Australia v’s England – and I’m not talking cricket!

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Today is a very sad day for me. One of my gorgeous friends and neighbour is moving, not down the road or even to the next suburb, she’s making the big move from Sydney back to her home in Barcelona 17,183 kilometers away.

This is one of the downfalls of living somewhere like Sydney. It’s such a transient city, people are often only here for a short while and many people living here have family far away.  I’m noticing more and more people making the move back to their homes once they have had children. In search of more help and support and to build stronger relationships between their kids and grandparents/relatives.

I often get asked by family and friends back home why we stay here. How do we manage living so far away from friends and family back in the UK now that we have 2 young children?

The truth is it is something I personally find very difficult to explain. I am also desperate not to be misunderstood by those who are so dear to us as it is in no way a reflection of how much we love and miss them.

I am incredibly close to my family, even more so since my Dad died 8 years ago. I also have lots of wonderful friends back home. Ironically some of whom have become even dearer to me since making the move here as their friendship has well and truly stood the test of time and distance, I have no doubt we will be friends forever more.

When we first arrived it was a 2 year plan. An exciting adventure to share with the man I’d fallen in love with only a few months prior.

4 years on, 1 marriage and 2 children later we are still here and currently no immediate plans to leave.

My sister often asks me;

‘’Is it just because of the sunshine?”

I’d be lying if I said that an average of 236 days of sunshine a year doesn’t play a big part in our decision to stay, but it’s absolutely not the main reason.

I miss my sisters, Mum, in-laws, friends, nephews and nieces more than words can express. That said, there is just something about the way of life here, even more so since having the children,  that works for me and I just love it.

Considering the tough year we have had with our little owl who doesn’t sleep, and the various broken bones and trips to hospital, you’d think  I’d jump at the chance to return home where we have a spacious house and grandparents just around the corner and an hour up the M6.

There have been times when we have been literally losing it due to exhaustion, screaming and desperation where we have both mentioned ‘going home’. My husband has a tendency to do this more than I. Perhaps this is on account of my being half gypsy (I’ve never really lived anywhere longer than 5 or so years). He on the other hand was born and bred in Manchester and his parents still live in the house he grew up in. His roots are perhaps more established. But when I call his bluff and say;

‘’Ok then, let’s do it’’

He backpedals;

‘’Not right now then, but at some point in the future’’

When I got pregnant I thought that as soon as the baby arrived, I’d be struggling and desperate to go back. If anything I have felt the opposite.

Sydney/ Eastern suburbs is new mummy heaven (Unfortunately I can’t speak for the rest of Australia on account of only having lived here. I also can’t speak for the UK as again I haven’t experienced having children there). All I know is that from the minute I signed up to the ante-natal class and met some people who are still good friends of mine, to having the baby in the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick, where I received the most fabulous care and support and throughout that first year through my Mothers group and various classes I attended, I have never felt alone being a Mum in Australia, something I thoroughly expected to feel given I was so far away from home.

I remember arriving to the new mums meet and greet session organised by the hospital, anxiously clutching my brand spanking new baby. The room was full of around 40 new mums and there were a couple (as there always are) that seemed to dominate the room with their self-assuredness only reinforcing my anxiety as a new mum. About to turn and leg it my own Mum (who had made the trip to Oz  for a few weeks) gave me a reassuring nod (and a shove) and reluctantly I went and sat down giving my neighbour an awkward smile.  We both did a double take and then relieved sat and beamed at each other like Cheshire cats, turned out we had met previously in a work capacity.

And that was it, from that moment on I had a wonderful new friend who is still a dear friend to me to this day.

We decided to create our own Mother’s group with the people we had met in our ante-natal classes and they invited people they knew and it snowballed. We met every Tuesday on the grass overlooking the ocean offering each other help, support, cake and a shoulder to cry on. Sounds idyllic and to be honest most of the time it was. Sure some days I was knackered and wobbly and not sure I was doing the right thing especially given I had a reflux baby who was constantly sick, always very small and didn’t like solids very much. But I didn’t feel judged by these new friends, we helped each other through our wobbles and could relate to the struggles and the exhaustion.

I remember a good friend of mine who has 2 older children laughing at me saying;

‘’Yes, that’s how Mothers groups start, drinking coffee and eating cake, but give it a few months and you will be having vodders in your coffee and desperately booking in nights out without the babies”

She was right. We rarely meet up in the daytime now. When we arrange a meet up it generally involves copious amounts of alcohol.

2.5 years since establishing the group some of us met up for a night out a couple of weeks ago.

The group consisted of 4 of us, 2 of whom began the discussion pre-meeting stating they would be driving and 1 requesting to share a bottle, I was more than happy to oblige. So it started out 1 bottle. Who were we kidding? It quickly turned into 4 bottles of wine plus a cocktail each for all of us.

So I have great friends here. Work friends from the jobs I have had, mothers group friends, random playground friends, playgroup friends, people I’ve met on the bus friends, people I knew in England who now live out here friends, friends of friends, neighbour friends, literally friends from all walks of life and all over the world. Connected by the fact that many of us are living thousands of miles away from our families and friends. I’m not trying to gloat, I’m not exceptional I’m fairly certain this is the case for any expat.

We are there for each other, not a replacement for friends and family back home but an extension of it. Whilst in the UK I’d never have thought to spend Christmas with friends however that is the way it’s usually done here. There is an ease to making new friends here.

I am a huge believer in the view that people come into your life for a season, a reason or a lifetime.

I have friends  (and I include family in this) back home who are so dear to me that I have tears streaming down my face thinking about them as I write this. We have been through so much together, they have stood by me no matter what, loyal and honest and absolutely will be my lifetime friends. But I know that it doesn’t matter where in the world we are, that will never change.

However, it’s such a wonderful feeling when you realise you have made a new friend.

This was reiterated  to me last week on a trip to the playground with the girls.

My eldest (2.5 year old), was a little out of sorts as she was getting over an ear infection. On arriving at the playground she was unusually clingy and quiet. A slightly older girl came over to her and asked if she could play with her. She was such a beautiful spirit, so kind and gentle. My daughter cautiously cocked her head to one side, looked up at me and then back warily at the girl. The little girl waited patiently, she then moved away returning a few minutes later, as gentle and patient as before. Never have I seen such emotional intelligence in someone so young! Slowly but surely my shy little girl began to warm to her, letting go of my leg and moving away from me. Within 10 minutes they were best friends. Giggling and laughing, playing merrily on the swings and running up and down the slide, sitting side by side to protect each other from falling off.

A true friend will always have space for you

I will always miss people back home and nothing can replace my family and friends there. However living in Australia is sunshine-filled, exciting and challenging. It has brought my little family together, tested and pushed us, offered us new experiences and lots of fabulous new friends.

Whilst for the moment Australia is our home, moving back to the UK will always be a discussion point, particularly when the going gets tough. I absolutely understand why my dear friend and neighbour  is making the big move with her little family to Barcelona. She will have her Mum living in an apartment downstairs and sister down the road and I’m certainly more than a little envious of that. However for now, I love living in Australia with my little family, it suits us and feel incredibly lucky to have been given this amazing opportunity.