travel

"I'm grieving the moments we are missing." I'm not where I want to be this Christmas.

"You’ve got a little accent," the shopkeeper said. "Where does that come from? American?"

No. I shake my head, getting ready for the inevitable exchange that comes next. "I’m Australian." 

"Australian! Oh my goodness! But what in the world are you doing here? "

I flash my biggest smile and give my standard reply with the practised laugh. "That, Madame, is the question I ask myself every day."

Watch: Things Aussie never say at Christmas. Post continues below.


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And then I give her a snippet of the backstory. The French husband. The moving around the globe for work. Ending up here three years ago. Is it forever? We don’t know. Yes, the people are lovely. Yes, we are very happy. 

And it’s all true. It is lovely here - picturesque in the way Australians would imagine a countryside Belgian village to be, especially at Christmas time, with decorative lights everywhere, frost in the woods when I go running as the red sun comes up at 9am. The smell of woodsmoke in the air.

But then she asks the next question. The one which I can handle most days, but right now, at this time - I cannot. 

"Don’t you miss it? "

I haven’t seen my family for 18 months. And probably won’t for at least another six. We didn’t go ‘home’ to Australia for Christmas last year, or the year before - this was the year for the big trip across the globe. I should be on a Flying Kangaroo now, listening to I Still Call Australia Home as we circle to land into Sydney, tears pricking my eyes as they always do when I catch sight of the only place I really call ‘Home’.

How do I tell this stranger that I could never call what I feel something as banal as “missing it?” That being away from my home, even though I left it 20 years ago, is a daily suffering, a hole. It’s like an absent limb, still a part of me but not actually there. Who I once was. Who I could have been. 

How close I would still be to my friends, to my cousins and their families. Who my children would have been if they had grown up going to Nippers on the weekend and helping shear sheep in school holidays, instead of spending their childhood first in the concrete jungle of Singapore, then in the dusty pollution of Jakarta, and now here, so far away from family. I try to never think of it.

Lucy and her family. Image: Supplied.

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Could she understand that when my mum calls me to tell me that she sobbed last night as she watched the news, seeing other families reuniting after internal borders have opened, I feel like every decision I have made in the last 21 years, which led me to be away from her, was wrong? 

Would she look at me strangely if I tell her that when I Zoom call with my sports coach twice a week, I ask her to leave her doors open, so I can hear the glorious sound of lorikeets making their early evening racket on the Gold Coast, music to my homesick ears as I do squats and lunges? 

What about if I explained that all the champagne and foie gras and Belgian chocolate in the world could never taste as good as eating freshly shelled prawns on my dad’s back deck, or a Queensland mango? 

I’m one of the lucky ones. Our first lockdown was Draconian, this second one is better. School has stayed open this time, so we are better off than my sister and brother in law stuck in LA, homeschooling my nephew and niece since February. 

Unlike others I know, my parents are fine, the health crisis which had me flying back to Australia last year thinking I had to say final goodbyes to my dad thankfully averted. We are healthy, our kids are happy, we have our jobs. Our life here - my life away from Australia - is good. Better than good. It’s wonderful. Interesting, exotic and never dull. It’s what I’ve chosen and I would never un-choose it. 

And yet - I feel such grief. I’m grieving the moments we are missing, the memories we should be making.  When my mum turned 70 this year, we managed to celebrate virtually thanks to wonderful family living near her. 

But I want to be there for Christmas. I want my kids to stir the Christmas wishes into the pudding, to eat their Nanny’s stuffing, to go fishing with my dad. I want warmth and love and beaches and carols by candlelight and easy laughter with people who knew all the previous versions of me. 

I want to go home. 

I look at the woman and smile again. 

"Oh, I try not to think about it too much."

What else could I possibly say? 

Lucy is an Australian expat married to a fabulous Frenchman and has three young children who were each born in different countries. She's an all or nothing girl, therefore most likely to be found either out training for another half marathon... or lazing around reading her third book this week. She is a gemmologist and diamond grader by profession, a total nerd, and likes to think of herself as a semi-professional dumpling and massage tester too.

Feature image: Supplied.

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