A language barrier makes shopping with your mother in law a challenge. Staring at cleaning products with a baby in one arm and a shopping list in Hungarian in the other hand made the trip a lot longer than I was used to.
When we invited my husband’s Hungarian parents to live with us for a year, I never considered it could be difficult. My thought process went as far as my husband and I needing childcare, the grandparents getting to know where we live and spend quality time with our son. It was a win-win deal. We weren’t the only ones having such thoughts, with 49 per cent of Australians born overseas or at least having one parent born in another country, that’s a lot of grandparents arriving on our shores. This year the government is introducing a temporary sponsored parent visa (TSPV) for grandparents for 3 years at a cost of $3,000 or 5 years, costing $10,000. I thought it would be great for our son. He could experience the Hungarian culture and language in our home for a whole year.
It wasn’t until the plane touched down that it dawned on me that a year was a long time and perhaps things might not sail so smoothly. I went back to teaching at the start of the year, so it meant they left -10 degrees winter in Hungary and arrived in Sydney mid January. My husband soon got sick of translating the importance of sunscreen, hats and water
As time went by, we fell into a daily routine of my husband and I going to work and leaving the grandparents with one year old Oliver. Iren, my husband’s mother would take long walks with the pram and catch the train to Cronulla, order a flat white, look at the beach and then travel home again. Zoltan, the father, managed to get his hands on a dilapidated boat and over the year restore it to a beautiful wooden craft at my husband’s workshop.
As Zoltan was with his son in the workshop every day, learning English was not one of his priorities. However, Iren, to her credit, had a goal of learning a new English word or phrase every day. Between my bad Hungarian and her rudimentary English, our communication met halfway. I realised that small talk was nonexistent and it was harder to offend someone when trying so hard to be understood.
Other than language, food was another stumbling block. Before I met my husband, I probably only ate sour cream once or twice in my life. When Iren took over the cooking, sour cream became an essential ingredient. I was grateful that she was cooking for us, but it got to a point that my body said no more sour cream. I once cooked curried prawns and they acted like I was serving them insects. We agreed that I would stick to Italian meals and they would lay off the sour cream.
I once cooked curried prawns and they acted like I was serving them insects.
Our views on motherhood were surprisingly not that different, considering we were from different generations and cultures. Instead of fruit juice, Iren had a good idea of giving Oliver cold fruit teas to sip, and we both had the same ideas on healthy eating and spending time outdoors. After ‘Muma’, Oliver’s next word was Hungarian, ‘lámpa’, which means light. I attended a mother’s group and read books on how to look after a baby, as my mother died many years ago, but Iren’s advice and encouraging ways were a big help.
As their return trip to Hungary drew nearer, we found ourselves mentally adjusting to life without them. We celebrated an early Christmas, which they found odd in hot weather and they got to experience a Christmas street party for the first time in their lives too. Their presence was missed when they left, and the house felt quieter.
Looking back on the year, I felt it was rich with warmth and kindness. I think the situation worked so well because we all went into it with a positive, practical and good natured attitude. It was our thoughts, feelings and action that shone through, despite the language and cultural barriers. To all those grandparents arriving on our shores this year, yes, the language and culture here is different to home, but with family those barriers don’t seem so tall.
Melissa Gerke is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @melissagerke8