Sunday, 31 July 2011


Lately, I've been thinking about the lives I have lived.  Not, of course, in the metaphysical sense but rather the specific passages of my life.  In the early 1990's I was newly-graduated from University, forging a path in the non-profit sector in Montreal and living the life of a single footloose and fancy-free young woman flush with my own money, dating freely and joyfully with few real cares beyond my rent.

By the late 1990's I had met and married him, moved to Calgary, travelled extensively with my consulting business, explored the western Canadian great outdoors, and raised my dog.  The early 2000s brought late and beautifully unexpected  motherhood, amazing friendship, my family briefly united in the same place and then a leap of faith into expat life.

It has been both complicated and a privilege being a trailing spouse for the last six years.  Geneva was an incredible life experience, J was so little and for a few years, I  happily embraced a professional sabbatical to raise him in our tiny idyllic Swiss village.  I wrote, I read, I raised and I revelled.

No more snowstorms, no more -30, no more frigid 5:00am cab rides to the airport, no more waking alone in hotel rooms.  For us, the global financial crisis offered a surprising port in a storm.  C2's job with the mothership survived and his travel was greatly reduced.  Together, we explored Europe,  relished in family life, inhaled other cultures, and exhaled insight and elucidation, and have been enriched in ways I cannot even begin to quantify.

Last year, I began to experience something I can only describe as 'squirminess'.  Restlessness, a stirring in the back of my mind that I needed something more.  J didn't need me quite as much, he would be ok.   After several months of squirminess, I arrived at the conclusion in mid-July after our summer holiday that it was time to rediscover my professional self.  Two weeks later, C2 announced that we had been asked to relocate to Australia.

I have described the difficult wrestling we did before deciding to make the move and I don't regret it for a second.  I have loved discovering this part of the world, we have adapted extremely well to our adopted new home.  The climate is fantastic, the culture remarkable, and the lifestyle has much of the charm of Europe with the ease of North America.  Six months in, though, I'm squirmy again.

For the last five years, I have been principally defined by my roles as wife and mother.  While that role is within a 21st century context as I, thankfully, have a fully-engaged 21st century husband, I also have a husband who travels 80% of the time.  How then do I balance raising my son, ensuring his needs remain my priority,  child-management during the two-week school term breaks every 2.5 months, our travel and discovery ambitions, our return visits to Canada in order to ensure that J knows his family, my personal desire for professional fulfillment as well as wanting my son to recognize me holistically as more than just his mum?

Anyone got the answers?

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Life's a Beach!

Australia is a BIG country!  Unlike our European experience where we explored largely by car, here one is required to fly to see just about anything outside our state of Victoria.  For J's July (winter) school holidays, we decided to tick a bucket item and head up to the Great Barrier Reef in Northern Queensland for a week of sun and snorkling.

We (me, C2, my mum and J) carefully researched and prepared for this trip by re-watching "Finding Nemo", and on a chilly Wednesday morning, we flew from Melbourne to Brisbane, then on to Cairns before driving another hour and a half north to the tropical town of Port Douglas.  We were greeted by soft fragrant salty air, lush tropical surroundings, and the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.

We quickly booked a pair of trips with the Quicksilver company who pioneered much of the snorkling adventures on the reef.  The first trip was on a huge catamaran which raced 70 km to the outer Great Barrier Reef where we moored on to a permanent platform.  From here, we donned "stinger" suits for protection against marine stingers, a particularly nasty type of jellyfish (again remember the jellyfish in "Nemo"?) and snorkled the reef for hours.  Mum took advantage of a helicopter tour of the surrounding reefs and was speechless upon her return.

I booked a long and farther snorkle with a marine biologist which was unforgettable.  From the crystal clear waters, we witnessed an amazing array of fish life, coral, and colours.  Amy, the marine biologist played with the giant clams (the size of an armchair), tickled anemones to encourage the anemone clown fish to come out, and instructed us on the differences between branch, brain, hard and soft corals.  We learned about the fragility of this eco-system, and as tourists, the importance of being respectful stewards of this magical place.

 Long-nosed Butterfly Fish

Angel Fish

At the end of the day, and after a hot lunch, we returned to the catamaran for the 90-minute journey back to Port Douglas, I was drunk on beauty, my brain as stimulated as it has ever been.  My body felt as if it oscillated in harmony with the sea.  Then my cup ran over when our pilot slowed the boat so that we could all witness the passage of a pair of playful Humpback whales who dove and surfaced, exhaled through their blowholes and waved their massive tails at us.

A couple of days later, we boarded Quicksilver's smaller "Wavedancer" catamaran and sailed to the inner reef islands called "Low Isles".  On Low Isles, one could be forgiven for feeling like the Tom Hanks character in "Castaway" but for the other snorklers around.  It was a pristine tropical island of palms, powder soft sand littered with coral, and surrounded on all sides by shallow coral.

From here, we waded into the clear shallow water and snorkled over coral that was mere inches below us and followed graceful sea turtles as they explored their underwater playground.  Reluctantantly, we returned to the boat late in the day for the sail home.  This time, we saw a large Hammerhead shark, and several flying fish on the journey.

In between these two extraordinary days, we indulged in some much-needed downtime.  We walked Four-Mile beach for hours, swam in its' warm waters, and let the sun and salt water rest and restore us.  We played cards with a glass of wine on our apartment balcony overlooking the salt-water pool, and watched for the 6:00pm flight of Rainbow Lorikeets.  Some dinners were out, some were in but every evening ended with a walk to the Gelateria for the best gelato this side of Levanto.  Mum took advantage of the great shops on Macrossan street, and J made a daily pilgrammage at the funky "Jungle Island" shop whose staff had great fun helping him spend his earnestly-saved pocket money.