This is the longest gap between posts, and for you avid followers (Mum, Mum-in-Law), I deeply apologise.
What respect I now have for solo parents. It is amazing on many levels, in a way empowering. The children are only under your control and can’t vie for another’s attention. We have had highlights, lowlights (but not many) and a whole load in between. But, of course, it’s lonely. Even more so being in a new land trying to figure the whole damn thing out.
Solitude is good on many levels and I realise these past few weeks I need it more than I have ever recognised before. I have made contacts, and the odd social chit chat to keep me from going too stir crazy, but the beauty of today’s world is you may be physically alone but digitally connected. Of course I am lucky, these boys are strong, determined and respectful of me, and indeed we have grown tenfold together these past three weeks.
So whats it like living in a hotel? Pretty good I guess, but I have had enough now. We dream of baked potatoes, beans on toast and a simple bowl of museli. Each night I rack my brains for the nearest, easiest eatery for supper. Zac has been a little unwell so we decided to call it a day on the hawker stalls and go Western for a while. To our delight last week we were invited to a new friend for our very first home-cooked meal in weeks, if not months. The boys squealed with excitement as they tucked into lasagne, garlic bread and pavlova #happytum.
Emotional space. Physical space.
Do you realise I, we, have shared a room with these boys for over four months? Some would balk at the very thought, and perhaps in the past we would have too. We have made it part of our journey, to live without and to learn what we really need, to have emotional pressure and learn how we in fact adjust, and ultimately how much is enough.
What emotional and physical space does our family really need? I don’t know the answer. Yet. I know we don’t need what we have had in the past and the reality is space costs. It is our journey to discover an equilibrium that could work for our family. What can we afford, and what do we want to afford without a stretch too far?
Even without J, we have managed for three weeks in a 30-square metre hotel room with very few meltdowns. Surprising quirks and routines emerged as we settled into this new culture, environment and life in a hotel. We have abandoned the TV, and the boys naturally found calmness in reading before sleep. A calmness knowing mum is right there, and ‘she ain’t going nowhere’. We have survived remarkably well. #undividedattention.
I have worked hard to settle these boys. I have given them every megapixel of me. I have created an environment in which our deep connection from those days in Cambodia may continue. I have focused more on these boys than I have ever in my life. I mean I have totally given them my Undivided Attention. By returning to school, I have been given time to be myself, and time to be Mum. I have always craved this, and I feel lucky to have had this time to let them know, and make them feel that Mummy is here, AND she is listening. 100% Undivided Attention. Not multi-tasking, Listening.
Slowly Discovering Penang
Both boys have settled well into school with fabulous teachers and a class full of all shapes, sizes, religions and cultures. They have already been on a school trip, a birthday party and more. This is what I wanted for the boys. This was always my goal for my boys. To grow up accepting it takes all sorts to make the world go round. People are people, it makes no difference your race, colour or creed. “Stop asking me where my friend is from. I don’t know, he is just my friend”. This is powerful stuff.
Malaysia feels good. Penang feels good. There is a wonderful vibe and I have never met such friendly people in my life. Everywhere. From the fantastic Chinese couple in the laundry ($1 a kilo), to the restaurants and hotel staff. A wonderful lady from the hotel took me out for coffee and an explore of the local markets, and the local Penangites at school are effusive with their offers of help and knowledge-share.
The boys and I have been out and about on the tourist trail taking in the fabulous Georgetown street art and the almost perpendicular funicular train up Penang Hill. We have also taken time to discover our own local haunts from supermarkets, to laundry, bookshops and the cinema.
But mostly we have been discovering Food. Penang = Food. I have been a little braver than the boys but between us we have made a good start in trying local delights, some look considerably better than they taste. One of the most intriguing has been the Ice Kacang shaved ice dessert made from corn, kidney beens and jellies atop shaved ice and with some strange syrupy additions.
Char Kuey Teow is my new favourite from the hawker stalls – thin spicy-salty noodles topped with eggs, prawns, chives, bean sprouts and few other things I can’t recognise. I have loved all the variations of iced coffee, blended coffee, hot coffee, but in particular Iced Cham, a mixture of iced coffee and milk tea. Young Oscar loved the messy experience of eating his syrupy ribena-drowned ice-ball. This is only the beginning, the very start of what will inevitably be an incredible Food Journey (the next blog?!).
There are downsides to places, of course. Georgetown has the quirkiest, hugest one way system and the the motorbike driving is bloodcurdling (I have witnessed two accidents already). Much of life in Penang exists in air conditioning and shopping malls. Shopping Malls. I have never lived somewhere where they are intrinsically woven into the fabric of everyday life.
There is a mall at every turn and directions are always with reference to the nearest shopping mall. Malls are an evening and weekend activity to enjoy window shopping and the free aircon. I have a love hate relationship with malls – I love that everything is under one roof, and oozing convenience. But. I hate the cold, sterile, electrically charged environment. I feel bombarded with information, lights, sounds, smells and it’s serious information overload. I must be super sensitive. I have suffered these past couple of weeks with debilitating migraines and nausea during the late afternoon/evenings and maybe, just maybe its not the MSG, it’s the shopping malls! Perhaps it is more an emotional response to the fact everything costs money and we haven’t got any.
Just Doing Stuff
Every week this journey really reiterates that Annie Legge is all about Doing Stuff. I am surgically attached to my Mac. It is my most treasured possession (and I have backed it up). If I am not working, I am learning. Learning about the world around me, the hot spots of Penang, taking online courses. I have just been driven to just do do do – to look for work, to do work, to research the hell out of Penang, I can’t relax in the traditional sense of the word and haven’t been sleeping more than a few hours. If there is no paid work, I will still create endless to do lists of all the things I wish and expect to find time to do. I need to be persuaded to Stop. That’s why I need J around. That’s why I love when Mimi is around, to create drink o’clock and a process of wind-down.
J has been coping well in Battambang, continuing his work with See Beyond Borders. It has been strange and hard for him too, but in a way it has also been his space to just Be. To be just J and to focus on the work he is there to do. We have been in touch by various digital applications from Skype to email to Viber.
We realise now that the volunteer work sadly needs to give way to the $$ to get back on track. I am adamant in the notion that the boys are also my job, and the need to find an equilibrium that allows me both. Every mother’s dream right? I have spent time touting myself out there for any remote work that may come available, and have had a couple of paid projects these past few weeks which is a promising start.
Some mornings are spent working at the hotel, but I also recognise the need to get out for the boys are not interested in going anywhere once they are home. I have found solace in discovering quirky coffee shops that allow me to reminisce of the greatest coffees found all over New Zealand. I am ready to share my special finds once J arrives. Coffee Shop working is absolutely, the very best. Fabulous coffee just makes my day.
It is early days, but I am back on track with a semblance of a fitness routine, using the hotel shoebox for the running machine and my 7-minute workout, and my first Yoga class in many months this week, Chakra Yoga which felt oh-so-easy at the time, and was oh-so-sore the next day.
I have taken time after-drop-off to walk in the Botanical Gardens listening to podcasts and stopping for the best fresh juice on the way back into town.
This stressful but precious time has been a turning point for me and I realise that this ever evolving journey has entered a phase in which I must explore my place in a creative world that I have yearned for since my early arty days. There posts are a simple start, and I have embarked on a superb online photography course. I am seeing lines, forms, shapes I’ve never noticed before and least of all with a camera in my hand.
It’s begun and it’s damn exciting.