Tuesday, 9 August 2011

One Month Mark

As I near the one month mark I thought I would spend some time reflecting on this first month.  Some are observations, some are things I was told and some are just random thoughts from an American girl down under.

Aussies are Raised to be Socially Successful.  Aside from one bad seed, the Aussies I have met have been warm, reliable, honest and direct.  They don't beat around the bush, they don't say things they don't mean and they don't leave  you guessing what they really think.  Thankfully, they are also friendly, good-natured and easy-going.  At first I thought it was because they are raised in such a nice place; the weather ranges from mild to sunny, the food is amazing and there is much to do and see.  All basic needs are met - shelter, school, transportation and healthcare is available to everyone of every walk of life.  Crime is incredibly low and minimum wage is quite high. Life is just hunky dory.  Sure, many things cost more, but aside from cars, most of the basic things needed to get by are readily available. While these things certainly contribute, it is my impression, after spending time in two preschools and around several Aussie parents, that Aussies place a HUGE emphasis on social behavior from a very young age.  In fact, Kinder (pre-school) is almost wholly focused on developing socially successful little people vs. cramming a bunch of letters, numbers and handwriting down their throat.  There is no pressure for kids to be able to do certain things by the time they enter primary school.  The Aussies know that the academics will come and giving the kids a strong foundation to function in the classroom, and in the world, is so much more important.  Now, I know this is a focus in the early years in the States as well, but what I saw here was different and more deeply entrenched in everything they do.  And the way they teach it is so natural and casual that the kids don't really even seem to notice that they are being taught.  I'm at a loss for describing what about it is so different, but it is....  Anyone who has lived here and has children in school here knows what I am talking about.  It is just different, kind, simple and refreshing.

Back in Time: I really feel sometimes like I have returned to a simpler time where things just felt easier, happier, less stressful.  I remember a time as a kid when we could just wander around the neighborhood without parents, when the front door could be left unlocked and I did not have to worry about what college I was going to get in to at age 10.  The schools do not put the same pressure on the kids, people are just more relaxed and life is just simpler.  There is a lot less "keeping up with the Jone's" here as well.  In fact, I was advised by a dear friend, before moving here, that Aussies tend to be very modest.  If you have a real designer bag and someone compliments it, you are supposed to say "Oh this old thing, I got it on sale" or "it is a fake!  Looks real doesn't it?" 

Aussies strike me as being much more careful with their money.  Credit cards are not used nearly like they are in the states and people tend to spend within their means.  Maybe the higher interest rates drives this behavior but I believe it runs deeper than that.  I don't get the feeling that Aussies have been tempted in to spending beyond their means by credit cards that just "show up" in the mail and they don't seem to be competing with each other to have the best house, car, clothes, shoes, etc....  In fact, I have not seen any credit card ads, have not recieved anything in the mail and not even my bank has shown any interest in offering me a credit card.  I still recall my first day of college when they were handing out credit cards to any student that had a pulse.  They have no subprime market, they have interest rates that prevent people from spending more than they have and it seems to be working.  I will keep my eye on this as I think I can learn much from how they live here.  I

Then again, often I feel like I have lost many of the conveniences I once had while living in the States.  Many things are just more work and/or they just don't happen the way I know they can.  One example, of many similar I assure you: Evan's paycheck was paid electronically by his new employer.  His employer is a good friend and so we know that he banks with the VERY SAME bank that we do.  He has a long-standing business account with them.  Our account has been open at the same bank, at the same branch for over a month.  However, despite this, the bank placed a 24 hour hold on the deposit to ensure that it cleared.  My husband went down to the bank to straighten it out as clearly if the money is moving within the same bank and same branch, electronically, it is obviously secure.  While the bank manager admitted that this is true and apologized, the hold remained on the account.  I have had similar experiences while shopping or in dealing with service providers.  There is little urgency to things here and I have to remind myself to SLOW DOWN and focus on what is really urgent and what is just an inconvenience that with patience will work itself out.  It is not that people are lazy here, in fact, they are very friendly and helpful most of the time.  The pace is just different as are the expectations.  I am just bringing my former expectations to things that don't follow the same timelines as I am used to.  I think slowing down, for the most part, is a good lesson in patience and may add years to my life!  I just have to keep reminding myself of this.  :)

Additionally, because Australia is so remote from everywhere and because the population is so much smaller than most major countries, supply on non-essentials is often a problem.  The things that I once loved are either unavailable here OR cost a fortune when compared to local products.  For example, I was a bit homesick and thinking some Tom and Jerry's ice cream might be the answer - as it is for all bummed out ladies!  I took one look at the price of Tom and Jerry's and decided I am just going to have to "get over it" and move on.  A tiny container is $11!!!  At that price, forget about it - maybe that is why the girls here are skinnier.  They cannot afford Tom and Jerrys!!  Cars are priced at almost three times what we paid in the States and for some odd reason, razor blades for shaving are sold at almost usery rates.  I guess you take the good with the bad - and the bad is really not that bad...just slower and less convenient.  The best advice I was given so far while here, from an American that moved here, is to drop all expectations that I have from being in the States and just go with the Aussie flow.  It is working so far!  :)

Everything is just DIFFERENT: I kid you not, the weather here is nuts, the animals are so unique and up is down.  On any given day you can have warm sun followed by a serious downpour, followed by double rainbows and then cold only to have the evening warm back up again.  The weather is never too cold and only sometimes too hot (at least that is what I am told, summer is still coming so I'll get back to you on that one).  I carry with me, at all times, an umbrella, a windbreaker, a down jacket, sunglasses and I layer my clothes.  I never know what I will need on any given day - so I am resigned to be a bag lady until I have a car here! 
If you know me at all, you know that I LOVE animals. I have passed this love on to my kids and have even warmed Evan up to most animals as well.  The first two big purchases made here were to the aquarium and the zoo.  At the aquarium I learned that certain fish evolved ONLY in Australia due to the extreme conditions of life here.  They have sharks that have adapted to live in fresh water rivers.  And they have crazy animals such as the duck-billed platypus, the kangaroo, and the Tasmanian Devil.  Australia has been so removed from all other land for so many millions of years that nature has gone on it's own evolutionary path altogether.  Basic lifeforms that were here at the beginning of our evolution, thought to be extinct long, long ago have been found here and/or still thrive here.  Spiders here, that just eat bugs like other spiders, have enough venom to kill an elephant.  Why they are so poisonous, who knows?!  They certainly went overboard there!  :)  You will hear much more about my adventures with animals I am sure.  I plan to see them all! 

So, my first month was a good one.  I have enjoyed getting to know the area, trying to fit in culturally and establishing new roots here.  It is a good place, albeit remote, to spend some time and enjoy life.  I am looking forward to finding a job, seeing animals, visiting the country and going on tropical vacations to destinations that before were simply too far to visit.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Listen to your Gut!

I have always been a big believer in listening to your gut and so far it has never steered me wrong.  In a new place, with a new culture and new ways of doing things, my gut has served me well in looking out for my kids.

Because we did not have much information to go on, we chose the only school that had room for us. Apparently we moved to a very popular area and everyone wants to send their kids to preschool in this area (referred to as Kinder).  We put our name on a few different wait lists after going online and guessing which ones were good. We ended up at the only one with room, and later found out why.  On day one, I got the awful nagging in my gut, but I had no idea why.  The place was clean, the teachers were nice and it was in an easy to reach location.  As the days went on, my gut continued to nag at me and soon, Zoe and then Carson started telling me that they did not want to go to school. Each day they became more insistent about not going.  Still, I could not place my finger on why because the kids seemed happy once they got there and when I picked them up.  I thought that maybe they were just having trouble with the new, much earlier routine.

On the sixth day of daycare I got a call from another school that had just gotten two openings due to a family's move overseas.  By this time, the kids were starting to "seem" settled in but still begged each morning not to go.  Once they got there, they were OK.  I hesitated to shake up their world again, but decided to visit the other school.  It was like night and day.  I walked in during lunch time and the entire class of kids looked up and politely and sincerely said "hello" unprompted by their teachers. The teachers were warm, friendly and experienced.  I signed on the spot to move the kids to this school.  Our other school required a two week notice so I started to plan how I would tell the kids.

I gave them a hypothetical about going to a new school and asked them if they could change would they.  They nearly jumped to the ceiling with excitement and desperation and said "YES PLEASE!"  So much for telling them gently.  I let them know that they had a choice and that I would take them to a new school for a visit.  I told them that they could decide and then prayed that they would like it!   Both took to the school like fish who had been out of water and were just dropped back in.  Neither one cared where I was and when it was time to go, begged to stay longer.  On the way I asked them which school they wanted to attend.  The both yelled out, without ANY hesitation, the "NEW school."  And so the decision was made.  We all liked it better!

I put in notice that very day at their other school.  When asked why, I could not really articulate why as there really was no clear reason other than the kids were not happy.  I was reminded it had only been just over a week and that maybe I should give them one more week to settle in.  It seemed logical and things were starting to be more routine for us.  However, I stuck to my gut and signed the paperwork to leave after the two week notice period.  Over the next two weeks, I started to doubt my decision a bit.  The kids got more used to the routine.  The teachers seemed to be getting more organized and were actually doing some activities with the kids vs. letting them run around without direction.  But the kids did still tell me they did not want to go to school, which was unusual for them.

Only after I promised to move the kids did Carson tell me about what had been going on at school.  Apparently, he was being bullied regularly by two boys, language was being used on the playground directed at him, that was hurtful and innappropriate and the teacher's either did not notice or did not intervene when they should have.  I mentioned some of what had happened to his teacher.  She acknowledged that one of the boys was "acting up" in the classroom as well and that something must be going on at home.  She then told me that Carson should not take it personally.  The next day, Carson's glasses "mysteriously" broke according to the teachers.  I am no stranger to broken glasses with Carson.  He is a boy and he likes to play.  However, he had a big cut on his eye and it was obvious someone else had been involved.  I decided to let it go and believe that they just broke while he was playing.  During breakfast on his last day of school there, Carson randomly mentioned the incident and then told me that the same boy broke his glasses while hitting him in the face and then trying to cram sand in between his glasses and his eyes.  Apparently this boy and another had been picking on Carson far more than Carson had initially told me but Carson waited until his last day to tell me, probably to avoid getting them in trouble.  He next told me "they are not my friends and they are not welcome in my home" which actually made me proud.  Carson has a tendency to like everyone and usually gives people more slack than they deserve.  I guess it is just part of his Autism and is why Autistic kids are often targeted by bullies.  Carson how now developed the ability to know "friends" from "not friends" which is a HUGE developmental step for him.  So I guess that was the goodness that came from going to that school.

The moral of the story....listen to your gut and listen to your kids if they hate school.  The right teachers and the right environment can change their perspective almost immediately.  Most schools and most teachers are great.  And kids, at this age at least, model and learn their behavior from the adults they spend time with.  There is little that can be done about what goes on in the home.  However, a GOOD teacher in a good school will have clear expectations of how a child should behave at school, despite what is going on at home.