Self Care?

Self Care?

If you’ve ever navigated a crisis or stressful life event – a death or critical illness in the family, a colicky newborn baby, relationship breakdown, teenager going off the rails, Christmas with your in-laws – then chances are someone will have asked ‘what are you doing for Self Care? What are you doing for YOU?’

It’s a question that’s always made me panic. I usually mumble something about a nice glass of red and a good book. And hope they change the subject. I feel caught-out somehow, transported back to high school, lost for an answer to an easy question in front of the whole class. Back then I was ashamed because if I’d leant my times tables like everyone else I would have known the answer. Now I panic at the question about self care because I’m not really sure where to start.  I’ve forgotten what I like, what gives me a buzz. I’ve forgetten, basically, who I actually am.

If I take away who I am at work and who I am as a parent I’m left with an ill-focussed fuzzy grey outline of a person. If you squint you’ll see a vaguely left-wing blur, with random, scattered patches of clarity. I like cheese, for example. I like listening to This American Life. But you can’t build an identity around cheese and a podcast. At least not entirely.

I remember liking things when I was in my 20s – music, dancing, movies, authors. If someone had told 21-year old me to make sure I spent some time each day doing something I enjoyed I would have been able to think of plenty to do. And, frankly, would probably have been doing not much else anyway. I knew what I liked. I knew who I was.  I’ve been trying to conjur up the moment when that clarity of identity slipped away, but I can’t pin it. I just faded gradually, my edges blurred, my colours seeped out.

So I’m trying to remember myself. Colour myself back in.  I’m trying things out for size, to see if they’re part of who I am. I’m about a week in. Turns out I like sitting in cafés writing navel-gazing prose. I thought I might like dogs, but I don’t really. Although I’m quite fond of my own. I like roller skating. And playing the card game Exploding Kittens. I don’t like crime fiction. It’s not a long list yet, but its more than cheese and a podcast.

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Back to where you came from…

Back to where you came from…

Go back to where you came from! A favourite rallying cry of racists and rednecks. As a white, 2nd generation Australian I’ve never been the butt of it, but my mum, the daughter of refugees with odd accents and smelly cheese, heard it a fair bit.

So, as refugees pour into Europe, I retraced my grandmother’s refugee steps out of Europe. I found myself in the ruins of a grand old mansion in the hills of an obscure Eastern European country. Surrounded by distant cousins whose grannies had hunkered down when war struck, rather than grabbing a suitcase and making a dash for it like mine had.

Ruins of where we came from, Eastern Europe

Turns out the restlessness and the tendency to ditch where you come from that’s seen me turn my back on Australia for Asia and Europe for years at a time goes back generations. My grandmother’s parents saw the borders around their town being redrawn after WWI and sold up and left, before the new authorities could seize their lands. My grandmother was six when she chalked-up her first refugee claim. Her cousins all stayed and were shunted out of their grand houses into shabbier ones, then a generation later into even shabbier communist-era flats.
My grandmother grew up in a big European capital, among other faded former aristocratic families trying to keep up the veneer of glamour on shoestring budgets. When the fun of living in summer resorts in the mountains to escape Second World War bombings wore off she grabbed what she could carry, and, pregnant with my mother, she hit the road again. She chalked-up her second refugee claim and ended up on a boat bound for Sydney (Ottawa having lost the coin-toss.)
I’d grown up assuming she’d had to leave. But then I went back to where she came from. Right back, into the back blocks of the back blocks of Eastern Europe. And there were all these cousins – grandchildren of her cousins. And they were all still there. They’d survived just fine. Sure they had watched while each generation had been stripped of property by the state, or arrested for ‘agitating’. But they’d survived. My granny’s parents could have stayed. They would (probably) not have been killed or jailed or tortured. At least not much. So refugee claim number one: bunk.

Then I checked out the European capital she had fled, where her apartment was flattened by allied bombs. Again, distant cousins, all alive. None had happy memories of the post-WWII years and the communist rule that followed. But no torture, some persecution but nothing you could prove. No deaths. Refugee claim number two was just as bunk.

I look at people now, fleeing actual, proper, certain death. Making desperate dangerous journeys to Europe and Australia. If their grandkids go back to where they came from they’re not likely to find a lot of cousins who turned out just fine. It’s pretty confronting to realise my granny was, when I compare her to a woman escaping a war zone today, a pretty piss-weak refugee.

When her boat docked in Australia for the first time, locals came down to the jetty with fresh fruit for the kids on board. Shit, she got lucky.