I’m a seasoned international mover. I’ve moved alone, as a married couple and with a 11 week old newborn. But most recently I moved from South Africa to Australia, while pregnant, with a 16 month old.
In my experience moving internationally is a multidimensional event involving a house pack up, a lot of logistics and admin, resignation from jobs, goodbyes to family and friends, setting up life again, a change in routine, a move away from any groups you are part of, a huge financial investment and a whole lot of time (you can read about some of the logistics involved here). On the plus side it is an adventure, it exposes you and your kids to new cultures, experiences, people and places, it allows you to evaluate life and consider whether you really want to live where you live and it gives you a chance to form deep relationships with relatives overseas.
It also bonds you as a couple and a family – it is an adventure of memories made together, that few others share or understand. Having moved back and forward between South Africa and Australia for 9 years now, I am glad that this is no longer a journey and transition that I make alone, that though everything may change, my family is my little piece of ‘sameness’ that I take everywhere I go. But, as our family grows, the disruption to life is becoming more and more evident and staying and investing in one place is not only becoming more appealing, but seemingly essential.
Knowing that this is the last time we will move for a while, has made it our saddest move yet. One year olds have big emotions and they express them in the hugest way. Every time my daughter sees her South African Gogo she lights up, open her arms and runs to her. She cuddles and kisses her, she laughs with pure joy. She learnt to say ‘Gogo’ about two weeks before we left and she walked around the house saying it constantly. It’s a word I haven’t heard from her since we landed in Australia. I know when we left and she happily waved goodbye that she didn’t understand that she wasn’t going to see her Gogo again any time soon. Never before have the goodbyes felt so hard and never before have I been so aware of the impact our choices have on our kids. Having family split between two countries means that we will always be away from one side. My husband’s family and my family are both very different, which means each offer our kids something else. To choose one over the other is impossible, because they simply cannot fill the gap of the other.
Last night I finished my daughter’s baby book – a record of her first year, which took place in South Africa. The pages are full of her South African friends and family, other mixed race kids who were closer than her cousins, people who are incredibly special to her. But knowing she will grow up in Australia I felt such huge sadness. That she wont remember this season or these people, that, as she grows up in Australia, she will look back on these photos with confusion, of a time and people that were so special but that she does not know. A chapter of her life that is lost to her. I also looked back on my own baby book. The pages are full of people I still know 30 years later – siblings, cousins, aunties etc. Consistency and long term relationships are good for kids. They bring security, identity and a ‘place’. They bring stories and a history and memories.
My daughter, being one, is too young to tell us what she thinks about everything. She continues to be her smiley self, making new friends every day. I do not know if she thinks of the people she adores on the other side of the world, or if they are simply ‘out of sight, out of mind’ to her. We lived on the property of another family in South Africa, so she had playmates outside our door every day. I miss them deeply and I wonder if she does too. She really is too young to understand.
And, after years of change and adventure, I have started to crave that consistency and sameness too. We both know the next season of life is one of ‘staying’ for us. Moving takes its toll financially, professionally and socially. When we moved to South Africa I questioned many times why we did it. And now, having moved back, I am questioning it again.
Where will our kids grow up? Perhaps no other choice will impact them so much. As a mixed race, multinational family this topic comes up often in our house. And it has been debated since long before our little one was born. We are among the small percent of families in the world that get to make an active and conscious decision about where we would like to raise our family. It is a great privilege and responsibility.
So, why did we come back to Australia? As we navigate the uncertainty, and miss family and friends, it is the wrong time to answer this, but I believe it was the belief that life would be easier and better for our family here – that jobs pay more, that I can birth in a public hospital for free and have great medical care, that our children can have a good education even if we can’t afford private schools, that life for our kids will be as good as it has always been for me.
So welcome to Australia little ones. The land of parks and footpaths and UV rays and beach holidays. May you know this as your place in the world.