Sliding Doors and Pictures of Egypt

“Do you miss Singapore?” someone asked me recently, and it’s made me do a bit of a ‘Sliding Doors’ exercise about what may have been if we hadn’t come back to Perth.

In April last year, my wife and I moved back to Perth after nearly four years of living in Singapore, just under two months before our baby was born. Those years were, in some ways the toughest ones for us, being away from family and friends who had become family, dealing with new cultures and, at times, being a little out of our depth. But they also grew us greatly.

For me, much of that growth was in a professional capacity. My job title changed over that time, and I got a major step up in pay. I went from largely working for small companies to working within a division of a global information and data conglomerate. I got better as a journalist, and was able to parlay my experience with working in an airline into that role. I felt like I was able to contribute a lot to the company, and was getting great recognition.

I was even fortunate enough that when I advised my employer that we would be moving back to Perth that they bent over backwards to allow me to continue to do the same work remotely. Practically, that meant that I still had a job with me when I touched down back in Perth, and that has allowed us to be able to buy a new house, and also taken any pressure off my wife going back to work.

Do I miss Singapore? Sure, I do miss some things.

I miss the church community that we became involved in for the last five months we were there, and the other friendships that we made there. I miss being in an office with my colleagues and the watercooler talk, as well as being able to contribute a lot more by just physically being there.

I also miss the weather – although the past week in Perth has been a good reminder. I got used to the humidity, but more than that love the wet season when it pours down for a couple of hours and then cools wonderfully. Perth’s dry summer and cold winter have made me miss the constancy of Singapore weather.

And, yes, I do miss the food. From where we lived, there were literally hundreds of places to eat out within walking distance. It’s hard to beat a char kway teow or satay by the beach at East Coast Park, washed down with an icy cold beer.

So, yeah, I guess I do miss Singapore. At the same time, with how life has changed since then, I’m also a little glad that I’m back in Perth.

I can’t imagine not having the support of our extended families who have helped us out in more ways than they understand. Sure, if we were in Singapore, we could hire a maid to help look after our little bub, but at the same time it’s not the same.

Financially, I’m not sure that would be feasible for us to have stayed in Singapore either. While my wife and I both earned good money and were doubly blessed with low taxation, if we were on just my income alone, it would be a struggle to pay the rent and all the other living expenses. We had a good amount of savings that would have been a cushion, but my wife would also have had to go back to work after only three months off.

The more I’ve thought about it, I just find it so hard to picture how life would be with the three of us now over there. Indeed, the Singapore chapter seems like that part of the pre-kid life that passed almost nine months ago. Amidst nappies, soft food and grizzly teeth, it seems like a bit of distant blur.

That little mind exercise made me think of how reminiscing can be a double-edged sword. No doubt, it is good to look back and see what we have learned, acknowledge the good things (or bad) and be thankful.

But at the same time, we can’t live there. Thinking of how things were doesn’t address the challenges that we face today, nor the future ahead – as bright or tough as that may be.

Quite a few years ago I heard the song ‘Painting pictures of Egypt’ by Sara Groves, which has these poignant lyrics:

I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacks
The future seems so hard, and I want to go back
But the places they used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I’ve learned
Those roads were closed off to me
While my back was turned

The lyrics reference the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt. After seeing God do massive things, they hit some hard times and a few people start grumbling that they want to return to the country that had oppressed them. At least we would get a meal there, they argued.

When the future looks scary, it’s easy and natural to seek the comfort of the past, even if that was terrible. It’s one of the reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, or dead-end jobs, or as the immature party boy/girl.

Or, as is tempting sometimes, to get stuck in how things were before a baby. When you’re ridiculously tired after a rough few nights, haven’t had a night out in a while, or any of the other changes that come with being a parent, it’s easy to look back at pre-baby life and wonder how to get back there.

But, amid the challenges of being a new parent, it’s important to remember that there is much more ahead than those challenges. I am so looking forward to seeing how our little girl grows up and being involved in her life. So much so that it is hard to imagine life without her now.

Sliding doors exercises are amusing, but at the same time, I am so glad with the path that we are now on, and the future ahead for our small family.

Like growing teeth

Having your teeth pulled is unpleasant, but I’m finding out that a teething infant is even more unpleasant for everyone else around.

OK, that may be putting it too strongly – but seriously, who took my pleasant little girl and replaced her with a fussy, clingy and totally out of whack clone of her?

Our little bubba cut through her bottom two teeth about a month ago. That saw her have a couple of days where she was irritable, not sleeping as usual, and a bit more clingy than normal. A couple of doses of Nurofen later, the teeth poked through and order was restored to the world.

This time however it is taking much longer. We’re into our second week of her little life being ruled by the pain of her top teeth making their way south. And this time, the teeth are taking longer and seem to be having a lot more of an impact.

That has meant that I have been demoted from being an equal favourite parent to a mere commoner. She gets more irritable when I hold her,  and overall has become a lot more attached to her mum. She’s also not going down as easy as she was for her naps, which makes her over-tired – and god help the parent of an over-tired child!

The most annoying part for us is that her previously great sleep record is now in the past, with the little girl waking up a few times a night, which combined with the earlier sunrises of summer here, are robbing us of sleep.

And, yes, I do hear many readers rejoicing at the comeuppance that we are receiving.

But, as with many painful events in life, this is just normal.

The good news is, if the first set of teeth was anything to go by, she should be back to normal once they have punched through. Which hopefully will be soon.

As I’m learning from the parenting gig, sometimes you just have to ride it out, so we’ll do our best with that.

Where’s my head at? In a good place

I realised that it has been a while since I updated the world on my mental health – and the good news is that things are going well.

Unexpectedly, not long after our wonderful daughter was born, I got to learn first-hand about how dads can suffer from postnatal depression. You can read all about it here.

I was on medication for a little over three months, and that made a massive difference for me. In talking it through with my doctor, it seemed that the stress before the birth, and adjusting to life with a new baby had taken their toll on my brain chemistry. The medications helped to ease some of that back, and brought my mood back to the baseline.

With things going really well over a few months, in October I started the process of stepping down off the medication. You can’t just suddenly stop taking antidepressants, it is a bit of a process, and there are adjustments involved.

So with a plan put in place by my doctor, I’ve been off the meds for a few months now, and overall things are going well. I have become better at identifying when my anxiety is increasing or when my mood is headed in the wrong direction, and I am now able to mentally take a step back and assess what is happening, and what I can do to change it.

There are also some practical steps that I have taken. Now that I have access to my bike again, I’m getting back in the habit of cycling. And with our little baby waking up at the crack of dawn, I’m taking the opportunity sometimes to just take her out for a morning walk. As someone who works from home, these little breaks have certainly helped my mental health.

The other big thing has been the support that I have received from colleagues, friends, family and even complete strangers. So I want to say a massive THANK YOU to all those people who have been supporting me through this rough patch, however that has been.

I feel like I am living proof that depression and anxiety, if picked early and managed well, can be treated just like any other illness. I know that my case was mild and more related to the circumstances I was in, and so I don’t want to be trite about it, but I know that if I didn’t sit down and have a talk with my doctor about it, it could have progressed further.

So, again, I want to say to you that if you’re struggling with what’s going on in your mind, please get help, because it doesn’t have to be that way. And if you know somebody who is struggling, get alongside them and show your support. You may even save a life.

 

Baby prison blues

This week, with something of a heavy heart, I assembled the play pen – or as I like to think of it, baby prison.

 

It has, apparently, become necessary now as our little girl has really taken to the whole crawling thing really well. Less than a month ago she could barely pull herself up; now she’s hooning around the house like a teenager who has just received their license and an old beaten-up Commodore.

 

I’m not entirely sure why, but I had real opposition to the idea. For one, I feel like we have enough child containment devices already, including a hand-me-down ‘play centre that has things to entertain her with, while also holding her standing up. She loves that thing, and it has proven really handy to have when one of us has to leave her for a minute, or when I’m looking after her while working.

 

I suspect though, for me it was more about the symbolism of putting a barrier around the child. Yes, I completely get that, at a practical level, it is absolutely necessary as we have any number of potential hazards around, and having the baby contained is easier than having her get into everything that is 1ft above the ground.

 

As I bolted together the flimsy pieces of pine barriers and gate together, I couldn’t help but feel that, even if only as a metaphor, I was taking away some of the ability of my daughter to explore and engage the world around her. I’ve loved watching her grab things and try and work out how they fit into her mental sphere, collecting data on the world around her – and the prison seemed like it would impede that.

 

My childhood was pretty free-ranging, so I guess that is what I see as the ideal for my child. I had encounters with snakes, went playing in drains and built cubbies out in the bush, usually without parental supervision. It didn’t turn me into a wild child (I think…I could be wrong), and I actually have a very healthy respect for boundaries.

 

More than that though, I guess I also have a long-term view that I want our little girl to be able to pursue whatever she wants in life. It seems that there is nothing in life that makes you more of a feminist than having a little girl.

 

It’s why suddenly I’m all for women’s sports coming more into the mainstream. If, for instance, our little girl wants to play football (real, round ball variety), Aussie Rules or cricket, I’m stoked that opportunities are opening up for her to pursue that as a profession, even if it isn’t receiving the same attention or pay as the men’s games.

 

I guess all that to say that I don’t want to put roadblocks in front of my child. Of course, I will stop her getting into too much danger, but at the same time exposing her to levels of risk will build up her knowledge of her own limits. Conversely, I don’t want her to be held back by those limits.

 

I know that I am reading too much into the prison, but it does show how the small things can actually have a much bigger significance. As someone once said, “This is about that.”

Happy Old Year’s!

In my mother’s home country, New Year’s Eve is celebrated as Old Year’s Night, and this year that seems somewhat appropriate.

While people can fuss over their plans for the year ahead, set resolutions that they don’t really intend to keep, or to put out wishes for how they want things to be in future, I find myself this year looking back at what happened instead.

In my short experience as a parent, it seems that there is very little time available to sit down and reflect on the journey. As I woke up today though, I realised just what a journey the past year has been.

This time last year, my wife and I were still living in Singapore, and contemplating the move back to Australia that we would be doing in April, ahead of the bump being born. I was still waiting to hear from my work if they would still employ me from Australia, while my wife was essentially on the downhilll run with her teaching job as she prepared to finish up in late March.

Since then, it feels like a non-stop rollercoaster, but only now do I look back and just see how far we have really come.

Coming home to Perth in April was thrilling, but involved a lot of adjusting back to things, with probably the biggest adjustment being living with my parents. But that was nothing compared to the call from my wife who, after a routine check-up, was being prepared for an emergency Caesarean. That, thankfully, never happened, but did set us on our toes until our little bubba was born at the end of May.

After weeks of twice-weekly visits to the hospital for monitoring, two attempts at turning the breach baby and a delay of one day, our little bubba came into the world on 31 May, and then life started to change radically.

Well, as I’ve written before, it really changed a few days later when she came home from the hospital.

Then we hit the brutal learning curve that is being a first-time parent. Not only was there feeding, nappies, vomit, more nappies, disrupted sleep and all that goes with (did I mention the nappies?), but we also had hip problems that required our little froggie to wear a leg brace for a few months.

And I also encountered first-hand how fathers can get postnatal depression. And I think for me, the key learning was that, if you’re struggling reach out for help, because with the right help life can be much, much better.

In my case, a few months of antidepressants has helped my mood to return to normal levels, and with the stress of a new baby out of the way, I’m feeling great. And now my doctor has put forward a plan to step down gradually on the meds and that should be it taken care of, for now at least.

Over the year our little baby has grown into an infant, who is now able to interact with us, with a big gummy smile that would melt steel, and parts of her personality starting to show. And to think that in seven months she has gone from a tiny, helpless, screaming child is just mindblowing.

As for work, this year saw me change locations but continue to do the same job, and I think that my colleagues and my boss have been pleasantly surprised about how well it has gone.

The other thing new at the end of this year is our housing situation. We finally got the bulk of our renovations done at our new house, and moved in a couple of days before Christmas. We’ve still got a few small things to do, and we need to get a lot of storage to really put things away, but I’m gradually getting to know the house better and it’s becoming more familiar. I’m looking forward to creating a lifetime of memories in it.

As for 2017? Who knows!

I’ve not been one for waiting until the new year to make resolutions, so let’s just say that I hope to grow into being a better father and husband, becoming more loving to those around me, and perhaps to blog a bit more often.

So, from our family to yours, happy Old Year’s Night!

Peter Dutton: A Christmas Carol

Trigger warning: This is a politico-religious-national identity post, so grab a helmet and a lunchbox before you dive in.

There’s nothing like Christmas to bring out all sorts of ‘political correctness gone mad’ stories. Today’s is courtesy of Immigration minister Peter Dutton, and it has me pretty riled up.

As reported in this article from Fairfax, minister Dutton was on talkback radio in Sydney, and riled up when a caller complained about their grandchild’s school moving to a secular Christmas celebration without traditional carols, or heavily modified ones.

The minister told the caller:

“You make my blood boil with these stories…it is political correctness gone mad and I think people have just had enough of it.”

On that, I kind of agree. Let people sing their Christmas songs, because it is up to the individual to decide if they want to engage with the Christian element of it or not.

But that’s not what got my blood boiling, it was Dutton saying that we are “a Christian society.”

In context, here it is from the report:

“Angered by a talkback radio caller whose grandchild’s school eschewed traditional carols for a secular celebration, Mr Dutton said the “vast majority of Australian people want to hear Christmas carols” as we are “a Christian society”.

Before I launch into it, I want to make an admission – I am a Christian, so in some sense I have a vested interest.

But the more and more I look at Australian society, I am convinced that we are not a Christian society, and I really question if we ever have been.

Let’s look at the history: we inherited Christendom after the British Empire landed and settled here, illegally dispossessed indigenous people that have been here for thousands of years before, and turned it into England’s gaol at the other end of the world. Most people transported here may have carried with them a societal form of faith (majority Church of England or Catholic), but there is very little that shows that the Australian land was founded as a “Christian society.”

Like most of the British Empire, Christianity pretty much just came with the turf. For most of our history, people would identify as Christian, but more from a cultural aspect, than those whose lives are being transformed by Christ.

It then seems that around the 1970s and 1980s, that started to change. Most people started pushing back on the Christian cultural identity, and the seeds of the rise of secularism were planted. Nowadays, people who may have previously identified as Christian are more likely to tick ‘no religion’ when it comes to a census, or admit they are agnostic or atheist.

And, I am more than happy with that. Even as a Christian, I think that having a secular society, as long as it is respectful, is absolutely fine. Jesus never wanted people to wear a tag, attend church once a week and be part of a ‘religion’ that loads people up with a whole bunch of do’s and do-nots. As I read my Bible, I see Jesus calling people to follow him, have their lives transformed, and to work with him transforming this world by following only two ‘commandments’ – love God, and in the same way, love others.

So back to what set me off – a ‘Christian society’.

Minister Dutton, if we were a Christian society, wouldn’t we have a more generous set of immigration policies than those that are overseen by you?

Wouldn’t we look at Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, and see people jumping on boats as our neighbours, and follow the example of welcoming and taking are of them? Would we not heed the teachings of the Old Testament to “welcome the alien in our land” and to seek their welfare, lest we be judged for not?

If we were a Christian society, would teachers, doctors and, yes, even church ministers, be risking jail terms to speak out about abuse of asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus?

If we were a Christian society, wouldn’t we have laws that would allow full and open access for journalists to write stories about immigration? Or, as even the Australian Border Force admits, that the boats haven’t stopped, rather than hiding behind secrecy of ‘operational matters’?

If we were a Christian society, would we pillage our foreign aid budget to pay for our ridiculous camps in Nauru and Manus, and continue to reduce the overall allocation of foreign aid for the sake of our own ‘needs’?

Sorry, minister Dutton, going by the evidence of your own portfolio, I just can’t describe Australian society as Christian. And, like you, I’ve also had a gutful, but instead of our treatment of refugees.

Patching, painting and eagerly waiting

In the last week I have come to learn a universal truth: when you think you have patched all the little nicks and gouges in a wall, and move onto another task, you suddenly find 20 other ones that haven’t been done.

As I mentioned earlier, we took possession of our new house on 27 October. Since then, we’ve been selecting paint, preparing to paint, painting, getting quotes from various trades, and doing some more painting.

And now, we’re so close that I genuinely have problems falling asleep at night because I get so excited when I think about moving in.

Not that I’m looking forward to the moving process. At our old house, we have a shed full of all our possessions that we left behind four years ago when we moved to Singapore. It was hectic, and towards the end everything got shoved in boxes and put in there.

And I mean, everything. At least I’m told so – I missed the last part of the packing up.

Living in small apartments in Singapore cured me of the need to have heaps of stuff. I guess knowing that we would move back to Perth at some point stopped us from accumulating too much, and nowadays I shudder when I think of how packed up that shed is, and how much we will have to cull from it for the new house.

But then, things start to get exciting. For me, it started this week when, after agonising over paint choices, and seemingly taking forever to get going on the process, we started to see our colour go up on the walls.

And soon, all the issues around paperwork, all the difficulties in buying this house that we’d been facing, and the daunting to-do list that made me feel like we had made a big mistake buying the house, all didn’t seem so bad.

Because it was slowly, with each stroke of a brush and roll of a roller, becoming our house.

I don’t mean that to be possessive. In fact, one of the things that I’m looking forward to is being able to share the house, having people over for a drink or a barbeque, laughing and crying with others, and watching our little family expand into the space.

But there is a certain pleasure in having your own place and space. In time, this house will transform from a roof and four walls to become a home. It will be a sanctuary and a refuge, hopefully not only for us, but for everyone who enters.

So with much help from friends and family, a few nights after work, and with some professionals doing their thing, very soon we should be realising that vision.

Looking forward to having you around once we’ve moved in.

 

Crazy – but good – times

It’s been some time since I posted last, and a lot has been happening. I’ll be explaining more in future posts, but here’s the Cliff Notes version:

  • WE BOUGHT A HOUSE! Yes, finally the settlement happened, and we are the owners of another big pile of debt house, one which we are slowly turning into a home. There’s a bit to get done before we move in, but work has started, and we’re already received our first utility bills.
  • I’VE BEEN TRAVELLING. Singapore, Sydney, Hong Kong and Manila. Mostly for work, but with liberal amounts of pleasure thrown in as well, including the once-in-a-lifetime experience of flying in light aircraft over Sydney Harbour at night.
  • BRACES OFF! Our little girl had a follow-up x-ray on her hips, and they are looking good. She’s no longer having to wear the brace at night, but that brings with it other challenges
  • CLEAR HEADSPACE. My anxiety and depression has been very much under control, and my doctor has given me a plan to start stepping down my antidepressants.
  • GETTING SO BIG! Our little girl is getting bigger all the time, doing more things and turning from baby into little girl. While some people mourn the loss of babyhood, I’m loving seeing my little girl transform before our eyes.

More on all this to come next week, so stay tuned!

Loving enemies

“We should pray for him,” my wife said, innocently enough but with the words pushed deep into my soul, and reframed my thinking about the issue at hand.

We’re buying a new house at the moment, and it hasn’t quite been going as smoothly as the last time we did that.

Sadly, the couple we are buying from is in the middle of what seems to be a pretty nasty break-up. No break-up is nice, but it seems that we’re dealing with one party who wants to sell and move on with life, and another who is not.

Consequently, he’s been sluggish in signing documents, and now it seems will effectively have to be evicted for us to complete our pre-settlement inspection of the property. The downside for him is that the sale will go ahead, potentially by a court order.

At some level I understand where he’s at. He doesn’t want to sell the home, and at some level probably doesn’t want to let go of the relationship and move on. Any break-up is tough, and I actually feel sorry for the guy.

But the sale agreement is now signed, and it will happen by hook, or by crook. That makes me a little annoyed that the guy won’t just step aside and let things happen in an orderly manner.

At some level, that makes him my enemy. Not that I  have a lot of enmity towards him, but I do want him to bend to my will.

And so while discussing it on our way to brunch the other day that my wife made that statement.

Of course, she was doing what we, as Christians should do. But at the same time, it felt so jarring to my train of thought.

In his famous chat on the hill, Jesus put it pretty plainly:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45, NIV)

It’s a couple of verses that I must have read a thousand times, but it almost seemed like it was too idealistic. It doesn’t work like that in the real world. And, could I really, in good faith, pray for someone who is against me? And who is my enemy?

I think that’s why my wife’s words really struck home. Here was a situation where I could actually do what Jesus said. And notice the sting in the tail: “…that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

That makes it pretty important.

So I have been praying for this bloke, and I have found that it has been changing my thinking about the issues. Yes, we still want the purchase to go ahead, but we are trusting that God has that sorted out.

In the meantime, to the guy who is making things difficult, I pray that you would find peace, joy and love from the God who loves you so much. I hope that you have some good support around you at this time, because it is tough. And I pray that you will come out through the experience in a better place.

Amen.

Getting so much better all the time

A few weeks back was R U OK? Day, and today, I can certainly say that I am.

Of course, if you just skip back to August, that wasn’t really the case, which is why I visited my doctor and started treatment for post-natal depression and anxiety.

My doctor put me on a small dose of antidepressants, and after a couple of weeks of headaches, extra tiredness and the like, things started to improve a lot. I felt like my resting mood was heading back up towards normal, that I was able to once again process my emotions, and most importantly I was able to properly express my love to my wife and daughter.

As I’ve shared with some people, I think the combination of a stressful last few weeks of my wife’s pregnancy, the adjustment to being a new dad, dealing with a newborn, and – just for good measure – moving countries, blew out the good chemicals in my brain.

The drugs have helped to bring that back up to normal, and I am feeling good. Really good – in fact probably better than I have felt in a long time.

And it’s not just the drugs. I’ve been more focused on making sure that I get out during the day and getting exercise, which has helped a lot. I’ve also made an effort to be deliberate to meet up with friends. That used to happen more organically, but with a number of my mates also amateur dads, nowadays it just takes a bit more planning.

I’m now able to enjoy the time with my daughter and wife, without the haze of warpy emotions and angst that I was feeling before.

But good mental health doesn’t happen overnight. I’m going to be on these tablets for a few more weeks before possibly talking about stepping down. I may also need some other therapies, but I’ll let my doctor make the call on that.

So thank you to everyone who reached out a couple of months back when I ‘came out’ about my depression. The good news is things are going well, and if anything getting so much better all the time – especially as I can enjoy being an Amateur Dad.

Of course, this post is also a reminder to keep on checking in with themselves and others around, and to get help if things aren’t good. In the same way that you wouldn’t let a broken arm go without treatment, don’t let mental illness go untreated. Trust me, it’s so much better if you do.