So Long And Thanks For All The BBQS
I’ve written before about how my adverse childhood experiences have made me the person I am, the mother I am. Mothering in a foreign country, similar to my own but far from my origins, has been challenging in practical and financial ways. However, having no family here never seemed a huge disadvantage, because so many of us in Australia are new here and to be honest, I wouldn’t have known where to look for family support I could rely on back home. I have always had to be my own rock anyway, so might as well do that in the sunshine.
Our collective newness does, I think, push Australians out of the house, down to the park, seeking connections. Our street has a park with a BBQ and neighbours gather there in the Summer. We make friends, build communities. It seems like this is a safe place to grow a family in many ways. I don’t know if it just that I tend to make friends with people who don’t like to settle, or if it is Melbourne house prices, or if it is Australians, but over the last five years most of my favourite people have all moved hours away. One to Brisbane, two to Newcastle, another to Traralgon, one to New Zealand, my best friend returned to country Victoria and several more have plans for tree changes or sea changes.
It isn’t hard to be new, really, if you aren’t too shy. It gives you a great excuse to meet people and it is all a lovely adventure. Knowing nothing is an invitation for people to explain things, introduce you to people and places and show you around. Since leaving school I have moved almost constantly, every two or three years. I lived in 5 cities in the UK and since moving to Melbourne in 2006 I have lived in the inner North, far out East in the hills, down the beach and then returned to the inner North again ‘to settle for school’. Research has shown that changing schools frequently leads to poorer social, emotional and educational outcomes for children, and I was adamant that I wouldn’t compromise my children’s well-being with my itchy feet.
Four years later and I am questioning my priorities. The highly mobile population, the disposability of modern friendships; Australia is beginning to seem less exciting and fun and more unstable and superficial. I don’t feel embedded in life here.
Modern dating and making friends on social media doesn’t help. As a young woman I dated people in my social circle, friends of friends, people from university. I was connected to them, and although that meant fewer people I was compatible with, it gave us all a strong motivation to essentially treat people well. If you were mean, the whole social group let you know about it. Now internet dating is great. You can select people based on whatever esoteric whims you fancy, which for me generally has something to do an intellectual connection and shared values. However, making connections based on interpersonal bonding and not social networks is inherently risky. We are not embedded in each others lives and can be deleted in a moment based on the same esoteric whims.
I am sure most of us have done it, made a new friend online, brought together by some obscure shared interest and got along fabulously right up until you discover they are a Trump supporter. Shudder With a clinical tap the relationship is electronically severed, they are unfriend and we move on. We have an infinite pool of others to fish in. We can keep fishing until we are surrounded only by those who please us, are like us, who reinforce all our beliefs and choices. But along the way we have lost our ability to manage confrontations, to argue and stay friends, to rebuilt trust once it has been disrupted. We become fabulously adept at making connections and finding common ground and woefully intolerant of anything that makes us question ourselves. We stop being willing to do the emotionally uncomfortable and challenging work that builds meaningful and lasting relationships when there are fewer consequences to bad behaviour.
As much as I do not want to separate my children from their roots here, as much as I know that will threaten their identity and security and they will grieve for their lost home, community and friendships…I also know that there is a place where we have deeper connections. There are friends I have known since I was a toddler. People I spent years being friends and frenemies, and lovers and flatmates with, and their children will be my children’s friends and lovers and flatmates. So I’d better start packing.