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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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family home

Painful home truths

It dawns on me this early morning that we will soon be leaving this home.

Length of living space
The length of our living space, and home to many a party – especially during the age Before Children

When we bought this house, we had always known that we would move eventually. It was to be the first of hopefully three, and we would live in it until the children arrived. The first rung in the property ladder. The step up into the larger family home, before we eventually downsize in our retirement. If we got to live that long.

During our house hunt, this had been the first house we walked into and the one we couldn’t shake from our hearts and minds. In November, we would have lived in this house for ten years. And in all that time of course, this house had become our home.

Our bedroom
Our spacious north-facing bedroom
Arddun's bedroom
Once our study and second guest room, this space has evolved into our daughter’s haven. I’m convinced it is the best insulated room in the house – warmest in winter, coolest in summer.

And as much as we’ve been gearing up to this season of selling and moving on, I can’t help but feel nostalgic and a little sad about the prospect of leaving this place. It’s a terrific family home, and it’s served us very well. Coming from an old flat in Singapore, this is the first house I’ve lived in that has such open plan living, and where the kitchen truly is the hub of the home. I love that our guests always gather around our massive kitchen island the moment they arrive, and that I get to engage with them even as I’m busying in the kitchen. Having gotten so used to entertaining this way, it was one of the first things I made sure we have in our new home – a large kitchen island, right in the family living area. And space underneath for bar stools so we can continue having breakfasts that way.

Main living area with skylight
I’m really going to miss these high ceilings and those windows.

Arddun had learned to walk on these floors. My mother stayed here every chance she could. Atticus was almost born here (if I ever get down to writing about his birth, that is definitely a story to tell.) For a few consecutive years, we hosted Chinese New Year for our friends here.

Chinese new year 2011
Chinese New Year 2010, probably the last bash before Arddun arrived
Guest room
Before this became Atticus’s room, this was my study and our guest bedroom. We’ve had so many friends and family come stay with us here over the years for days, weeks, even months.

These walls have paid witness to the highs and lows of my family’s last decade. Mostly highs, really.

I’m going to miss walking to the shops. I love that when it was just Arddun and I, it was so easy to walk over to the buses and take a ride to Belconnon or the city. A part of me is rather sore that they’re finally going to build a cinema within walking distance of this place, but we’d probably be in the new house by then. My little fantasy about date nights with Tony and then walking home thereafter, slightly ruined now by the prospect that we’d still have to drive.

I love that I could send Tony to the shops for onions in the midst of cooking, and he could still make it home in time for dinner to be finished on schedule.

I’m so glad we moved to this part of Canberra. I’m so thankful we have this home.

If all goes well in the coming weeks, someone else is going to walk into this house, see what we’ve seen in it, and love it on the spot. Until then, I’m going to treasure our last months together.

View from front door
That uninterrupted view from our front step

We’ve (only just) begun!

So I think I’d mentioned at some time or another about building our new home. And man, has that been a protracted process!

Lots of hurrying up to wait, especially on tradies who say that they will get back to you… only not to. Lots of well-meaning advice on striking out on our own to get the best deals, only to discover later down the track that the best deals were under our noses… Changes of heart, changes of convictions, more waiting, getting stalled by council approvals…

For ages, we would drive past our sloping block of land and watch as the grass grew. A stack of time later, we noticed a small pile of dirt on the side. Then a pile of bricks with the builder’s signage. And still the grass grew. A former colleague told me that his neighbours down the street — who might be Indian, he wasn’t quite sure — would regularly picnic on their vacant block of land. Like, the whole jin gang just sitting on their dirt, surveying their land, and having a feed while they’re at it.

I had been working myself up to such an endeavour when finally, the first digger landed on our block and Started Proper Work!

Behold… activity.

Front view of block
Lots of dirt piled on top to form the first floor. Garage downstairs, rest of house upstairs.
Front view of house
Where ute is, there will our garage be
Dirt foundation and digger
Looking towards the precipice that will eventually be our study and guest bedroom
View of block from first storey
The view from the back of the block. Work not completed yet – still maybe a foot more elevation to be expected. Hard to relay size of block from this angle. It looks so small!

Big digger claws

Arddun standing across road in front of digger

Close up of Arddun with block and digger in background

Black and white shot of Arddun blowing dandelion with digger behind
Oblivious to the significance of that pile of dirt behind her, Arddun blows out a dandelion.

A kind of hush

It has finally hit me this morning, not quite in its entirety, that this is my last stay in the place I grew up. The flat I called home. The flat that my mother called home, my aunt called home, my grandmother called home. The flat that Shawn, for a little while, lived and grew up in when he just a wee babe, when he was just Arddun’s age. The flat in which my uncle courted my aunt. The flat my father used as home for a while. My nest for 24 years. My mecca, my centre when I returned to Singapore.

I don’t want to leave this place. I don’t want to sell it. I don’t want to rent it. I don’t want to see it languish and die. I don’t want it to lose its market value, its historical value, its sentimental value. I don’t want to lose its memories. I don’t want to give these walls away. These floors away. This unique layout away. I don’t want anyone else to say they now own my mother’s blue kitchen and her built-in robes, I don’t want anyone else to love the views I grew up in, and to call it theirs.

It is unrealistic. It isn’t how I feel every day, but it’s how today feels.

I have seller’s remorse, and the ad hasn’t even hit the papers. But every which way my heart turns, my mind races up to remind and justify. On paper, very logically, in theory… this it the right thing to do. This is the right time to sell. And maybe it might turn out to be the best thing to hold on to the flat for a little while. And maybe it would be the worst thing to do. It is 50-50. My mind tells me that this, like a bandaid, is a milestone in my life that needs to be ripped and gotten over with – the sooner, the better before even more tendrils of connections form.

But as far as bandaids go, this one is hurting very, very much.

 

Flipsides

This morning, I got reminded that in 2½ weeks, I’ll be back in Singapore.

It was a good kick up the backside (although that was hardly what the reminder was about!) because it helped me distill exactly what my priorities need to be. I need to prepare the house for my in-laws’ arrival, which includes updating my Arddun childcare notes. I need to get a bunch of appointments and decisions made. I need to put my freelance work on hold. I need to stop trying to achieve every single Tupperware sales target put in front of me.

Did I tell you? I’m a Tupperware Demonstrator now. It’s turning out to be quite a bit of fun, and I’m liking how I get to swan off to party and mingle with grown women. It is also a time suck, at least at this beginning stage. I’m learning all the time and while selling Tupperware isn’t rocket science, it’s been over a decade since I last had a sales job. The temptation is to throw myself entirely into this new business but again, I have to remind myself constantly what my priorities are. All this, while half day-dreaming about what it would be like to be a Tupperware manager just so I can name my own team. (Shortlist so far: Silicon Velle.)

There’s a more sobering side to my return, of course. I’ve had a few cloud-like thoughts wafting through the brain cavity all morning, so I’ll try and pin them down here.

I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to never forget someone. And I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to remember them. Until my cousin’s sudden death a few years ago, and then my mother’s death this year, I never knew there was a difference. But the truth is, while I will never forget my mother; while the stark fact of her death has been branded into my soul and the burnt bit is still healing, it takes a huge amount of effort for me to remember her.

And that’s because remembering takes courage. It takes time. It takes up oodles of emotional memory, and you’re left panting after. I have a photo of her sitting on the buffet in the middle of the house, and you cannot miss it. And I can have whole conversations with her while Arddun is asleep and I’m doing the housework. But once I find my mind flashing back to the past and remembering what once was… I find myself pulling the plug. Making the images vanish. Because it is just so easy to sit there and feel paralysed with sorrow. And I don’t want to be paralysed, because I need to move.

“Give me unction in my gumption, let me function function function…”

In 2½ weeks, I’ll be back in Singapore. I’ll be sleeping in my mother’s bed. I’ll be bidding the rooms good-bye. Because this time will really be the last time. I love my husband truly, madly, deeply… but my mother and this house had always been my unconscious safety net. “What if Tony got hit by a bus… what if he goes all Rod Stewart on me one day and leaves me for a 20yo twinkie…”

My love for my husband is a choice. Every day, I wake up and choose to be with him. They say you don’t get to choose your relatives – NOT TRUE. Because out of all the men in the world, I chose Tony to be my family. I chose him to be my closest peer and kin. I continue to choose him daily.

My love for my mother is biological. It isn’t a choice – it is in my veins and permeates my soul, because I am of her. I think that with all mothers and daughters, the depth of love is variable – you get out as much as what each of you put in. But the starting point of that love and bond is biological.

Severing my ties with my family home is going to be one of the hardest things I’ll have to do this second half of the year. (The first, of course, was saying goodbye to my mother.) Going back to Singapore means having to Remember. God give me strength, because I’m sorta quaking at the prospect already.

 

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