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The Beautiful Strangeness of Coming Home

29th August 2018

Yesterday I carved out an hour to do some writing in the public library. Toddler reading time was noisy in the corner; dead-eyed mothers watching on as the librarian talked in a painfully high octave. Take it three tones down, lady, I thought, just like the old days. There aren’t any dogs here listening to Incy Wincy Spider.

It felt amazing to have some time alone to order my thoughts, with, finally, a repaired laptop and –oh frabjous day! – Australian coffee! I need to write and file a magazine piece about our epic National Lampoon road trip, but first, I must just decant my brain a little. It’s all out of storage space. I can’t quite settle to anything and I’m trapped in a bit of a caps-lock-cortisol-overload WHERE IS THE HOT WATER BOTTLE/SLOW COOKER/SCHOOL SHOES/OLIVE OIL/WHICH SIDE OF THE ROAD AM I ON/WHAT LANGUAGE ARE WE SPEAKING/HOLD ME moment.

My current mental schedule is totally different to the France one, which was replaced in its turn by last month’s road-trip craziness of family life on the move. My brain is staging a rebellion. Where am I? What’s my name again? Who’s the Prime Minister? (Don’t answer that.)

Today I dropped the kids at school for their third day back and returned the rental car to the airport. We are all a bit shell-shocked. It’s been a couple of months on holiday for them and a couple of months of 24/7 mumming for me. Dragging school uniforms together was hard work – trawling shops for school bits and pieces that are never, ever there in the right size, hunting through crates and boxes and pulling together three sets of close-enough clothes; blue from head to toe. Where are the lunch boxes? Water bottles? Christ on a bicycle, the hats?

Meanwhile our little house is full of crates and boxes from the shed, an unholy mess that, day by day, gets more epic as the clean laundry piles up and the children look through it all for their special, long lost bits and pieces. Keith is giving piano lessons to the kids every night and I’m back to my bath held together with gaffer tape. Back to the trampoline, the rope swing, the miniature donkeys in the paddock, the sounds of the surf and the birds. Back, comrades, to the composting dunny.

It was such deep work acclimating ourselves to our new world in Sommieres. We attached to it so strongly – to the children’s school, my Calade community language school, and the wonderful madness of Rue Taillade. It was a constant mental load to orient ourselves there every day and help the children feel securely rooted (and not just completely rooted). And now it’s just a memory, but such a recent, vivid one that my brain doesn’t quite know how to categorise my feelings about it. I need a new category, probably in Franglish, something like ‘fuffoir’. ‘The combined emotions of nostalgia, gratitude and sadness; felt most strongly when experienced during a time of intense exhaustion managing the psychological wellbeing of small children while keeping to a punishing snack schedule and being unable to find ones bra, coffee-maker or Medicare card.’

Right now, I am fuffoir. But soon, I shall be relaxed – with no house move to plan, foreign language to speak or bags to unpack.

We bought a car yesterday, a top-of-the-line Forrester, best on the market, friends!….at least, in 2001. Four grand! It was a happy find and I love it already – it has a boxy, cheerful little vibe, elbow rests (the fancy!) and a tape deck. Already I have Barbra Streisand, Hits of The Forties and Bee Gees on board. (Thanks Dad.) I’m into it. Let’s hope it doesn’t break down on the freeway!

Our epic road trip after our year in France already has the shimmery, half-real quality of a weird dream. I spoke French every day, and walked the kids to school past a Roman bridge, and then a giant cat taught my Spin class and…wait. Did that happen? After school yesterday, the house was jumping with a tribe of kids over to play. I love when they all play at our place. The big girls conducted a ceremony in the bush opposite where they sacrificed each other to the gods of the underworld and then held a lemon-eating contest. The boys played some sort of wedgie-based game on the rope swing and then T started teaching his friend the rules of Dungeons and Dragons (his new great love). From both gangs, constant giggling, music to my ears after worrying how they would go back at school in Australia. Such a relief.

It’s not all fun with wedgies and the underworld; we are all feeling the emotional whiplash of our return - a new season (jaysus, it’s freezing, Homecoming Flu is imminent, I fear), new house, new language, changed friendships…it’s really exhausting to ride the wild waves of kid-emotion while still keeping the snacks coming. It’s all a bit surreal. But I am so happy to be home.

If I owe you an email, a phone call and/or a catch up coffee, I promise I’ll get to it and I can’t wait. I have so much to tell you and so much to catch up on. But first, we have to land this bird.

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