Almost 50 years ago, a young Croatian man set off on a journey to Australia. He found a job as an electrician, and sent for his young Serbian wife and two children to follow him into the unknown. Reluctantly and somewhat against her will, the young woman eventually obeyed. Bitterness, isolation, disappointment, fear, awkwardness, the feeling of being out of place in a foreign land, having to abandon two young children to work long hours in a factory for 17 years, sacrifice, loss of family and familiarity, loss of companionship and hope. The two boys grew up quickly, having to fend for themselves and get themselves to school and back every day.
The eldest boy was determined, driven and resilient. Despite his father criticising his every decision, refusing to visit his soccer games because he didn’t get into the first division, he made his own way, becoming an electrical engineer and finding faith at university (another decision harshly condemned by his family). He then met my mother on a snow trip and they had a whirlwind romance and soon were married. Two years later, I was born.
We went to visit Baba and Deda this week in Sydney. It was Hudson’s first plane trip and Eli’s first that he will remember. The travel was exhausting but not beyond expectation, and the kids did pretty well considering the 3:30am start. The exhausting part was, ironically, the relationships and interactions when we arrived.
I always steel myself going there, knowing it will be difficult, but I was again taken by surprise. Baba hands out well-meaning, but emphatic advice that usually is repeated until accepted. Deda tends to ignore you until he had something critical to say.
It didn’t take long for the first shot to be fired. The topic: Hudson’s failure to walk. Apparently I am picking him up too much and not forcing him to stand enough. Never thought I would be accused of being a doting mother, the kid weighs a ton and is only picked up when absolutely necessary for this reason! But Deda’s version of reality is hard to argue against when it is derived predominantly from Everybody Loves Raymond, The Golden Girls and the Spaghetti Western- Bonanza. Nevertheless, I hot headedly took the bait and was rewarded by being promptly talked over.
The next day we were informed that we are lax parents with Eli and he never listens to us. It’s not just us, though, we were reassured, kids these days are all the same. In their day, their children never thought to disobey or talk back, or need toys for stimulation. They just sat like robots and only spoke politely when spoken to. In fact, when 8 year old Barney and 5 year old Drago escaped one weekend and broke into the school library to read books, the police caught them and Deda yelled at them and they never did that again. Point proven.
Looking back now I’m not even sure why these illogical criticisms hit close to home. Apart from the fact that I am a people pleaser and it is absolutely impossible to please them, that being a mum is my only job now, and I’m used to only getting positive feedback with my work; and maybe that all sense of reality is completely warped when you are there.
I also realized that I am actually a lot like Deda, and my flaws, carried out to the extreme, look like his life: bitter, isolated, defensive, angry and unhappy. Guess it never feels comfortable looking in an unflattering looking glass.
In other news, we did have a good family time in Cabramatta, and a reunion with my uncle and cousins. Eli loved playing soccer and with the sprinkler and the Mercedes remote control car there. And, despite my firm resolve not to go on a plane with kids again unless absolutely necessary, the travel part actually went pretty smoothly.
Now, to have a holiday to recover from that holiday.