Until these past few weeks, I have never resiled from my position that Canberra is a hole. It is hot and circular and a nightmare for people who don't drive. It is flat and featureless, I always get lost, and everyone gossips about politics all the time. But now I think it is maybe not so bad; when I was there, I thought maybe this is the kind of place I could live in, maybe this is my kind of place.
Canberra is harsh in its drought but something beautiful has grown out of that: streets with verges and front lawns grown into small meadows as people let the lawn go rather than pour their laundry buckets on it. At every corner galahs nibble at the grass seeds, in backyards cockatoos casually strip fruit trees of their promise, and parrots eat out of the hedges. There's an awful lot of disrespectful medium density development going on - all horrible Moditerranean - but still so many humble houses with crazy veggie gardens out the back and no fences at the front. And the movies! The job prospects! The presence of friends who are easy and fun and generous, who make me smile when I see them. It's a heady thought, that possibility of a different kind of life where the dull bits of this one are coloured that particular shade of green you only ever see in grass on the other side.
Going away has thrown into relief some of the frustrations my town holds for me. It's re-opened that constantly recurring question: do we go or do we stay? Al wants to stay, the girls want to stay, I would go in a heartbeat if I wasn't bound to them. But when I leave the one movie cinema showing nothing I want to see, the lack of deep friendships, the less than promising opportunities my job currently holds, I'm also leaving our ability to live well on one income, to avoid the rush and stress that would come if we needed to put the girls into childcare, to travel without a half hour commute. Single and childless, I could breeze through the disadvantages of city living; as a mother and a partner in this particular family unit the thought of that life is daunting even as many of its opportunities are exhilarating.
I want my cake and I want to eat it too, but I've been well schooled in the knowledge that we don't get to do that. I think we'll stay because I've no wish for a brilliant career at the expense of my family's peace. Sometimes I think my decision to stay is more about my fear of big ponds and big fish, that I use my family as a cover for a failure of nerve...
But then yesterday, up at the area, the blackberries had arrived. And Lu, gobbling them down, said "Mmm, delicious and familiar". She knows what delicious means; familiar, I think, she's just trying on for size, feeling its fit in her mouth. But it reminded me that here is a kid who, for every summer of her little life has walked ten minutes up the road with her family to pluck the fruit from the thorns, who at less than three knows where the best pickings are to be found, and who could say with perfect honesty that those pickings are indeed delicious and familiar. The sharp edges of our big sacrifices are weathered to a softer shape by the daily reminders of what it is Al and I have chosen instead.