The Adventure of Being Back

I am in Essex. Noah is in Essex. My husband is in Vienna. This is not an unusual situation. This has happened a lot over the past two years. But this time it’s different. Why? Because this time we are back for good. This time Noah and I are not staying with my Mum and Dad, we are living in our own house. Five days a week, I am a single parent. And don’t I know it.

I had forgotten how stressful it can be living in your own property. Every time we had a problem with our home in Vienna, we phoned my husband’s office and they sorted it out. It makes me wonder why people actually buy houses rather than rent for the rest of their lives. Since we took our house back over from the tenants, we have had it painted, completely replaced the kitchen floor, replaced the kitchen worktop and hob, bought a new washing machine that couldn’t be fitted, replaced the kitchen tap and had Noah’s bedroom door re-attached three times. Is it just me or is it impossible to find reliable, reasonably priced, skilled workmen who actually turn up when they say they will? Is it just me or is it reasonable to expect Currys to be able to fit a washing machine when you pay them £35 for the privilege?

I have become a nervous wreck about the paintwork and the doors. The doors are so old and crooked, I am worried that Noah and I are going to be stuck on opposite sides one of these days. We frequently have this interaction when he fools about running around upstairs trying to shut me out of rooms: “Noah, don’t play with the doors…Please don’t play with the doors…Don’t play with the doors!…STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS! STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS! STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS!” I brought the wrong kind of paint for the bathroom and it marks and stains when it is splashed with water. It looks a state already and it has only been painted for a month. How was I supposed to know this? What do I know about paint? So when Noah splashes around in the bath, we frequently have the following interaction: “Noah, don’t splash about because you are ruining the walls…Please don’t splash the walls…Stop splashing the walls!…STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS! STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS! STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS!”

I don’t even want to get started on what it was like unpacking all of our stuff and getting the house straight. Our house is small and we have a lot of stuff. I am never moving house again. Whenever we need more space, we will just have to build upwards. We’ll end up with a twenty storey house by the time we retire. A twenty storey house with a roof garden.

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Nightmare
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I must admit, I did a great job of Noah’s dinosaur bedroom

And then there’s Noah.

Noah is used to my parents’ house. He has five big boxes of toys there and a treehouse. Seventy percent of the Sky Planner is full of his programmes. To Noah, their house is more home to him than our own house. He has never minded leaving my husband in Vienna whilst we came back to England to stay with my Mum and Dad. He accepted that this was what his life was like. If we had moved back from Vienna and chosen to live there whilst my husband was away, things would probably be okay right now. But I made the decision to move back into our house. In no way, shape or form did I want to live on my own. I made the decision because I thought it would be best for Noah to be near his new nursery, surrounded by his things, to settle into his new home and his new life straight away.

What Noah doesn’t get is what the hell his father is playing at coming and going backwards and forwards to Vienna. Initially, I suggested to my husband that we just tell him Daddy was going to work during the week and leave it at that with no mention of Vienna. I quickly realised this wasn’t going to work because Noah would see he was in our old flat when we Skype.

Last week, he painted a dinosaur from one of the craft kits he got for Christmas and presented it to my husband at the weekend. On Monday morning, ten minutes after my husband had left for the week, I came downstairs to find Noah sitting in his armchair crying his little heart out. Clutched in his little paw was the dinosaur. My husband had forgotten it. Noah cried and cried and I couldn’t console him. I phoned my husband to see if he was still at the station but it went straight to voicemail. “I want daddy!” Noah wailed. His little heart was hurting and I couldn’t make it better. So I gave him a chocolate bunny. Yes, it was 8 o’clock in the morning, but it was a desperate situation: my little boy was feeling real, raw emotional pain for the first time in his life and I was helpless. When my husband found out what happened, he was a wreck too.

So Noah is confused. He is frustrated. He is angry. “I’m sad about Daddy,” he says two or three times a week. And what happens when Noah is confused, frustrated, angry and sad? That little strand of demon child which runs through his veins, rises to the surface.

From the moment he wakes up, he is a challenge. He either wakes up during the night or wakes up before dawn. Seeing as the prospect of getting up and getting Noah through breakfast before 6 a.m. makes me want to throw myself from the roof tops, I allow him to watch YouTube on my phone. By the time I have reconciled myself to the fact that the day must begin, Noah won’t get off the phone. Once this struggle is over and we are standing downstairs in the kitchen having a discussion about breakfast, Noah demands pancakes. If pancakes are not on the menu either because (a) we have no eggs (b) he had pancakes yesterday or (c) I really can’t be bothered to make them, a full-on screaming fit ensues. Once he has calmed down, I have to coax him to eat more than 30% of his breakfast. A month ago he was a vitamin addict. He relished the moment when he got to eat his Bassets chewy vitamin every morning. Now, he refuses to eat them. He doesn’t like them. Urgh. Yuck. They are disgusting. I got him a different flavour; the response was the same. I find slightly sweaty, slightly sticky gummy vitamins under the sofa, by the front door, on his train set etc. etc.

The day continues in this vein. Getting washed, getting dressed, putting his coat and shoes on, lunch, dinner, tidying up, bathtime, bedtime. Every time we’re in the car, Noah insists on winding his window down for “fresh air” even when we’re on the motorway. Every time we’re in the car, Noah takes his shoes and socks off and refuses to let me put them back on. We’re late for absolutely everything.

It’s all one big challenge. It’s a battle. And I’m the one that’s losing.

It was the vitamin fiasco that kicked off events last Thursday. For the purposes of this blog post, I will refer to it as Black Thursday. On Black Thursday, I lost the plot. Noah has had a cough and cold hanging around for over a week so I decided I was going to make him eat his bloody vitamin. He refused. I cut it up and mixed it in his porridge. He refused. I paused the TV and told him I’d turn it off if he didn’t eat his vitamin. He poured his drink all over the floor. He wouldn’t sit on the naughty step. He wouldn’t stay in his room and think about what he had done. I didn’t know where to go next. He was hitting me and pulling my hair. He refused to get washed and dressed for nursery. He took things off of the sides in the kitchen and threw them on the floor. So I lost it. I went berserk. God only knows what the neighbours thought of me, screeching through the walls at my three-year-old like a demented banshee. In the end, he didn’t go to nursery. We sat on the sofa, both of us emotionally exhausted and held each other. All over a vitamin. I never want to be like that again. I have always been one to choose my battles with Noah. I often let things go. Isn’t that better than finding yourself pushed over the edge of your patience?

Noah is not responding well when he doesn’t get his own way. Today, he tried to show the postman his lightsaber and the postman only gave a fleeting response before continuing on his way to deliver the post to the rest of Brentwood. Noah threw himself to the floor, kicking and screaming. Yesterday, I bought him a little packet of Star Wars cupcakes. He had one and asked for another one. I said no. “You’re not the Mummy I love,” he said. My heart stopped dead in my chest. “What?!” I asked, aghast. “Only joking,” he said quickly. “You are the Mummy I love.” But still…

The end is in sight. My husband moves back to England in three weeks’ time. Life will calm down for Noah. For all of us. I am home. I am where I want to be. I repeat this to myself like a mantra.

On the plus side, Noah has taken well to is his new nursery. He has lots of friends and has already been invited to a birthday party (where he was the only boy). I felt sick in the lead up to his first day. I took him in there and had to stay for ten minutes whilst I signed some forms. He was subdued. He stood silently beside me. When it was time for me to kiss him goodbye, he was pale faced and miserable but he didn’t cry. He didn’t tell me not to go. I left and watched through the window as he went to join the others for circle time and sat there quietly whilst they were singing. He would one hundred percent have rather been going back to his old nursery in Vienna with his old friends and familiar surroundings. Being in a situation where you don’t know anyone is hard for adults, let alone three year olds. I hate changing jobs and having to get to know everything and everyone all over again. But sometimes we have to do these things. And as I stood there watching Noah through the window, I realised that he saw this too. He was feeling a little bit apprehensive, a little bit lonely, a little bit lost. And he just got on with it. I have been proud of my Noah since the day he was born – he is mine and he is a marvel – but as I stood and watched him through the window that day, I saw that rod of iron strength inside him that some people have and some people don’t. I admired him. I respected him. People who have this iron strength will be okay, no matter what life throws at them. When they get knocked down, they can get back up again. It’s a gift. My job as Noah’s mother is to make sure he never loses it.

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In his new nursery uniform

P.S. I have not tried to force Noah’s vitamins on him since.

P.P.S. He still isn’t doing a thing he is told.

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The Adventure of Saying Goodbye (to Vienna)

Three more sleeps.

On Monday, the packing company came and packed up eighty boxes of our stuff with minimal disaster. It is now half way to England. My main concern is that the new Christmas decorations I bought will be smashed in transit. But they, like most things in life, are replaceable. Noah took the packing up of his toys fairly well. He grasps the fact that his toys are too big to take on the plane and will be at our “little house” in England when he gets there. There was a minor issue that went like this:

9 a.m. Sunday Morning. I am piling up Noah’s toys along one wall of his bedroom.

Me: Noah, do you want to keep Aylan here or do you want him to go in the big lorry with the rest of your toys?

Noah: In the big lorry.

Me: Are you absolutely sure?

Noah: Yes. In the big lorry with the rest of my toys.

Me: You won’t see him until we get back to England.

Noah: That’s okay. I want him to go in the big lorry.

Aylan, in case you were wondering, is a large teddy bear brought for Noah on our last trip home by my Mum and Dad. My Dad named him Aylan after the three year old Syrian refugee who drowned. He liked the idea of Noah looking after a refugee. Anyway, I put Aylan in the pile to be sent back to England with the rest of Noah’s toys (a) because he would take up a lot of room my suitcase, (b) because it’s stressful when Noah is carrying an enormous teddy around the airport, not least because we are always losing toys at airports and (c) because Noah seemed pretty adamant that Aylan should be packed with the rest of his toys…

4.30 p.m. on Monday, 10 minutes after we had waved the lorry off with all our stuff inside (including Aylan)

Noah: Where’s Aylan?

Fifteen minutes of wailing ensued.

 

Moving abroad for two years is many people’s idea of a dream. Usually, when it comes up in conversation that I live in Vienna, I’m met with responses such as “Wow! How exciting!” And I am the miserable cow who shakes her head and says, “Not really.” For me, it was never going to be easy. My husband knew that when he applied for the job. I am a home bird if ever there was one. Back in May 2013, the job came up in Vienna and my husband presented me with a written proposal listing all of the benefits of going for it. It wasn’t the first time he had broached the subject of doing a foreign posting. I phoned my Mum up and read her out the proposal. Because my Mum saw the £££ signs and (reluctantly) said go for it, because I had just gone back to work after maternity leave, because I wanted to work part-time and couldn’t, because it was a good opportunity for us financially, because it was my husband’s heart’s desire, I agreed. We formed a pact: I would try living in Vienna as long as Noah and I could come home for one week every month and stay with my parents. Last year, every single time I waved goodbye to my Mum and Dad at the airport, every time I waved goodbye to them here, it was with tears in my eyes. I am not given to public displays of emotion but, quite honestly, I felt like my heart was breaking. My husband’s posting shouldn’t actually end until next October, but I knew with absolute certainty that I couldn’t do another year here. Have I cried myself to sleep every night for two years? Of course I haven’t. Have I been depressed? No. Although I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate and drunk a lot of Gruner Veltliner to see me through. Have I made my husband’s life a living hell? Probably. Sometimes. Do I regret agreeing to come here? Actually, no.

Over the past six weeks, I have felt an over-whelming sense of relief every time I thought about how close I was to moving home. I felt as if I was crawling towards 19th December on my knees. I even planned what I would put as my last Vienese Facebook update at some point in August.

And yet…

I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel a sense of loss. And actually, it’s quite a strong sense of loss. How can this be? I’m flabbergasted by it. I should be excited. I should be deliriously happy.

It all comes down to change. I don’t like change. I don’t embrace it.

 

Last week, I was washing Noah’s sand toys in the bidet (what else is it for, after all?), when I had a bit of a moment. I looked at his buckets and spades and diggers lined up to dry on a towel on the bathroom floor and I felt winded, I felt bereft. The sadness I felt surprised me. Where had it come from? I am not sad to be packing up our things and moving back to England. As I took a deep breath, I realised that I was sad about what those sand toys represent. They represent a part of Noah’s childhood. The park that we live on represents a part of Noah’s childhood – all those hours we have spent there being cooked by the sun or being frozen solid in the winter. I felt the same when I got his pram and his highchair out. These things are obsolete. My Noah is done with them. He is not my baby anymore: he is my clever, strong minded, curious little boy. When we moved here, Noah was 20 months old, he spoke in nouns, he beat up any child who came within a mile radius of him, he had a little white rabbit comforter called Booby that he took everywhere, he couldn’t scoot or ride a bike. Now he is nearly 4, he loves Star Wars, he doesn’t know who Booby is, he wants to have conversations about what happens when you die. The fact is, Noah has spent more of his life in Vienna than he has in England. It feels a little bit as if, when I get on that plane on Saturday, I will be leaving a part of Noah’s childhood behind. Ridiculous, I know. But sometimes emotions are.

 

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January 2014, at our park

The other thing which makes me sad about leaving is that I am taking my Noah away from the life he knows. I am taking him away from the kindergarten he is happy at, from the friendships he has formed, from the enormous flat he can ride a bike around. Of course, even if we stayed until the end of my husband’s contract, we would still have to take him away from these things. I think I am seeing this through my own eyes rather than a three year old’s. I know what it feels like to leave your home and I am projecting those feelings on to Noah.

“How do you feel about moving back to England?” I ask him frequently.

“Alright,” he says. “I can’t wait to go to my new nursery! It’s great!”

I realised just how often I must have spoken to him about this when he turned to me yesterday and said, “So, Mummy, how do you feel about moving back to our little house?”

Noah is 3 years old. His language is developing every day but it is by no means advanced. He isn’t capable of telling me how he feels about moving back to England. He isn’t capable of understanding it himself. He pooed in his pants every day last week which is something he never, ever did whilst he was potty training well over a year ago. Is that relevant? Is he channelling his uncertainty about moving back to England by pooing in his pants? Or is he just being a sod? He certainly isn’t doing very much of what he is told at the moment. Even phone calls to Father Christmas and threats of him losing presents doesn’t seem to hold any sway with him. He’ll be okay. I know he’ll be okay. I know this experience won’t damage him in any way. But I still feel sad on his behalf, especially when I see him running home from kindergarten every day, hand in hand with his best friend.

 

A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me, “What are the top five things you’ll miss about Vienna?” “There aren’t five. I will miss absolutely nothing about Vienna!” I exclaimed. But that’s not true. I will miss living on the park, I will miss my husband being home in time to play with Noah, I will miss the wine, I will miss the Sachertorte, I will miss the public transport, I will miss that most things are within walking distance, I will miss the space we have in our flat. I will miss the lifestyle we have been able to afford. I will miss my friends.

 

I know I am doing the right thing going home; I couldn’t bear to imagine the alternative. I have had a hard year in lots of ways. We all have them. Going home is faced with its own challenges: unpacking, cramming all of our stuff into a two up, two down cottage, finding myself a job. I am surprised to realise that I will have to adapt, to settle back in. But I am looking forward to starting up my life again in my beloved Essex. I have not liked living in Vienna but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it as a place. There is a grace and a grandeur about it. I respect it. But there’s no place like Essex.

Auf Wiedersehen Vienna, from my Noah and from me. Over and out.

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There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
My Noah and Me

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