I’ve been asked a few times since we got to Australia, ‘Do you find it overwhelming how much there is for kids and mums to do here?’ It’s a good question. I’m not working at the moment until our deputation starts in December, so it’s just me and Elliot with lots of time on our hands and lots of opportunities to get involved in various things. I can see how mums feel guilty for letting their kids watch any TV since there are so many other things to do, and how it can feel like a kid who’s not doing everything is missing out, or that failing to do certain activities with them makes you a bad parent.
But I come from the opposite context. There are no parks in Dodoma, and the few old-style playgrounds that there are at hotels or wherever aren’t safe for children under school age. Being a SAHM isn’t a thing, so neither are mums’ groups. Learning and play are two separate activities so learning through play is unheard of, and play is not stimulated or initiated by adults. That means there are zero resources around if you want to do that kind of thing. Baby wearing is huge, but that’s largely pragmatic; gotta put the kid somewhere safe while you do everything else you need to. It’s a contrast to hit Australia with its boxes of toys in doctors’ waiting rooms, let alone the ads for music and movement classes for mums and toddlers and community playgroups.
For me, the answer to the question of whether I’m feeling overwhelmed by all these things to do is, ‘Not at all. I am having the time of my life.’ Elliot’s pretty good at independent play, but at home in Tanzania if there are any activities to be done during the day, they’re ones I will have thought up. Those following the Life for the little guy series will have got a sense of that. There’s nothing flashy about those activities, but they mean a degree of creativity and planning on my part. So the idea that I could take Elliot to something where he could be amused and all I have to do is get him to the venue and be there with him is a massive relief for me. At this point in my life, a creche is amazing, story time at the museum phenomenal. Even if there’s nothing ‘on’ like a play group, there’s still a choice of playgrounds!
Further adding to my joy is the fact that many of these activities are accompanied by other adults. They are not just for amusing Elliot, but life-giving for me. (Can totally see how being unable to get out becomes such a sentence for house-bound mums or those with sick kids.) Of course, I’m an extroverted mum of an extroverted son, so being with others and out of the house is energising rather than draining for us. That’s especially the case at the moment because most of our activities are with people who are my friends. And not just friends from the last year or two, or people with whom I happen to share a language or culture, but people with whom I have history. There’s an ease to conversation, and a thousand things that don’t need to be explained (even as there are a thousand things that do need to be.) I’m getting lots of sympathy from people about being here in Australia without Arthur, and how lonely that must be. But seriously, even with his absence, this is the least lonely I have been in 3 years.
No doubt more reserved women would find the plethora of things to do overwhelming. As for me, I’m quite happy to do play group one day, Bible study the next, outing the day after, and play dates in between. These don’t feel like obligations or ‘extra’ things to me; they feel like being let off the hook. I can relax and not have to be in overdrive thinking about how to entertain the little guy. I’m not saying parenting is not tough in Australia, or not hard work, nor am I saying that we have it ‘harder’ in Tanzania. I’m also not assuming that I understand the realities of being an Aussie SAHM yet. But they say a change is as good as a holiday, and for me that’s ringing true at the moment.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.