Looking back at our photos from Australia, all I see is the kids. There’s only two of them, and they’re only small, but they cover a whole country, a whole continent. There they are: loving dogs, hating sand, patting a wallaby, being indulged by various friends and relatives. The whole landscape in which they do these things is absent, or faded to distant backdrop.
I don’t know when this part of parenting ends, this tight focus that makes the rest of the universe disappear. Quite frankly it doesn’t seem like it will be any time soon. For a taste of what the south coast of NSW actually looks like, may I direct you here. If you want to see a small taste of what we saw, read on.
A week or so after getting home, we all came down with the flu. I got it worst, and as everybody else was recovering, I was taking antibiotics for bronchitis and fighting a temperature of almost 40 degrees. I couldn’t face food and feeding the kids disgusted me.
After 10 days I started to feel better- to be able to go out, to eat again. But I was hollowed out by illness. The world was devoid of colour. Instead of feeling a great excited relief that my body was returning to normal, I felt sluggish, convalescent, and lost. For another week, I was weak, weepy, and inclined to cower.
I haven’t been sick since the beginning of my pregnancy, apart from the odd runny nose, so this is the first time I have had to deal with children when what I really wanted to do was die. I spent one day lying on a mattress on the floor with a fever, hoping that nobody broke a bone because I wouldn’t be able to get up and take them to the hospital, while they gambolled all over the furniture, ate our books, and pulled every single annoying singing toy out of the cupboard and played with them all at once.
As usual, being sick and really incapable (instead of just disinclined), made me regret my usually unsympathetic stance towards other sick people. To whom I now formally apologise for my secret irritation and conviction that they are malingering- it is a failure of my own imagination.
When we went to Australia last month, I hadn’t been home for almost 5 years. During which I had cycled from Tokyo to Warsaw, settled in Poland, learnt Polish, and had two children.
I couldn’t predict what would happen to me when I got out of the plane. On the surface, most of my apprehension centred on logistics- how to transport 4 people, two of them only one year old, from one side of the world to the other, with a minimum of squealing and disruption.
What I was really worried about was what sort of crisis the trip might force. I live fairly happily and unreflectively in Warsaw, and thought that maybe this was only possible because of the lapse in space-time that separated me from my real life and home. I hear myself brushing off people’s questions about why I have made this choice and what life is like with a sort of obtuseness- that I don’t really think about it, that I am as happy as I would be anywhere, stubbornly refusing to admit any real dissatisfaction or make any unfavourable comparisons, though I think this is often what they want or expect. I felt on some visceral level that my life in Warsaw wouldn’t stand up to any real scrutiny- that my friendships would seem superficial, my work senseless, my attachment to place tenuous, if I started to compare.
And I loved being in Australia. I loved speaking English all the time, getting all the jokes, talking silly slang and never thinking about my declensions. I loved feeling totally at ease and inconspicuous, I loved the sea, I loved being in a place where I had a long history and seeing my family and all my lovely friends.
But I also felt fine coming back to Poland again. Partly it was just because I was ready to be back in my own space again, after a month 0f screamy nights in other people’s houses. But mainly, I just felt alright. There were people and places I wanted to see. The freeze was over and the days were longer and the language was still familiar. I felt as if I had passed an important test.