Archive for the ‘relocation’ category

The bigger web of humanity (or something that has nothing to do with anything)

August 30, 2012

I took the summer off blogging for a couple reasons: first, hey it’s summer, and second, I’ve been feeling resentful of this whole social media society that says you must have a certain web presence, and if, for example, you don’t have a facebook page, then you have something to hide. Do we really live in a world that is so superficial, we call having a social media account “real”? I suppose. It is the age of “reality tv” after all. But then, our world has  always contained both superficiality, and truth. Remember Anne Shirley, LM Montgomery’s most beloved creation? Remember when Anne poured her heart out in a story which her well-meaning friend Diana submitted to the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder Company behind Anne’s back? I still remember Anne’s reaction, all drama and tears, over the humiliation of having her story commercialized. I loved Anne’s characteristic stubbornness that stuck up for the authentic artist inside of her. We can choose, at any given point, to take part in what’s superficial (and we sometimes have to, I admit; for work, for survival) but we can also choose to spend more of our time in the realm of real, heartfelt living.

For me, as it was for Anne, what’s real is often in my fiction. Meet Dan. He’s one of the characters I’ve been writing about. I call him my video store dad because he works at a video store and he was a teenager when he became a father.

In my story I completely humiliate this character, at the same time as I make him a victim of love for his daughter. The story opens with Dan standing in the middle of the mall, patiently waiting for his ex to show up with their daughter. He’s wearing a homemade superhero outfit.

The story, in it’s first drafts, ended sadly. Dan gets more and more humiliated, from the giggles of teenaged girls who point at him and wonder if he’s being paid to wear that hideous costume, to his four-year-old daughter forgetting all about him when she has the chance to visit the same accessories store as the teenaged girls.

I was struggling with this ending, because I really like Dan. He’s not smart, or ambitious,  but he’s courageous enough to give himself over to this love he never in a million years could have imagined for himself. My original ending for this story painted him as nothing but a looser. But I know it could be different.

After getting some feedback on this story, I was looking up the word vulnerability. That’s what Dan is, he’s vulnerable enough to feel this love that makes him do something as silly as put on a unitard and stand in the middle of the mall, to humiliate himself in hopes of impressing the object of his devotion. I came across a TED talk about this very thing, vulnerability (see Brené Brown on TED).

Listening to the TED talk reinforced, in a coincidental sort of a way, the hunch I had about my character. I think that Dan truly is a superhero, and that I need to re-write my ending, if not some of the story. I feel confident that it will work, because in attempting to impress a child, you have to step down to a child’s level of understanding. Dan is trying to appeal to something in his daughter she just might get. In the adult world, adult to adult, this would only be humiliating, and Dan would remain as he was in my first drafts — a loser.

I’ve been thinking about my own loser versus heroic moments throughout our relocations. This summer was yet another challenge, to go back to the place I call “home” (which is, ironically, not a place I ever have, or ever will, live full time, it just happens to be where our families live), and return to a place I was less than excited about coming back to. But it’s made me draw on my heroic self, while acknowledging my loser self.

There was this song we used to sing at summer camp (Oh Beausoleil, to the tune of Oh Danny Boy), and it always made my bawl my eyes out. When I think back to my summer camp experiences, I remember crying a lot. I’d cry because I was homesick, then I’d cry when it was time to leave camp and go back to my family. I wish, now, that I’d had the advice, then, that someone gave me before my wedding: to not start crying, because once you start, you’ll be a wreck the whole day. My camp memories are full of tears; my wedding day, only joy. I’ve been thinking about this, about how it applies to life and to great writing, which is so much more than just blurted emotions on the page. There’s a lot of restraint involved in great writing, and in living well. A lot of managing, but first acknowledging, the loser inside, to get to the hero.

One of the highlights of my time back in Ontario this summer was taking my five-year-old son into Toronto for a day, just the two of us. We rode the subway and the GO Train. I took him to Port Credit, and stood outside the apartment building my husband and I lived in when we had our daughter. I was hit with a huge wave of nostalgia for a time of life that seems eternities away from where I am now. I must admit, I started to give in to my loser self, feeling the sting of tears (man, I’m a sop!), but then I got an idea. And suddenly I was making notes about a story, the first draft of which I completed this summer, called Periphery, which in part is about childhood nostalgia.

My husband and I had our heroic-versus-loser selves challenged when we returned to St. John’s from Ontario. Our two eldest children stayed in our home province for two more weeks to spend time with both sets of grandparents, and we travelled back with the baby, now 21 months old. We arrived in St. John’s at 1:30 AM after a horrible flight where we were “those people” with the child who screamed the entire time.

Amidst the baby’s cries, my husband and I casually discussed the fact that neither of us could remember where we might have packed our house key. In the whole kerfuffle to get the five of us off to the airport that Saturday in July, I could not remember having put the key anywhere in our belongings.

Here’s how not together I can be: I’d made a couple copies of our house key the week before we left. Two were sitting on a shelf in the kitchen. One, I gave to our very generous neighbour, who had agreed to drive us to the airport in our van. The same neighbour who was going to be away when we were (ie, not home when we got back to St. John’s). So I gave him the extra key I’d gone to the effort to have made, and when he said goodbye to us at the airport, I handed him my van keys (house key still safely attached), and asked him to leave the van keys in our house when he locked the door behind him with the extra key, so that even if he wasn’t home when we returned, we’d be able to drive the vehicle when we got back into town.

At 2 AM after gathering our luggage and catching a cab back to our house, the baby was surprisingly calm. I wrapped him in my jacket and sat him in a deck chair while my husband and I circled the house trying to think of the best plan of attack to get inside. The basement door has never locked properly, and my husband had wedged a board behind it. Knowing it was held closed by the board, but that the lock was broken anyways, we decided that bashing it in was our best option.

An hour went by as we pushed and kicked at the door, and we each commented on how composed we felt. This time last year, I said, I would have been breaking down, sobbing, freaking out. Now look at me! Look at us! We can laugh about this, right?

From his perch on the back deck, the baby exercised his new vocabulary: Door. Lock. Key? Crash!

Finally, with both of us chanting in whispers, One, Two, Three, and kicking the door in unison, we were in. Broken door frame and all.

At least we know it was secure.

The really embarrassing part of this story is that there’s a part two. A couple days ago we took our children out for a walk to a park, dutifully locking all the doors behind us. When we returned from our walk with the kids, the front screen door, which is of course placed outside the door we have a key for, was locked.

This time, our five-year-old son got to be a hero. We lifted him up to climb through an open window, then he ran through the house, unlocking the doors for us.

If there’s a moral here, I’m not sure what it is. But yesterday, as we headed out for a walk, I checked to see that at least one door was unlocked. Loser or heroic moment? I don’t know. But I’m attempting to celebrate all my moments, as both.

Emergency Contact Numbers

February 28, 2012

I’ve made several attempts at writing this blog post over the last week and I’ve failed over and over again to finish it. It’s a really tough one for me because I’m not so much celebrating an anniversary, as holding my breath and waiting for it to pass.

We arrived in St. John’s a year ago. I hardly remember the lovely rental home we lived in for the first four and a half months. I realize now that there were things I could have done differently that might have made it seem like a less traumatic experience. I’m going to share some of these things here only in the hope that someone else going through a relocation might read about my experience, and learn something to make their own even a little bit easier. You see, this is the reason I started this blog in the first place. When we set out to move to Thompson, I found so little on the internet about relocation. Sure, there’s companies advertising how they can help make your move easier — Let us do your packing! Believe me, the packing is not the issue. The emotional baggage you’ll wear for the rest of your life is.

I got a cell phone when we moved rather than a land line, because I knew we’d be moving again once our house in Thompson sold, and I thought one phone with a number I wouldn’t have to change would make more sense. Besides, I wanted to be reachable should my daughter’s school ever need to get in contact with me. I am not a paranoid parent. But I remember feeling paranoid that my daughter wouldn’t be able to reach me in the event of an emergency.

I also remember crying every time I had to fill out a form — for the kids’ schools, or for the couple activities I signed them up for — where there’s a space to put an emergency contact number. I didn’t have an emergency contact. Well, I did, I was grateful I could put my husband’s boss’s wife as a contact. But that was like a surrogate. I didn’t have any personal contacts here. No family. No friends.

I let the cell phone be an excuse to not reach out to my own friends in other provinces. I should have been calling my girlfriends, I should have been expressing my loneliness, my joys and successes and adventures. Instead, I allowed myself to sink into a foreign kind of isolation. I shunned some of the mom’s groups I could have joined because I was tired, and wanted any extra energy I had leftover from caring for my children, for my writing.

I remember feeling like I had to be a hero, I had to be settled and fine with everything, able to handle all aspects of life for me and the kids, so that my husband could hit the ground running with his new job. I remember watching grandparents taking their children’s children to school, and wanting to ask them to adopt me and my kids. Please, take us in. Please, be our family. I need an extended family.

I have a family. My own parents have been so amazing, they came out to help me here several times. My in-laws were here to help us unpack at our new house in July. One of my best friends came out with her son to spend Thanksgiving with us, and I got to see two other friends who were in St. John’s in the fall. I remember thinking, during each visit, I should be so grateful for this. I remember how alone I felt whenever I said goodbye.

Goodbyes have been a theme for me lately, and I hate them. They get harder and harder all the time. I want to set fire to goodbyes. I want hellos that last and last.

I was talking to one of my husband’s colleagues recently who told me that, following a series of relocations for work, he once had to make the choice between his job and his marriage. He made the wise decision to give up his job, and keep his marriage. Finding another job was not difficult. Nothing is more important than family, he told me.

I’ve met several other women who have followed their husband’s careers, from places farther than other provinces in Canada — England, Korea, India. One told me recently that, although it’s hard to be away from home and extended family, and to have her husband travelling a lot for work, that at least there’s a culture of that here. Back in England where she was living, she said it was awkward for her kids whose friends’ fathers would pick them up from school, while their own dad was away. Here, the family blends in more, and they still make it work to live sometimes apart, and to just enjoy the time they have together. It’s not that simple, I’m sure, but those are the parameters you have to work with sometimes.

Most of this last year, for me, has been all about newness. Exciting as that is, I’ve craved normality, unsure of what that means, but at the same time, knowing I will find it, given time. Time I haven’t had, given two moves in one year, and three provinces in the last two years. My husband and I recently found a wedge between us that grew out of this relocation. We’re whittling it down. And I think one thing I’m learning about marriage — never before having faced anything that required real effort between us, but this last year, understandably, especially with a new baby who kept us up through the night those first several numbing months of this move — is that when you try to take anything just for yourself, that’s when you are hurtful. I disappeared into my writing, he into his job. We’ve both been able to focus on the kids, but not on each other.

I don’t have any sort of magic formula for relocation. And each move is different, just like each person, as I tell my kids all the time, each of us is unique, like snowflakes. Couples are all unique, too. But I do know that keeping your partner in focus has got to be one of the only ways to survive it all together. We’re taking a trip together, just the two of us, next month, and although I’m a bit nervous to leave the kids for a week (but again, extremely grateful my parents are going to be able to be here with them), I know this trip is like a key to our survival.

There are a couple other things we’re working on now, like finding childcare for the kids so I can look for a job. I’m also trying to get into a writing course at the university. We’re also making dinner dates with other families, and more plans for things to do together as a family, more hiking, short road trips, fun meals together. My husband has been turning off his phone, even for a few hours on the weekends. He’s discovered that when something is really truly important, a person will call. The constant emails are…..very difficult to manage. I respect so much the fact that he has realized that if he doesn’t manage them, they will manage not only him, but his family.

I have to take responsibility for my own happiness, and not wallow in loneliness. I have to reach out in my new community and grab hold of the things that will make life feel more like living, and less like something to just get through. As my one friend said to me recently, no one else is going to do that for me. It’s been a heartbreaking year. But there have been some wonderful things that have happened, too. And if it is all about focus, I will carry all the positivity and everything gained from this experience, into my future. I will hope that anything I’ve thought I’d lost along the way, can be retrieved, built on.

At this point, one year after arriving in St. John’s, I have several emergency contact numbers. And counting. Perhaps I do have something to celebrate, after all.

What basic human rights mean to me

January 25, 2012

I love the dark, grey clouds covering St. John’s where I can hide and write my heart out. I don’t miss the sun, the obligation to bask in its brilliance, it only hurts my eyes. My fingers move across the keys more freely with the rain pounding on the windows, or when the snow piles up and locks us inside for yet another snow day.

The world I now live in, the place I’m at, now, is contentment with how far we got with decorating our newest home, the last colours we chose were red, and grey, I hated them at first, thought I’d made the biggest mistake, thought I couldn’t live with one more shade of darkness. But too much light only reflects off my screen, obscures my words, the fuel that keeps me going.

Under my clouds, sitting in front of my computer, I watch the world unfold. I’m seeing this world where there’s a God who exists that would take away the very basic right of choice. Some news, these days, not of wars or blatant disrespect for human rights in countries where we already know that is happening, but some news out of the States terrifies me, the news of potential leaders claiming women have no right to choice. These statements attempt to mask their controlling dictatorship in a religion that’s supposed to be all about love. Is the US for real? Does a significant percentage of their population actually support those who say a woman should live with even the consequences of rape? And here I thought we were all fighting for basic human rights.

My children are growing, changing before my eyes, filling my heart to overflowing more and more each day, and I am grateful for the fact of where I live, that my early years with them have been supported in so many ways. The one year maternity leave I had with my first child, because I was working at the time, paying into that pool that allowed me a paycheque for the first twelve months of my daughter’s life, it wasn’t much, but the promise of it, the offer, the fact of the existence of “maternity leave” was like a nod to my new life as a mother. A nod of respect. From my country. A country I’m so proud to call home.

I know some of my fellow countrymen and women would say our own PM is against abortion. But the last statement I’ve read him uttering on that topic was that he was not going to open the abortion debate. Abortion is legal in Canada. What he didn’t say, I believe, is more powerful that what he did say. That is, that we have the right, in this country, to the basic human right of choice. I know there’s many people in my own country still fighting that fight. But us parents, we make decisions on behalf of our children every single day. I know it’s a brutally touchy subject. But we as adults have to have the right to make those choices. No one ever said they were easy. But if we can’t have that very basic right, the right of choice, call it God-given Free Will if you aren’t an atheist, we might as well call these the dark ages. Maybe we never ever did leave those days behind.

I don’t want to offend another person’s beliefs. But I don’t understand why anyone, in the name of a religion that desperately needs to be modernized, taken not so literally, why anyone feels they have an obligation to take away another person’s right to choice. Or to claim “family values,” and the upholding of the “traditional family” as the only acceptable place to raise a child. I also don’t understand those who shoot down even gay rights — why can’t everyone see that there’s many ways to love in this world, to offer love, to cherish it and to share it?

I used to love the sun. I still do, occasionally. But sometimes, the things it illuminates are terrifying. Sometimes, I’d rather hide under my dark clouds, wrap my own definition of love, human rights, happiness, around me as a shield against the parts of the world that I can’t understand or relate to.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Lights

November 25, 2011

The other day I made one of those careless parenting decisions that backfired in an explosive way. When my four-year-old son insisted on “helping” to fill the van with gas, I succumbed.

His father started this with him (during those first few months following our latest move, when the boy was terrified of being left alone in the vehicle). I’ve allowed this before too, back when the baby was little enough to sleep in his car seat. I would hover over my little man, making sure he had the nozzle properly inserted into the mouth of the gas tank. This time, the baby, now twelve months old and much too impatient to wait quietly while his big brother did something fascinating, began to scream. I stuck my head inside the van to distract him. My normally very coordinated four-year-old decided for some reason to slide the nozzle out while still squeezing the lever, causing the gas to explode all over himself in a river of the strong-smelling liquid.

This was all taking place on a day in mid-November, which is a freak-out time of year if ever there was one. You know how it goes, Christmas is approaching, the anxiety of all the extra work to do leading up to the holidays is closing in. The first colds and flus of the season are sweeping through families whose time is already taut with activities, appointments, Christmas card lists and wish lists, fundraising and all those seasonal events we are obliged to attend.

That night, with the gasoline smell permeating the entire house even after putting the clothes through the wash four times, I was on my way to Brownies with my daughter where I’ve volunteered as a leader. As usual, I couldn’t find our inside shoes, or the binder I’m supposed to have with me at all times for these meetings, or the cookie money I’d collected. I succumbed for a second instance in one day, this time to my frustration. “I will NOT do Christmas cards this year, I will NOT go to your stupid party, and no one better expect me to do any decorating or baking this year!” I yelled all this at my husband, but it bounced off his back as he turned away from me, no doubt rolling his eyes as he did so.

I got home later that evening to find my husband putting up a string of lights in our kitchen. He told me quickly that if they look silly, he could take them down. My nose twitching, I went into the laundry room. I got those gassy clothes out of the wash and took them outside to hang them on the line. When I came back in, the lights twinkled at me.

I stayed up late that night, writing madly. The Christmas lights sparkled. Outside, it began to snow.

Over the next few days, I finished a story I’ve been working on for years. I sent it to another new friend I’ve met here in St. John’s, a very talented poet with whom I’ve been sharing work back and forth. He encouraged me to submit my story to a contest. I also completed a non-fiction piece, and submitted that one to CBC Radio’s Winter Tale competition.

My kids were playing outside in the snow the day I finally retrieved my son’s clothes off the line. They smelled fresh as fresh could be, not a trace of the gasoline odour left. My son asked, “Mommy, what’s on your Christmas list?” At the same time, my daughter announced she wanted to go in and do some baking with me. We all went in and plugged in the lights. As my children and I worked together, the mess in the kitchen grew. I embraced the magic of the lights, even began to mentally prepare my Christmas card list. I discovered my answer to my son’s question.

One House, Two House; Old House, New House

October 4, 2011

One of the fiction stories I remember writing in elementary school was a tale about a haunted house. The gist of it was something like this: through a series of spooky events someone discovers their home is haunted, and the entire family ends up trapped within its walls for generations. I’m sure my young brain conjured some fascinating images for that story. I do know that I pictured the house as a dark, three-storey structure, standing alone in the centre of a wide, grassy field. I think I titled it something very original like, The Haunted House.

I no longer believe in haunted houses. But I do believe in being haunted by decisions I’ve made years ago that spring back to me in the present like a sling-shot in time. As well, by more recent decisions that I see as having a domino affect on my life, long into the future. And I do believe I will forever be haunted by the choices I make on behalf of my children. It’s terrifying enough holding your own fate in the palm of your hand, never mind the fate of three other lives.

So my husband and I have moved into the fourth house we’ve owned together. It is our first-born’s sixth residence; our second-born’s fourth; and the baby’s third (the kids’ homes include a couple of rentals along the way).

If I’ve learned anything after four house-hunts, it’s this: if you go into it expecting perfection, you’ll never, ever be satisfied. So here’s my personal rules for success (keeping in mind that rules are easily broken, and “success” is a moving target):

1. Area is most important. When my husband and I moved to Sudbury, Ontario, a location four hours north of the sprawling city of Toronto, he wanted a quiet place on the lake, and I, the one who would be “stuck” at home with kids until I could find another job,  wanted a neighbourhood where I could meet other young families and walk to a library. I guess you could say I, with both those desires satisfied, won. We made friends spitting distance from our backyard with whom we could party, avoiding hefty babysitter costs. I was able to walk the kids to library storytime, and eventually, once I found work, to their respective daycares. A place on the lake would have been nice, but…..we had many great camping spots nearby instead.

2. Room for the kids to play outdoors is imperative. I cannot stress enough the fact that kids need outdoor play as surely as they require proper nutrition (so do adults, we’re just better at self-medicating to try to ignore this fact….something that will be the demise of us all one of these centuries, I’m afraid). If my family managed to get outside daily in Northern Manitoba, I’ll be damned if I’ll let the winds of the Atlantic force us to stay indoors most of the time here in St. John’s. This time around we found a house in the city, with a flat backyard (a rarity in this hilly part of the world), and we bought a terrific play structure on kijiji that we set up even before the moving truck arrived.  I am proud to say that the kids – ours, and many others in the neighbourhood – log many hours on that playset.

3. Once your family gets to a certain size, space is an important luxury. After living in a three-bedroom rental with the baby tucked into a corner of our room (which did not work out at all, as he was waking three or four times each night, a terrible habit that stopped once we moved the other two into a shared room, and the baby into his own space), we decided four bedrooms was mandatory (but very difficult to find).

The house we chose is like a mansion after the apartment we lived in downtown. But we have no garage. I can hardly begin to describe how painful this is. And, as flat as the backyard is, the front makes up for it by consisting of a steep drop off a short treed platform to the sidewalk and then the road, and a series of haphazard steps from the front door to the driveway. I have come close to chucking the stroller down that drop-ff in frustration many a time.

So no, it’s not perfect. Sacrifices have been made in order to satisfy the above points. But we do enjoy the area. Even better, we have great neighbours (we’ve always been lucky with neighbours!), and kids for our kids to play with. I guess you could say, we choose lifestyle over…..structure.

The other night I was lapping up some culture at a presentation by Jane Urquhart, who was speaking at Memorial University as part of their Pratt Lectures. Urquhart’s topic was, Inner Lives: Fiction and the Visual Imagination, and she emphasized that the inclusion of architecture is essential to bringing fiction to life. I can’t help but think how appropriate that topic is for my reality, the adult portion which could be titled: The Many Houses of Carrie’s Life. I could split it into chapters according to preference, first being the Thompson, Manitoba house. I could meander into a tale about how unlikely it was that in a place I never ever wanted to move to, we found our perfect abode.

However, for us, the outside is often drastically more important than the inner walls of our home. The Thompson one was a modest-sized house, but had the biggest backyard. It even backed onto green space in a place where we didn’t worry about crime or property damage (the worst that happened there was, you’d find squatters from the nearby reserves in the forest, who would sometimes leave behind thrift store finds like jackets and chairs, ooohhhh, terrifying!).

I think I’ve been somewhat sobered by this move. We’re faced with the highest energy costs we’ve ever known. We have one more little life to hold in the palm of our hands (and what a delightful little life it is!). Already, we look back on last winter and breath a sigh of relief that we survived it. We’ve finally closed off our moving claims, been compensated for the things that got broken or lost. My husband has a veritable gang of guys he goes mountain biking with and, although he only got his bike out of storage two months ago, I think he’s used it more this year than the last several years combined. I am giddy as a school girl over the amount of literary events and supportive network of writers here in this city.

Best of all, we are making connections that are, at last, feeling permanent and meaningful.

The human condition in virtual reality

August 24, 2011

I was recently put back in touch, through Facebook, with people I knew a very long time ago. I daresay, many lifetimes ago, for the time I speak of was prior to kids, prior to marriage. Sharing brief updates with one another through FB messaging made me think of the value – or lack thereof – of the new world we live in, this lifetime of social media.

I love hearing about people I’ve known in the past. Having moved around a lot, making and loosing friends year to year, province to province, town to town, I appreciate the technology that allows me to catch  up with old ties. It’s inspiring to know that a former co-worker has been promoted, followed their dreams, found happiness in their career and especially in their life, or that an old acquaintance is doing well.

This week, news I learned through this medium was anything but uplifting. There was, in fact, too much sad news from Canada in the last few days, from the loss of a politician beloved by many in this country, who passed at the too young age of 61, to a plane crash up north in our Arctic.

I recognized the name of one of the crew members in the crash instantly. I honestly thought, at first, that it couldn’t be the same guy I tree planted with, one of my crew members my memorable first year in the bush. I thought, there’s got to be more than one man in this world with that name. Through facebook, I learned the worst. Holy hell, he’s the same age as my husband, who also knew him, and he’s left his wife a widow with three small children.

This is not my loss. I haven’t been in touch with him in ten years. But I’m haunted by this too sad story, and the fact that the last time we hung out, we were in Whistler, BC, and that’s when I met his then girlfriend, now widow.

Can the virtual world help me send my condolences to his family, and the families of the other eleven people who perished on that flight in Resolute? At the very least, I will use this technology to get an address to send something to the family. But what good is a cheque or a card or flowers, when nothing can make up for the loss?

Before reading the news this week, I was reflecting on the fact that social media is a most superficial form of connecting. No matter how many personal pictures, regular status updates or sharing of internet interests a person has on their homepage, we can never truly know each other without real face time. That’s what makes me most sad about geographical distances that separate me from loved ones. But I’m learning of more and more situations where the reality of life means people must be apart for survival – apparently there are many Newfoundlanders who knew people on that flight as well, for some of them travel there for work.

So the technology can fill in the gaps left by temporary distance. The other night, my parents watched my kids in the backyard on Skype, saw for their first time their four-year-old grandson pumping on the swing, something my son just learned a few weeks ago. My nine-month-old is now used to this form of communication, for where he once cried to see their faces on my laptop, now he smiles and points and grunts at them, much to their glee.

So is it valuable? You bet. I wouldn’t want to not know about people I’ve known and cared about, no matter if the news is sad or happy, or to share moments between my kids and their grandparents, even if it is only virtual. Does it change the human condition? Nope. We still share, suffer, feel, as deeply with it, as without.

May your families and friends be safe in this weekend’s coming storms. May next week’s news not be so sad. Either way, I’ll be online, watching.

Milestones

May 30, 2011

A view from Cape Spear, most easterly point of North America.

My almost 7-year-old daughter learned to braid hair recently. A friend at school taught her. My 4-year-old son, who usually sits to pee, proudly announced the other day that a buddy at preschool showed him how to hang his parts over the toilet bowl to urinate (adorable, since he’s only just now tall enough to do so, my short-legged little man). I was dreading the day he’d start doing this, concerned it would only mean more mess for me to deal with. Instead, it’s given him more independence. He no longer calls on me every time he needs to relieve himself. My daughter now does her own hair in the morning. Which leads me to wonder, if I were homeschooling my kids, where on earth would they learn some of the more practical ways of the world?

As for bigger milestones, we finally reached the doozy two weeks ago when our Thompson house sold. Horray! And now, less than two weeks later, we’ve bought one. Only a few more weeks before we can really, truly start settling in here in St. John’s.

My husband was away last week. My parents were here to visit and help me out (thank goodness for the grandparents! Not only did they aid me in finding the house and playing chauffeur to the kids, but they tidied the million piles of papers, clothes and toys that I never seem to get around to organizing). So my husband made the biggest purchase of his life without even seeing the property. How’s that for marital trust?

When hubby got back into town, we still had one night with my parents here. I was dying to experience George Street – most pubs per square foot, I think they say, of any street in North America – sans kids, adult style. So I punched in the bags under my eyes (not sleeping much anyways, baby is ruling the roost at nighttime, and I figure we’ll wait to get into our house before I make any more half-hearted attempts at sleep training) and we headed out.

George Street is a hop skip and a jump (or a stumble) from where we’re staying. We wandered past Kelly’s Pub, where there’s always live music. It looked so quiet in there I thought I might fall asleep. We headed past Dooley’s with it’s dozen or so pool tables, all empty. Then there was O’Reilly’s, which seemed to be just filling up, as were a few of the other bars and pubs.

And then we came to the Martini Bar, where a rowdy group of people were out on the deck singing their hearts out to the music over the speakers, glasses raised in the air. Okay, no live, local music, but this place was happenin’, and I was looking for a bit of entertainment. “This is it,” I said, smiling, and we headed up the stairs, jostling past the rowdies to get to the bar.

Turns out the men were all Welsh rugby players (funny that I at first mistook their dialect for that of the locals). They’d been drinking since noon. No, since 5 am on Friday. They were reprimanded for swinging from the overhead lights, and scolded for wrestling full beers to the floor. But it wasn’t until half of them started taking off shirts, pants, and stripping right down to the buck – undies ‘n all – that they were kicked out. They got dressed and left, not with tails between their legs, but singing merrily to the young bartenders, “You’ve lost that loving feeling….”

My son and I at Cape Spear, the edge of the world.

So George Street is rowdy, even on a Sunday night before the summer is really underway. I love this city!

 

To Do. Repeat. Everything twice.

May 4, 2011

I’m treading water in the space between what pulls me down (chores, disciplining children, loneliness of having no close friends yet in the city we now call home) and what lifts me up (a threshold to cross where every day is a new adventure).

There’s nice enough people here in St. John’s. I see some other moms, and fewer dads, at the playgroups I frequent with my two sons while my daughter is at school. There’s one on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the Newfoundland Sports Centre, it’s free, and the gym is MASSIVE. My wild child can run until his cheeks are flaming red, kicking and throwing balls, flipping over mats, crawling through tunnels. Several times a week I pack the baby on my back, push the stroller for the wild one (in case he ever tires), and visit various parks perched on the hills of St. John’s. I talk to people in grocery stores. At the library.

Still, I can’t help but think back to our last three moves and know that by this time, two months into it, I had at least one new best friend. Other than my husband, whose job is more demanding than ever, I find I’m very much on my own in a strange and colourful place with no close bonds yet formed.

I despise the sound of myself complaining. And so I focus my attention towards lighter facts. Like the fact that we have a doorframe next to the kitchen table where we can put the baby in his jolly jumper (one of the things we thought to pack ourselves, hence saving it from storage). The floor there is uneven, so we stuff pillows and a blanket over the knobby threshold and he bounces and squeals with delight, part of our family dinners. My kids may not have the huge backyard with play set we had at our old house in Thompson, but wherever we walk in this city, they climb, roll, balance on fences and retaining walls, and stretch their muscles in ways they never did in the flat lands we moved from.

After six weeks, we finally and officially became residents of Newfoundland. We got our driver’s licenses and MCP (medical care plan) cards for this province. Our vehicles registered. Our insurance, bills and mail organized. Sort of.

Let me know if you’ve experienced this before, because I really hope it’s not just us: having to do EVERY SINGLE THING TWICE. Go to City Hall to get a parking permit. Fail to bring one piece of paper with my name and new address on it (because I didn’t have one yet), go home, go back another day with all relevant information. Go to the vehicle registration office, they can’t get in touch with some official or other on their end, have to return another day to finish that process. Pick up forms for MCP, they are the wrong ones. Take the correct forms to the office that the website stated to go to in the Confederation Building, turns out it’s not the right place at all. Start all over again. This time, make a few phone calls (which takes at least an hour on hold) to discover that the office to get the MCP cards is actually located downtown.

The day I did finally get our MCP cards, I also got my driver’s license. It was a Friday. I could hardly believe that I’d finally have my new ID. Of course, both those things had already been attempted previously, but still, to accomplish two things in one day, all three kids in tow, it was amazing.

My husband and I celebrated with a bottle of wine and cheval noire, it’s our new favourite beer out here, Black Horse (not really called by the French name but that’s what we’ve been jokingly calling it, in honour of our daughter whose ability to translate half her English vocabulary into the other official language is growing at a surprisingly fast pace). Then we got a cold.

The weeks have been tinged with drama and drudgery. I am both amused and frustrated by the contents of this furnished rental: six ladles, four colanders, numerous pots with no lids and lids with no pots, and not a single potato peeler (I finally bought one).

And so, eight weeks after moving here, we (well actually, I) evicted us from this grand old home and embarked on a house hunt. Again. After looking at some other rentals, I got nervous.

This week, I changed my mind. I think we’ll stay put, maybe attempt to get a few more things out of storage. I know some gals who call it a “woman’s prerogative” to change her mind over and over again. I call it one of the fairer sex’s many curses. I think I slip into a bit of a depression every time I change my mind, then change it back again. What a drain of energy. I’d rather think of it as exploring all my options. All little too thoroughly.

I am grateful for the chance to live here in Newfoundland, a place I realize we may never have visited just as a vacation destination (it’s certainly not a cheap place to get to. It’s also, we realize now, the most expensive place we’ve ever lived. Everything does have to get here by ship, and apparently NL doesn’t have its own cows, because milk, for one, costs twice what it does anywhere else we’ve lived). I don’t mean to complain, really I don’t. But in keeping with the main theme of my blog, on relocation, I just want to be very very clear: moving is never easy. More to the point: being displaced is a nightmare. But we find things to enjoy along the way.

We explored some of the East Coast Trail over Easter weekend. WOW. Stunning. And we visited the lighthouse at Ferryland on a bluebird day. There’s so much hiking out here, and our family is at a stage where we can enjoy these things together, the kids running all over the craggy, moss and heather-covered rocks, the baby in a backpack.

I’m also discovering some of the most amazing writers. I’m reading Lisa Moore’s February, and I’m absolutely blown away by this haunting, touching story. This is Moore’s fictitious tale based on the very real, horrible tragedy that happened off the coast of NL in 1982 when the Ocean Ranger rig sank into the frigid depths of the Atlantic, killing all 84 people who were stationed on it that Valentine’s evening. Perhaps it is my choice of novel, but I’m starting to think that one thing that characterizes Newfoundlanders is sadness. I don’t know how anyone who is from here, could not have been touched in some way by at least one of the many many tragedies that has occurred here. Tidal waves, severe storms, and countless instances of lives being lost at sea. I can see why so many people here have a true love hate relationship with the ocean that surrounds them.

I joined the Writer’s Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador, WANL, and I’m really looking forward to tapping into that group. It seems to be a very strong, active organization here at the most eastern tip of Canada. And perhaps as I do get to meet and know other people here, I will find the humour, and not just the sadness, that I know lives here too.

First impressions of Newfoundland (and seventeen grocery bags of dirty laundry)

March 20, 2011

A view of cliffs overhanging the ocean.

Here’s the top 5 things I’ve learned after living in Newfoundland for two weeks:

1. There’s weather here like I’ve never experienced anywhere else in Canada.

I’ve lived in several Northern Canadian towns, and before now, I thought that anywhere around the Great Lakes in Ontario experienced the wildest snow, wind and rain storms. But the weather in St. John’s is like no other place I’ve ever been. You know the expression, ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes?’ Never more true than here. It comes out of nowhere, a clear, sunny sky, moderate winds turn into gusts around 25-50 kms/hour, and the heaviest – I mean, this stuff weighs a tonne – snow on earth. Last Monday I turned on the radio and heard the words “school closures” but didn’t think they could possibly be talking about St. John’s. Sure enough, my daughter’s fourth day at her new school was canceled. Not a drop of precipitation in the air. I took the kids to a movie. By mid-afternoon, there was a heavy snowfall happening. Still, it didn’t seem that bad. Until the next morning, when my rental van was stuck in the thickest, stickiest slush I’ve ever tried to shovel. Luckily, a kind man from across the street helped to dig me out. Which leads me to #2.

2. Never underestimate the kindness of strangers in Newfoundland.

Seriously, that man didn’t have to help dig me out. Neither did our landlord’s parents have to stock our rental home with some basic essentials, milk, juice, margarine, fresh muffins AND homemade jelly. My gosh, can you imagine anyone in Toronto doing something like that? In that city, the tenants would move in and get a restraining order for the weirdo landlord trying to stalk them. No, people here are genuinely friendly. They even SMILE. Finally, I’m living somewhere, where other people smile even more than I do!

3. Another new experience for me: the English language (I think?) spoken by some Newfoundland natives.

I couldn’t understand a word the man said, but he shoveled that brutally heavy snow out from under my tires, I gave him  my biggest grin and said a million thank-you’s, he mirrored my smiles and gave a high five and away we went! So, despite the fact that you may not understand the Newfoundland dialect, a thank-you and a smile goes a long way.

4. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to hearing the CBC news at the bottom, rather than the top, of the hour.

It seems quite fitting that Newfoundland is a half-hour “off” the rest of the world. This is a place where no one is in a big hurry. Good thing, because with the intersections their forebearers created in this city, if anyone tried blasting around the way they do in other capital cities (picture Montreal, where drivers don’t even adhere to red lights, let alone speed signs), there’d be an accident about every 5 seconds. Yes, everything here is a little “off” and a little slowed down from any other place I’ve ever lived. But in a good way. A delightfully, down-home, endearingly good way.

5. I think I finally realize what “Where ya to?” means. Where ya from. Or maybe it’s, where ya living? Where it is? Where ya going? Something like that. Once I’m more certain, I’ll let ya know.

So we arrived in St. John’s on Friday, March 4 after 17 nights on the road. That was two nights of hotels in Thompson while our house was being packed up; another in Winnipeg; then Thunder Bay; next was Wawa (although we had hoped to make it to Sault Ste. Marie that night, but after fueling up in the town of the giant goose, we were about to pull back onto the highway when the road block was just going up….due to weather. Luckily, we got a great room – a cabin with a fireplace! – and enjoyed an evening together as a family while the snow gusted around us outside). We spent three nights with each of our parents in Southern Ontario. Two with my brother and his family in Montreal. One stopover in New Brunswick before landing in Nova Scotia for the last of our family visits for this trip, with my aunt and uncle and cousins (who greeted us with fresh lobster – welcome to Atlantic Canada, aaahhhh yeah!). One night there turned into two, once we realized there was only one ferry option still available that week.

By that time, my husband was getting very anxious to get to St. John’s, as his assignments were piling up while we were on the road. We hadn’t booked the ferry yet because of all the weather delays. The only tickets available were for the overnight boat. We’d hoped to take the daytime one, to see the view over the ocean; as it turned out, I don’t think we would have seen much anyways, as the weather was foggy all week.

That night, we rocked and rolled across the channel from Sydney, Cape Breton to Channel-Port aux Basques, NL. I can’t even imagine the size of the waves that caused that giant boat to sway so. I lay in my bed in the cabin, worrying that my son would roll out of the top bunk, while trying not to roll on my baby who was sharing a mattress with me.

In the end, we were glad we’d taken the overnight ride, because the next day’s drive would have been deadly had it not been daylight. We drove through Wreckhouse, where winds are known to gust up to 200 kms/hour. They weren’t so strong that day, but it was certainly wild. Every time we crested a hill, the road became more slippery and ice-covered. As we descended into valleys, the trans-Canada seemed to thaw.

Our last night on the road was in Grand Falls. By then, the baggies of dirty laundry were piled in the truck, and we were so excited to empty the vehicle for the last time.

And now, living in a furnished rental, our belongings in storage, it’s a humbling experience of existing without all the things we’ve gathered over five years of home ownership. I have mixed emotions about this old home, more than 100 years of history. I’ve always wanted to live in an old home, but it does come with it’s price. The other day I said to my daughter, it kinda smells like old man armpit in here. She laughed and laughed. I cleaned and cleaned, and finally gave up, listening to the creaks and echoes, hoping to hear the stories these walls could tell.

Perceptions of Time

February 8, 2011

Stress has a way of turning Time into a yo-yo. It speeds up and slows down at intervals, irregular ones that leave your guts in a knot.

Going through a relocation involves a lot of “hurry up and wait,” a term I’ve rarely used since my tree planting days. In this case, hurry up and get your house ready for the market….wait for it to sell. Hurry up and decide where you want to live in the new town or city….wait for the right opportunity to make an offer on a place. Hurry up and say goodbye to your friends…wait for the pain of departure to swell before ebbing in your heart.

While all this waiting is going on, here’s what I’m doing with my time:
Writing in the mornings while my two older children are in school and the baby sleeps. Spending time with friends in the afternoons and some evenings, quality time with my family in between, engaging in long talks with my husband. We’re trying to keep our course and envision what our goals are, so that we don’t become swept away in this relocation. We don’t want to look back and realize we allowed it to be completely out of our control. We see the value in still living, enjoying our time together and with friends, even as we wait.

But there’s something about not being able to visualize any part of your own future that is more terrifying than thrilling. This time around, we are having to leave before our house sells. Before figuring out where we’re going to live when we get there.

So what am I really doing with my time? I’m FREAKING OUT. We have packers booked to come in less than a week. Great, they’ll do all the work for me, of packing my house, and I’m glad for that. But where is all our stuff going to go? Into storage. For how long? WE DON’T KNOW. So, while this would be sorta okay if it was just my husband and I, we’d have our clothes, some gear – snowboards, running shoes, bathing suits – with us. But with three kids, including a baby who is growing out of sleepers on a weekly basis, it’s a little more complicated.

So here we go, we’re planning on packing the truck (thank goodness for the pickup with hard top my husband insists on keeping in his life), and making a two week journey from Thompson, Manitoba to St. John’s Newfoundland. In February. Are you kidding me?

Nope. This is for real.

I’ve booked a few things – hotel here in town for the last night when our beds will be loaded on the moving truck. My son’s last eye appointment to find out if his prescription is still the same. Cancelled the phone. Changed our insurance to the less coverage, higher price that is a consequence of leaving a home vacant and moving away.

Where to have our mail forwarded to is another matter. I know, I know, it’ll have to be a General Delivery address in St. John’s. And I know, I know, we aren’t really going to be homeless in a destitute sort of a way, but we are going to be homeless in a practical sort of a way. And what school will my daughter be able to attend while we’re living out of suitcases in hotels until we find a rental, and wait for our house here to sell?

Ah, the suitcases. In my nightmares last night, our giant suitcase tormented me, opening it’s floppy lid and spilling out random essentials – toothbrushes, baby clothes, toddler clothes, girl clothes, man’s underwear, my pj’s, as well as flashlights, books, papers – that I scrambled to retrieve from behind a worn hotel dresser and off the dusty hotel t.v.

What I’m really doing, is giving myself a pep talk every morning so that I can turn a brave face towards my children as I clean up the cereal they’ve spilled all over the floor. Trying to forget that I woke up my whole family last night rummaging angrily in drawers and cupboards, trying to find the children’s advil and Vicks for my son, who couldn’t sleep because of a stuffed up nose, cursing the fact that I can’t find anything in my own house ever since it’s been ‘tidied’ for showings, and hating the fact that we have to live like this, displaced already before we’ve even left.

I decide every day that I can make this hard on all of us – by complaining about the fact that it’s difficult enough to stay afloat with laundry, meal planning and kids’ activities without also having to pack for a journey of undetermined length. Or easy – feel excited for the adventure of it all. I can’t change how I feel (did I mention I’m FREAKING OUT?!?!), but I am learning to have a little control over the expression of those feelings (except in the middle of the night when all I want to do is snuggle back in bed with my nightmares). I’m learning to use that great gift of Free Will we humans have, to surmount the obstacles before me, choose my own destiny, and all the rest of those magnificent terms we use to describe greatness.

Today’s pep talk: Bins, Carrie. Pack bins. Leave the unmanageable giant suitcase for the packers.

My husband called me this morning to ask how I’m doing ( a little afraid of the answer, after my rampage in the night). We have these conversations frequently these days, and they always end in….giggles (as an aside, though, I should add that it’s not all a laughing matter, and I was relieved last week after talking with some other friends who are also going through upcoming relocations, to discover we all agree that fighting with your spouse seems to be yet another side effect of the inherent stress involved).

So my husband asked how I was doing today, and I couldn’t answer him except to say: “Are we really moving to Newfoundland in February?” As soon as we’d finished laughing at and with each other over the phone, he suddenly had to go. Time sped up while I rushed to rescue the baby from a hungry belly. Time slowed down as the baby fell asleep and I began typing these words. And speeds up again as I look over at my To Do list and wonder, guts in a knot (part excitement, part fear), at our elusive future.