By ELLY VARRENTI
Three years ago I moved to Castlemaine, a large regional town 90 minutes from Melbourne. I did the tree-change thing, even though I’d always hated the country. But I wanted our son to live in the same town as his father for the first time since he was 5 months old. His father wanted it too.
I’ve lived in over 30 houses in Melbourne but have never actually lived outside the town where I was born. I wonder if when we travel we become more of who we are or less? Do we become more like our real selves or do we invent a different self to suit the place? I was ready for a shot at personal reinvention.
My ex said that one of the reasons he left was because I didn’t want to live in the country. I did change my mind at the last minute but it was too late by then; he’d already bought a new bed and moved out. He found a nice country house to live in a few months later.
Then he wanted his son to stay with him a couple nights a week. So I handed him over. I say ‘handed him over’ as if it were a form of capitulation, some kind of surrender. But he was as much his father’s child as he was mine and I had post-natal depression at the time so wasn’t in great shape.
I thought his father was more reliable, consistent and, yes, a better parent than I was back then. Not now, though. Not today. But ever since, I’ve never really felt like I have fully regained my good-parenting creds. My ex is uber-critical. Our son calls his stepmother ‘Mum’ too. I feel superfluous sometimes, like some kind of an interloper.
In the early days in my new town I’d be surprised to overhear my ex ordering a coffee at one of the local cafes. I used to love his North German accent- sexy and arrogant at the same time. Now it just sounds arrogant. Now when I see that little thing he does with his left hand I used to find so endearing, I am miffed it’s what our son does with his hand too. My son has his father’s mouth and hair.
Do all parents feel a bit jealous if their offspring looks more like the ex?
Our first year in the country was a bit of a novelty; we were novelties. We made new friends and lived in a lovely weatherboard house with a wrap-around veranda and a yard big enough to set up soccer goals.
I still need to stay in the city 3 days a week for work but at least now our son’s weekly commuting days are over. Now if he forgets something, it’s a 5-minute bike ride not 90min by car. These days my 10-year-old and I are both living double lives; managing two houses, two sets of clothes and two bedside tables. He appears to be doing quite well at it. He has lived in 2 homes all his life after all. I still need more practice.
Two years ago my little sister took her own life. She was 42: smart, compassionate, funny and beautiful. She had a mental illness. She left an 18-month-old son. She left mum and me. And dad and her half-brother. She left her friends and her patients.
The grief will never go away. But I will learn to live with it, they say.
Six months ago Mum and my sister’s son moved to Castlemaine too. So now it’s not just me co-parenting with varying degrees of efficacy, contentment (and dignity), but my mother is co-parenting in the country too.