G’day from the other side: life after repatriating back home

life after repatriating back home
Our lovely writer, Kate, left us before Xmas last year to return home to Australia. This is what she has to say about life on the other side...

This is the 65th time I’ve sat down to write this story. And it certainly won’t be the last, because I’ll get side-….

…sorry, I’m back. What was I saying? Oh yeah, I’ll probably get side-tracked by something supremely mundane but absolutely necessary, like answering the door to a tradesman, or stopping the dryer from beeping, or taking out the garbage that’s stinking up my kitchen.

After five years in Singapore, my family and I recently moved ‘home’ to Sydney. Our relocation started off with a magnificent month of coastal holidays, serviced apartments, Christmas celebrations and family time. Fast forward to April, and my husband is back to working 60 hour weeks, I’ve got one child in school, one at pre-school three days a week and a terrific toddler with me at all times – he’s affectionately known as my ‘shadow’.

If you’re living in Singapore, you’re probably curious about how the transition to ‘normal’ life is going…How am I coping without a live-in babysitter? What’s it like having to do all the cleaning? Are the kids getting any home-cooked meals? The short answer is: everything’s good. The long answer is much more complicated. Let me explain…

Holy broomstick: I’ve never wiped, swept, vacuumed or washed this much in my entire life! Most of the time I am relishing being the queen of my domain – I know exactly what needs doing and quite enjoy scheduling tasks into my day. I have taken to meditating while hanging the washing out, listening to the parrots chat and the wind in the trees and thinking about all the things I’m grateful for (note to self: add pelvic floor exercises to this regimen). I doubt I’ll ever get zen about ironing though…I’ve tracked down a lady who can iron business shirts for a dollar each. Worth every cent.

My kids think I’ve gone mad, as they’re no longer allowed to eat in the location of their choosing – there are two allocated consumption zones (one is the backyard) to ensure they don’t stain the rental carpet.

I have called my mum on several occasions to ask her advice relating to domestic affairs…how do I get bolognaise sauce off a white t-shirt? Why does my kitchen sponge smell so much? Is it normal for a husband to generate this much laundry? Is 4pm too early for a G&T?

The staff at our hardware store, Bunnings, know me by name, thanks to my twice-weekly visits to pick up must haves like rakes, 3M hooks and cockroach baits.

I have learnt that mani-pedis are a waste of time (if I had time to get one, I mean), as they would be ruined by dish washing and shoving your hand down the side of the top bunk to change the sheet (the WORST JOB EVER!). It actually took me three weeks to realise that the sheets hadn’t magically changed themselves and that I was going to have to do it.

life after repatriating back home

Life was all fun trips to the coast and hanging out with family to begin with. Then real life set in. Photography: Kate Dimarco

The kids are thriving here though. They play outside all the time, hanging in the backyard, jumping on the trampoline, collecting cicada shells and other weird dead things. I’m convinced they’re going to get bitten by a deadly spider, but they’re all still alive. Good news. The weather changes constantly, which confounds the kids. The other morning, it was about 18 degrees as we walked to school. My daughter asked me if it was winter. My tropical babe is in for a rude shock come July.

And for the most part I am thriving too. I am appreciating simple pleasures like walking to school without breaking a sweat and staying at the park for more than a 30 minute block. My dad pops in for a cuppa and a chat every so often, I go to the supermarket, still in awe of the fresh produce and low prices. I meet my sister halfway between our houses for lunch.

But the thing that is still lingering is the loneliness. I can sometimes go a whole day only having conversations with humans under six years of age. I tried to prepare myself for the isolation, I knew it was coming. My life in Singapore was so cozy and I had an amazing network of friends to counsel me, comfort me and entertain me. Not a day would go by where I wouldn’t have a conversation with someone that I loved.

Coming ‘home’ and feeling like a stranger, which is an unsettling feeling. I walk around our neighbourhood and feel so foreign. I sit in the local café with my toddler and watch groups of women chatting, or see the mums at school drop off loitering together, but somehow I feel unwelcome, foreign.  

My rational brain tells me that this feeling will pass and soon enough I’ll feel like I fit in. It sure takes a lot of stamina to remain open and friendly, but it’s that attitude that is going to get me through. I even said yes to the community liaison officer from school asking me to coffee (a slightly awkward 45-minute affair). I’m going to the new parent cocktail party solo, as my husband is travelling for work. I’ve introduced myself to every mum at preschool. I take my toddler to Rhyme Time at the library, even though it’s my version of hell on earth.

I will persist and I will eventually belong here. How do I know? Because this feeling is not new. So many of us felt like fish out of water when we moved to Singapore, but we got through it and came out the other side.

So my new mantra is ‘be open’. Be open to new beginnings, say yes to everything. Embrace awkward introductions. And when this loneliness passes, remember to remain open. There will always be somebody who needs a friend.

Like this story? Here’s more we think you’ll enjoy:

The transient nature of friendships in Singapore
Mums you’ll meet at the Singapore school gate
52 ways to take a little mum-time moment
Life as a serial expat: why I moved to Singapore twice

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