Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Me with four of my favourite people in the universe*
This is the question I’ve been chewing on most recently: is a spouse the most valuable relationship one can have? Is this an idea I’ve explicitly heard, or is it something merely insinuated by weddings, along with Hollywood, fairy tales, love songs, advertising, and pretty much all the things apart from experience? I’m pretty sure the answer to my original question is no, but it feels odd to say it.

I find it fascinating that I never kept track of the dates on which I met my oldest, dearest friends. Why are there no cultural traditions for us to celebrate our commitment to each other? One friend, for example, has stuck by me through the many transitions from self-centred-teenager me to serious-relationship me to super-Christian me to the generally confused person I am today. During our university days, she endured squillions of back-to-back 19-minute phone conversations with me (we had to hang up before 20 minutes so we wouldn’t have to pay for the call – THANKS, OPTUS!), and there’ve been countless hours of uninterrupted talking since then. Throughout all of it she’s listened and made me cry-laugh and been (sometimes brutally) honest with me, and I’ve never dreamed of a future without her, which is more than I can say for my husband. Where’s our celebration? She and I had been close for seven years by the time I was married, and we’d known each other for even longer than that, but my two-and-a-half year relationship with Alan was the thing I threw a party for instead. 

I love Alan with all my heart, but he’s not my only best friend (I love at least a couple of the others with all my heart, too, as well as my kids). There are things about me Alan understands that no one else ever will, and there are things my girlfriends understand about me that Alan never could. My relationship with him is different to others I enjoy, for sure, but, after mulling over this for the past week or so, I can’t say it’s measurably better than them. Nor can I see why it should be.

I wish there were more ceremonies or rituals that celebrated platonic relationships. I have a terrible feeling we’ve all been duped into thinking it’s only the romantic ones worth paying any attention to. 


* Thanks to Sonia Byrnes, another of my oldest and dearest friends, for this photo. I love it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Moving. Again.

from here

We’re moving again. I don’t want to; I love our house (even the blue walls) and have spent the last year or so daydreaming about living here forever. But Mo’s school’s changing in a way we’re no longer on board with, and so we had to decide: do we send him to the public school around the corner and stay in this house, or do we move him (and Hazel) to the Montessori school in Wollongong, where our questions about high school will also be answered and we’ll (finally) make it out of Sydney? (We went with the latter option. In case you’d forgotten how this post started.) 

So now we’re looking at potential places to rent, while also wondering whether we could/should buy. Alan’s keen to buy, whereas I’d prefer to rent; Alan’s work benefits from the property boom which means that affordable house prices negatively correlate with him having an income, and I worry about what would happen if we were to buy not long before the “bubble” burst, and we suddenly found ourselves with no work and a colossal debt. Alan’s motto in this situation (and all situations, honestly) is “Everything will work out FINE,” whereas mine is consistently “This will probably be disastrous and lead to homelessness/bankruptcy/death/all of the above, though not necessarily in that order.” These were our exact approaches to the Alan-starting-his-own-business idea, and he was right that time; does that mean I should trust him now, or that it’s my turn to be right? (I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.)

All of these decisions have forced us to examine our values and desires for both the kids’ education and the place in which we’ll live. Fortunately, we’re completely aligned when it comes to schooling: the Montessori philosophy fits very well with our parenting philosophy. It encourages kids to be responsible for their own learning and fosters independence, it values cooperation rather than competition, it’s hands-on, it avoids extrinsic motivators like stars or certificates (things like effort and kindness are a given rather than an out-of-the-ordinary achievement to be rewarded), and the make-up of the classes have kids of different ages working together and looking out for and respecting one another. Students move freely around their classrooms, working individually or in groups throughout the day, so there’s always a low buzz of activity in the room, with some snacking and some reading and some chatting with the teacher; it sounds like it should be chaotic, but instead it’s mysteriously calm and quiet. There’s no homework, because a holistic education is seen to involve regular life activities - playing and helping with dinner, for example - as well as learning how to work with letters and numbers. We LOVE it.

When it comes to ideas about the place we’ll live in, however, Alan and I part ways. Alan’s big on things like views and the look of the house, both inside and out, whereas I’m big on things like the placement of the washing line and the practicalities of the layout. Alan will forgive a poky kitchen and dark office if he can see the ocean from the balcony; I’d rather drive to the beach if it means our money’s spent instead on light, proverbial-cat-swingability, and the existence of an obvious corner we could dedicate to Lego-building. Alan writes off potential house options based on their lack of cupboards and storage space, while I write off potential house options based purely on the sound of the address (“Ian Bruce Drive? Too blokey. Next!”). We are each a frustrating mix of silly and sensible. Figuring out what’s essential versus what can be compromised would be fascinating at any other time, but for now it’s just stressful; we’d like to have moved by the time term 3 starts (mid-July), and time is passing awfully quickly.

My friend got married in Melbourne on a Saturday at the beginning of June, we returned home the next day, then I had two exams over the Monday and Tuesday. I’d told myself that with those four days out of the way, things would settle down and cruise along boringly for a while (I long for boring), but the end of exams actually meant I finally had the brain space to deal with the school/moving issues, and now I see that once they’re resolved we’ll face the actual move, and then there’ll be a settling-in period. I was hanging out for the start of June to be over; now I’m now hanging out for September. Hopefully September will be boring.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Surnames #3

from here

My new birth certificate arrived today; my surname change is official. The forms I had to submit a couple of weeks ago asked my reason for changing my name, and I’d hurriedly scrawled something about sexism while sitting in Service NSW and waiting for my number to be called; I had no idea if my reason would be deemed acceptable by whoever it is that judges such things, or what would happen if my request was rejected. Sending my birth certificate off to be destroyed felt particularly scary. As usual, though, the time I spent preparing for every possible negative outcome was wasted: this afternoon I saw my new name printed on my new birth certificate, and breathed a sigh of relief.

The day after writing my last post, I started the name-choosing process by searching for the maiden names of women on my mother’s side of my family tree. I ended up at Stevens (although I’m not entirely sure this woman is actually related to me; genealogy research is like a maze for which I had only the first few steps of a map; it’s quite possible I took a wrong turn after my grandmother’s tips ran out. I came to a dead end at Stevens, which I assume means that a) the internet’s records end sometime around the mid-1800s, b) I did something wrong, or c) my great-great-great grandmother was immaculately conceived. I haven’t ruled out any of these possibilities). Choosing a man’s name as a surname seemed antithetical to the point of my project, and I didn’t love the surnames of closer (less great) grandmothers (cool as they were; Moment was one of them), so I gave up on the genealogy idea. The fact that I could find so much information simply by signing up to the one website reassured me that future generations would most likely have zero problems figuring out to whom I was related no matter what name I eventually chose.

Next, I read through lengthy lists of surnames on various sites, many of which turned out to have been compiled for writers wanting names for their characters (Dragonslayer is awesome, but not really what I had in mind). These searches were helpful: from them I added a couple of options to my list, and quickly saw how many surnames have maleness wrapped up in them, including, I was very sad to discover, those beginning with my favourite surname prefix: “Mc” (or “Mac”) apparently means “son.” I unhappily crossed off a few possibilities after finding out that disappointing piece of information. Poring over lists reminded me of the hours spent reading through names in books when thinking of what to call my children; choosing a surname is almost as fun as naming a baby, but I was surprised by the difference: surnames feel as though they have far more history attached to them, and the idea of taking on someone else’s felt strange. 

Having realised this, I briefly tossed up verbs I could use as a surname, à la Cheryl Strayed, but Woke was the least wanky of a very small bunch, and even it was far too wanky. Eventually I read Alan my shortlist of random surname-sounding words I liked the sound of, and together we culled Bell, Rose, Ocean, Black, and Wild (“But you’re not…,” he said, which I’ve just realised may have been an insult). The last word/potential name I read out was Grey, at which Alan perked up. I’ve loved the name for a long time (it’s made the list for both children), and Alan pointed out that it paid tribute to the non-black-and-white ways in which I’d begun to see the world, which instantly decided it for me (along with the fact that it suited both Hazel’s and my names).

We’ve talked with the kids about the name change; Hazel couldn’t care less, whereas Moses seemed unsure at first but accepted the decision after a brief chat on the way to school about the insidious nature of patriarchy. And Alan’s already started trying it out on me: while I was making school lunches last week he came up behind me and slipped his arms around my waist, saying, “Good morning, Ms Grey.” (Motherhood: hearing the sexiest thing ever while spreading Vegemite on sandwiches.) So now the fun starts: letting the rest of the world – particularly those in charge of the many (MANY! [horrified-face emoji]) various accounts I’m linked to – know my new name. On the upside, it’ll be a teeny bit easier to prove who I am now that I’ll need just my birth certificate to present for identification, rather than the birth-and-marriage-certificate combination I’ve had to show/certify to accompany every important form I’ve filled out over the last 9-and-a-half years. (Admittedly this will save minutes rather than hours of my time in future, but I’ll take simplicity wherever I can find it.)

On the even-further-upside, once this giant pile of paperwork has been surmounted, my name will match my beliefs and my identity will be one I’ve chosen for myself, both of which will make whatever administrative challenges I face completely worth it. 

Watch out, world.


Ms Grey