Parenting & Family Matters Columnist, Tania McCartney. There’s some serious stuff going down in the mind of this mother right now. That and an extraordinary, scrabbling, mind-bending balancing act that seems to be testing every ounce of my creative problem-solving ability. Put it this way: when the kids have trotted off to school, sometimes I just stand in the middle of my house and spin. Like, on the spot – wondering where on earth I’ll stop so I can launch into some task or other.
Will it be folding socks? Will it be cleaning poop out of the rabbit cage? Will it be breakfast, blogging or bouncing on the trampoline? Will it be digging in the freezer for some frozen-in-time artefact I can mould into dinner, or will it be hauling up the chutzpah to start on my next book? Lordy Lord. How can one choose?
I’m not special. I’m like every other Australian mother, for whom, life IS balance. Or rather – a trapeze-like balancing act. The thing that’s a little different about me, however, is that I’ve just returned from living in China – where the only balancing I did was trying to coordinate appointments at the tailor, nail salon, book printer, masseuse and orchid supplier.
Back in Australian Reality – you’re more likely to find me maniacally balancing cheque books than any of the above. Alas. It’s okay. I’m coping.
I won’t say it’s easy coming from Princess in the Ivory Tower to Hardworking Suburban Mum, but I’m really okay. For me, it’s actually more about the lack of hours in the day than it is about having perfectly manicured nails. Amazingly, I don’t mind getting back into the housework. I’ll admit cooking a nightly dinner is undoing my sanity, but the housework is not an issue for me. What is an issue is that doing housework actually takes time. Time I do not have.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in a rush or anything. It’s just that I have things I want to do – like all mums – and every day is full of trade-offs. Shiny hair or ironed school uniforms? Squeaky floors or something to eat before noon? Finding an illustrator for my next book or bills paid? Roast dinner with all the trimmings (ha!) or baked beans and cheese toasties? Fluffed pillows or bladder relief? Sometimes none of these get done, including the shiny hair and bladder relief.
When we lived in China, someone else did a lot of things for me. Yes yes, I am fully aware how fortunate we were. Having an ‘ayi’, or maid, meant I could achieve shiny hair, bladder relief, fluffed pillows and write full time and even self-publish two books. It also meant I didn’t have to see the inside of a cooking pot or wield a toilet brush for almost four years. I didn’t even blow dry my own hair, for goodness sake, and neither would you if you could have a wash, half-hour head massage [that curls your toes] and a superlative blow-dry for $3.50. Hence, you could say that, upon returning home, I’ve been subject to an enormous reality check.
Again, I insist, I am not a princess. It’s just that it so darned inconvenient having to scrape dried Weet-bix off the floor and battle sock stains when you’ve been so free of mundane house-acts for so long. It’s a typical curse of the modern day housewife – she wants to work, she wants to keep fit, she wants to study, she wants leisure time, she wants to raise beautiful children and keep a stunning house. She wants to travel, socialise and spend quality time with family. She even wants, God forbid, to look after her health and appearance. All this while sorting the soccer socks from the school socks. Yes, I have a thing for socks. Who knew they could be so pesky?
About a month after returning home in late January of this year, my husband handed me a brochure from work entitled ‘Reverse Culture Shock – A Guide to Returning Home’. At first, I was a little sceptical, but as I scanned through, I was more than culture shocked. I couldn’t believe the parallels I was reading, from vague disorientation and frustration through to the fact that all I can think about is how badly I want to go back to Beijing. It was amazing. Everything matched. Everything was explained. Finally, I felt understood.
Who knew we would pine so badly to return to China? And so consistently, too. There’s nothing like living in Australia and we love it here, but who knew it would be even harder to return home than it was to expatriate overseas with two small children, and a predisposition to being critical of China to boot?
Living there has changed me in more ways than I ever imagined it would – it changed our whole family – and I have come home a new person. It’s still early days, but it will be interesting to see how long it takes us all to ‘settle’ – to quit cruising airline and travel websites, to stop saying “ni hao” instead and “hello” and to quash an insatiable desire for dumplings or to cruise shops and markets and tirelessly inquire “how much?”.
For me, it will just be good to re-attain some semblance of mental normalcy. Right now, I feel scatter-brained and overwhelmed pretty much most of the time. Who would have thought a woman could become mentally incapacitated over a bunch of socks?
Tania’s books – Beijing Tai Tai and Riley and the Sleeping Dragon available from www.taniamccartney.com
Photo credit: iofoto – Fotolia.com