Even after more than two years here there are times when my internal compass spins automatically north – times when I try and do things the way they’ve always been done.
I had imagined that January would be productive. New month, new year, new start – the perfect opportunity to get my head together and work on some priorities for 2016. I was going to declutter the house. I was going to detox – alcohol, carbs, social media. I was going to set up my new computer so I could email editors and write something brilliant.
But of course January is still the middle of school summer holidays here, and none of that happened. Instead it was a month of ice cream and beach time, lazy Bruny days, boat trips and books. We had visitors from Scotland, cuddles with kangaroos, and soft, warm evenings in the Adirondack chairs. There were all sorts of loveliness.
In January, I ignored the to-do list. Instead I walked in the bush, beating a stick along the path and waiting while long, black tiger snakes wound themselves into the undergrowth. My email inbox became so full I thought it might pop. So too did my belly, full of fine Tasmanian Chardonnay, oysters sipped fresh from the shell, and sweet cherry cheesecake. My journal lay abandoned. The blog lay dormant. I chose no word to guide me through 2016, but I watched fairy wrens from the deck, and fell hard in love with a Pobblebonk Frog.
It was everything a summer holiday should be. But then came February… and February is the new January. It is the time to make things happen. It has been 29 days of clearing cupboards, tax returns, writing assignments… I’ve been doing all the paperwork that comes with a life lived across continents and timezones. There was a job interview, an offer, a reluctant refusal. There was my first School Association meeting as chair. There were work events with DorkyDad, a return to heeled shoes and polite conversation. I am finishing February with a lot of things ticked off the list.
DorkySon is back to school, learning at a pace we can barely keep up with. He is rarely seen without a book or a notepad tucked under his arm, drops Indonesian phrases into conversation without a thought, and can finally ride a bike without training wheels. I reckon his maths is already better than mine.
A couple of weeks ago, he learned that an unborn baby can die, and wanted to know if it had happened to me. “If I’d gone to heaven and you’d got pregnant again, would it still have been me or a whole new person?’ he asks. It is a thought so overwhelming I can barely breathe.
He is six going on 106 – a strange mixture of old soul and little boy – dealing every day with life’s big issues but still measuring his success in reward beans and stickers.
Last week, he worked with a group of classmates to make a poster of words containing the ‘sh’ sound. He tells me with pride that they came up with nearly 90, then confesses that after they’d finished he crept over and wrote ‘shit’ very small, in one corner. He barely sleeps that night with worry, but when we arrive at school the next morning the poster is up on the wall of the classroom, and his teacher says nothing – it seems to have escaped notice.
Shortly afterwards, DorkyDad is off to Abu Dhabi for work, and DorkySon seems more unsettled about the trip than he usually is. “What are you worried about?” we ask him. “I don’t want Daddy to do anything naughty,” he says. “Because if he does…”
A silence hangs in the air, until with a loud thwack he brings one hand sharply down on the wrist of the other.
Fortunately, DorkyDad was on his best behaviour. He returned home with a complete set of limbs and a new Lego set. He also returned home for the first time as an Australian Permanent Resident.
For the last nine months we have been working on securing residency – a step below citizenship, but a step above the temporary visa that we arrived here on – and after many hours of gathering forms, medicals, police checks and generous references from friends and colleagues, we received a call in February to let us know that it had been approved. We can now stay here indefinitely.
The call came mid-morning when I was out buying groceries, and as I cried in Aisle 1 it made several shoppers wonder what was so upsetting about the apples that day. I offered reassurance that it was tears of happiness rather than grief – that it felt good after several years of uncertainty to have a place called home.
We likely have a few more years to go before we are considered true Tasmanians – five generations according to some – but I’m hopeful that 2016 will be the year my internal compass finally stops spinning. It will surely settle on south.