[30] Then and Now: One Year On

A year? A whole year since we arrived on US soil, traumatised by a soul-scarring flight?

Of course, we were never entirely sure what life would be like here. Not knowing a single soul – literally no one – how the hell did we get a whole year ahead?

I was reading over my early posts and first impressions and decided that now would be as good an opportunity as any to reflect on the ‘then’ and check my thoughts on the ‘now’. It’s been an incredible journey. So much change has taken place. And given we set out on this adventure to learn, experience, and try something new, I figured that reflection upon such deserves a dedicated post, right?

In my very first blog, written a week before we left Australia, my mind was racing with questions*:

Will the kids pick up American accents?

Would there be a change of career for me?

Would life in the famed Silicon Valley be a technological journey into the future?

*Answers are yes/yes/no, in case you were wondering.

I also worried about a lot of things (guns, rental affordability, the orange-skinned President…). I still do. But today, on my one-year anniversary of arriving, here’s exactly where my head is at.

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Friends.

Friendships

As you’ll remember, I’ve written about friendships; the ones I’ve left behind and miss dearly, and the process of forging new ones:

I have always felt very lucky to carry with me friendships that represent my life’s journey: from school friends, to uni friends, to friends from every job I’ve ever had. Friends from netball, friends from Music and the City, and friends from every corner of the world in which I’ve lived. You may have read the love letter I wrote to my gorgeous mothers’ group back in Melbourne. If you did, you’ll know just how much my relationships with others mean to me. Support networks are my everything.

Back in December, I wrote home (to you, dear blog reader) that I’d finally made a friend here in Palo Alto. Well, that friendship has been a saving grace for my life here, nothing less…I frequently find myself saying to Cam that I feel so grateful and lucky to have met her! Not to mention the added bonus that our daughters are thick as thieves and get along super well, albeit noisily. I swear they’re the noisiest kids in the playground.

A year ago, I couldn’t fathom leaving my beautiful friends. I reasoned with myself that I’d done this before, and had managed to power on through. I’d moved to London. I’d made new friendships there. Deep, lasting friendships that weathered the distance. And I reminded myself that those new friendships hadn’t diminished those I’d formed back in Australia. A true friendship survives separation and infrequent contact. Moving back to Melbourne after six years in London was almost seamless. My friends, too, had travelled and lived interstate or abroad. They’d had major life changes and challenges. And our friendships were just as strong.

Travel, if anything, has strengthened every friendship I’ve ever had.

And so, back in December last year, I put myself out there and posted in a local Facebook group. I think you’ll remember the story.

So. Where am I at now?

Well, I’m happy to say, I’m in a good place! I actually just took my first new friends girls’ trip since arriving. In late September, I went away to Palm Springs with three girlfriends that one year go I hadn’t even met yet. And gosh, was it fabulous or what. It was truly the break that I (and they!) needed. A child-and-work-free long weekend in a mid-century desert oasis, complete with pampering, exploring, and amazing food.

And, as it turned out, a good dose of alone time.

And the girls I went with? One is the wonderful friend I wrote about in December:

Anyway, on the upside, I’ve met a couple of people. Yes, I’ve met some friends! There’s one in particular who’s been just fantastic, and in the most unexpected ways as well. For starters, we ‘met’ on Facebook. She’s originally English, was living in Sydney, and is now here in Palo Alto with her husband and two children. Mercifully, she appears to be of the same mindset to me and we’ve been able to talk childcare, shopping, coffee, kids, wine, travel etc., each little conversation going a way to helping me feel less alone in this huge period of change.

And the other two are friends I met on the night I organised drinks back in January, after posting to that local Facebook group!

These girls have been a terrific support to me. Although I knew, deep down, that I’d meet some awesome people when I’d arrived and settled in, I do truly feel pretty spoilt to have these gorgeous women set firmly in my life.

All in all, I’d say the first 12 months on the friendship front has been a big, ol’ success! Phew.

Palm Springs with the girls.

Sorry, people. We’re going to have to drop the warm, fuzzy stuff for just a moment. Why? Because I couldn’t, of course, go on without acknowledging…

The political stuff.

Yup, so this is quite the segue… politics. Sigh.  I moved here worried sick about gun control, what that would mean for me and my family, and – of course – a certain man named Donald. I reassured myself that politics is pretty bad everywhere in the world and questioned how much worse that man could get anyway. He was already at his lowest point, in my estimation. Can a man like that actually affect any change at all, good or bad? Would it impact on my daily life in liberal California?

To be honest, the feelings haven’t improved. To be completely honest, I’m feeling less and less comfortable about these topics as time goes on.

Firstly, yes: politics is a dirty game, whichever country you’re in. I thought it was bad in Australia.  And look, it is, in a lot of respects (I’m not, for example, about to use Australia as an example of a functional leadership). But putting it into perspective, it’s not like Australia exerts much influence around the world. In reality, we’re a tiny, little country of 25 million people, a number smaller than the population of California alone (almost 40 million). We may have a huge land area (2.97 million square miles – or 7.69 million square kilometres – roughly the same size as the contiguous US land area), but our population is kinda measly. And I’m pretty sure most people outside Australia don’t even know the name of our Prime Minister (it’s ScoMo, right? Sounds like froyo. Ha!). Anyway, I digress.

Christine Blasey Ford

Photo credit: Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty.

To begin with, I comforted myself with the knowledge that California was a liberal state. All good. I’ll be surrounded by my own little echo chamber of anti-gun, anti-orange man, pro-equality people! Erm, except not. In the November 2016 US presidential election, 61.73% of voters submitted ballots for the Democratic party with 31.62% of people voting for the Republicans. The rest voted for a mix of independents and smaller parties. So it is that I have to remind myself that not everyone I meet or talk to or sit next to at work shares my views.

In fact, of the people occupying the five closest desks to me at work, all are gun owners.

Yup. I learnt that the hard way:

Colleague: I could never live in Australia. You’ve got far too many scary creatures!

Me: You’re scared of creatures? I’m scared of people in America. People with guns!

Cue stony-faced silence, plus an eventual “Oh, you’re one of those liberals, aren’t you?”.

Jeez.

So, I’ve been considering ways of working around this. Friends of mine have actually taken to asking  parents if they have guns at home before organising playdates. It is, of course, safe to assume that a lot of the American-born people I know have one or more guns at home. I do, of course, find this truly, deeply unsettling. I mean, they could decide today’s the day they bring their gun into work.

Eugh.

On the orange man front, it’s gotten worse. Much, much worse. I can’t even begin to write about this at the moment. The last few months have affected me more than I ever thought possible. I’ve found myself in a pit of despair at the Kavanaugh confirmation. I’ve shed tears about it. I’ve felt physically ill watching footage of Trump mocking Dr Christine Blasey Ford. And I’ve felt worse seeing people laugh.

I want to write about this more. And I will. But right now I can’t.

The other night, at a particularly low point, I asked Cam: tell me one thing, just one thing, that is better in the US than Australia.

I mean, healthcare sure as hell isn’t. Education isn’t. Public transportation, crime rates, cost of living, equality of any form…. even food! All of it pales in comparison. That is, except for one thing: our careers have more opportunity to develop here. We get to work at top-tier organisations doing exciting work, with some of the world’s best and brightest minds.

Actually, there is another thing. The weather in Palo Alto. It’s brilliant! It’s summer all year ‘round. It’s totally consistent, so much so that my children don’t even know what clouds are.

Palo Alto vs. Melbourne

But is that enough? It remains to be seen. But I’ll continue to remind myself that this is, indeed, a journey. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s about new experiences and broadening my world view.

I just hope we can stay safe in the process.

First impressions.

When I revisit that post about my first impressions of life here in Silicon Valley, I realise immediately what has changed, and what hasn’t.

Housing

My original thoughts:

House hunting… For a cheeky USD $5000 a month (AUD $6600; GBP £3800; EUR €4200) you can get a place in Palo Alto that would have been lovely 40+ years ago, but hasn’t been touched since. The appliances, the furnishings, the amenities: beige, brown, dying.

My current thoughts:

No change. In fact, I’m a bit panicked that our landlord is going to put our rent up when we renew the lease in just a few weeks’ time – can you imagine? Something even more dumpy. OMG! Stay tuned…

Fashion

My original thoughts:

I don’t want to sound like a diva, but seriously: I don’t know how I’ll survive the fashion situation. Tracksuit pants, t-shirts and university sweaters are Silicon Valley’s go-to items. I’m a frock-and-boots kinda girl. I feel somewhat overdressed.

My current thoughts:

Well, you kinda get used to the dress-down vibe – and it definitely feels less pretentious than London or Melbourne. But god, do I miss good fashion. I wear dresses every single day to work, plus nice flats. And it gives me a buzz when (super rarely) someone compliments my outfit. Cam, on the other hand, hmmmmm. He’s embraced hoodies and casual shoes, for sure.

It’s a slippery slope, Cam… next it’ll be… what? Crocs? Ha!

Wealth

My original thoughts:

It’s here. It’s everywhere. But it’s not obvious. Look carefully and you’ll see that every second car is a Tesla and driven by a 20-something dressed in trackies and a sweater. They’re looking mighty self-assured, and let’s face it: they’re probably managing a start-up worth USD $1bn. Jeepers.

But now?

I think I’m immune to seeing the 20-somethings in their Teslas. Every second car is a Tesla. But what I am noticing more is the inequality. There’s the obscene wealth in Palo Alto that comes with the likes of all the tech CEOs who’ve built their lives here around their businesses. There’s the average tech employee on a good salary, by normal US standards, but who’s definitely not living a life of luxury.

And then, there are the people living in complete poverty. People who live in caravans (trailers) parked outside Stanford University – students, sometimes, but mainly the homeless who simply can’t afford to be anywhere else. It’s not just one or two, either. I’m talking huge numbers, like pop-up caravan (trailer) parks. There was even someone parked in front of our house for a few months; two occupants living without water or electricity.

There are people sleeping rough. Children sleeping in caravans overnight without parents at home because those parents are out working two jobs to make ends meet. In East Palo Alto, more than one third of children are considered homeless.

While the rest of the world whirrs on around them, it must be truly heartbreaking. I still haven’t quite worked out what I might be able to contribute to change this. Perhaps I never will.

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RVs along El Camino Real in Palo Alto. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian.

Medical

Ah, yes. This classic observation from my first few weeks in the country:

One observation, and one observation only: my patient induction form asked me a few casual questions about guns in the home.

And now? My god. You know, I don’t think I should even get started on my current feelings about the health system of the US.

I. Can’t. Even.

For the good of society (and especially you, dear reader), I shall save this for a future post. Let’s just say that we’re super lucky to have Medicare in Australia. And the NHS in the UK. It is absolutely shocking that healthcare is framed as a privilege here. Can you imagine?

Back to something a little more lighthearted for a sec…

Driving

Very early on, I remember thinking I’d really enjoy catching up on me time by taking a quick walk down to the shops. Maybe for a coffee, maybe for a spot of shopping.

Ha! Remember this?

Don’t walk. Drive. A great slogan for life around here!

Current mood:

Yep. This still holds true. We even got a second car as there was no actual way for me to get to work. No public transport. No employee shuttle bus via Palo Alto.

We literally drive everywhere. You know what they say… if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Which is kinda the same with…

Banking

For a particularly tech-savvy population and corner of the world, I was convinced that the banking systems would be super futuristic. Hell, I could probably just wish a couple of hundred bucks to transfer accounts and it would zoom across, without a second thought.

How wrong I was:

Bill Pay means the bank’s staff quite literally sit in their office, regardless of where you are, and write a cheque (check) for you, posting it to your biller. Seriously. They post a cheque for you. Cam and I had to laugh.

Now I avoid cheques as often as I can. But I still have to write them – ha! We switched banks when we found a place that actually did some form of electronic bank transfer (still takes five days… but hey, at least this bank isn’t writing a cheque and delivering it via USPS).

It’s small wins, right?

Speaking of which…

Pre-schools

Ah, god. Those first few weeks:

Don’t get me started. Upon checking out the local offerings for the very first time, I cracked my second wobbly of our trip… I almost threw in the towel. To my Australian eyes, the pre-schools here are mostly bleak, grey, and soulless places.

To date, I’m pleased to say that my views have actually evolved. I definitely still find the aesthetic of these places to be much more bleak than the colour and modernity of what we have on offer in Australia, however the pre-school we found for Clara, and now Coco, is absolutely wonderful. The teaching staff are the best I have encountered. They love their jobs. They love the children. They care. They nurture. They educate. I could not be happier with where we have landed.

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Clara at her pre-school, earlier this year.

It just goes to show how important it is to persist. I knew that if I held my head high, communicated openly as a family, and focussed on building my support networks that we’d make it through. And not just tick boxes either, but really come to settle and enjoy the lives we’ve built here.

And so it is, that it’s kinda – in a way – turned out just as I’d hoped. We’re here. We’re surviving. And not just surviving, either. We’re living.

***

And so, it’s been a year. A whole, big year. A huge year of change, for all of us.

And while some of my first impressions still hold true, my mindset has definitely shifted. I see the beige, of course. But I also see the colour. I see the opportunities. And I feel excited about our lives here. I find Clara’s American accent endearing instead of shocking. I find the different words for things an entertaining topic of conversation. Even though, I still don’t know what people are talking about when they utter things like ‘yards’ and ‘Fahrenheit’.

Baby steps, yeah?

clare x 1

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