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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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saying goodbye

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

Big hole

Liz and I arrived in Canberra at close to 6pm on Monday the 11th, after possibly the shortest trip I’ve had coming back from Singapore. It’s been a long time since I’ve slept through most of the flight and coach ride – having a bright-eyed and inquisitive toddler makes that an impossibility lately, but I also think the year’s dramas have finally caught up with me.

In amongst the waiting in queues and the teasing out of technical details relating to my mother’s passing, Liz and I managed to eat and drink very well in Singapore. We even got to do a tiny bit of sightseeing – had another gander at the SEA Aquarium (the world’s biggest, apparently), and a lovely morning at the Art Science Museum. We even took a water taxi through the Singapore river at night, and I got to soak in the ever-changing cityscape with all its gorgeous lights.

It was a fitting close to a chapter in my life that I wish with all my heart didn’t end so soon.

But then I came home to a husband who visibly relaxed as soon as I walked in the door (shoulders easing, anxiety expelled with a sigh and a smile). And I came home to a happy, taller, chattier toddler who now eats more than I do for breakfast. More on her later.

I haven’t had the time to tell you about the dramas we’ve been having with our shoddy plumbing. Our bathrooms have now become places of anxiety and foreboding rather than temporary retreats from the day’s worries. It all started during the packing for Singapore when I realised the carpet in the walk-in robe was damp. About 6 tradies later, the litany of woes read as follows:

  • leaking shower tap
  • leaking shower recesses (BOTH bathrooms)
  • no condensation tray for ducted gas heating unit in roof cavity
  • window treatment in skylight unfinished
  • hole in wall adjoining roof, letting rain in

The first two are especially painful, because now we have a fight on our hands with our insurance company. It’s also going to cost us a pretty penny to fix up two bathrooms. But the biggest lesson in all this, is how you can NEVER rely on just one or two tradesmen to give you a comprehensive idea of what’s going on in your walls… and that God gave you instincts for a reason. The first plumber didn’t even pick up the biggest cause of the leak, which was the leaking shower tap.

Long story short, we now have a gigantic hole in our wall.

Big hole in wall
After all this leaving and cleaving (good-bye Singapore house, good-bye big part of my former life), methinks this gigantic hole is rather metaphorical.

Arddun has been great. She has not fiddled with the hole once, nor felt anyway inclined to hide her toys and treats there. Instead, she tells anyone who will listen that, “It’s a BIG HOLE! Very Very Don’t Touch.”

Actually, Arddun’s been the one constant to lighten the mood around here. It’s hard to feel very sorry for ourselves for too long, when she’s bounding up to you bright and chirpy for a cuddle. She is definitely going through a growth spurt of some sort – polishes off a meal size that I’ve seen other 8-year-olds struggle with, and then asks for fruit. She is still singing all the time, but her latest party trick is to quiz, “WHO’S GOT THE POOS?” before coming up behind me or Tony to yank down our pants for a check.

Yah.

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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