Tuesday, February 18, 2014

That Time We Lived in America

In May 2010, Phil, baby Felix, and I moved from our home in Perth to Seattle, Washington.

The move was something we had been planning for a long time--before Felix was around--and it took a long time for me to receive my visa. Once I did, we left almost immediately. 

Phil was born in America and has dual nationality. He'd been living in Australia for a long time and we decided why not? We'll just go and live in America for a change. It would be an adventure. I don't think we really had any clue what we would do over there, probably just the same things we did in Australia, but in a colder climate. 

However, it could not have been worse timing. Having a baby is a huge thing that changes almost everything about your life. I think that if we had gone to America before having children, or once they were older, things might have been different. Staying home with a baby is one of the most isolating things you can do. Even when you live in your hometown, surrounded by friends and family, it's still lonely. Those are long hours you spend caring for an infant and running a household, and in the story of your life often the only two characters in it are you and the baby.

Moving internationally is also an isolating event. This is generally lessened if you have things to do once you get there: a job, school, things like that where you will meet people and become part of society. It is intensified if you are already doing a solitary 'job'. 

We didn't quite live in Seattle: we lived in a smaller town, halfway between Seattle and Vancouver. There's nothing wrong with this in itself, but since I lacked the ability to drive on the right (wrong) side of the road and the town wasn't exactly a bustling metropolis with public transportation, it meant that a lot of the time I was trapped in the neighbourhood.

Every day, I strapped Felix into his pram and went out walking in the quiet streets. Normally, there was no one else around. I walked with Felix every day of his life, from four months old, to nineteen months old, when we moved back home. The weather made no difference to me: sun, rain, snow, hail, wind, we'd get out there anyway. Phil was at work all day, as was his family, whom we lived with. At first it was fine, but as the months wore on I realised I was the loneliest I'd ever been in my entire life. 

Eventually I did meet a neighbour with kids, and that moment is a dazzling bright spot in a sea of endless grey. She was lovely, her children adorable. We caught up many times: coffee at each other's homes or taking the kids to the park together. We are still in contact today, and I am so grateful for her friendship. 

Don't let me tell you that it was all bad. There were many, many things that I loved about living there. So many things that I miss every day. The walks that were partly out of enjoyment and partly out of sanity-saving necessity are a little nostalgic in my mind. I miss the mountains that I could see from the end of my street, permanently capped with white snow. I miss the excitement of seeing the first snowflakes fall. I miss the big fields next to the neighbourhood that suddenly filled up with migrating birds who had stopped to rest there one autumn day. They waddled about and ate grubs (I assume) while large flocks of them circled low over the ground, as though they were practising for the long flight ahead. I miss the enthusiasm of Christmas: the entire street decorated in twinkling lights, our breath forming clouds as we walked baby Felix up and down the street, wrapped up like a little burrito. I miss Halloween, when the street again transformed: this time into a creepy, over-the-top, hilariously unsettling nightmare land. I miss the way the sunlight turned the distant, tree-covered foothills dazzling gold on certain days. There's so much that I miss about that little town that I could write about it forever.

Eventually, we came back home. I feel that it was the right decision for our family. As idyllic as our time there certainly could be, and as consuming as the loneliness felt, it's important to try to consider everything in a balanced way. There were good and bad times, just like there are good and bad times everywhere. We often talk about 'what if': what if we had stayed, what if we had moved to a different town, a different state where there were more opportunities? What if we had made the move up to Canada, which we considered a halfway point between our two cultures (don't listen to the media: American and Australian culture is very different). There are practical concerns, such as the American healthcare system: it was bad enough (expensive enough) while we were over there. What would it be like with a child with cystic fibrosis?

Even so, my mind is in turmoil when I think of it. I feel like I have two homes calling to me. I do consider Perth to be 'home', but sometimes when I'm out for a walk or listening to the rain (not at all like the rain in Seattle) I miss my other home. I can't remember what it was, but something triggered a very strong memory association the other day. It might have been a smell, a song, a spoken phrase, but I was suddenly transported back to Seattle on a cold, melting-snow day. Felix and I were getting back inside after a walk to the park, and we were turning on the fire and warming up before I had to make lunch (maybe Annie's Organic Mac and Cheese?). I knew I would have been wearing my favourite GAP jeans and patterned wellingtons with thick socks; Felix in several layers, including a hat and mittens.

Do you know what I did as soon as we got back to our old home, when we visited Seattle on our trip last year? I went for a walk. I walked and walked and saw the same things and saw so many new things that I couldn't see it all. I still had a baby in a pram. This time it was Victor. I showed him the mountains, the bunnies running in and out of the tall grass, pointed out my favourite houses, introduced him to the neighbourhood cats, looked at how many new houses there were...and even new streets. 

I feel there will always be this longing, this feeling of the grass being greener even though I know firsthand that this is not the case. Perhaps in another life I'd be nomadic. Maybe I feel guilty for dragging everyone back to Perth. I wish the world could just work the way I want it to. But I'm still very lucky, because I had my adventure.

Phil and one-year-old Felix, in Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo.


  1. This is so lovely! And so beautifully written (It stirs something inside me ~ an adventure, a nomadic spirit... something.) I feel guilty for not going outside every day; I send the kids out, but I use the time for house stuff (or to sneak in a little TV while folding laundry!). Today will be all of us!

    1. Thank you Alison! Don't feel bad about that: now that we're back in Australia, I do the exact same thing. It's also a lot harder to go out on walks with multiple children!


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