Bridging the divide: a visit from in-laws.

My in-laws left yesterday after a week’s stay with yours truly. They were here for sister-in-law’s (SIL) first entry into Australia as a permanent resident. For those of you who’ve migrated to these parts, you’ll know what this first entry and do-not-enter-after-this-date business is all about. For those of you who haven’t, it just means she has to enter the country. If you’ve read some of my past posts on my relationship with the in-laws, you’ll know that we haven’t always gotten along like the cliched house on fire. In fact, at some point in my close to 12 years of marriage to HRH, our relationship was so explosive, our house may have caught on fire. But that’s all water under the bridge now.

HRH once said to me, some 9 years or so ago, during very testy times in my relationship with the in-laws, “I know they have done wrong but YOU can be a BIGGER person.”

At the time, my stubborn retort was, “I can’t be a bigger person. I’m a small person! Can’t you see I am a (physically) small person?”

Being a lion (he is a Leo) HRH wanted me to be magnanimous; proud but forgiving. Picture Simba from Lion King, standing on the edge of the cliff before his animal subjects and you’ll know the pose I was asked to adopt. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

As a lioness (I am a Cancer with 4 planets in Leo, hence my rapport with HRH), my main priority is to protect my turf and everything that lies within it. Forget that and you’ll feel my claws in your back. But time has a way of making even the most ferocious of us mellow. It’s as if, through the looking glass, what was once so important, is not as important any more. All of us are 8 years older and as the events, or rather non-events, of the week have proven, 8 years wiser.

I no longer need to demarcate the boundaries to my territory with the blood of fresh kill because everyone can see the caked blood. Like anyone new to a group or situation – be it workplace, family or social organisation – I was eager to establish myself, eager to show that “you’re NOT the boss of me.” But as I said, time, and little children (Amanda) have a way of softening the hardest of hearts. When you see how the in-laws fuss over your child, indeed any person who fusses over your child, you tend to look at them with more empathic eyes.

Watching the in-laws talk to and play with Amanda, I had so much empathy coming out of me that I was my most magnanimous self. I cooked them 4 dinners in a row to a theme of “Welcome to Australia”, burning my forearm when I stupidly yanked out a rack from a heated oven, I took them to my favourite French Patisserie in the neighbourhood for buttery croissant and freshly-made coffee, I even drove out of Nedlands, my village, which I’d never driven out from since moving in (I only drive around the area) to take them to Fremantle, so that they wouldn’t have to catch the bus.

More amazingly, father-in-law (FIL) and I had many conversations, NONE of which ended in one of us saying we are no longer related after this visit, which has happened before. FIL seemed to still want us to move back to Malaysia but was respectful of our decision to continue living here.

At the end of the day, time, a child and many hours of talking have given us the secret ingredient for a decent relationship: mutual respect. FIL gave HRH his medical degree and I gave HRH everything that came after that.

I said to FIL, “You do know that Victoria once passed a law requiring all foreign-born medical students to leave the state upon graduation, don’t you? That’s why your son had to move to Adelaide. There, a director of emergency had it out for him because he took his annual leave to go back to Malaysia for a month. She tried to stop him from getting into surgical training by bad-mouthing him to the selection committee but  he got in anyway, in Victoria, thus moved back. After his first year in training, the college made it a rule that all trainees MUST be permanent residents or citizens to get into ADVANCE TRAINING. At the time (and no one seems to remember this), Australia DID NOT WELCOME DOCTORS. Our bid to become permanent residents failed, so we moved to New Zealand to try our luck there, since the college also covers New Zealand. At the time, the college introduced a move called TIME-EXPIRING to kick out anyone who failed to get into advance training by a certain time. So your son could have already passed his Part 1, which he did, BUT COULD STILL GET KICKED OUT.”

“Thinking he only had DAYS to having his career truncated, I wrote to the Minister for Immigration to ask for special intervention; if we waited for the regular migration process to take place, it might be too late. The Minister’s office declined. I pestered them, appealing to their better natures to help me. It took me hours to craft each letter I sent to them. In the end they agreed to investigate the matter; they asked the college to put your son’s application aside pending the outcome of their investigation.”

“The Minister’s office rang his former employer in Victoria. The former employer rang your son and asked whether he still wanted to live in Australia. They had changed the migration regulations (again)  and they could now sponsor him. Hooray! Except that I was pregnant with Amanda and for permanent residence to be granted, Australian Immigration (DIMIA) wanted me to be undergo a chest X-ray. It ordered Health Services Australia (HSA) to perform the X-ray on me. HSA declined because they didn’t want me to sue them if my unborn child develops cancer further down the track as a result of exposure to the X-ray. Your son very much wanted the PR to be finalised so that he could be eligible for Advance Training before the next cut-off (once a year) so I HAD TO CHOOSE BETWEEN HIS CAREER AND MY UNBORN CHILD. Tell me how many people have to make such a choice?”

“There were only 80 positions in Advance Training. When he failed to get in after the first two rounds of offers, he was depressed. I asked him to go for a review of his application to see WHY he did not meet the cut off and HOW he could next time. He reluctantly took my advice and the next week, the college called to say they had miscalculated his position and offered him Darwin.”

When he was bullied by 2 bitches in Cairns, he asked me if he should just be a GP. I said NO, you’ve come this far, you will go all the way. NO surrender. No matter how tough, how many people called me (everyone ALWAYS calls me) to ask him to do this or that, regardless the number of doubting Thomases, I have always told him to march on.”

“He has never had to wake up in the middle of the night to care for Amanda, be there for parent-teacher interviews, first days at school, sports days, or take leave when she is sick. I cover his parental duties 100% of the time. I do our banking, manage our various investments, even sighted, signed for and negotiated with the bank for our last property.”

I just wanted FIL to know what it is I do in our relationship, that his child is in good hands.

At the end of his stay, walking a fraction of the Nedlands Esplanade for the last time, he even begrudgingly admitted that Australia is a much better place for us to stay. “You people can even go walking in a place like this during the day.”

All around us were perfectly manicured lawns; in the river, sparklingly clear waters with yatches bobbing on them.