Eighteen months. A year and a half. Roughly five hundred and forty eight days. I can’t believe it, but also I can.
Things feel less foreign, less confusing and I feel less out of place. It doesn’t take me 90 minutes to do a “quick shop at Woolies”. Actually, I don’t really shop at Woolies anymore, to be honest. Aldi’s prices make shopping at one of the other two big name stores impossible. At first you’re like, “I’m not sure I even know how to shop at Aldi” but as soon as you see the difference in your bank balance, you make a plan. I’ve become a seasoned Aldi shopper, with a number of Trolley Tokens attached to my car keys and a soft cooler bag, filled with pre-used bags in the boot of the car, ready to go!
There has been a massive shift in consumer thinking over here, with an actual challenge issued to shoppers to “Make The Switch” to Aldi. I love it!
18 months later, I can confidently navigate to more than a handful of places without using my GPS. In Sydney’s east, that is! Crossing the bridge becomes stressful for me, EVERY SINGLE TIME. “Which lane, babe????” I shout, as we approach the Cross City Tunnel/route into the city/motorway to the airport. It’s been 18 months of it and I STILL can’t seem to relax when I approach that intersection. I have started to trust Google Maps a whole lot more and actually LOOK at the directions and LISTEN to her instructions, instead of freaking out. Most times. Driving on the roads of Sydney, that once felt ridiculously narrow, now feel familiar and completely manageable. Dave and I mounted a number of islands, which at first I found pointless (see Exhibit A below, the intersection of Trelawney & Ocean Streets) until I realized they were there for the protection of pedestrians.
PEDESTRIANS! They have rights on our roads in Sydney! You’ll often find queues of cars waiting for people to cross the road, instead of angrily hooting at them to get a move on. I won’t lie, during the first few weeks upon our arrival, I was the designated driver (due to being the first to receive my Drivers License due to identification issues) and almost ran a couple of unsuspecting pedestrians over at zebra crossings because (a) I was such an anxious driver and (b) I didn’t realize that the “Moonwalkers Ahead” signs were actually warnings of upcoming pedestrian crossings. Sorry guys.
18 months later and new habits have been formed. I’ll call a braai a BBQ (don’t hate), a cooler box an Eski and will greet neighbours and fellow mums on the school run with a friendly “How ya goin?” and “Goodbye” has become “See ya!”. I still can’t call my flip flips “thongs”, but with the boys as young and impressionable as they are at their ages, it’s bound to start happening, even if it’s just for the four of us to be able to communicate! Both boys pronounce H as “h-AYCH” and there are very definite changes to their accents … Dave and I watched a video of Luca about two years ago and he sounds completely different! It’s super cute and I wouldn’t change it for the world. This is our home now, and trying NOT to blend in just seems futile and goes against our wanting to really just feel at home and part of the community. Of course, some things will stick with us forever and I’m proud of those differences in us.
Within the first 18 months, we got a dog! Twice. If you were paying attention, you would have met Milo, the Chihuahua cross who we adopted from a nearby pet store. I will admit that he was a spur of the moment decision and I will take the knock for it. I felt bad for this neurotic mess of a dog and pretty much burst into tears at the shops, which spurred the boys on and poor Dave had no choice. I soon realized that I had bitten off far more than I could chew (at the time) and so we had him re-homed, with a family who had someone home 24/7, which is what poor Milo needed. And perhaps a script for Xanax and a constant supply of Rescue Remedy. Shame.
Then, after much persuasion from Dave’s end, we welcomed Jackson into our home. The first few days were idyllic and then the (literal) shit hit the fan (floor). The same way you forget how hard newborn babies are, falling pregnant with your second in a haze of happiness and elation, only to wake up 65 times a night in the first week and mutter “WTF was I THINKING, wanting another baby?”, you forget how much hard work puppies are. Had he not been so super cute and well behaved (after a streak of chewing and/or shitting on everything), I would have given up on him too. It’s also got so much to do with our own head space. When Milo came home with us, it was critically bad timing. We were not in a good place for so many reasons … Jackson arrived and things have been getting better for us on the whole since then.
Good/bad head space and mental well-being have both played SUCH a massive role in the ebbs and flows of the last 18 months. For the first few months I couldn’t think about, chat via text or physically speak to anyone close to me, back in South Africa. It would just send me into such a bad place – missing, pining – in hindsight, I was depressed. I was happy in making my new life, but it was too hard and I SHOULD have sought help THEN, instead of letting my body start to fall apart. I eventually figured out, when my skin looked like it did when I was 13, and I was tired, irritable and easily upset, that I was off-kilter, INSIDE. A (gorgeous, new) friend recommended I see a naturopath and what a difference that made. My body had been operating in Fight or Flight mode (something I now believe happens to A LOT of new immigrants) for too long and the level of cortisol in my blood was teetering on dangerous. I started to ride a bicycle to work (I had all but stopped exercising, apart from the walk to and from the train station) and taking bucket loads of supplements and herbal tonics to reset my insides.
After trying (unsuccessfully) to get myself motivated on my own, this year I started a group fitness program. I feel like knowing that people are expecting to see me there means that there’s a higher chance of me actually participating. Also, paying for it helps too! So far, so good and I’ve signed up for another round of training, leading into Autumn … and Winter. Summer bodies, etc.
We’ve also let go of old habits. Leaning on situations we thought we needed to survive and instead starting to branch out. Trying new things. Nurturing brand new friendships. Becoming part of our local community – which really isn’t hard when you have two kids in the local public school. (Mostly) Everyone lives in the very small catchment, which means that you see the same people on the school run every day, as well as at local events, Saturday morning grocery shopping outings and more. Having a new friend shout out a “Hello Nicki!” at me from their car as the boys and I are walking to school has to be one of the biggest highlights. A couple of months ago, I was rushing through the city to get to a meeting with a US influencer we had over for a tour. I was late and staring down at my phone to follow Google’s directions, when suddenly I glanced up and saw the very special Tali, also marching with distinct purpose and pace. We both SCREAMED when we saw one another … what are the chances of two Jozi gals walking RIGHT into one another on the busy streets of Sydney’s CBD??? Such a great feeling!
Dave and I have also moved on from our first jobs … something that a lot of people seem to do after they’ve settled in a little. My first role was a blessing for us and it was a great opportunity for me to listen and learn. About the industry I’m in, in general, as well as about the culture and way of life here. Being so quickly immersed into busy agency life was flipping hard and beyond stressful at some times, but it also meant that I got to connect with some amazing people who I am now grateful to call friends. I’m now in an environment that is conducive to keeping my sanity as a working mum. Yes, mum, not mom 😉 I am able to still work in the industry that I love, within product range that HELPS other mums get great quality sleep. I also have a level of autonomy that I only ever had while I worked for myself back in South Africa – something I didn’t know I needed as much as I do. I also work in an office made up almost entirely of non-Australians! People from all walks of life, including Greek, Indian, Korean, British and Russian – Sydney really is a melting pot of cultures and people. Something else that helps you to understand that almost everyone else around you has suffered the same struggles and felt the same heartache, experienced the same life-changing moves. It’s reassuring and makes you feel part of a much bigger, global population.
I feel like pretty controversial “We love our Lamb” video covers this feeling of inclusion here in Australia … I KNOW that there are sensitivities as to how this really exists as a practice here, but I just feel like I belong. Click the image or here to watch.
In 18 months we’ve also taken on more than we ever had in our previously normal lives. I mean, our normal has changed. I could never have imagined balancing looking after a home and all that goes with it when you’re a family of four, AND working AND having some semblance of a life. At first I felt like all I was doing was washing, cleaning, grocery shopping, carting kids or working. I’m still doing those things, but after realizing that the only way we’d all survive was with #TeamDadic in full force, we all work hard. All four of us! And what’s even more surprising is that I find myself experiencing “me-time”. It’s not the same type of “me-time” I would have been used to in my previous life, but it’s beyond satisfying – maybe because I feel like we work harder for it now? My friend Tali often spoke of being time-poor when we first arrived and I didn’t quite understand it very well back then. But I do now. And I also know how to manage that kind of poverty … it’s about prioritizing. Things don’t have to be perfect. Things can wait. Knowing what’s important and focusing on those things until you have balance and then going back to straighten something else out. Literally and figuratively.
In 18 months we’ve downsized and minimized. We’re not actual minimalists at all (LOL, you need to see my wardrobe – packing skills have gone to shit and instead I just place clothes on top of other clothes, promising myself weekend after weekend that I’ll take it ALL out and start from scratch, because it’s currently bordering catastrophic from an OH&S perspective) but we’ve released and relinquished a lot of what we thought we needed. Over time we’ve accumulated more (oh, hi there IKEA!) but we’ve balanced it out with massive clean out sessions. A couple of times a year, we have Council Clean Up days, where everyone can put almost anything out on the pavement and the local council comes and takes it all away. When we first moved into our rental, we figured out that storage space was all but non-existent, so we shoved as much as we could into the little green shed in our small back yard. Think suitcases, Christmas decorations, bicycles, golf clubs, garden tools, boogie boards and more. A couple of weeks ago, we opened it up and pulled it all out. And survived. In fact, there were no colossally huge cockroaches crawling out of anywhere – a pleasant surprise! Anyway, we’ve become good at keeping order – in so many aspects of our lives. The boys are a little slower to the party and I’m constantly having to remind them to take their lunchboxes out of their bags on a Friday … having had to deal with mouldy, steaming old sandwiches at 7am on a Monday morning on more than one occasion. We have systems – who does what, when and how. Stricter rules during the week and chilled weekends. It works for us and it’s helped us settle into a really nice groove. Upsets to the routine do cause upheaval, but that’s also just something else to add to our “to handle” list, which we tackle constantly as a team.
Over the last 18 months we’ve seen some pretty spectacular things … right on our doorstop. From the picturesque Blue Mountains to the crystal clear waters of Hyams Beach, we’ve not had to travel far at all to have some of the most incredible experiences. In fact, we’ve yet to leave the state of New South Wales! So much to explore …
The absolute highlight of the last 18 months for me, is our own personal growth as a family. Each of us has developed and grown in ways I never knew were possible. We’ve taken on, adapted to and tackled more than I think any of us ever believed we would or could in our lives. We’ve reached dark and miserable depths and we’ve achieved the almost unattainable. Courage, teamwork and the ability to see the bigger picture (because sometimes IN the moment is FAR too scary) has gotten us here and with the skills and bravery we’ve acquired, I can only imagine how far we’ll go in the next 18 months.
Thanks to you (YES YOU!) for reading this and offering words of support on our journey thus far … hopefully you’ll stick around to find out where we go from here!