Whenever I return to the US for a visit people ask where I live. When I
answer "Australia," the reaction is inevitably, "how cool is that?" or
"I'm jealous!" And I smile and agree. Australia (Melbourne in
particular) is a great place. For those of us who have lived
overseas though, the reality is not always so rosy.
Being known as someone with an independent streak and a sense of
adventure, it perhaps didn't surprise many that I ended up living in a
foreign country. What I didn't really think about when I first
came to Australia as a student back in 2003 was that I would end up
staying and raising my family here. I have two generally lovely
pre-school aged daughters whom I'm trying my best to raise somewhere
between my American past and Australian present.
Now, we are pretty fortunate to be living in Australia. The
country is stable and safe. Schools and medical care are
excellent, and crime is low. Life is generally very child friendly
here. They have great parents' rooms in shopping centres
(something I didn't find when visiting the US). When you have a child
here, there is support available from local maternal and child health
centres. There haven't been many surprises apart from the apparent need
to put your child's name down at birth for private
school. Arguably the worst thing about Melbourne is its distance
from everywhere else. It is a long flight to get anywhere. On our
most recent visit to the US, my family and I returned to Australia by
cruise ship (so if the flight ever feels never-ending, trust me in that
coming by ship makes Australia seem REALLY far away!).
With my family and friends back home, it's been a struggle to find a
network here. Many of the other American moms I met before I
joined the AWA have moved back to the US once kids arrived. Others
live all over Melbourne and it's hard to catch up in person due to
distance and schedules and not wanting to disrupt the all-important
nap-time. But I was lucky that when my first was born, my local
council-arranged mums group consisted of 50% Aussies and 50% expats, so
there are others who understand the challenges of living away from
'home'. It balances the attitudes of some people I've come across who
are a bit oblivious to the challenges expats can face-like my
mother-in-law who had a good winge to me about how horrible it was that
my husband's cousins were moving a 2-hour drive away from their
parents. I'd take that over the 14-hour flight any day!
I like to think that my kids are absorbing a bit of American culture
through me, despite the fact they sound very Aussie calling me "Mummy"
and for now preferring Vegemite instead of syrup on their
pancakes. For the past few years I've taken a Halloween pumpkin to
our childcare centre to demonstrate how to carve one. The kids
usually haven't seen one before, and it is a big hit, even if I am now
known amongst the other parents as Pumpkin Mum. We celebrate
the 4th of July and Thanksgiving at home.
Whether to live here or there has been a running debate in my head ever
since my first was born, but I realise that my kids and I are fortunate
to have two wonderful countries to call home and there is no right
answer to that question. For now we'll stay put, as we've bought a
house and plan to rebuild my American dream house in the suburbs of
Melbourne. Mud room, anyone?