So we're 3 months into our new life. It's a very different life to what we had before, in many ways so much better. But let me tell you something - when they say moving is one of the five most stressful things you can do in your life, they're not bloody wrong. Everyone asks how we're liking it, whether we miss the city. No we don't miss the city and yes we're liking it. Waking up every morning to the birdsong of Tui's in the trees, looking at at a vast body of shimmering water, taking the dog for a walk past horses and cows and letting him adventure off lead, looking out at an uninterrupted night sky before bed - all these things are magic and have definitely helped our stress levels.
What doesn't help them is the constant assault of new experiences - meeting new people, finding new places to buy your favourite foods, finding someone reputable to groom the dog, cut my hair... there's so many new things! It's like when you start a new job and you feel stupid because you don't know anything - that has been my constant experience for the last 12 weeks. And the school stuff! It's ridiculously overwhelming. Don't get me wrong, we are super happy with Sam's school. He's so much happier, the school is amazing - well resourced, incredibly switched on staff who actually seem to enjoy their jobs. And for the most part people have been lovely. But they're also quite set in their ways, maybe you could even use the word 'cliquey'? It's not that they're intentionally being rude. It's that they've all either grown up together, living their whole lives here, or they have gone through the parenting journey together from the beginning. They all know each other & each other's kids and they forget that new people don't know what the status quo is. We've met some awesome people and I think we'll eventually make good friends. But it's hard! And me being me, feeling anxious in many social situations, well, it's not a great combo. I'm constantly exhausted, my nerves feel raw and exposed and I always feel like I have to present my best self or people will judge my child and he'll be excluded and rejected. I know it's slightly irrational, I know that. But I desperately want Sam to be settled and happy here and being accepted is a massive part of that.
We've signed him up to three after school activities and for the most part, it's going well. But it does put the pressure on. We live 20 minutes from town, so the nights where his activity finishes at 5pm we're realistically not getting home until 5.30 and then it's a crunch to get through dinner and bedtime - it's actually very familiar to the pressure we had in Auckland, except that in Auckland we didn't have such a full schedule. But encouraging supporting him in these activities is a big part of settling into his new community and making friends. And the pay off is that the evenings we are home, like Fridays, we can have better quality family time. Nick likes to joke that he has a massive commute - down the stairs. So now we can fit in an activity or a family movie night because when he finishes work he's right there, no hour-long bike ride putting his life on the line to get home. The bonus family time is amazing and we're all enjoying it.
But it's kind of a backwards joke about his massive commute because our new lifestyle relies on Nick being available in Auckland for one week every month - a 3-hour journey to work! So that week that he's away and I'm single parenting can be very isolating. It doesn't just mean that I'm alone at night and doing the solo Mum gig, but it means that all the effort of fronting Sam's schedule and connections falls to me. We signed up for this, and we love most things about the lifestyle. In time, I'll probably enjoy the "me time". But right now, at the beginning, while everything is still so exhausting and overwhelming, I've found myself resenting his job. Which is crazy, because it's our sole income at the moment, and I'm super grateful they let him have this flexible working situation. But even when you know what you're getting yourself in for, the reality can be hard to deal with.
And you know what? That's ok. Some people might think I need to suck it up, put things in perspective, be grateful for what I have. The old me would have done this, would have beaten myself up for feeling negative thoughts when I'm getting what I want. But beating myself up is not what I do now. Instead I tell myself it's ok to feel this way. Acceptance. Embracing the stress. It's definitely a healthier approach. It doesn't make the stress better but it makes easier to deal with myself and to continue putting my best foot forward every day,
So what have I learnt about this experience? Well, for a start, we all know change is hard. And changing the city you live in is bloody hard. And all the good things, they might outweigh the negative, but it's still ok to embrace how hard a stressful situation is, to feel those negative emotions. By accepting and experiencing the stress, rather than suppressing it, squeezing it in a little box because of what you feel you "should" be feeling, it allows you to be kind to yourself. And really, if you're not kind to yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?
We moved for a better lifestyle and we got it. But we got other stresses, you can never escape them. So the only thing you can do is embrace them. Be grateful for the good things and acknowledge and accept the bad things because if there's one thing you can expect in life, it's that there's always going to be something to stress about.
I was reading in an article recently about how stress makes you stronger. You stress your muscles, they grow. You stress your mind, you get smarter. You stress your emotions, you build resilience. These are things that I believe to be true, and I've seen evidence of them working in my own life. My body, mind and "soul" (or whatever you want to call it) are stronger for the experiences I've had over the past 6 years. These days I go into high pressure situations more confident, and usually come out the back of them more calm and having achieved (more or less) what I wanted out of it.
I sound pretty put together, right? But that's me now. Try me 2-3 months ago, or even a few weeks ago (hell, even a few moments ago) and it could have been a totally different story. Like, a story about a nervous, anxious, angry, tense wreck called Nick. Because this is the thing I have learned about stress and resilience - you might get stronger, your limits might extend, but once you reach those limits and try to push them further, it feels pretty much the same in the moment as the last time you did it. Pain, fear, self-doubt, constant worrying. If you've learned the tools (and you have the wits about you enough to use them), you can put these things into perspective (I think Annamarie has done that beautifully in her writing above). But you still have to feel the stuff. You lift the weight, your arms still hurt. You're thinking hard, you will probably still furrow your brow.
That has been my experience of the past few months - high stress, high risk, high uncertainty, high stakes decisions on a regular basis, while trying to settle into a new community, new home, new job, new working location and rhythm, new team, you get the idea. There is very little continuity and certainty to cling to. We know that's all part of it, that it's what we signed up for - and we know we are heading in the right direction for our family, and I guess that is what is helping us get through it. As my ever-insightful wife says, there is always going to be stress, but the "why" is what defines whether you can deal with it or not. Stress sucks in the moment, but it's useful if it is in service of a positive goal.
I am ready for a break from stress. I am looking forward to getting through the last few months of this year, settling ourselves in and having a good old kiwi Christmas holiday. But I know that, once we've gotten past that, we will probably going to tackle another big challenge next year (my wife knows this, and has already sent me a link to a local triathlon...). And so, I am grateful. Grateful for the stress, grateful that I am privileged enough to get a break from it, and grateful that I have an amazing family to share the ups and the downs with. When it comes down to it, life is pretty awesome really.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.