I came with very few hopes and expectations.
Those have been dashed long ago on the cliffs of other years, other places, other dreams.
I just wanted to be pragmatic:
If this place was okay for us, we might stay. If it didn’t work out, that’s fine too, and we’d have another adventure. At least I wouldn’t feel stuck anymore.
I had to, otherwise the vice grip of Needing To Make The Right Decision For The Rest Of My Life would have held me hostage.
It was a Saturday afternoon by the time we drove down from the green leaved hinterlands towards the sea.
We cut through swathes of sugar cane peppered with palm trees: the foliage of my childhood.
The air is sweet, the mountains those old volcanic mounds, now plump with life. All of it so deeply familiar.
The incessant, vivid relief. This land that is my not my birth place, but so very close in all the ways I adore.
I didn’t know how much I needed this, until I went grey and lifeless without it.
Through the sugar cane, and out onto the coastal plains loaded with gums and wattles. Down a dirt track to the AirBnB bush cottage we are staying in while we wait for our furniture to arrive.
It is rainforested, just like our old acreage in Kuranda used to be. That acreage had been our dream come true, but it was in the wrong place for us. And we’d had to give it up, let it go, and wrestle with the loss of it since.
And here we were, back again, on a rainforested acreage, pulling up at the sweetest wooden shack. A scrub turkey runs in front of us and we shriek TURKEY DURKEY! We have missed them so dearly, our odd, ridiculous, glorious friends. Our acreage had come with free pets – scrub turkeys and pademelons and Ulysses butterflies as big as my hand and guinea fowl and lace monitor lizards and all the birds in the world, the kookaburras and the catbirds and the curlews and the kingfishers and the fruit doves and that one strange bird that flew to my husband’s shoulder and refused to leave. It had been painfully hard to leave them, to leave those friends. It was a wild life, glorious in its wildness, and we’ve struggled with its loss ever since. But here was one rediscovered friend, and I’ve never been more excited to see that extraordinary fan of a tail.
We tumbled out, and settled in, barefoot of course.
We had been worrying about her before then. Worried that she was losing her joy, her spark, her light. She began sighing, and telling us she felt glum.
My husband and I both were raised in childhoods full of wild. He spent his tramping around army camps, cracking frozen rivers in Tasmania and hiking up boulder-soaked mountains in the Hunter Valley. I’d spent mine on a cattle farm in the Whitsundays, riding horses bareback in rivers, befriending wild cats, building elaborate mud constructions in the lake. It was our connection to nature that saved us in many ways when our childhoods were painful, confusing, sad, broken. That deeply, mystical love of earth has sustained us through our lives, the thread so strong it carries on.
And we wanted the same for our kids.
We wanted our children to have wild lives. With a deep, close connection with nature, an abiding love of Mother Earth that would carry them through for the rest of their life.
We’d experienced that kind of wildness before when we had our acreage, and noticed the shift in our kids and in US when we moved to the colder city. We became insular, enclosed, cut off, cautious, miserable. We started living in our heads instead of our bodies and hearts.
What’s more, we worried about both of our girls. Our bush kids were becoming city kids. They didn’t want to play in the backyard, they were becoming increasingly afraid of nature. It was a constant struggle to get them outside for even the smallest amounts of times. We feared they were losing their inner wild child, afraid they would grow up bereft of that wild spirit. And of course so many can thrive and connect with Earth in places like that. But we couldn’t and we didn’t need to.
It was bloody hard to make the decision to move again, and I judged and doubted myself fiercely. But the longing was too much. We had to leap again. And so we did.
Here we are.
We took them to the ocean, they were timid and locked up. They stayed beside us tightly, had freak outs walking through the dune scrub. My youngest at first refused the whole experience, declaring that she hated the beach. They tentatively splashed, and both of them cried because they got water in their eyes. My kids had become city kids, and they were fish out of water.
I looked at my husband with worried eyes and he said “Don’t worry, give it time.”
We move into our new house. We bought a little suburban house as a hub to find our feet, our little nook along the coast. Eventually we might buy an acreage again.
We begin the process of settling in, finding ourselves, and our way, and our place in this place.
It’s been two months.
How are we settling in?
Here’s my notes:
First up: homeschooling.
I’ll be honest with you. I was starting to lose my joy for it before. I felt too isolated, too much like I had to do it all on my own. I tried connecting in with other homeschoolers in Canberra. There were some lovely peeps, but it didn’t feel like enough.
Once we arrived, I started connecting in with other homeschoolers. And discovering just how much magic there was here, how vivid and wide and HUGE the homeschool community is here.
There are homeschool classes and meetups and co-ops out the wazoo. We could be triply booked every hour of every day and still have more things to do. There’s Forest School and Beach School and Garden School and all the educational possibilities under the sun. Equine therapy, art, music, gymnastics, yoga, science, robotics, drones… not to mention all the run of the mill classes. We do more classes/meetups here in a week than we did in 18 months in Canberra.
It’s fascinating because population-wise, Canberra and Sunshine Coast have a similar population (the Coast just has the population more spread out), but the homeschooling community would be at least 5x larger. And it is active as fuck (that’s the scientific term for it I believe). And the homeschooling community follow the same educational ethos as we do of eclectic, project-based, vaguely unschoolish learning (not strict curriculum followers or overtly religious). And the peeps are similar to us… hippy-ish types who aren’t into drugs. It’s bloody easy to make friends (both for mamas and kids!)
Take this week for example:
We went out to an acreage in the rainforest for a Book Week-themed homeschool co-op. The kids played in this incredible play area with all the other homeschooler kids of all ages. We traipsed down to let the ducks out and collect and examine duck eggs, and ate wild raspberries and peaches from the orchard, and the orchard owner taught us about the varieties of plants they grow and how they grow best. I read books rambunctiously in a stupid cardboard hat that I loved and the kids loved. Afterwards, the kids went and wrote and illustrated their own books. And then they made tents and lean-tos with bamboo. And all this incredible learning happened across all “school subjects” and it was so much damn fun for all of us.
Then we’re off to a homeschooling co-op where we drop them off for a few hours, and they do English and Geography and Science and Art explorations in a big garden with more friends.
We went to the beach (always the best place for P.E., geography and biology learning!)
My kids also had a private swim class with one of their co-op tutors.
And today we had an awesome family day where we went to The Ginger Factory, and went on this amazing themed boat ride that takes you around the world through puppets and it was the best Geography lesson I’ve ever taken. Came home, decorated our own gingerbread women and the kids decided to do a scavenger hunt with binoculars to see what wildlife they can find in their backyard. Then some worksheets and both the kids wanted to do twice the amount I asked them to do. And now they are doing some gaming with their Padre (they learned some Spanish and decided that’s what they call their Daddy-o now and it’s hilarious and we are going with it).
All in all, weeks are full and glorious and I feel totally saturated with love for this homeschooling community and its connections and possibilities.
Can you tell I’m excited? FUCK I AM EXCITED.
Can you tell I’m relieved? FUCK I AM RELIEVED.
Honestly, I was struggling with homeschooling by the end of last year. I felt isolated, and alone. We were so close to going back to Canberra’s Steiner school, but decided not to as that particular school no longer felt like the right fit for us anymore. I started looking around at other schools in Canberra, but none of them felt like they were the right fit either. We started feeling really bloody stuck.
By moving here, we wanted to give ourselves all the educational possibilities under the sun. We knew the homeschooling community was more active here, and we figured we’d try it out here for a while, and if we needed to do a return to school, there were loads of schooling options here in terms of alternative and independent schools.
Now that we’re here, I realise that this was a huge piece of the homeschooling puzzle that was missing for us. We have so many friends and activities now. My husband said to me a few weeks ago: “I don’t even know if the kids could go back to school now… they are too busy!”
It feels incredibly scrumptious. I am so grateful that we’ve found such a glorious nook for homeschoolers. I knew it would be more active, but I had no idea just how glorious it would be.
And I don’t know how I could leave now… I think I would be hard pressed finding a homeschooling community like this one in Australia.
So that’s homeschooling. What else?
We left an alpine city that spends about 8 months of the year in Winter.
Now we are in the sub-tropics, where even in the depths of Winter, my kids can rum amok in the backyard with water pistols and togs on. (Togs, by the way, is Queenslander language for swimming costumes. TOGS! It’s short, it’s useful, it feels great to say, it gets the job done. TOGS! Take it, use it, spread it! TOGS!)
Me and my husband are both tropics-loving creatures, so the relief we feel is IMMENSE.
Sunlight! On my shoulders! Makes me happy! Like I should be!
I didn’t realise how much I needed this, how deficit my eyes were, craving colour.
I didn’t know how much I needed the tropics, how much I was hungry for those deep blue skies and vivid greens bursting with chlorophyll. All I knew was that I was starting to fade into grey, that my husband looked at me kindly and said “you’ve been losing your spark more and more, and I don’t know what to do without that spark of yours, so I think I need to take you home.”
And home isn’t a place we’ve lived before but it’s a state and it’s an ocean and sugar cane and farms and wide swathes of land. And mostly it’s these colours, the turquoise and lime, an earth radiating with energy and life.
And I got here, and my eyes are full, and my heart is filling up too. And all the beauty comes into me and wants to come out as art and the watercolours and ink got dusted off. I didn’t know my joy and my art was so intrinsically tied to these colours of the land, to the ocean, to this sunlight.
But now I do know. I’m going to hold onto that knowing so tightly. The knowledge of what I need to thrive.
Some stories of days I’ve had here.
Magic days, so full of life and love and beauty they have filled my dusty, bare cup.
Me + Jodles, instant basket weaving BFFs
The first: one of those magical days of synchronicity and instant friendship clicking into place.
We went to a basket weaving workshop this morning, as we hippies are apt to do.
We pulled up in the carpark beside another car. I smiled and said hello to the other mother, and she did a double take and asked me if I was Leonie. She’s been reading my blog for ten years (!!!!) and I liked the cut of her jib so I declared us instant BFFs. We shared pregnancies with both our kids and spent the rest of the morning gasbagging and discovering all our other synchronicities while our kids ran wild in the amazing garden.
Fuck all basket weaving was done, but the weaving of connection and community and conversation.
We didn’t want the day to end so we convoyed over to an outdoor cafe to eat while the children roamed and played and adopted another kid into their merry band.
We didn’t get home until the end of the day, all of us muddy and smile-strewn.
What a happy, full heart I have. It’s been too long since a day like that happened. I’m so glad the rain has arrived and is drenching my life with such succulence.
The second: where adventure flows into the next.
Go to the park and beach with my dearest darling Kel who was visiting from Kuranda. She was my closest friend while I was there, and was also one of my biggest supports while I had hyperemesis gravidarum and was even there as my acupuncturist/doula for Beth’s birth. I adore her sage counsel, her hilarious humour, her huge heart and how she lives her life. Our daughters were sweet friends during that time, and it was pure magic to see them reconnect again, romping in the sand and sea and sun like the wild blooming homeschoolers they are.
And then we were off to a homeschool photos day held on a magic farm nearby, with the most incredible handcrafted building.
On the way home I realised we were driving past my lovely friend Nadine’s place so we pulled over to say hello and help feed the horses and alpacas their dinner.
Then we drove home into the night, moon brimming and sugar cane fires burning, the air smelling so very sweet.
Gladness soaking my very bones.
I feel so very, very lucky.
The third: we drive down to visit our basket weaving BFFs.
Spoiler alert: the hastily-declared BFF prophecy is coming true.
We are thick as thieves, and our identically-aged/looking children are too.
The kids make art and LEGO and do science experiments and show each other their favourite books and play in the sun and make all manner of plans. And we drink tea and have chocolate cake and there’s a million moments I’m healed as a homeschooling mama and a heart in those conversations. We go for a walk around a warm sea lake, and clamber out onto a fallen tree. And I’m standing out there, watching my kids so alive and bright in the mud and the salt and the eucalypt, and all the beauty around me.
And I realise this:
I know why I was so sad before now. I was missing this life.
Somehow my heart knew this life was out here, this alternate reality. And my heart was wrung with grief at its loss.
I had given up hope
of things ever being good again.
How good this is, how perfectly it fits us?
This is the sweetest, most delightful surprise.
Better than my highest hopes.
What a miracle.
This morning we went to the beach. It’s been two months since we arrived. The difference was profound. Our children, bare foot, whooping and running through the dunes. No longer timing. No longer holding back. Brave crested salt children leaping in the waves with glad hearts. Sandy and alive and at home. Wild children in the making, their spirits and bodies blooming.
So glad I didn’t give up on this need and value of mine for my children to grow up wild. So glad to have made the hard choice, the one that feels so very easy now.
Thank you for sharing this winding, wonderful journey with me.
I am so very grateful and blessed.
With love and turquoise turquoise turquoise everywhere,
P.S. I’m sitting in a little wooden cafe by the beach as I type this. They are playing my soul music: James Taylor and Paul Simon… even an independent album from some friends of friends in Canberra that I’ve always loved and have never heard in public, ever ever. They have tea in chipped cups and delicious lemon, coconut, meringue pie. I’m looking out over the trees. There is a labrador wandering around outside, greeting customers, being patted by the waitress. I think he’s the cafe dog.
This morning I found a journal entry from February. I was cold with fury, desolate with desperation.
I will never find the right place for us. I will never feel at home again. I have to give up on my dreams. I don’t know how I got so far off my path. I feel like I’ve made the biggest mistakes in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever feel happy with my life and where I live again.
I read it out to my husband as we sat outside, under a vivid blue sky, children running wild and free again amongst luminous green. Our life, so easy and joyous again.
And we laughed at how little we knew then, at how THIS was waiting for us.
I don’t know how we got so lost. But we’ve made it back.
And our pockets are full to brimming with even more lessons, and love.
We venture forward with all those things.
It was hard, but it was needed.
P.P.S. I’m never fucking leaving the tropics again. Ha!
If ya need me, I’ll be right here. Nestled in the blues and greens with these ones I love the most.