Back on the Horse

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Since the arrival of my precious daughter, I’ve not been writing. As is often the case, following an interruption to a routine, it can be very difficult to get started again. Well, here we go: I’m back to blogging.

I’d rather not make excuses, but by way of explanation for my absence perhaps I’ll just briefly describe my new life as a father. There are, of course, the entertaining moments of listening to my daughter make new sounds and seeing her do new things. She usually greets me with a big smile when I come home from work. I’d rather reserve details about her in a place away from the internet, though, lest she stumble upon this blog in nine years’ time and gets annoyed with me. For me, it’s just unbelievable how much less time and energy I have. I know, I know… All parents will warn parents-to-be about this. But it really is different when you live it. It’s been difficult for me to find the time to go and exercise even once a week until just recently.

I find it difficult to remember my life before having a kid, actually. But this is the way it is with me (and probably most people) – after a significant life change, I can’t really fathom what I was like as a person prior to the change.

Since this is a blog about simple* lifestyles, one thing I’d like to mention is that the tiredness from being a new parent really wears down one’s ability to make what I would consider to be rational, reasoned decisions about expenditure. I don’t want to buy all this new baby-centric stuff and fill up my house with things I’ll only need for three months or less before I realise baby doesn’t need it, want it, or grows out of it. Still, given the constraints on my time and a reduction in willpower flowing from the lack of sleep, it becomes very, very difficult to avoid ‘buying solutions’ despite my best intentions. I think it could be worse – the baby’s a long way from sending us bankrupt – but I do still worry that cleaning up this place for our next move is going to be more difficult than it ought to be.

…and although I’m visiting home for Christmas, which will be a wonderful time to reunite with family, I’m dreading just a teensy bit what might be an avalanche of baby presents. That sounds horribly ungrateful. It is horribly ungrateful. I feel bad. Actually, before I became an expat two years ago people in my family did get the message that my wife and I were making our lives more mobile and didn’t want or need ‘stuff’ to weigh us down, so this is all probably a problem I’m making up in my head. So I’ll stop worrying about it and just look forward to the summer sun and being in the company of family again.

*Well, to hedge my language and be realistic, perhaps I should just say ‘simpler’.

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Family hiatus

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My blog hasn’t been up and running long, and I very much doubt I have too many regular readers to disappoint. I’d like any passers-by to note, however, that the long-awaited birth has happened and I’m taking a temporary break while I adjust to life with a newborn.

There’s been a death in the family as well as a birth. Around my headspace and physical space it’s all been pretty chaotic. I’m confident, though, that things will settle and I’ll be stronger for the experience.

Away from home

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So I missed an update last week. It’s been a busy few. DW has sailed off to visit parents, so I’ll be living a dirty bachelor life for a few weeks.

This raises a subject that is difficult to reconcile with ‘simple expat life,’ and that is family relations. With my family in one country, DW’s family in another, and our life in a third, well, it makes for a difficult situation all around. I don’t have a lot to say on the matter right now. I’m still pretty new at this expat business, so perhaps I’ll tackle it later down the line.

One of the few things I’ll note is that I suppose extricating oneself from family relationships does, to some degree, count as simplification. But whether it’s the good kind of simplification (something that allow you to focus on the important things) or a bad kind of simplification (removing an important thing) depends on your personal circumstances. In our family, relationships are pretty good all-around so I don’t particularly think losing out on family interaction is a good method of simplifying life. Still, I imagine that Skype, Viber, and such make this living abroad gig a lot more convenient than it used to be, insofar as regular contact with relatives is cheap and accessible.

That time of year

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It is that time of year again, the time of year when personal finance bloggers trot out the articles about how extraordinarily unwise it is to buy loads of expensive presents on a credit card, and then regret your interest payments in February. When the newspapers run stories about how hard it is for people to put on the lavish family spread this year because of rising prices and shrinking wages. When the simple living bloggers lament the piles of plastic stuff churned out by developing country factories, to have pride of place for a week in December before being chucked in the bin.

I could write that sort of stuff. I won’t write that though, not because I’m above it, just that I had a slightly different idea.

Since I’m expanding my family next year, this year I’m trying to think about what sort of traditions I would like to maintain. If I continue to live abroad over the next few years, I’ll have a lot of freedom to do this for myself (with input from DW, of course). Being so far from family means I’m not necessarily tied to what my family used to do any longer. This is not to say that I didn’t like family Christmas back home, I’m just pointing out that I have perhaps more freedom to make an intentional choice about what holiday traditions I can start in my family without upsetting parents or in-laws.

Since I’m an atheist, I don’t feel any particular attachment to the religious narrative of Christmas. As in some religious stories, there are nice aspects to the tale – particularly relevant at the moment might be the part about finding a way to provide shelter to those in unfortunate circumstances. Even beyond the Jesus stuff though, I don’t feel particularly inclined to go through a charade about Father Christmas (Santa Claus, Père Noël etc.) each year. I don’t really see why telling stories about a man in a red suit coming around to give you presents is a better story than one about spending time with your family and giving gifts of appreciation to each other.

I even find the trappings are a bit hard to swallow. As someone who now needs to be able to pack up all his crap just in case his work visa expires at an inopportune moment, holding a large box of decorations to break out just once a year, which would probably be binned at the next move of residence, just seems wasteful. Here I’m mindful of the cycle of resource -> production -> consumption -> decomposition: while I don’t really have many qualms over the production or consumption of Christmas trivialities, they consume resources unnecessarily and in many cases don’t decompose easily.

Despite all that, I think Christmas is lovely and I’m not so contrarian as to want to abandon it completely or celebrate it in July or whatever the countercultural fashion is. I see no need to excuse myself from culturally-ingrained celebrations due to my lack of faith. I would just like to try to celebrate in a low key way, with minimal gifts and a nice meal together.

As for other traditions, I’d like to start a once-a-year family charity dinner. I’ve always preferred to keep my charitable donations to one-off occurrences rather than monthly donations. I figure that this keeps me thinking about it periodically, and I do change my preferred charity from time to time. For a long time it was Amnesty International, but currently I’m supporting Population Services International. Anyway, I know this may be new-father idealistic, but I would like to try to start a tradition of once a year having a family occasion where all members come together and discuss charity and make a donation. I would like this to embody several good values – such as the obvious one, generosity, but it also brings up a discussion around budgeting (what can you afford to give) and critical thinking, in that everyone should be able to justify choosing one charity over another. As soon as children start receiving pocket money they would be encouraged to contribute not only to the discussion but also financially.

I think that the best traditions are those that encourage thinking about good values and habits – for many traditions, it’s fairly easy to see how this works. For patriotic holidays, it can be a bit more difficult, particularly for those like me who can’t abide by nationalism in most of its forms.* Have any readers started their own family traditions? What’s a quirky tradition your family keeps in order to encourage good values and habits?

*“Patriotism is the belief your country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” – George Bernard Shaw