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How it Ends: The return, some lessons, some love letters

The Return

We've been back in the U.S. for about a week now, settling into our new time zone, season, and reality!

We're tremendously grateful to have had smooth and safe travels. We bid farewell to our apartment and neighborhood, had a final beach day, a tearful farewell with Joan, and then stayed at the Sydney airport before departing.
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Farewell apartment!

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Farewell beach!

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Farewell Auntie Joanie - love you!!

The upside of traveling internationally in a pandemic is the lack of crowds, lines, or waiting! But the scene at the Sydney airport was surreal. There were only about a dozen travelers in the international terminal.
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Oscar playing with his cars outside Sydney's international terminal

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The handful of international flights leaving Sydney the day we did...

Getting on the plane in Sydney was a weighty moment. Oscar was extremely upset about leaving, and it felt like crossing a point of no return because the borders to Australia remain quite firmly closed; even citizens are struggling to get home.

But, once the wheels were in motion, we just had to focus on staying safe and keeping the kids occupied. I have so much gratitude for the patient and gracious flight attendants who helped us settle in on the flight...and brought Justin and me two bottles of wine each.

There were probably about 20 people on our flight from Sydney to SFO.
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Cozy together en route to California

We arrived in San Francisco and spent a night at the airport. We were able to rest and meet up with a friend of mine from grad school for an outdoor / socially distanced walk and meal. It was quite special to see a familiar face as soon as we arrived back in the U.S.!
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I also was pleasantly surprised by the COVID protocols at the airport, hotel, and restaurant we visited; everything seemed quite well managed.
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We did not allow the kids out from under this plastic shield in the airport :)

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Super Dad

Our flight to Chicago was also sparsely populated (maybe about 1/3 full). We're now quarantining in a new home we've rented and are getting settled before starting work or seeing anyone.

Some Reflections

So this brings me to a little reflection on the last ~11 months. It has been difficult being far away from family and friends, but has also been among the happiest and most fulfilling times in my life.

I've learned...

...to be better at embracing uncertainty - 3 weeks before we landed in Sydney, we didn't have visas, flights, or a place to live. It all worked out quite well. Good practice for life with COVID!

...that every day of your life is your real life - Our situation in Australia certainly wasn't sustainable long term (I can't be on paid maternity leave forever!) But it was still real. Nothing made that more apparent than seeing our kids grow and change during our time there. Living a different reality, even if temporarily, made me more observant and present. That was such a gift.

...the joy of less stuff - For almost a year, we have lived with so much less - fewer clothes, books, toys, or other belongings. We saw Oscar be incredibly imaginative with what he had on hand, using toilet paper rolls as didgeridoos and cardboard boxes as ferry boats:) I am still reeling from the amount of things we had stored here in Chicago....time to de-clutter!

And now, some love letters...

Love letter #1: to Sydney and Australia

For this, I'll borrow form from one of the kids new favorite books (courtesy of Auntie Joanie)
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I love Australia because...

The people are so friendly... I have lived in some really wonderful neighborhoods, but I have never felt so much a part of a community as we did in Sydney. I just found people to be so open and unpretentious (despite many being quite cosmopolitan). This seems to play out at a macro level too - Australians were really rooting for each other through various ups and downs of COVID, e.g., drag queens and Bondi lifeguards showing up to welcome Melburnians on the first flights back to Sydney.

The natural environment is so extraordinary... it sounds hokey, but I feel as though the environment in Sydney (maybe all of Australia) gets under your skin. There is just something special about it. Australians talk about indigenous people as "traditional custodians of the land." Maybe there is something about it being so lovingly cared for through millennia. I already miss the way the gum trees look on the horizon, the distinctive bird calls, the many forms the water takes depending on the sky...

Civil society really seems to have its priorities in order... - COVID made apparent the benefits of investing in a coordinated health system. Australia also has an excellent and inexpensive higher education system. And excellent infrastructure (see previous posts re: public restrooms and BBQs). Also, fewer guns. Google just about any "quality of life" index or variant thereof, and Australia will be near the top.

BUT - I'm not naive about the challenges in Australia, among them...

...environmental degradation and reliance on extractive industries (though the government is investing in renewable energy).

...relationship with (/dependence on) China (a recent headline: Australia-China ties are at their lowest point in history, former ambassador says)

...racism and open wounds of European settlement. There are many indigenous people still alive today who were part of the "stolen generations" - indigenous children forcibly taken from their families...this continued to the 1970s! Much reconciliation has happened for indigenous Australians, but much remains to be done.

Love Letter #2: to my kids
In case you two ever read this all the way to the end one day: our time here was about so much, but for me above all it was about our family, the time I had with you, and our experiences together. I have written about meltdowns and low moments, but those are all just normal ways of being a little person in a big world, especially when your parents undertake big adventures. Know that you are amazing.

She'll be right
This expression, according to my expert sources, is a frequently used idiom in Australian and New Zealand culture that expresses the belief that "whatever is wrong will right itself with time" My American Survival Guide to Australia ended on this point, so it seems fitting for me to do so too. We are obviously returning to the U.S. at a time that is uncertain, but increasingly hopeful, so we'll trust that she'll be right!

Thanks for joining us on the journey, and thanks especially to those who welcomed us, befriended us, and supported us!

Posted by Bredwardz 18:38 Archived in Australia

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Comments

I've enjoyed reading every missive! Glad you are in your new home and catching your breath. Bienvenue Encore! Can't wait to see you in 2021! Raising a glass to adventures!
PS Thanks for the shout out to the United flight attendants...my people 😁

by Mary Brennan

Welcome back and happy new year! Loved reading your journey and glad you made it back to this crazy land safely! Can't wait to see you guys, whenever that may be :-)

by Ciara

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