics that suggest that our happiest time of our lives is closer to sixty now.

 

It’s not only the parents that we can’t watch over, because we have siblings ageing with us and nephews and nieces who are now vaulting through the next stages of their young adult lives towards careers and long-term relationships; and we’ve missed most of their precious milestones.

 

I have a large, extended family, thanks to a father who has now married three times and a mother who was one of four children. Social media has provided me with a wonderful life-line to many members of my family – at least those of the generations that understand the vagaries of modern technology – but there are many that slip through the net in between visits.

 

The loss of not being able to contribute properly as an integral part of my family community is the reason I intend to return more frequently now. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to catch up on two years in the space of an afternoon, aided by the wonders of technology to keep us informed in between, and the lubrication of alcohol that is always so shamelessly on offer.

 

It’s almost as though we’ve never been away. Nevertheless, each visit takes its emotional toll and makes it that much painful to leave again; never fully erasing the nagging fear at the back of our minds of whether everyone will still be there the next time we come home.

 

In truth, I probably see many of my family more during these two-yearly visits than I ever did when we lived in the UK, when weekends were dominated by the demands of kids’ sport and community responsibilities.

 

They say that if you have a friend for more than seven years, they remain a friend for life. Fortunately, family will always be there… until they’re not.

The Concept Of ‘Home’, And Moving On Versus Staying Put

I popped back to the suburb we used to live in up until a couple of years ago, last Monday, to catch up with a friend. Whenever I go back there, (and it’s often, as most of our close friends still live there), I experience those same feelings of self-doubt that I feel when I return to the UK. Those soul-destroying questions of ‘did I make the right decision to move?’ or ‘would things be different if I’d stayed?’ continue to haunt me.

 

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Anxiety at its finest.

 

There’s no doubt that the older you get, and the older your parents get, the more you question your decision to move away from your history and the family hearth.

 

People always ask us if we believe we’ve made the right decision each time we’ve moved. I think they put us on the spot because they need their own justification for staying put; to make sure they’re not missing out. We all try to paint the best picture of our lives, and I don’t think that habit has anything to do with Facebook one-upmanship, but rather the need to reassure ourselves by constant re-evaluation. The ex-pat’s worst nightmare is that question of ‘and where is home for you now?’, because it hits a raw nerve that is difficult to explain, but one that you can guarantee will cruelly transport you back to the best memories of the places you’ve left behind.

 

But the reality – and one which people with defiantly long roots will never admit to – is that ‘home’ has nothing really to do with where you grew up. You create your ‘home’, whether that’s with family or close friends. It’s a cliché, but it really is ‘where the heart is’, and nothing to do with which was the nicest suburb or the best bunch of friends – because I can assure you, there are great people everywhere.

 

‘Home’ to me is about where my immediate family is, but in terms of location, that place could be anywhere on the map that provides me with the energy I need at a particular time of my life. Not that I’ve ever been, or ever will be one of those nomadic traveller types that can fill my back pack and leave on a whim – not when I have anxiety, children, a dog, a husband that accepts being the object of my online ridicule and my unadulterated passion for Marmite.

 

I meet lots of ex-pats in my day job, who worry about the effect moving constantly around the world will have on their kids in the future, and it’s something I’ve often worried about in relation to my own offspring. Some of my friends were once kids of ex-pats and while many of them have inherited their parents’ itchy feet, others will never move and do everything in their power to  instil a sense of security they never felt as a child. I like to kid myself that our itchy feet have made our two more confident and independent adults, having forced them to constantly re-adapt, but with two naturally introverted kids (according to Myer Briggs), I might be kidding myself.

 

What for one person can seem like an exciting challenge, for the next is a trial.

 

They are old enough now to make their own decisions about where they decide to live, but if ever they had said to me, ‘we don’t want to move again’, I like to believe that I would have put my own aspirations aside; because without them, there is no ‘home’.

 

What do you think? Is it a good idea to constantly stretch and challenge yourself by setting new goals, experiencing new things, travelling beyond your comfort zone, or does it give you a greater sense of belonging and security to stay put, create more solid foundations and grow deeper roots?

 

Marriage And The Need To Shop Underground

One of the unfortunate byproducts of being married to an accountant is that sometimes you have to resort to going underground to shop or shopping with cash, because they’re so fucking tight.

 

At the moment, I spend many of my nights hidden under the covers with my torch light as I research the perfect set of dining chairs, frantically searching through all the cheapest online stores for a bargain set. $_20

 

These white French Provincial Industrial Cross Back chairs are the style I’ve decided upon, because I’m certain that while he was drunk the other night, the old man fully agreed to replace our current dining chairs, (but not the table yet), and this style will work with the range of eclectic furniture and existing dining table we currently have in our apartment – that is until the next full moon, bottle of vintage whisky or sexual favour, when he allows me to replace the table, too.

 

The topic of the embarrassing ‘sadness’ of our existing dining table and chairs has come up for discussion several times over the past five or so years. I bought our current dining set proudly from Ikea when Kurt was about two years old – so, sixteen years ago – out of the first earnings of (ironically) a painted furniture business I’d set up. We were about to enter the dinner party phase of growing up, and I remember how excited I was as I screwed in the last F167585 with my Ikea Allen key. We’ve hosted many dinner parties on that table, Christmases and most recently Easter lunch, and it may actually bring a tear to my eye when I offload it to some deserving student.

 

Or not.

 

Because the poor quality of our Ikea dining set has not gone unnoticed by our friends, in fact it has become something of a laughing point among the old man’s work mates and my family who know his reputation for stinginess – an accusation he has always responded to with pride.

 

In truth, I never expected the bloody dining set to last this long. It has survived through at least seven house moves and travelled halfway across the world and I can’t help but feel secretly a little disappointed by its durability. However, because there’s nothing structurally wrong with it, in the old man’s eyes, he feels it doesn’t need to be replaced. Unlike me, I imagine. And now is not the best time anyway, when money is tighter than usual as he tries to make some new highly risky work project successful so that he can continue to work from home.

 

It’s not that the set has even gone out of style, particularly, but the table top is showing signs of ageing like the rest of us, with its knife wounds, glitter, play dough and glue globules stuck in the grain from when the kids did craft on it – in fact there is probably a full history of the past sixteen years embedded in its timber veneer and I’m sure that whichever student house on Gumtree is lucky enough to end up with it, will love it as much as we have, even though I admit to praying it would fall apart during our last three house moves…

 

Replacing home decor has always been one of the more intrusive bugbears in our relationship, as the old man sees furniture as something functional rather than a necessary aesthetic commodity that can bring pleasure just by its beauty. It may be shallow of me, but having worked in the interior design business for many years, I now feel ashamed of my Ikea dining set and I don’t think that sixteen years is too premature to insist on a refresh.

 

Our table and chairs has almost reached the age of our children and as we come to the end of our rearing era, is it superficial or wrong of me to want to retire it for something stylish rather than functional for our home?

The Question That Divides A Nation of Parents Of Teenagers

A lot has changed over the past thirty years in terms of what teenagers can and cannot do.

young couple in bed
happy young couple in bed at morning

But nothing sets the cat quite as freely among the pigeons as the question of where parents stand on sleeping arrangements and privileges in the homestead, once teenagers enter into relationships.

 

As in, whether or not they can sleep with their partners under the family roof? Mainly because no parent likes to think of their kid shagging…actually, ‘shagging’ per se.

 

This dilemma has come up with Kurt recently, and although one tends to be a million times more lax in just about every parenting decision that ranges from piercings to curfews when it comes to the second or third child, the answer to this problem also has to depend upon the maturity as well as the age of your child.

 

The old man and I came from very opposing parenting rules when it came to sleeping together in our parents’ houses. His parents were older and stricter; his mother, a Catholic who wept the first time we went away together, made sure we didn’t share a bed (knowingly) in their house until after the wedding ring was firmly in situ on my finger. Whereas my father sat at the opposite end of the spectrum. A young parent, who found himself newly single again in his late thirties, (about the time I was entering my own first serious relationship), it would have been difficult for him to play the Victorian father in relation to my moral code when I never knew what was going to be at the breakfast table; and I’m not talking about the cereal.

 

From this first serious relationship, my father was straight with me and informed me that he’d prefer it that if I was going to do it at all, I ‘did it’ in a bed rather than the backseat of a car; although that concession was obviously only if I was in a committed relationship.

 

And I never abused his trust.

 

We took a similar view with our own kids, which wasn’t difficult with NC as she was well over the age of consent before boys became more important in her life than Harry Potter and the periodic table, and as The Astronaut is a few years older than her, it felt natural to allow him to stay over once she was ready.

 

But then there’s Kurt…a very different animal.

 

Kurt has not had what I would describe as a committed relationship thus far. Many lovely girls have passed through his young life, some of whom have lasted more than a couple of hours, even though Kurt’s poor concentration skills make it hard for him to maintain focus on any one girl for very long. Therefore, when he suggests that he should be allowed to have girls stay over because NC had boys stay over at the same age, it’s hard to explain my reluctance.

 

It’s not a problem for me that Kurt is only capable of casual relationships at the moment; many of the girls in his social group seem only to want FWB relationships, too. (And by the way, the new term for ‘friends with benefits’ is ‘Fuck Buddies’, which frankly makes my skin crawl). Monogamy doesn’t suit everyone, just as long-term relationships don’t, but this is our house and I refuse to be forced into my dressing gown for  a different girl every week.

 

And then there are all the extra towels to wash.

 

Kids stay at home longer these days and become sexually active younger so we parents have been put in an awkward situation. I don’t want Kurt shagging in public toilets because he has nowhere else to go, but equally, I can’t condone him bringing any girl home and treating us like a knocking shop.

 

I have to put on trousers when I leave my room even when The Astronaut stays over, and I like living in a tee and big knickers in the summer with this heat and associated hot flushes.

 

I remember some of our friends being horrified when we let The Astronaut stay over the first time in NC’s room and sensed some real dissension. Interestingly, though, most have caved on this issue with their second children. You find that if you try to maintain your Victorian principles in this arena, you risk never seeing your kids again. They are terribly inclined to stay over at the house that lets them shag in a bed and provides them with the best breakfast.

 

What’s your position on this?

 

My Husband, The House Bitch

An interloper has moved into our apartment. The teens annual Christmas wish of a cleaning fairy has finally come true, and albeit a welcome addition to the family, this new situation is making me feel strangely uneasy.

My Husband, The House Bitch
Cleaning Day by Jaymie Koroluk at http://www.flickr.com

Obviously, I’m grateful that the old man has taken over the major share of the domestic chores, but it takes some getting used to, seeing your partner in SUCH a different, less conventional role.

And frankly, I’m still a bit unsure about the pink rubber gloves.

For most of our relationship he has been my predictable caveman, a man who feigned not to know how to use the oven, and consistently used the ‘but you do it so much better’ excuse whenever I asked him to do anything domestic.

I thought he’d carry on the cleaning strategy I had cultivated – on a needs-must basis, or in other words, when people are coming around. I thought he’d pick up on my specialty of the ‘superficial’ clean, perhaps tweak it in places, but still run with it.

None of the family are super house-proud. We’re not pigs, but we put ‘living’ over cleanliness and lifestyle over the tedium of cleaning the grime from the microwave and the brown ring around the bath.

Not the old man, it seems.

He interrupts me when I’m Facebooking working to discuss the benefits of the cordless vacuum and eco-friendly cleaning products. He has moved everything around in the kitchen cupboards, so no-one can find anything. One minute you can be having a conversation with him about the benefits of vinegar over bleach down the toilet, and the next moment he’s lost concentration as his sensors pick up a spot on the carpet. Quick as a flash he’s back with the Vanish.

He tries to discuss meal plans for the week with me and looks hurt when I make no contribution. I’ve never created a meal plan in my life, and surely he must know that I don’t give a shit what he cooks, as long as he cooks.

It would be sexist to say that he is no longer the man I married, but something has changed…

Which is strange because I always yearned for a ‘new’, domesticated man, yet the nightmares I keep having of him in a pinny are perplexing. I’m a feminist, I believe in equality, so why does my man going against the traditional stereotype unsettle me so much?

He has become best buddies with the concierge in our building and I catch them giggling in the lift like schoolgirls as they discuss the latest glass-cleaning products and recycling ideas. Next thing I know, they’ll be opening the wine at five o’clock.

Where once my husband would begin conversations with ‘In this meeting today…’, most of his conversation these days start with ‘when I was in Aldi…’, and he bores the pants off me about the price of milk.

Was I really this insular and dull when I was the doing the housework?

7 Jobs That Only Get Done When The Internet Is Down

The old man decided to upgrade our router system the other day, and inevitably the job took longer than planned because of one, or several of the following reasons:

English: merrow, merrow sewing machine company...
English: merrow, merrow sewing machine company, this image is available for public use (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Even though he thinks he is Steve Jobs and we should have shares in Apple, he is technologically inept
  2. He cannot be described as ‘handy’ or a ‘man who can’
  3. He refuses to let anyone help him, in particular women or anyone from Generation Y
  4. There was probably some major part missing that was required for a successful installation
  5. There was OBVIOUSLY some fault at our Service Provider’s end, even though the rest of Sydney had Wifi.

My world without Internet came to a grinding halt.

For two hours I felt lost. I couldn’t partake of any of the daily functions that give me pleasure, such as Facebook, Pinning, Tweeting, or in absolute desperation, work. I couldn’t research stuff to do in the future – that I will obviously never do; I couldn’t trawl the net for clothes, that I will never buy or images of food that I will never cook.

Which left me no real excuse NOT to do all those things I would have/should have been doing before the Internet came along. Those boring, housey chores, that now only get done on a needs basis.

Such as:

  1. Cleaning the Microwave – which I have thought about for a good month but hoped that someone else (such as the old man, who is more commonly referred to these days as House Bitch now he is a house husband), would be grossed out enough by the porridge splatters to do it for me. Obviously he can’t fathom how to put back the glass plate either.
  2. Clearing the Fridge of all those leftovers that we never eat, in spite of our supposed conscience about world poverty. These include half-used jars of sauces that have developed green fur on the top and manky old pieces of cut up veg and fruit that were used last Christmas.
  3. Sewing on those buttons, patching up those seams…
  4. Getting to the bottom of the ironing pile where the tablecloths, napkins and shirts you never wear, live forever.
  5. Polishing shoes rather than buying a new pair, or giving them a quick once-over with the dish cloth.
  6. Cleaning those stains on the carpet that have annoyed me for the past year every time I walk past them.
  7. Not ignoring the little flashing light on the dishwasher that reminds me to add some dishwasher rinse aid, even though it seems to make fuck all difference to the results.

Sewing is my biggest ‘I would prefer to be an ugly, fat girl in the Bachelor house’ task out of all of the above and I will avoid it whenever possible. I will throw clothes away rather than spend two minutes mending them. It’s not even that I can’t sew – I am THAT old – it was part of the school curriculum in my day, when we slowly advanced from blanket stitch to designing and making some hideously embroidered cushion that both parents actually fought over NOT to be gifted for Christmas, over the space of four years.

But…NEEDLES!

What heinous domestic task will you lower yourself to do when the Internet goes down?

School Holidays And Thinking About Wine A Lot

School Holidays And Thinking About Wine A Lot
The Joys of Cooking by Bucky Schwarz found on http://www.flickr.com

 

Now I’m not one to complain (!), but IT IS week four of both school holidays and the old man’s annual holiday from work.

 

And my living area appears to have been redistributed to accommodate that surplus of testosterone and morphed into a man shed. So much so that it no longer feels like my home.

 

The kitchen is a permanent bomb site – for some reason, neither man nor teenager has the ability to process the knowledge necessary to shut a cupboard door – there’s never any toilet roll and my sofa cushions keep being un-ceremoniously dumped on the floor, which upsets my OCD.

 

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/200554504-003

 

And Kurt has been permanently affixed to the sofa, watching endless un-educational and crappy movies, since we returned from our road trip. In fact, the only time he drags his body off the sofa at all is to raid our depleting food stores like some rabid animal that appears to suffer from bursts of insatiable hunger every hour on the hour.

 

Let’s hope an apocalypse doesn’t happen any time soon, or we’re fucked.

 

My fridge is almost empty – apart from the usual motley leftovers that no-one ever touches, like quince and olives, and it’s only been five days since the last food shop.

 

And how many times is it reasonable to ask someone politely to clear away their plates before you deserve to be accused of nagging? I stick to my usual argument about the whole nagging debate is that surely I wouldn’t have to nag if they just did what I fucking asked them in the first place?

 

I’ve tried to unstick my son’s lanky body from my leather sofa with all sorts of tempting enticements, such as lunch out, the cinema or a trip into the city, but he has told me that he would rather stick needles in his testicles than be seen out with me – (a bit harsh!) – and feels he has done his filial duty for 2015 by coming on holiday with us.

 

The old man’s timing has been spot-on as always. Just when he’s finally donated some of his precious time away from work-fun to spend quality time with the spawn, he goes and fractures a rib this morning.

 

Don’t even ask. That man can pull a muscle changing programmes on the remote.

 

He has spent the day lying on the sofa, moaning and wincing every time I look in his direction witheringly, next to the high achiever of a son he helped create.

 

Funny how he can still seem to hotfoot it to the fridge for sustenance when I’m not looking, though.

 

Unable to work in the living room, aka the newly-styled man shed, I have been reduced to working in our tiny bedroom and have wasted almost a whole day searching the Internet for a small desk to work from, so that I can escape the carnage next door. I found the desk I wanted immediately, but in an effort to save money, I have since wasted six hours this afternoon of what could have been paid work hours trying to find a cheaper version.

 

Time management, like money management – resolutions for 2015.

 

All I can do is pray that the old man doesn’t manipulate our doctor – who he thinks has the hots for him – into giving him a sick note for next week, and that Kurt gets a life at some point soon.

 

I’ve been thinking about wine a lot.