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It is slightly daunting to count 7 years on my fingers now. I have been in Adelaide 7 years, when I only ever meant for it to be a short stint abroad.

I’ve often written about my identity struggle and of big geographical decisions. But I’ve never talked about the ways in which Adelaide/Australia have changed me, the diverse range of people I’ve met, all the experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have, the ways of life that I love and have embraced into my being.

Of course, my perspective is biased and limited — framed by the subset of Adelaide I experienced (as a migrant), compared against the facets of home (Malaysia) I know, at different levels of maturity and life stages.

It’s by no means a true or perfect comparison, but perhaps one can still appreciate the things that I love & have learnt from living in Adelaide.

More than the Rat Race

Before Adelaide I lived in bustling cities (KL and Singapore) for 4 years. Most people were very career focused. What’s your next job move? When are you getting a pay rise? How many marks did your daughter get in her music exam? And does she do ballet too?

The suffocating race is probably real everywhere among a certain segment of society. I loved experiencing people in Adelaide who talked about more than things that stemmed from survival anxiety. It feels like more people here are relaxed enough to pursue interests and enjoyments. Life isn’t as pressing. More people care about creating quality of life, contributing to a vibrant city. For a lot of people I met, planning for their personal future security simply wasn’t a driving value. They lived more unhurriedly, with a certain spontaneity and carefreeness that held a lot of appeal to me, even though I could never completely embrace it.

Enjoying Nature

On the bright summer morning I arrived in Adelaide, I chatted with an Italian lady at the bus stop who told me to go to Glenelg. Off I went on my own, and boy did I fall in love with the beach with all its jetty jumpers! Here, life feels a lot more connected to nature (or so it seems to me). It is within the culture to celebrate nature. I love watching people sitting and lying on grass under the blue sky. I love that you can roll down grassy slopes, climb trees, explore hiking trails, swim, surf. It felt like life broadened out in front of me with possibilities when I discovered all this.

A Sense of Connectedness

Connecting with nature also means connecting with food sources. I take it for granted now that I have fresh South Australian milk and fruit and sausages…such a far cry from how I used to eat in KL and Singapore from the supermarket shelf. I remember how refreshing it was to meet farmers and talk to them – something that I felt was hard to do in Malaysia. Maybe it was a cultural and language barrier back there, maybe I lived an insular life(?), but the reality was that farmers seemed to be in a lower class of society back home, so far removed from our conscious minds. People are a lot more connected here to how their food is grown.

A Creative Culture

The street art, markets and op shops in Adelaide captured me and my heart. One year, pianos were scattered around the city as part of the Fringe, screaming “play me”. I loved doing that! I loved the experience of busking in Rundle Mall. And the very first time I saw yarn bombs, it blew my socks off. It’s worth saying that Malaysians bubble over with creativity too, but every place has its unique expressions that endears itself to you.

After 7 years, I am still being surprised by new learnings (eg I only found out this year there are laws against trading on ANZAC Day). But when I recently answered a survey question on which country I identified with the most, I surprised myself by ticking Australia.

The Paradox of Stepmotherhood

Being a stepmother is a funny experience. It’s one you (I) need to share with others, yet it’s also sensitive and tricky and scary to talk about because there are often surprises of negative responses, judgements or strange looks waiting.

It’s not easy to know how to discuss, like trying to paint multiple facets in one brushstroke. It is “this is hard” but you never want people to take away “poor her”, it’s “new family life is really amazing & my family is supportive”, but it doesn’t mean there is no aloneness. It is both “I am a parent” and “who am I?” all at once. It is wanting to say “this is something I’ve chosen”, but also, “it has its pain”!

When people ask me about my son, I sometimes feel compelled to correct them and add a “step”; hypersensitive that he has a real mum & anxious not to disturb that dynamic. The unique experience of bringing a child into the world, a mother-son bond, is also not the history I have.

Yet when I am referred to as stepmum, I find myself wanting to express: I give all I can to him, he is practically like my son.

On one hand I desire & strive to be an equal partner in the family, on the other I am confronted with & try to create space for the reality that the child already has parents, main security anchors and authority figures.

This paradox creates aloneness because there’s often no simple expression to share.

Stepparenthood starts with the stress of relational uncertainty, apprehension, rejection, a sudden change of focus & lifestyle, a reorienteering of identity, without the expectancy & social blessing or celebration of a new child. It can cause someone to shrink away and hide.

With nearly a year of challenge & laughs (& silent tears) behind me, I look back and I do feel pretty accomplished. It’s not clear cut or fully resolved and not without pain, but meaningful nonetheless.

Watching a child grow – and shaping it – is incredible! There is no other word for it. It is innocence and curiosity and cheekiness and lots of learning. The question is, what about it can you really share with others with the authority of a mum, especially to mutual family friends? It can feel like those shoes have been filled, like living under a shadow.

But the biggest realisation I’ve experienced and learnt is that so much of what you feel is largely determined by your outlook & focus. It’s about learning to recognise and embrace the love, appreciation and support for you.

So in ways, writing is a way of creating and exploring the space, and knowing that there are ways to make it good. 🙂

My 2016

IMG_6566.JPGI had a quiet day off today. I did some painting, happy that I’ve made progress with my strokes. My husband told me he’d ordered a Christmas present for me. What a nice surprise. It’s so nice to be loved.

If this time last year I’d been asked to paint a picture of what my 2016 would look like, I couldn’t have painted my life today.

In some ways, that’s how bizarre this past year has been.

After spending most of 2015 trying to manoeuvre a career change, it’s hard to describe the mental contrast between that, and having a role in a thriving real estate company this year.

So much of the past 5 years has been disruption after disruption that it’s hard to look back & draw from any fond traditions or memories. I stopped celebrating my birthday years ago, and all Chinese New Years and Christmases since then have been a blur.

For a long time, so much within myself was consumed with an awareness of problems. I was so geared towards survival, that it was hard to resonate with much else except helping others in worse situations. I was a nervous wreck within me, yet my experiences shaped me with a deep self-defence instinct to steel myself against any weakness within in order to carry on.

Being with Chris this year has slowly helped me let my guard down, helped me welcome happy things back into my life: good food, music, art…

On that note, a year ago, I couldn’t have seen that I would be married, & definitely not that I’d have a five year old stepson!

Suffice to say it’s been a huge, challenging transition, but also strange, even, to discover & rediscover the good things in life I’ve forgotten one can have in a family!

My life is richer for the journey of learning to trust & share & grow, of overcoming challenges together, learning to love & be loved…

…and the unexpected joys & surprises, like having a clumsily wrapped present under the tree from my stepson that I can’t wait to tear open on Christmas Day.

10,000 Reasons

A major curveball hit some dear friends of mine recently, when the husband/father had a stroke.

As I heard his wife share about the difficult changes she and the children must learn to accept and adapt to, I could not help admiring and being encouraged by her outlook amidst the exhaustion and devastation they must be facing.

She spoke of gratitude for things they still have and cherish; of trusting in God amidst the pain; of hope for the future, and of 10,000 Reasons to sing…

It brought me back to the first time many years ago when I too found myself in a bleak valley where I had lost complete sight of a hopeful future. It reminded me of how the reality and presence of God at that time gave me enormous strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to forge a way out of despair.

Not long after my friend shared,  I heard the song again — this time at a wedding. It was a beautiful reprise to hear the melody carry through dark desperate days to joyous celebrations, from the peaks to the troughs to everything in between…

The song had a way of pointing to something beyond, and reminded me of all the people I know and stories I’ve read of people coming to the end of their ropes, and finding new strength and hope to sing and choose life.

 

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