Friday, December 31, 2010

For Auld Lang Syne

Happy New Year everyone! On New Year's Eve I always like to reflect on where I was exactly 12 months ago and where I hope to be this time next year. We celebrated NYE last year with friends, but we were home by 11pm and I was in bed feeding my 3 week old baby at midnight. J has changed and grown so much in that time and I honestly cannot believe how quickly the year has passed. This time next year we'll have a two year old running around, and who knows where we'll be?

The end of the year has made me a bit nostalgic but to be honest, much of the year went by in a blur. I can barely remember the first 6 months, as I was wandering around in a fog of sleep deprivation, hormones, confusion and overwhelming love and adoration. June was a turning point, when I quit breastfeeding, lost 7kgs and we bid farewell to our old nemesis, reflux. Since then our little guy has flourished and we've enjoyed every minute. 2010 was a year that changed us in a lot of ways. We watched our son grow with wonder, anticipation and complete bewilderment, and we gradually grew into our new roles as parents. Parenthood brought us immeasurable joy and happiness, along with new fears and heartbreak. I'm typing with tears in my eyes and struggling to express just how my heart has been opened, by joy and sadness in equal measure over the last 12 months. I wrote about this feeling in my post An Open Heart but I'm only now coming to grips with just how profoundly this has changed me. I've grown up a lot myself and I never really expected that.

It may seem strange that at almost 32 years of age I'm only just now feeling like a proper adult. I guess it's because I've never had responsibilities before, but it also has a lot to do with wanting to be a good parent. I'm far from perfect and still have a long way to go but I feel very strongly that I need to lead by example; I can't encourage my son to be the best person he can be, if I'm not fulfilling my own potential. I want him to be kind and compassionate, strong and independent but also thoughtful and selfless, and I know that if I have any hope of teaching him those values, I have to possess them myself. Seeing myself through my son's eyes has made me realise how flawed I am. I know for a few more years at least he'll see the world as we introduce him to it and his interactions with everyone and everything around him will be based on ours. J is a little mimic and picks up on things we say and do so quickly already, the good and the bad. He's also so much like both of us, and there's nothing like seeing yourself in a small person to motivate you to be a more positive role model. I'm sure most parents start out with the best of intentions on this front, and I may be underestimating the amount of work involved in such self-improvement, but I've already made some big changes and feel like a better person for it. If I were the kind of person who makes New Year's resolutions, I'd resolve to continue what I've started this year.

There is more to it, and as always I have more to say, but I've just welcomed in 2011 by watching the Sydney fireworks on TV and now I have a date with a soft pillow. Good night, and happy new year again x

Friday, December 24, 2010

All I want For Christmas

Christmas has never really been about presents for me. It's nice to give and receive great gifts, and I do put a lot of thought into what I buy for people, but I'd be perfectly happy if the day was simply about getting together. When I was growing up it was the one day of the year we all put aside what we were doing and got together to celebrate. My dad's family is so busy all year that even though they live within a 2 kilometre radius of each other, they never get together, except at Christmas. I would much rather just be with the people I love than have them worrying about what to buy me. We're hoping to instil this value in J as well, and have not bought him much at all. The tree is surrounded by gifts from grandparents, aunties and uncles and we're happy to let others spoil him this year. We figure it'll be the only year we can get away with it!

Until J was born I took responsibility for buying birthday and Christmas presents for our friends and families, and sending out cards. Last year I went out early, knowing our baby was due in December, and bought cards and presents for everyone. Wandering around Stanley Markets, 8 months pregnant, I vowed never again! To top it off, my husband disapproved of a number of my selections for his family, and promised to go out and buy more gifts later. Needless to say he didn't and his mother and step-mother received, in February, the gifts I had bought for them. So this year I bought a few small things for my family, sent out an e-card and left the rest up to D. As yet there is not a single gift under the tree for anyone on his side of the family, and I'm trying really hard not to care or nag, but it is Christmas Eve and I know I'm going to feel really guilty opening presents from people who have not received anything in return. I also know if I have any hope of teaching my son that Christmas is about more than presents, I'm going to have let it go.

My husband and I are pretty practical people we try to buy each other things that we either need or have specifically asked for. This year I wanted pearl earrings and a luxurious facial. As I sit here looking at our beautifully decorated half-dead tree, surrounded by beautifully wrapped presents, I've started thinking about what it is I really want (or need), but I'm struggling. Apart from the usual global-sized wishes like world peace, that everyone wishes for, I can't really wish for anything more. It sounds cliched, and I don't generally like to admit out loud that I'm perfectly content with all that I have, just in case the universe hears me and takes something away. But I have a husband who has put up with my pre-Christmas madness all month; eating all my baking attempts, even the burnt ones, listening to endless carols and watching tacky holiday movies with me each night. Today he drove us around Central and Kowloon all day trying to find a car park, all because I insisted on leaving the grocery shopping to the last minute. He even went to IKEA and spent the evening putting together a table so we wouldn't have to eat our dinner on the sofa tomorrow. He did all this without complaint, expecting nothing in return. My gorgeous son was also dragged around the shops all day, fed fried rice for lunch, and denied his afternoon nap, and not only did he not complain, he entertained us and other shoppers the whole day. He makes me smile every day, and the way his face lights up when he sees me is a gift in itself. I feel very blessed this year and my wish list is surprisingly blank. 
    In the end what I want this Christmas is for my friends and family to receive what they wish for, and all the love, happiness, success and peace that they deserve. And, just so we're clear, I might be happy with what I have, but I won't knock back a present or two if they appear under the tree tonight!

    Merry Christmas everyone, and thanks for reading xx

    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Letting Go

    I'm sitting in my living room at 10am, still in my pyjamas, surrounded by toys and debris, there are dirty dishes in the sink and the laundry basket is overflowing. But I've decided not to care. My Christmas present to myself this year is permission to let go. Granted, it's only been a week that I've had to do all the work myself, but while my helper's away I've been killing myself trying to maintain the standards of cleanliness that we're used to, forgetting that our helper's sole purpose is to keep the place clean. I have several purposes at the moment and I've had to admit that I can't do it all. So I'm going to stop trying to. 

    I have friends in places other than Hong Kong, who don't have helpers, some don't even have family close by, and yet they manage to look after their kids and keep the house running while their husbands are away, sometimes for 10 days at a time. I've marvelled at how they manage to keep it all together and maintain their sanity. Most of the mums I've spoken to about this say that the only way to cope is to give up something. One mum, a friend of a friend, always looks immaculate, but her boys are little terrors. She's decided that discipline and behaviour aren't a big deal, preferring instead to spend a little time on herself. Others aren't too fussed about the housework, putting that way down on the priority list. Socialising and quality time with your husband are also put on the shelf at times. I've realised this week, that I could do without a helper but something would definitely have to give. I worked my butt off on Tuesday to make sure the house was tidy when my husband came home that night. I know for sure that if I didn't have a helper, I would not make this effort every week. I'd probably leave the house in a state deliberately so D could see what it's like most of the time he's away. The dog would end up completely neglected, and there's no way I'd ever iron anything. I probably wouldn't be able to work either, but that would be a sacrifice I'd be willing to make. 

    The best part about the last week has been the amount of time I've spent with my amazing little guy. We have had so much fun together and I've absolutely loved every minute of it. Despite being ridiculously busy, I've had more time to sit on the carpet and play. And rather than leaving J at home while I go to the shops, I've been taking him everywhere with me. He's fabulous company and I'm so grateful that we've been able to spend this time together. I've learned that, until now, I've been occupying myself with a lot of stuff that's just not important, and that's what I'm letting go of. I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to try and keep everything running smoothly and make everyone around me happy. I want to be liked and respected and keep up with the mums around me who always look good and have beautiful homes and great hair, and still have time to go to work and look after the kids and bake cookies on the weekend. Now I know that they've probably made a lot of sacrifices to maintain that lifestyle, I don't feel so bad.

    If I've learned anything this year, it's to value what's important and make the most of it, you just have to work out what that is. I can keep trying to 'do it all' but if I really think about it I think I'll find that I really don't care if the floor's clean or the washing's folded. So I'm going to spend the next couple of days tidying, baking, shopping, wrapping presents, and preparing an amazing Christmas dinner. Not because I have to, but because I want to. If I can spend the day with my gorgeous son and collapse on the sofa at the end of it with my husband, mince pies, mulled wine and tacky Christmas movies, I'll be very happy indeed. 

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Candy Canes, Silver Bells and Other Hazards

    Firstly, I have to refer to my last post The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Our missing bag was found, left behind by baggage handlers in Sydney for reasons unknown. I was so relieved to have it all back that I didn't ask questions. I felt guilty for assuming the worst but my husband assures me that bags do get stolen all the time, especially at this time of year, especially in Sydney. And I also have to apologise to those of you who may have noticed that I haven't been posting very regularly lately, despite having the best of intentions. We arrived home late last Wednesday night and only had one day at home with my husband before he left for New York. Our helper is on holidays so it has just been J and I once again and my "spare" time is filled with laundry, dishwashing, bed making and cooking. I have been lucky enough to have a bit of help with dog walking etc, but otherwise I have been flat out. It's actually been really good for me and I have hardly noticed the crushing homesickness that enveloped me as I left Sydney. I also have a new appreciation for mums and dads who do this all the time. 

    I started this particular post a while ago and thought that, since it will only be relevant for a few more days, I'd better get it out there...

    It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I love Christmas, or at least the build-up to it. Christmas Day itself is always a bit of an anticlimax but the shopping, decorating, carols and cooking always put me in a good mood. To me Christmas is all about family, and in the absence of family, it revolves around food. Pudding Sunday, the last Sunday in November, (aka Stir-Up Sunday in some homes) is right up there on my list of favourite days of the year, and it marks the start of the festive season for me.

    My grandmother used to make a proper Christmas pudding every year, even though very few of us actually ate it, but when she gave up making them I decided to take over the reins. That was about 6 years ago and I've done it every year since. The pudding has to be made at least a month before Christmas to give it time to age and soak up all the lovely alcohol you "feed" it over the month. My pudding is an adaptation of a Nigella Lawson recipe, and it's without a doubt the most perfect pudding you can imagine, if I do say so myself (I'm worried I'd be in breach of copyright if I posted the recipe and I'm afraid I can't find a link on the web, so it will have to remain my secret recipe!). Looking at the recipe it seems quite complicated and you would imagine that something that requires storage and "feeding" for a month, followed by 6 hours of steaming, would be quite delicate and sensitive to temperature and humidity and that sort of thing. But they're really very robust. One year I made one here in Hong Kong and took it all the way back to Australia. It spent 10 hours in a suitcase on a plane to Melbourne where we stayed in three different places. Then we took it to my parent's house, a 2 hour flight and an hour's drive away. I was worried it wouldn't be any good, but it was just as tasty and Christmassy as it always is.

    This year I decided to make two, and may have finally found the one thing that the recipe can't handle. The first one was far too wet, even after 5 hours of steaming. I added more flour to the mix and the second one was better, so it was the one I took home for my in-laws. I felt bad that once again we wouldn't be spending Christmas with them, and they were really pleased to have a little reminder of us, to share on the day. The pudding I kept for us is sitting on my kitchen bench, a gooey, rummy mess, but it's too late to make another one. On Christmas Day I'll just have to cover it with cream and custard and hope for the best. Other seasonal treats I've taken to making since we moved to HK are mince pies, gingerbread biscuits and mulled wine. As much as I love a hot Aussie Christmas, I have been absolutely thrilled to be able to partake in some of the northern hemisphere's traditional cold-weather foods. We will have to forego the turkey this year as our oven isn't big enough but I will be baking a chicken, with stuffing and gravy, and loads of roast vegies. The forecast for Christmas Day is cooler temperatures so I'm very excited and plan to eat all day!

    J is far too young to understand what all the fuss is about but he is very curious about all the presents and the decorations on the tree. My parents loaded us up with so many presents I had to borrow an extra bag to bring them all home. Despite the effort involved they do look lovely under the tree and we will have lots of fun opening them, even if J just wants to play with the wrapping paper! Having a real tree is another of our traditions and it goes a long way back for me. When I was little we always had a real tree and it was generally cut down by Dad, just on dusk, a few days before Christmas. When I left home he tried to leave the tree cutting for when I got back and it became a bit of a ritual every year, just the two of us. One year, when D and I were staying in Sydney for Christmas, Dad went out and found a small but perfectly formed tree and wrapped it up, took it to the airport, and sent it up to us on the Sydney flight. It was magical, and was the best present I've ever received. Going down to Wellcome (the local supermarket) and buying a tree isn't quite the same. But they're real, and they look beautiful. I can't imagine having a plastic tree, it just wouldn't be Christmas. Unfortunately Wellcome receive their trees in late November, so for the last two years our trees have been practically dead by Christmas Day. As I write this, our tree is a very definite shade of brown, and I went out today and bought more decorations to try and hide the fact that the poor thing is well past its prime.

    It has been a constant battle this week to keep J away from the tree and stop him from pulling the baubles off and sticking them in his mouth. Despite my vigilance I found him chewing on a candy cane today, with half the plastic wrapping stuck to his tongue. Earlier in the week he pulled off some tinsel and wrapped it around his neck! I never knew a Christmas tree could be such a deathtrap! Even though it's a joy to see his little face when we turn on the lights on the tree, I'll be relieved when we can pack it all away. I'm hoping next year he'll be old enough to understand that he can look but not touch...

    I do also want to write about presents and what I learned about travelling with a toddler but that will have to wait: it's 4pm and I still have no idea what we're having for dinner. I wonder if J likes panettone...?

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

    Once again I've been sidetracked from my original planned topic, but I'm sure you'll understand why today's post has me so absorbed at the moment. We just returned safely from Sydney last night after a great two week break. J and I recovered from our illnesses in time to spend a few days with my parents, visiting family and enjoying the fresh air and gorgeous summer weather. Despite everything I said in my post The Tyranny of Distance, I did need to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the plane. It was very tough to leave, and it was only love for my husband and a reluctance to keep living out of a suitcase that got me through the gate. We cashed in some air miles and upgraded to business class so no matter what mood J was in I'd at least be comfortable. He was a little excited and overtired but it was a really pleasant flight.

    The pleasantness of the experience was shattered however, when we arrived at the baggage carousel to find one of our bags missing. It wasn't the small one with the easily replaceable baby bottles and toys, or the porta-cot, nor was it the one with my clothes. It was the largest bag of the lot, the one with J's clothes, many of them brand new, and all our Christmas presents from my family. While I was visiting my parents I took the opportunity to collect some things from storage and I had them in this suitcase too. Also missing are 3 limited edition children's books that I've had since I was 5, a gorgeous blue satin dress, an antique bead necklace that was my grandmother's, J's baby blanket (that he's slept with since he was born), a rather expensive beach towel, my favourite pants, my favourite t-shirt, and the charger for our camera, along with a number of other things that have no value or meaning to anyone but us. Cathay Pacific baggage services have been as helpful as they can be, while Sydney baggage services have not been helpful at all. Cathay just rang at 11pm to let us know they haven't had any luck tracing the bag but will continue looking. It's good to know they're onto it but, to us, it's looking more and more likely that the bag was stolen. So now I can't sleep.

    I'm so incensed that someone would consider taking a bag that didn't belong to them, especially at this time of year. The trouble is, it was possibly the first time ever that I didn't lock the damn thing. A large, full suitcase, unlocked and bearing a first-class tag would be very appealing to anyone without a conscience. But, like I said, there was nothing in there that would be valuable to anyone but me. I've tried to be Buddhist about the whole thing and think "it's only stuff, we made it back safely and that's the main thing," but it was MY stuff, and it was all of great sentimental value. It's also the principle of it, who steals a bag of presents and baby clothes, at Christmas! I've just had to email my mum and ask for receipts for the presents she bought us, how Christmassy is that?!? Some of the items I'll never replace, no matter how much compensation we receive.

    If there's any good to come out of this, it's an excuse to go shopping. And it's certainly distracted me from my post-Sydney depression. But I'm sad to say I've lost more than a bag full of stuff; a little bit of my Christmas spirit went with it, and that's irreplaceable too.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Now You're One...

    I had this fear that if I didn't keep blogging while I was away that people would stop reading. That hasn't turned out to be the case fortunately but I did feel it was important, today of all days, to check in. Our time in Sydney has been a rollercoaster ride of loving then hating the place we used to call home, but I'll write more about that later.

    Today I have to write to acknowledge that it is my beautiful boy's first birthday! I looked at him last night smiling up at me and was overwhelmed with love and pride. He's by far the best thing I've ever done and I'm amazed every day by how much he has grown and developed without any input from us. His personality has bits of both of us but he is a unique and special individual, and I never expected that from a 1 year old. Every day he gets better and better and I really feel blessed to have him in my life, and to have the opportunity to spend so much time getting to know him. We have been attached at the hip this week, on our own in a studio apartment in Sydney. He has been a bit unsettled by the trip and hasn't let me out of his sight. It's nice to be so needed but at the same time I'd really like a bit of peace to go to the loo and have a shower! I'm afraid it's not going to be a pleasant birthday for him but it will certainly be memorable. We're both sick with different bugs and have spent most of the day so far asleep. It's a far cry from the fun day with friends that I had planned but I figure, since he's too young to know any different, we can always celebrate another time.

    I realised earlier today, with just a hint of irony, that I spent the 9th of December last year in pain and doped up as well, just in a different way. Despite that, it's still a very significant day. I'm sure it probably has a lot to do with hormones but I have nothing but fond memories of the day our son came into our lives, and his birthday will always have meaning for me, more so than my own ever has. I'd love to share the story of his birth with you all but I am about to collapse with exhaustion so it will have to wait for another day. I do, however, want to say how thrilled I am to be celebrating this milestone. I thought I'd be a bit sad at having to admit that my baby was not a baby anymore, but the opposite is true. He's such a sweet, good-natured little boy that I couldn't ask for more. Except maybe more time. Waiting for J to arrive was the longest wait of my life and as soon as he was here it was like life went into fast-forward. I cannot believe it's been a year since our lives changed so dramatically, for the better, forever. I want time to slow down but at the same time I can't wait to see what the next year holds. Happy Birthday my lovely boy.

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    The Tyranny of Distance

    I love Christmas. Mostly the few weeks leading up to it, the day itself is always an anti-climax, but everything else, the carols, the shopping, the food, is the highlight of my year. I've decked the blog in honour of the season and I'll be dedicating a few posts to the good, the bad and the ugly of Christmas this month, but today I want to write about travelling, something many of us do at this time of year.

    We're leaving tonight for Sydney and we'll be away for two weeks. I'm stressed and anxious about the flight, I'm not organised enough, and as much as I'm looking forward to the time away (especially given the horrendous state of HK's air this week!) I'd rather just stay where I am. I always go through this trauma for a few days before going to Australia; the thought of repatriating just for a short time always brings up mixed emotions for me and there are times when I think it would be easier just to stay in Hong Kong. They say that home is where the heart is, and I definitely feel like I would be at home anywhere as long as D and J were with me. But there is a part of me that will always belong in Sydney. As much as I love going back to visit I know it can never be the same as it was when we lived there. People have changed, we have changed, and life has gone on without us, but at the same time everything is so familiar and the same. It's strange going back and having to stay in hotels and hire cars, it makes me feel homeless. At the same time I feel comfortable because I know my way around, but I feel like I don't belong. It unsettles me and I feel like I'm being pulled in two directions. I want to stay and pick up where I left off, I want my son to grow up on the street we used to live on and I want our friends to get to know him. For a long time I refused to acknowledge on the Australian immigration departure card that I was merely a "visitor," I always ticked the box next to "resident departing temporarily." I held onto the hope that I would return sooner rather than later, and was in complete denial about the fact that I was no longer a resident in my own country.

    I go through this angst every time I go back. I torture myself by window shopping at real estate agencies, and spending quality time in all my favourite spots. Then the reality sinks in and I realise that when we visit Sydney we see her at her best. Our friends all make time to see us, we've saved up so we have more cash than we would if we were paying rent, we don't have to battle traffic or work in dead-end jobs every day. We don't get involved in the politics of the place or rely on the local infrastructure in any way, it's all good when you're just a "visitor." I also struggle at the other end of a trip, when I have to come back to HK, and my husband has to drag me kicking and screaming onto the plane (quite embarrassing sometimes...). On returning to Hong Kong I slip into this depressed fog for a few days; I don't unpack, I mope about the house complaining, "it's not like this in Sydney," and "when I was in Sydney I could buy this/do that/go there/be happy..." (yes, I'm a delight to live with). Viewing a place through holiday eyes is very much the same as wearing rose coloured glasses, and I have to constantly remind myself that if we did stay in Australia life would be much much harder. Not to mention all that we'd be leaving behind.

    The fact that our families are there is the main reason we go back as often as we do, but it adds to the emotional wrench I feel at both ends of a trip. It's lovely that people care and that they want to spend time with us. I would complain a lot more if we went back and no one made a fuss. My father-in-law will be meeting us at the airport on Thursday and I'm absolutely delighted that someone will be at the gate to greet us for the first time since we moved here 3 years ago. Of course we want to see as many people as we can but we've learned from experience that it can be absolutely exhausting trying to please everyone. Despite the fact that that's simply impossible to achieve, we do still tie ourselves in knots trying, but we always end up disappointing someone. No matter how much running around we do, we can never see all of our friends and all of our families, and we're often forced to make a choice between the people we want to see and the people we have to see. I always leave feeling as if I could've spent an extra month there and still missed people. Being there reminds me of all the people we're missing while we're away, the babies we don't get to watch grow up, the family members who grow older every day, and whose time is limited. I'm so happy to see everyone but so sad at the same time. Noticing that my father's hair is greyer and my mother is thinner every time we see them, that I've been away long enough to notice these changes, breaks my heart. It sounds completely selfish but one year I'd really like to go back and not see anyone, to avoid the heartache. I'd love to take my boys to a small beachside town and have a proper Australian holiday, just the three of us, another impossible dream.

    It's not just the emotional aspect of the journey that takes a toll. It's a real physical and logistical nightmare sometimes. Our first trip back to Australia with J was a marathon effort. We flew from Hong Kong to Sydney, then Brisbane, then Canberra and back to Brisbane again. J racked up more air miles in that month than most people do in a year. We also spent several hours driving to places outside of the capital cities. The poor little guy was so overwhelmed and exhausted by it all that it took weeks for him to adjust when we came home. When we went to Melbourne in June we decided that we'd stay in one place and ask people to come to us. It went well (still completely disruptive for J's routine, just less exhausting) but there were a few family members who couldn't come and see us, and that has complicated things even more for this next trip. If we tried to fit everyone in we'd literally spend most of our time in the country on planes or in cars travelling to and fro, all for a brief visit, where we'd probably be greeted with a comment like "what a pity you can't stay longer."

    Unless you've lived overseas and had to return home with a small child in tow, it's hard to comprehend exactly what's involved. Some family members have never travelled and they seem to think it's much simpler than it actually is. "Just jump on a plane," they say. We've had a few visitors come through Hong Kong since we've been living here, and while we wouldn't want everyone rocking up on our doorstep, it would be much easier if more of our family came to us. I don't think you can fully appreciate how difficult it can be to travel overseas (packing, check-in, immigration, 9 hour economy class flight etc) with a baby until you've done it for yourself. It's an exercise on the scale of a small military operation. I'd like to think that there would be fewer demands placed on our time if more people understood how little of it we have and how complicated it can be. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, or maybe that's a selfish way of looking at it, either way a little time spent in our shoes would benefit a few people.

    Now that I've done nothing but complain I do have to say that I can't wait to get back to the city I love so very much. I'm going to take my son to Bronte Beach, walk along Sydney Harbour every morning with a coffee and my beautiful boy, I'll shop until I drop in the malls that have everything I've not been able to buy in Hong Kong, I'll eat in my favourite cafes and laugh till I cry with friends I haven't seen all year. Then we'll go and see my parents and the town I grew up in. We'll look out over the vast open plains and breath deep lungfuls of fresh country air, we might even convince Pop to take us out to get a Christmas tree. We'll sit with my Nanna and she'll tell me stories of when her babies where J's age and I'll probably cry when I say goodbye, because she hasn't been well this year and she and I were cut from the same cloth. And my husband won't have to drag me kicking and screaming onto the plane because we don't live there anymore. Hong Kong, for better or worse, is home.