This one is a bit longer and more polished. Things have calmed down around here so I’ve had more time to focus on writing, instead of just dashing off snippets.
I love to write, but find the blog format very frustrating. Postcards never were my thing.
This time, no photos. Just words.
Okay- One photo.
We are settling into our new house now. Our new habitat is quite different from West End. There, there were many eclectic little shops and goings-on to check out. Here it is quieter. There are several large parks within a two-block radius of us, including a skate/bmx park, and a local library branch and shopping center nearby. Here, the neighbor came by to greet us and advise us of their mail-checking habits. We are making a little nest here of library cards and dishtowels, and all the things that make this a home.
And in that, there is room for our feelings to start bubbling. O had a bit of a meltdown last night- tears of loss and fear, things he couldn’t quite put into words, but didn’t have to because we are all feeling them. I held him and tried to help give vocabulary to it but English is flawed, and we don’t have enough words to describe the richness of human emotion. If I were a neologist or trendsetter, I would write an entire dictionary dedicated to it. But I am not, I am a mother. So I do what parents do and try my best to make up for the failings of the world.
I spent the better part of the night, and much of this morning thinking about themes and topics that have come up recently. Some stretch across BLOX, others are mine alone. Most are a combination. As the spokesperson for our little family, I will do my best to be true to the experience of BOX, but know that what is written here is filtered through my lens.
Because of the snow event, all of us missed the opportunity to have one last goodbye with our dearest friends. Plans were cancelled, bodies left un-hugged. We mourn that loss.
Our dogs and guinea pig, rabbits and chickens are cozy in their new (or temporary) homes. The boys have been wanting to look at old photos and videos of them, but get overwhelmed with emotion when they hear the little squeaks and playful growls. O has designs on getting a pet turtle while we are here, but says “it’s not the same.” It’s not.
We are also missing the small things- things that you don’t realize are comforts until they are behind you: Familiarity with the geography and terrain, a sure-footedness that comes with knowing a place so well that you could traverse it barefoot in the dark; the smell of your own house; bird songs and cricket chatter that had woven themselves into your background fabric so much that you don’t even notice them anymore; knowing exactly what time by looking at where the sun is glinting off the green pickle building, and what shade of orange it is; and being versed in local jargon and colloquialisms.
It isn’t a constant longing with us. Not a pining homesickness cobbled together from overexposure to Hallmark movies and long distance telephone ads. No one here is gazing out into the middle distance or watching raindrops race themselves down grey-tinted window panes. It hasn’t been long enough here to justify melodrama (and I’m not sure that it ever will be long enough), but we are tasting the fist pangs of loss.
And knowing that, even if everything were to stay the same as we left it at home- which it won’t, but if it did- everything would still be different. Because we are already different. And maybe, we are beginning to mourn the loss of who we were back home.
… or maybe I’m just being melodramatic here.
“Excuse me.” I caught her attention over the rack of blankets hanging in the thrift store. “I’m sorry. Could you please tell me what ‘Manchesters’ are?” I pointed at the sign next to us. The woman looked puzzled for a moment and asked me to repeat myself. When I did, she laughed and said, “Oh. Those are linens. Weird word, eh?” I agreed and added that I am in need of an English-to-English dictionary. We laughed and she went over to tell her friend about the “funny American” she just met.
I am used to the awkwardness of language. There is no shame, for me, attached to asking for clarification. As a non-native speaker, there are still many words and phrases in Spanish that I do not know. As a person who has suffered some oxygen-loss related brain damage, I often struggle to connect thoughts to language: I mispronounce words I know well, and sometimes can’t force the line from brain to mouth- despite being able to see what I am trying to say in bright, neon lights written across my mind. But this moment with the woman in the thrift store (or “salvo” as they call it here) was a highlight to a different embarrassment.
The United States is on a bit of an uneven keel right now. Between awful celebrities and horrible politicians, our public image is… well, let’s say “tarnished.” We appear to be a spoiled, stupid people with backwards ways and too much money to keep the flibbertigibbets in check. As a whole, I’d have to agree with this assessment. Our hometown is a liberal/radical oasis in a state awash in hate and self-defeatism, in a country overcome by fear and polarization. It is embarrassing.
I am embarrassed to be absolutely a part of that culture. I work constantly to overcome the messages ingrained and internalized in me. Yet, I am it. And while abroad, I feel compelled to represent the struggle to overcome those things. And then, I am embarrassed by my inclination and desperation to present this alternative representation. And then, I am embarrassed that this thought process has spooled itself out so far that I cannot retrace it to its inception.
The boys are embarrassed about the goofy school uniforms they will have to wear. And they are goofy- please don’t say that their not. I mean- those sun hats- come on! Despite knowing that all the kids have to wear them, they are still resistant. They know that they have to go home to the US, where what you wear means so much and affiliates you with your “people” at school, knowing that they will be behind the times. And not only that, but they may not even catch up here. And in that, they’ll have to forge a new identity two years in a row as “the new kid.”
A woman we met told us that we were the first Americans she had ever met, and asked us many earnest questions about things like if we had “ever met African-Americans?” and “are there really Cholos?” Her inquisitiveness brought to light some distinct cultural and environmental differences. X and O were baffled by her interest in the demographics of their schools in the US- which are roughly equal in number across Black, Asian, Latino, and White (with a much smaller number of Native American students). Xabien was curious to her delight in his best friend being from Mexico. To them, this is normal. And realizing that your “normal” is no longer normal takes some adjusting to.
In addition to figuring out who we are here in the context of our community, we have to figure out who we are here in the context of this family. The rules are different, because everything is different. The boys will be getting greater freedoms to walk or bike into the city or schools on their own (it wasn’t possible from where we lived in the States), and so have to be trained to get around safely. There are different chores and responsibilities here, and so they have to learn to do things like hang the laundry on the line, and do the grocery shopping on their own. They are being reinvented as Brisbane city-kids. And B and I as parents of city-kids.
We are adjusting to our new roles with one another as well. I am the reason we are here. I am the anchor. Things, at least right now, are not the 50/50 we are accustomed to. We go where I need to go, and meet who I need to meet, for the fellowship. We move where I need to move to be close to campus (though, truthfully, if it were only up to me, we’d still be over in West End).
Soon, B will find a job, and (hopefully) it will even back out, but for now- this is my circus. I am a clown thrust into the role of ringleader, and the guys are here to jump through the hoops.
And I really like circus metaphors. I like clowns. A lot. It’s who I am.
B loves riding bikes. X and O seem to, also. Many people do. Millions of people do. I do not. Let me clarify. I love the idea of bikes, in fact I looove my bike. I even named her Matilda (after the song Waltzing Matilda, whose socialist history I encourage you to investigate).
Cycling is a mode of transportation that is, in many ways, vastly superior to a car. By comparison, the carbon footprint is negligible. You can use alternate routes, go places a car often cannot, get physical exercise, and all the other things people say when they try to convince you that you love to ride bikes.
For me, it is an exercise in frustration management. It isn’t that I struggle physically- though that is sometimes the case- but rather that I am perplexed by the attraction to it.
As we’ve been riding around this city a lot lately, I have had plenty of time to consider what my irritation is. And I realize that it is very similar to that which I feel while driving a car.
See, I am a walker. I love to walk. Walking allows me to poke about and explore, investigate interesting things, look over and behind the scenery, discovering tiny treasures and catching bits conversations that inspire my imagination. I walk so I can stop and admire. This is not so on a bike.
I can see the panorama but am whizzing by too quickly to enjoy it. I wobble because I am caught up admiring some this-or-that and veer off course. It is an unsteady agreement I have with my little Matilda. She likes to get there, where I prefer to eventually, maybe, make my way over yonder. She is achievement, where I am wonder.
But for now, Matilda and I are locked in this waltz. I need her to get me around, and she needs my wiggly butt to stay still in her saddle. But I am sure we are a sight to see, lagging far behind B and the boys, swerving side to side because I caught a glimpse of something charming. Maybe we’ll catch up to them, or maybe not.