So there I was. A young mother with two children under three, in a completely foreign country, having to find my feet.
I grew up in Adelaide, the “big country town” capital of South Australia. I went to the same school for all but one year of my schooling. As far back as I can remember, from about the age of five, I attended just two different churches until I was 21. When Adelaide is already the kind of city where you can’t go out anywhere without bumping into at least someone you know, my world was even smaller. I grew up with the same adults who knew me as both a child, and as a young adult. My identity was wrapped up in my history with them, with how we interacted, and with how they saw me.
In my early 20s, my husband, our two young children, and I moved to Japan for his work. I was genuinely excited about the adventure that we were starting. Perhaps it was blissful ignorance at what moving to a different country truly entailed, but as we boarded that plane to Tokyo, there was excitement and an anticipation of setting up a new home.
And suddenly there I was. A young mother with two children under three, in a completely foreign country, having to find my feet. Yes, the excitement of something new and interesting was there, but when your husband begins work that very afternoon to start getting all the paperwork in… well, in hindsight, that first year was more of a shock to my system than I realised at the time.
I went from living with husband’s grandparents in a granny flat out the back, my parents just two minutes away, our sisters frequently visiting… to nothing. The family support I had become so reliant on was no longer there, nor was there a close circle of friends to be an alternative source of support. They say parenting takes a village, and I had nothing. I needed to try and find something.
As an introvert, having to meet new people and develop new friendships completely from scratch… it’s terrifying! Never had I ever had to do that! No shared history, no shared connections, nothing. Even in university, my best friend was in the same degree and year as me. That’s Adelaide for you.
So, who was I? With no prior knowledge of me, what did people see? And more importantly, what did I see?! It seems I not only had to find my feet, and a social circle, I had to find myself without the influence of the safe and comfortable.
So, who was I? With no prior knowledge of me, what did people see? And more importantly, what did I see?!
In that first year of culture shock, the biggest lesson I discovered was that of who I was as a mother without that family support. Without any breaks for months, my strengths came to the fore, and my weaknesses had nowhere left to hide. When there is no break, no family or friends to babysit, there is no choice but to face up to the fact that motherhood is not just the baking, reading and walks to the park that I saw in movies my whole life. It’s also impatience, it’s bone-deep emotional and mental exhaustion, it’s anger, it’s mothering through your own sick days. And I could’ve let it consume me and collapse, or I could push on step by step, day by day. I could get by, or I could thrive.
And thrive I did, once I realised that to be a good mother, I had to take care of myself too. During that first, shell-shocked year, I found my passion and future career: quilting. I had started dabbling a little before we left, and thankfully packed my sewing machine onto the plane with us, but there in Japan, with nowhere to be and no places to go, my time was my own. In between nappies and mealtimes and naps (oh those glorious afternoon naps) I could explore and play and create. I needed to create. And my husband soon learned that if I was tired and stressed and touched-out from being climbed on all day long, that headphones and my sewing machine would help ease the pain.
Quilting provided not just a creative outlet and a form of therapy throughout that first year, but a wonderful (English-speaking!) online community of people that were also just as passionate and excited about it. That tiny seed of creativity, of something that was all me and just mine, became the one thing about myself that I nurtured. I made the time for it where I could, even if it was just 15 minutes, I dove head first into it all, and it grew.
It also gradually grew easier to find the time. After that first year, my son started Japanese preschool five days a week at three years old, and the following year so did my daughter. Not only is this the social norm, but it was also a fantastic way to be immersed in the culture and for them to learn the language. Suddenly, I had time again. What was previously crammed into nap times and night times was now able to spread out over a few hours each day. I was kid-free from 8am to 2pm, and I hustled.
I was kid-free from 8am to 2pm, and I hustled.
My skills grew, my passion grew, my website grew, and it started to become more than just a hobby. Little step by little step. As a trained teacher, I loved the educational side of quilting – designing patterns, writing articles. I began to sell my designs, and be published in magazines, and slowly my business began to grow too. And with it, my confidence and my self-belief. There was this thing that I had found, that I had learnt about and was experienced in. There was this thing that I could do, and I was good at it.
After four years in Japan, we moved back to Australia, and settled in Melbourne. But this time, being in a brand new place with no shared history with anyone didn’t scare me. I had some quilting friends I had made online, and they quickly became best friends as we connected in person. I now knew that in any situation, I could not just cope, I could love life. And this time there were no language or cultural barriers!
So, I threw myself in to life in Melbourne - joining a new church, getting involved at the kids’ school, joining a quilting group, and committees, and growing my quilting business. But this all brought along with it a new aspect of being an adult… being treated like one. In Japan, I had very minimal commitments and obligations, but now I had responsibilities and expectations outside the home. Except no one was checking up on me, no one hovered over my shoulder. It was just assumed that I was a responsible adult, capable of achieving my given tasks.
Which was perfectly alright, because at last, I myself believed that I was a responsible, mature adult.
Moving countries was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I discovered that I was a fully capable and independent adult, able to deal with just about everything that life throws at you, even when it’s in a completely foreign language. I learnt not just how to cope with changes and transitions, but to thrive. And it wasn’t just me - it was the best thing that could have ever happened for our family, as we learnt to enjoy life as our little family unit and to treasure the times we have together just the four of us.