After 6 deliciously relaxing days away at the coast en famille, I am feeling ever so grateful that we have been able to do this. It’s back to reality today, Chab at work, the girls at school, and me, mercifully, not back at work just yet. I have time to help us all settle back in gently, shouldering some of the washing/tidying/unpacking and generally ‘reorganising our life’ load with Chab. At times like these I appreciate being a part time shift worker more than ever.
It was a fantastic little break. We’ve spent a lot of money on holidays but none like this one, with good reason. Chab and I met in France back in November 2009 and married in something of a pregnant hurry barely 6 months later. Apparently little Phemie couldn’t wait for life to begin and I couldn’t wait to be made an ‘honest woman’ of, so a wedding it had to be.
Fortunately it’s all turned out pretty amazingly, but it was a difficult start in many ways. I didn’t even have time to meet his family, who were all home in Chab’s native Algeria. They gave us their blessing regardless of the unorthodox circumstances. I have never forgotten that act of unconditional love for us both, and sign of unwavering respect for their son’s (and brother’s) decisions. I only hope that I have proven myself worthy of their love, and that gaining an Australian daughter (and sister)-in-law and our two gorgeous girls has eased the pain of losing Chabane to the other side of the world.
Family is important. To Chab, and to me. We tell the girls often that there is nothing more important than family, and kindness. I know they hear us. I know they love their little family here and their very large family in Algeria. Since our wedding we have visited Chab’s home no less than 6 times, and brought his mother and one of his sisters over for a few months to be with us before, during and after the birth of Reina in 2014. Okay, not so much during Reina’s birth, but you get the idea.
Financially, it takes a considerable amount of planning and consistent sacrifice and saving to do this. It also requires all of our annual leave to be taken in large chunks, but it is an absolute non-negotiable, as much for me as for Chab. It has to be done, and we love to do it, because we love Chab’s family and we love our girls. They must know they are only half Australian, and blessed to belong to an entirely separate, rich, wonderful ethnic and cultural heritage. They are very lucky girls in so many ways.
I don’t expect them to understand this. Not really. Not yet. But that doesn’t stop me having moments every day where I want to scream at them to have a little more gratitude and show a little more appreciation for all they have, and for all we do for them. Full disclosure, I do exactly that at least once a week. I find myself in a tangle of frustration, irritation and incredulity that nothing I do seems to be enough. I can say yes to 10 things but the first no they encounter seems to wipe the yeses from their memory and I am just the worst mother ever, who “never says yes” and “always says no” and “never has time”. I feel hurt and angry and at times I let it overwhelm me. But this holiday helped me understand that they cannot understand or express gratitude in the way I expect them to.
How can they? They are 9 and 6, and all they have ever known is abundance and love. We are not wealthy, but they want for nothing. They do not get every latest toy or gadget or device, but they have everything they need and much more. We have a comfortable home and they have always lived in quiet, safe, peaceful areas. They have parents who love each other and wrap them up in warmth, love and support. Of course our lives are busy but we are involved and engaged in their development and we are attentive, when we can be.
For them, this life is just normal, average and unremarkable, because it is theirs. While Chab and I were admiring the panoramic ocean views from the holiday unit, marvelling at the beauty around us and the luxury of down time all together to just be and enjoy, the girls started complaining about some ridiculous thing. It was probably food related. “These girls appreciate nothing,” was the angry refrain. “Do you want to work and save up $2000 to come here and spend this time together?” I growled.
Suddenly I heard myself and felt rather silly. I realised that they could not possibly understand this, and expecting them to was unreasonable, unfair, and futile. They’re just kids enjoying their rather happy, easy lives. In the same moment I understood that I am being triggered by a perceived lack of gratitude and reacting so strongly because I was scolded many times as a child for being “ungrateful”.
Looking back, I don’t think I was actually ungrateful. I know I appreciated my life and my parents, but I don’t think I expressed it in a way that they could recognise it for what it was. My life was happy and easy and I didn’t know any different. At that young age, I just hadn’t seen enough, lived enough, or matured enough for true, deeply felt gratitude to take root in my heart. But it did eventually, and I know that in time, it will come to grow in the hearts of our girls, too.
In the meantime, I will keep loving them as best I can and give their still very young, ungrateful selves a break. They may not know true gratitude yet, but they are perfectly wonderful human beings, who love their family, and are also doing the best they can.