Upheaval and uncertainty

Big changes here for our once-little-now-big family. Baby Three was born a week ago; R got her much-wished-for little sister. For the sake of this blog we’ll just call her Baby. That’s what she was called for nine months in the womb (because we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl) and L and R haven’t made the transition to using her name yet.

Since Baby’s arrival, L and R suddenly seem huge. They are energetic balls of enthusiasm, bounding around the house creating chaos. The best strategy to deal with this seems to be to laugh at their antics, but it’s not always possible when Baby’s face is being poked for the hundredth time or she’s being buried under a mountain of toys! So far we’ve had the luxury of having L and R in childcare during the week, and Baby is still so sleepy you can often forget she’s dozing in her bassinette. But we know things will get trickier trying to balance three kids with no childcare over the summer holidays in Sydney, and as Baby becomes more active and alert.

A knock-on effect of Baby being born is that I’ve put my novel to one side. Yesterday I cleared my desk shelf, stacking numerous drafts in a pile. I then filled the space they had taken up with newborn nappies. Even though I know I’ll probably start editing the book in a few weeks, it felt symbolic of a shift. And it is a relief, to be honest. Writing a novel is such a drawn-out slog that I actually feel grateful to Baby for taking me outside myself, forcing me to focus on something else. I’m convinced her arrival, one week early, was partly due to my psychological state – I had printed out copies of the first draft to distribute to volunteer readers on Friday, and Baby was born on Sunday. Spending special quiet time with her now feels like a natural pause.

I should mention that having a baby in this community has been amazing. I expected to feel far from friends and family at a time like this. But a friend threw a surprise baby shower for me with the group of ladies from our book club, and J’s fellow teachers and friends in the community have made us two weeks of home-cooked, house-delivered meals. It has been overwhelming and much appreciated. It also makes me wish I never had to cook again!

A less positive recent change has been a growing feeling of uncertainty about J having a job here next year. The NT government is making massive cuts to teaching and support positions across the state. In our region – the Arnhem region – alone there will be more than fifty education jobs lost. J is permanent to the region, but not to his school; the government is currently saying they will prioritise placing ‘displaced’ teachers who were permanent to specific schools but no longer have a job. They haven’t yet made an official statement about what will happen to people in J’s position.

The cuts seem ludicrous. The students here are already struggling; not that NAPLAN is the only marker to look at, but most don’t even rate on that scale. Yes, attendance fluctuates and some days class sizes are small, but it is surely more beneficial to have too many teachers on those days, rather than not enough. Add to that the fact that there is such a high staff turnover in remote schools; they will be displacing dedicated teachers who want to be there, only to need them back in a year or two when it is too late and they have already moved on. That is certainly the case for us. J and I are not ready to leave. But if J loses his job and we return to Sydney for 2014 I’m not sure we would come back. It is a huge interstate move and the logistics of organising childcare and work and housing, and uprooting the kids, isn’t something I want to be doing often.

Unrelated to the cuts, but also unsettling, was the news – just found out yesterday – that J’s principal will be leaving the school. He’s a young guy – J’s age – but has ten years of experience in remote bilingual schools. He’s been fantastic, encouraging staff development and trying to support the community to become more actively involved in setting the direction for the school. Under his lead, J has felt like he’s been part of a positive movement with high aims. Which isn’t to say the next Principal won’t be just as good, but it’s another uncertainty to add to the mix.

Yesterday, our neighbour asked if J had started applying for jobs in Sydney. We hadn’t really thought about doing that until she said it. I had been sticking to the ‘assume it will all work out like it did last year’ line. But now my new-mother’s brain is leaping ahead trying to think up back-up plans and solutions. I’ve already told one childcare centre in Sydney that we don’t need places for 2014, but I’m due to hear from another soon. If we are offered places for L and R, I’ll say yes to keep it as an option. And if a suitable job comes up – ie teaching the right subjects and within half an hour’s drive of our Sydney home – J will probably apply. Which may end up being a massive waste of everyone’s time. Or may mean he has a job, rather than us moving back to the insecurity of casual teaching work.

In the meantime, the only other thing we can do is wait. J will hopefully find out about his job in three weeks, but it may be more. Last year they made us wait for final confirmation until Week Ten, the final week of term. Let’s hope we get a bit more notice than that. I don’t imagine organising an interstate move in a week, with two kids under five and a newborn, would be much fun…

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