Posted tagged ‘family’

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.

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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.

Eulogy

May 5, 2010

Okay, one more post on death and dying, and then I WILL get on with other subjects (I promise this more to myself than to anyone who might be reading this because, well, just ’cause, it’s time to move on from this topic!).

I presented the eulogy at my Grandmother’s funeral last month. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. That may sound sad and insignificant, but just let me tell you why it was such a big important deal…

First of all, being chosen by my Grandmother, prior to her death of course, to do the eulogy for her funeral was a huge honour.

Second of all, I was more nervous than I’d ever been for any school presentation, dance or piano recital, or any other big event in my life, and I had to overcome my fears and JUST DO IT.

My mom had told me a long time ago that my Grandma had requested me to do the eulogy. So it was something I had been thinking about for a long time, making notes about in my journals, crying into my pillow over it because although I never knew when the day might come, I knew it would come and I had to be ready. Honouring 90 years of a life is not something to take lightly. Especially when that life belonged to one of the most important people in MY life.

You see, my Grandma and I were kindred spirits. She was most certainly one of the best friends I have ever had, and she of course knew me better than anyone else on the planet, aside from my own parents. But my Grandma’s knowing was different from that of my parents. She could overlook my rebellions, my inadequacies, my self-doubts, and talk to me as an equal, despite the two-generation gap between us. She always told me to stop worrying, despite the fact that she herself was a first-class worrier, she always told me it was okay to make mistakes, but to apologize for them, and she sympathized when I wanted to sneak out of the house to meet my boyfriend, or any other act that was illicit in my parents’ eyes.

The day of the funeral arrived, followed by a hellish week of travel, and a middle-of-the-night trip to the hospital with my daughter who chose that week to contract her yearly ear infection (actually it was my wonderful husband to took her to the hospital, but I never did go back to sleep, and so dragged my pregnant, tired body through the motions of getting ready for the funeral the next morning with more than a little frustration).

I was shaking by the time I arrived at the church. I was practicing yoga breathing, slow, deep, even, but couldn’t stop the shudders from running through my body. I held my Grandma’s dear friend and we cried together, then had to get to the bathroom to compose myself before the service began.

I kept telling myself, over and over again, that I had to do this for my Grandma, it was the last good thing I could or would ever do for her. I asked my body to relax enough to just speak clearly – please, for goodness sake, just let my voice ring out clear and steady!

I sat between my mom and dad during the service. On my left, my mom, too, was nervous about breaking down for she, too, had a speech prepared which she would read out after I read mine. My dad, on my right, was a pillar of strength. I thought about how he had been that pillar for me on my wedding day. I had been all shiny and happy that day, and didn’t feel overwhelmed until the moment when my girls had all walked out the doors and down the aisle in front of me, leaving my dad and I waiting our turn to appear before all my friends and family. My dad had taken my hand in his arm, and very calmly talked me through the motions we would go through to get me to the aisle. Sitting at the front of the church I thought about that day, and drew strength from the memory.

The minister said my name, and I stood up. My Grandma’s ashes were in an urn next to a lovely picture of her from her 60th wedding anniversary. I kissed my hand and touched the urn as I walked by, wanting to connect with her in some way before I got up to the podium to speak about her.

My voice was very shaky in the beginning. I paced myself and breathed deeply until I got into the second paragraph of my notes, and then it got easier. I made eye contact with my Grandma’s devoted friends and family members sitting before me in the pews. I felt proud to be standing there, talking about what a wonderful, nice, often unadventurous, nurturing woman my Grandma had been. I had written about a few of her friends, and her three smart, ambitious, creative children, about how I had shocked her at one time claiming to have discovered Paganism as my new religion, but how the values of love and forgiveness that she taught me came from Christianity.

Many people spoke to me later, tears in their eyes, and told me my Grandma would have been proud of my eulogy. I imagine she was proud because, just as I had thought about the eulogy long before I wrote and presented it, I know she would have imagined me up there, speaking kind words about her. It’s an interesting sensation to miss her now, but at the same time to know that, more than before, she is with me always.

After the dog

February 9, 2010

Now that I’ve exploited the death of our family dog for the sake of my writing, it’s time to get on with more practical life matters. Like the fact that I finally cleaned the house. I couldn’t bear, the first few days after saying goodbye to her, to clean up. I know in my head that I will find her black hairs on the furniture, embedded in clothes and rugs, in our vehicles and in the corners of our lives for years to come. But still, vacuuming up the obvious clumps of her hair right away seemed…cruel. Like putting a needle into her to kill her wasn’t. But anyways.

So. Practical life matters. Yesterday, it was a balmy minus seventeen c, and I muscled my kids out the door in the afternoon to play in our marvellous backyard. I love our backyard. It makes this long, cold winter (have I mentioned how long and cold the winter is here, north of 55 degrees?) more bearable. I’ve built an amazing slide off our railing-less back deck, and my son, the smallest in the family, can slide so far he almost ends up in the forest behind the shed. Yesterday I built up more of the fluffy snow into a bank so he won’t run smack into that wooden shed. I’ve decided the slide, which has been my outdoor winter project, is almost ready for the Olympics this week – our very own mini luge track.

My daughter had to go back inside to pee before my son and I were ready to come in. He likes to play “push you down, mummy” so we did that for a while, then finally lay, sprawled on the snow, staring up at the cloudless sky.

How often do you get the chance to do that? I couldn’t remember the last time I had. I stared up into the endless blue of the sky and cleared my mind. My son was a great participant, silent and still. So was the world around us. I forgot, for a moment, where I was. That I’ve moved to a place where I have no roots, no grounding, no history. That that thought still makes me sad. I became part of the sky, and it of me, and I was content.

Slowly, I began to remember other times when I had lay on my back and looked up at the sky. Summertime with my family. Wintertime in the schoolyard with classmates. Once again, I was a part of the world. I added to my list of things that don’t matter, the fact of where we live. Life goes on.

Sling-shot travels

January 4, 2010

Leaving Thompson to go “back home” for the holidays was busy, but not hard. I worried that the slingshot ride from here back to there, would be difficult. Emotionally. And I sensed it happening before the journey even began.

It’s all so overwhelming. The visits, the partying, the travelling to get “back” to see friends and family. And the only worse part about all the commotion – which I really don’t mind, and even my kids are pretty laid back about being taken here there and everywhere – is saying goodbye.

It was so great – even better than expected – to see everyone we were fortunate enough to visit with during this trip “back home.” You see, my expectation was that this was more of a duty than anything else, something we were doing for our families in particular. But I now realize that the journey “back” was for all of us, and I can’t be stoic or brave about the resulting separation that began as we boarded the plane January 2. It hurts like hell to leave again, and it breaks my heart.

It was especially amazing to see the difference in the kids this year compared with last year. My kids, and the cousins on both sides of our family, are all pretty much the same age – my daughter is five, and the eldest boy cousins on my husband’s side and my own are both four-and-a-half. My son will be three in March, and the boy cousin on my side of the family is turning three also, as is the girl cousin on my husband’s side of the family. So, for my kids, whether they are visiting with my parents or my in-laws, they have cousins their own age to play with.

Last year, there was still no taking our eyes off of them, but now, they can be downstairs or in a different room or even outside (for short periods) playing together, while the adults have our visiting or meal preparation time. It’s truly a delight, especially when we catch them in certain acts of play. For example, my son and my brother’s youngest boy were taking turns pushing each other in the baby stroller – a girl’s toy, meant for a doll, but sturdy enough for the almost-three-year-olds to use. They emerged from a hallway doing this, and I was trying to imagine how they decided to do that in the first place, and how it wasn’t a fight over who would push and who would ride first (and I heard in my head their munchkin voices discussing it, not as adults, but with more actions and gestures accompanied by a few words).

At my in-law’s house, the four cousins bounced and giggled like fools on the two beds in a basement room (one twin on a frame, the other on the floor). I walked away, hesitant at first, but then willingly, knowing full well that for me, the worst accidents happen when I’m standing right there (like the two goose-eggs my son gave himself in the course of one month last year – in the same spot on his bruised forehead! Ouch!). Besides, the benefit of having the cousins play happily together is truly awesome (and beneficial when parents have drinks and appies waiting upstairs!).

One day, my daughter, who had previously never paid much attention to her only girl cousin, was leading her around my in-law’s house on all fours playing “kitty” and later, the two of them were sitting side-by-side at the easel, each painting their own picture.

These things may seem small to people who don’t have kids, but to me, they’re huge landmarks in the evolution of the relationships between cousins. I have many cousins, only one with whom I’m very close, and most of them lived several provinces away from me when I was growing up. I always dreamed of having huge family Christmases, and cousins I could be best friends with (because we so often want what we don’t have, now, don’t we!?!). And so, to see that my kids will have this, is incredible.

Of course, while we are living far away, it puts a lot of pressure on my husband and I to “get the cousins together” as the grandparents say. The desire is certainly there, but the holiday time is limited. One reason we do enjoy being far away from family, is that we get to exercise our own independence, our own family values and activities. But we want this closeness for our children and it’s a tough void to cross. The good thing, is that when we do all get together, it’s for sleep-overs, not just the odd meal or afternoon here and there. So, even if it is only once or twice each year, the time together is intense and valuable.

I imagine that all of this is leading up to something like a few years crammed with several weddings, another few years ahead jammed with babies… But I mustn’t get ahead of myself. My own are still babies in the grand scheme of Time, and so much can happen between now, and when they all grow up! Thinking about it (without expectations, of course… Um, no, I have my own wishes for the next generation, despite myself!) is dizzying… I not only get to look forward to seeing what my own children will do in the future, but what their cousins will do and be, as well (as with children of friends, and even friends of friends). The world is a complicated web of lives and interconnections, and its impossible to determine where any one of us will end up!

Duh.

So for now, I really, truly must relish the time we all had together, and even look forward to my life continuing back in this little town we moved to earlier this year. To get through the long dark winter, and live on the sweet dreams of this Christmas, already past. To make resolutions and work towards goals, or perish. And there’s many small eyes on me, too, to help motivate me to be the best I always can, and be the mom and auntie they all think of with fondness.