That time my mom packed up and moved to the other side of the world
I’d say it took me about three months to fully adjust to the situation. For the first few weeks, it felt as if she was just on holiday. She left in October, and so it must’ve really hit home around Christmas when I realized she had no plans to make an unannounced return. She had no plans to return at all.
When your mother announces that she plans to move to the other side of the world, it comes as something of a shock. I must admit that my initial thoughts were something like err. . . sure, you are, closely followed by, wait, is she serious? and finally, OH MY GOD, SHE IS SERIOUS! It wasn’t an overly complex thought process. My mom had mentioned that she’d like to move abroad before. In fact, it had been a running dialogue since I was a teen. I just never thought she’d do it. I thought it was a pie-in-the-sky dream that she’d talk about forever, but never go through with in the end. From her perspective, I’d had plenty of warning. From my perspective, I’d had about five minutes because I’d ignored all the warning signs.
Then, it happened.
I knew it was happening, but it still felt strange when it finally did. There was a goodbye party and a table full of presents. There were emotional late-night phone calls and letters not to be opened until she got on the plane. I mean, everything was done ‘right’, but that didn’t make it any easier. When you’re a child (especially an only child like me), you assume that your parents will always be there, in your hometown, waiting for you at Christmas or Easter or whenever you just need a break from your real adult life. And my mom always was there. . . and then, she was somewhere else.
I should explain. I live in the UK. I grew up in the UK, as did my entire family. My mom now lives in Darwin, Australia. That’s quite a distance. In fact, it’s about as far away as she could have gone. To say we’ve maintained the same relationship since she left would be a lie. It’s not that her moving ruined our relationship. It didn’t. Instead, our relationship developed in new ways that I couldn’t have imagined when she was here in the UK. It might sound ridiculous, but I think we’re actually closer as a result of her moving. Obviously, were not close geographically, but her being so far away has meant that we truly value the time we get to talk to one another.
The time difference is always fun, of course. Darwin is eight hours ahead of the UK. That means that in the evenings, when mom decides to call me, it’s around lunch time for me. I work from home as a freelance writer and I’ve found that mom will often call when I’m in the middle of work. Despite the fact that I often have tight deadlines, I’ll always talk. If she were in the UK, I’d likely tell her to call me back later or I’d call her. You just can’t do that when the person is the other side of the world. So you just. . . drop everything and talk.
I went out there to visit her a year after she left. I was still completing my masters degree, but went out for a few weeks in the summer. Everything was somehow different. I remember thinking how strange it was that she existed in this other place, with this other life. In my head, she had disappeared from the face of the planet, but she hadn’t. Here she was existing in Australia, as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
The fact that she’d managed to successfully move her entire life to the middle of nowhere, baffled me. Her and her husband had a new group of friends, they spoke differently, they knew all about community halls rather than pubs, and they were fearless. I suppose going out there had been a fearless thing to do in the first place. Nothing seemed to worry them. They made jokes about black widow spiders and crocodiles. I spent the whole time checking the floor for any wildlife or creepy creatures, and they walked around completely carefree.
It’s not that I thought she wouldn’t survive out there. I knew she would. I think I was just surprised at how strong she seemed. She was doing it. She had an idea–an idea that seemed pretty insane if you ask most people–and she went with it. She made it work, and she made it look easy. She redefined her life at the age of 49 and managed to do exactly what she wanted to do all along.
When I returned to the UK, we called each other frequently for the first few weeks, but then it petered out into our previous routine. You can’t call someone in Australia every day. If you do, it means someone is having to talk in the early morning or late at night. We both have lives. We try to call each other every couple of weeks, sometimes every week, and that works.
The distance really hits me is when something awful or brilliant happens, though. You know when those big moments happen and you just have to call someone? Most people would call their mom. I can’t really do that. Despite everything, I know that she is there for me. She will try to help in any way she can, even if it means asking someone close to me to come help. I appreciate that. I really do.
When I tell people my mom lives in Australia, the usual question is, why didn’t I go with her? My life is not in Australia. My dad and the rest of my family live here. I live with my boyfriend and our cat (Harry). Moving so far away was never my dream. It was hers. I’ve had girls tell me that they could never live so far from their moms, but for us it works. We talk every couple of weeks, we send gifts on holidays. I’ve started celebrating the Australian Mother’s Day (in May), rather than the UK Mother’s Day (in March).
Having a relationship with my mom has never been easy. Her moving made me appreciate any time I do see or speak to her, even more than I did before. When a major change occurs, life doesn’t just stop. Nothing stops. Instead, you learn to adapt to the situation and redefine your relationship.
Charlotte Grainger is a freelance writer living in Sheffield, UK. She spends her free time watching the Gilmore Girls and playing with her kitten, Harry. She has a masters in creative writing from The University of Sheffield, and sometimes writes poetry, too.