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That Time We Packed Our Bags and Left America Forever

 

Ok, it wasn’t forever… we’ve been back twice to visit.

It’s hard to write a post like this without sounding like I’m bashing America. But, given the political climate of the USA at the moment, I feel compelled to tell our story and it’s gonna sound like bashing no matter how nicely I say it. It’s important to keep in mind that when comparing one developed western nation to another, it’s sort of like comparing apples to apples. They’re all nice, just some are a little better than others, depending on what you prefer.

And, we did NOT prefer the cold American winters!

This is our experience of moving to Australia ten years ago.

Before having kids, my husband and I came for a ‘short‘ year and half stay for me to study, until we realised that we loved it so much here that we wanted to stay.

At first, it was scary.

We arrived in 2008, with two suitcases and two surfboards each. My husband and I pretty much left everything behind. Maybe secretly inside I knew we would never move back, because I got rid of almost everything I owned, even though we were only supposed to stay for 18 months.

I was 25 years old. Even though I had traveled around the world, I still felt like living long term in another country was scary… because, after all, wasn’t America the ‘best‘? I mean, that’s what we had always been taught at home and at school. Being born American was the greatest privilege… right??

One big thing that threw me off was the Aussie accent and a million different words for everything. I assumed we would easily fit in because of the shared language, but in reality I often couldn’t understand what the Australians were saying, especially the professors! Also, ‘back then‘, internet here was like the worst in the world and a lot of other things were still developing. So, yeah, it felt really scary at first!

And, we felt like we were missing the party. 

Although we were happy to be on an adventure, it seemed like EVERYTHING was happening back at ‘home‘. All the movies, all the politics. All the action. Being on the other side of the world, in a country with a tenth of the population, and crappy internet (it’s great now) felt a little… well… boring or something (at first). But, then, as time went by, we started realising that there is plenty of action everywhere! And sometimes… it’s not good to be at the center of the action. Of course, we missed our family, and that part can be a little hard, but that’s where Skype comes in handy.

We were nervous… you might not be able to tell, but I can! This was before selfies were cool.

At first, we missed the food… until we realised the food in America was actually crap.

We really missed Trader Joes… and Whole Foods. And the pizza and the bagels. And, the vegetarian food from Taco Bell… bwahaha! (Still sort of miss that in emergencies). And, ugh, it seemed like in Australia, we had to make everything from scratch. And, we felt like we missed the food for a long time. Until… we went back for a visit after being away for 2 1/2 years. And then we discovered something profound! We discovered that our favorite foods weren’t what we had remembered! And, they were way more expensive than we remembered! And, why the hell, was high fructose corn syrup in EVERYTHING?! And, all the stuff that we bought, even at Trader Joes and health food stores, was really not even that good for you!

We went back again, this time at the 7 year mark after moving, and we confirmed that the food was gross. The fruits and veggies in the grocery stores were sad and out of season, because they were imported from thousands of miles away! I gained 5 pounds in 5 weeks! It was insane (granted, it was over Thanksgiving time). When we came back to Australia, where we have some of the freshest seasonable fruit and vegetables in the world, and even the pe-packaed stuff isn’t that bad, we were so relieved! You can’t buy a mango in the middle of winter here and that’s a GOOD thing.

In Australia, even the junk food isn’t too bad. You can even buy a pack of Oreos and the ingredients are pronounceable. And, they only come in one small sleeve… not in a pack of 800. And, now, you can even buy decent bagels in the grocery stores… so phew.

Our first visit back to the homeland.

We slowly started to realise that America is a great country, but it’s not the best. 

I feel a little embarrassed to admit, and I laugh at myself now, but when I first moved to Australia, I definitely felt like when I told people I was American, it was supposed to be something special. Like, people were supposed to say, “Ohhhh… wow… you’re American.” So, the people I was telling I was American, might have wanted to strike up a conversation with me about their sister who lives in New Jersey (everyone seems to have a friend or relative in New Jersey), but, to them, it really was no big deal. After all, America has a really big population, and even though the vast majority of Americans don’t hold passports, we still get around a lot. In most places, Americans are no more a novelty than any other person from any other country… actually, maybe even less so.

America is defiantly one of the nicer countries in the world to live in, but it’s certainly not the best. The USA has almost every convenience you could easily get your hands on (except for electric kettles for some reason). But, America is certainly not the safest. It’s not the most educated, nor is it the happiest, nor is it the wealthiest. It’s not modern, it’s not cheap… and minimum wage is a joke (not funny for the people earning it)… and the weather in most of the country is really rotten. And, currently, it’s NOT a safe place to send your children to school…

What we learned that surprised us most was that the standard of living in America is actually quite low compared to other developed western countries. Until I moved away, I never knew that as Americans, we had less access to affordable health care, less paid parental leave, more expensive higher education. And, those college degrees we earn, if we’re lucky, often only lead to low paying entry level jobs that require us to work our tushies off for peanuts AND enjoy it because that’s just life and life is hard. Barf.

Also, we learned that generally speaking, Americans have this idea that learning a trade is not as prestigious as going to university. Then, we learned that the vast majority of Americans earn lower wages and get little to no help from the government in terms of rent and childcare, compared to their western counterparts AND they hardly get any paid holiday time (um, hello why living in a semi-socialist country is awesome!)…  yeah, those things just don’t do it for me! Last but not least, the gun laws in America leave most of the develop world baffled…

All these things I never realised until we moved away for a few years. I can understand why most Americans believe their country is the best. Because without ever leaving the country for a considerable amount of time, how would you know? And… most Americans don’t hold a passport so… most of them don’t know.

We realised that Americans are pretty conservative, and I’m not just talking politics… I remember my high school Latin teacher (who was a world traveler) told us that Americans had a hang up with the naked body. I didn’t quite understand what she meant… until I had kids of my own and let them run around half naked or naked and wild and free on the hot summer beaches (careful of the sun, of course). Meanwhile, my mom told me a story how an American lady got a ticket for changing her kid’s diaper on the beach… and then my friend in New Jersey told me how she was asked to breastfeed her baby in the toilet stall! Once, on an international facebook page, I talked about how my kid peed in the bushes at the park (like we do a million times), and the Americans were like, “WHAT?! That’s gross!!”  And most Aussies are like, “Kids peeing in the bushes?” *crickets chirping* Of course, I’m grossly generalising because I do vividly remember swimming naked with a bunch of friends in the freshwater pools, among the bamboo forests, in Hawaii… but you know what I mean. *Most* Americans are pretty conservative with a lot of things.

Then, AMERICA seemed like the weird foreign country!

Probably around the 5 year mark of being away from America, was when we realised that Australia was our home. Everything here felt familiar and normal. There was so much stuff to do! And, awesome stuff. Museums, art galleries, markets, shopping, beautiful places (which are all over the world)… you name it! When I would hear the news from America, it honestly sounded like reading about some crazy foreign country… Yeah, it’s bizarre when the place you called home and the place that felt ‘normal‘ to you for so many years, starts feeling like a distant planet! And now, when I read comments on the internet, even without being told, I can almost instantly tell if an American has left the comment. It’s so funny how much American culture sticks out now!

A rare surf together like three years ago. One hard part about no family… no free babysitting!

And now we LOVE our new home!

So, after a shaky few years at the start, we honestly love our new country so much. We’re grateful for getting to raise our three kids in this country. We’re happy because Australians like to complain about their country! It’s hilarious for us, coming from America, the things that Australians complain about. But, it’s good that they complain, because most things keep getting better (but you can’t tell that to an Aussie). Once we got used to everything and it wasn’t scary and confusing anymore, life here became so awesome!

And really, the whole world is your home! And, all people should feel comfortable being with other people in different countries as well as in the country you live in! America was a nice place to grow up and I’m grateful for my life there, but there are so many places in the world that are beautiful and amazing and safe and FUN, I just never believed it could be possible! From when I was a teenager, I really felt called to move to Australia. I only miss a few things from living in America, and it’s mostly the people. But, we’ve made a new home here, and we love it. I’m so glad I made that scary leap 10 years ago, because there’s nowhere else I would rather be! If you’re thinking of moving to another country, look at the logistics of it, and go for it! You can (usually) always go back.

At our citizenship ceremony.

Thinking of Moving? Be realistic…

After writing all this, I have to also say that you have to be realistic, because America may feel like the only place you feel like you’re at ‘home‘. I know right now a lot of people are considering moving away because of the current ‘situation‘… but keep in mind that things are always changing. The problems you feel are problems now, won’t be the same in ten years. Also, you may feel like moving away, but you may end up missing your family and the lifestyle too much. For us, missing family was a fair price to pay to be able to live in what we felt was paradise.

 

 

Living 10,000 Miles Away From the Grandparents

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I signaled to Margo (7) to close her eyes and go back to sleep. Then, I heard a whimper that quickly turned into a full blown sob. I sat down next to her stroking her forehead. For ten minutes, she blubbered, “I miss grandma and poppop!”. I miss them too sweetie…

After an action packed two week visit from my parents, Margo and my husband had just come back from dropping them off at the airport in Brisbane. We were all so tired from running around with them for the last two weeks, that we all had a big mid-day nap. When we woke (and after Margo’s cry) we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening, in mourning, while we watched the online flight tracker take my mom and dad, in a perfect little trajectory, far away from us, across the Pacific Ocean.

It’s a loooong flight to LA… then it’s another six hours to Newark.

Back to the weekly Skype calls. Back to the three or four packages a year full of goodies from America. Back to no more hugs or books or meals together or drawing together… boo… hoo…

We’re not forced to live where we do. When my husband and I came to Australia, nine years ago, on my student visa, we had no clue we would end up loving it so much here and wanting to stay. Life just sort of happened (as it does) and in no time at all, we found ourselves with good jobs, three kids, a house, and a lifestyle that suits us perfectly. A lifestyle that would be impossible to recreate if we moved back to the east coast of the USA, where we both grew up.

Because of how far we live, it’s not exactly easy to hop on a plane back to visit all too often. We’ve done it twice in nine years, it’s exhausting. Buying plane tickets for a whole family while living on a reduced income is the limiting factor. One time, we went five years without seeing them! That was a tough one.

So, after years of bugging them, they finally came!!! For the first time since having children, I had some sort of extended family in MY home. It was so awesome. We drove each other nuts at times and did way too much sightseeing. The kid’s schedule was completely out of whack, and we were all tired, but it was also so good. They rented a holiday apartment in the same building as ours, just upstairs, so the kids and everyone could run back and forth.

It’s pretty crazy how efficient you get at surviving without the grandparents around. Now that I’ve had a taste, it makes me sad to think that it can’t happen more often. It’s nice to just have someone there. Another outlet of energy for the kids. A different adult to interact with. Of course, having my mama and daddy around is pretty cool too… even though I haven’t seen them much in the past decade, who knows you better then your own parents?

Oh yeah… we were all so so sad when they left. It hurt, there were lots of tears.

I think it’s human nature to be on the move and to want to find a place to live that suits your needs. Our ancestors populated the planet somehow, and that would have been done by leaving ‘home‘. I always think of my husband’s grandmother, who came alone to America from Russia in the early 1900’s. It was a one way ticket back then. No hoping on a plane to visit your parents for the holidays. No Skype. If you were lucky, a letter here and there, until the wars came and you never heard from your parents or extended family again. So… we are lucky in this day and age that we can visit and stay in close contact. Moving to the other side of the globe is not the end of the story these days!

The one good thing about having a condensed visit was that everyone cleared their schedule (almost) and we all had nothing to do except hang out with each other. We probably had more quality family time in two weeks than we would have had in an entire year, had we been living only a few hours away. And, since we rarely get to see each other, everyone was on their best behavior to make the time as enjoyable as possible. We all had so much fun because we had to make every day, minute and second count!

While it is sad living so far away, it’s definitely possible. You have to sort of create your own family for the times when you can’t have your real family around. And, when you do get the chance to see your family, it’s usually short and sweet!

Parenting Through The Holidays, Family Visits and Travel

Traveling

My family and I just returned to Australia from a 5 week trip visiting family and friends in America. While it was really nice to see everyone, the trip and the type of traveling we did, really pushed me to the limits. All of my parenting knowledge was put to the most extreme test. I’ve been reflecting on everything I learned over those five weeks and I wanted to share my experience with you.

Mentally prepare the kids

Briefly explain the logistics of what’s going to happen, how and when. If you sense any fear or anxiety, fun role playing can help. If you know you have to do something that your child will not enjoy (long plane ride, meeting strange relatives, sleeping in an unfamiliar place, using public toilets, etc.), you can do role playing to help lighten the blow. Read the rest of this entry

What I Learned About Expectations After Traveling With My Kids for a Week

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We took a last minute week-long trip to Sydney and we had a blast. But, the trip wasn’t what I thought it would be like. The ‘getting there‘ part was not just most of the fun, it was practically ALL of the fun. I’ve traveled with my kids before, but this was our first, sort of fun holiday, that included planes, trains, buses and tourist attractions. Usually when we go somewhere, we have an agenda, but not this time.

Our plane was delayed… that didn’t bother them too much, they kept watching the planes and asking which one was ours (they asked at least 800 times).

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What was really funny/not funny was that the few things I had planned out and paid a lot of money for, like our trip to the aquarium… Read the rest of this entry

A Balinese Taxi Driver Who Could Teach the World About Religious Tolerance

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Bali_Katesurfs

Roughly 85% of the population of Bali is Hindu, the rest is mix of Muslim, Buddhist. Less than 2% are Christian.

On my way to the airport, my taxi driver and I were chit chatting away. Of course, he asked the obligatory ‘how old are you, are you married, do you have children’, as every taxi driver in Asia has always asked me. I answered his questions, “32, yes, yes” and right then we drove past this magnificent statue of Arjuna driving a chariot with Lord Krishna standing on top of ferocious-looking galloping horses. The statue represents a famous conversation that takes place on the battle field from the ancient scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. I asked the taxi driver if he was Hindu, although I assumed he was. He answered “Yes” and explained the significance of the statue (although I already knew). Then he asked me what religion I was. Read the rest of this entry

American living in Australia, Pretending to be Bilingual

At our favourite wildlife sanctuarly... or shall I say 'favorite'?

Kissing a kangaroo…. At our favourite wildlife sanctuarly… or shall I say ‘favorite’?

My biggest Aussie language blunder EVER… Do you want to know it?   Read the rest of this entry

Wind that Makes for Crazy Days (and How to Stop the Room From Spinning)

When the room starts spinning... get unspun!

When the room starts spinning… get unspun!  They both wanted ‘up’ so I put them in a wrap and spun them ’round and ’round

In October 2007, my husband and I spent a couple weeks in southern California for a surf contest, the USA Surfing Championships.  (I’ll just casually mention that I won my division… ahem, 2007 Woman’s Longboard title…) But, what really set this trip apart from the others was the damn wind!  Our first day there, I noticed everything looked bone dry. I said to Art, “Man, it looks like a tinder box here.”  Two days later, a hot, dry and extremely strong wind called the Santa Ana winds started blowing and southern California was experiencing some of it’s worst wildfires ever.  Lots of homes burned, lots of smoke that we breathed in… and some of the most epic, uncrowded waves I’ve ever surfed in southern California… like ever, dude… Read the rest of this entry

Baby Wearing and Swell Festival Gold Coast Australia 2013

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September!  All the world through, I love September!  Swell Festival happens in Currumbin Beach on the Gold Coast, every year.  Here’s a few highlights from our walk along the beach.  I always forget that it gets so hot and sunny though… next time I’ll remember to go later in the afternoon… although, twas a beautiful day.  The featured baby wrap is a Didymos Lila Hemp Indo, size 3, that I bought from Wrap ‘Em, in Australia.  Please ignore poor wrapping job… Read the rest of this entry

Keeping Young Children and Babies on a Schedule (With Lots of Room For Spontaneity)

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Days like these, when routine goes out the window!

Days like these, when routine goes out the window!

We were just getting into the car to go home at 2:45 pm and Margo (almost 3  1/2) was starting to get delirious.  You know, speaking tongues and crying over everything… end of the world things like  wanting mommy to buckle her into the carseat instead of daddy, etc.  By the time we got home and inside, it was about 3:00pm, she cried some more about not wanting to take a nap, or that she didn’t have to pee before she went to bed (even though she did), etc.  We all got into bed (queen size, can you say squish), Art rubbed Margo’s back for about 2 minutes, and probably by 3:03pm, she was out like a light. Read the rest of this entry

Onya Baby Carrier Product Review

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There's a kid onya :)

Aleshia, from Onya, came across my blog and sent me this sample Onya baby carrier months and months ago.  She seemed super friendly and it turns out that she used to live and surf right near where we live now!  How cool! Read the rest of this entry