Imperfect Impermanence

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I think Aedan is really struggling with his dad being gone right now, and it manifests in him treating the rest of us like crap. Lots of name calling, hitting, toy throwing…it’s a challenge for me to keep in mind that it’s because he’s having a hard time. Yesterday morning, after unending insults and fighting, I loaded everyone up in the truck with the plan to drive out to Tombstone Territorial Park.

The drive wasn’t any better than the morning at home. Lately, whenever I get the kids into the truck, they do nothing but bicker. Is this a thing siblings do on car rides? Someone always complaining loudly that someone else is bothering them, touching them, took their thing, bit them…I have, on more than one occasion, threatened to “pull this truck over right now” or “turn around and go right back home”, even though we all know full well I’m not going to do that. Who have I become?

I’ve become a woman doing her best to keep her shit together, I guess. We arrived at the Interpretive Center and hit the trail to the beaver pond. It was overcast, the sky low and moody over mountains just on the verge of fall brilliance. The dog wouldn’t stop pulling on the leash. The kids alternated by running ahead on the path and running up to hug the dog, and then we’d all get tripped up. I’d step on the dog’s paw and he’d yelp and then I’d stumble over a kid and they’d yelp and then I’d yelp at everyone to get out of my way. Fun times, right?

We got to the bench by the beaver pond and immediately everyone asked for a snack. The snacks I bring are never what they want and there is never enough. Still, I tried to relax and take in the surroundings, tried to be present even if that meant fully existing in a moment of kids and dog tugging at my limbs. It was not relaxing, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. At least we were out of the house.

On the walk back to the Interpretive Center, where the path skirted the highway, I could see three young women hitch hiking together further north. They had big packs on their backs, the hoods of their Gortex jackets drawn tight over their heads. They chatted and laughed, the one in the middle clutching a cardboard sign with their destination written on it. I thought of all the adventures I never had, will never have. Slipped out of the moment and into longing for a life that is not mine. Charlotte tripped over a root and fell, and I went to comfort her. The dog, forever tugging on the leash.

We arrived back at the truck and I loaded Winston into the back before we went into the center. It was relatively busy in there. The boys went to play with the animal puppets; Charlotte sat down to colour. I poured myself a cup of tea (labrador tea leaves, yarrow and cranberries) and sat in front of the blazing woodstove. Here. I’m here. This is my family, this is my life.

The irritation I’d felt on the path subsided. It was cozy inside, the kids were happy. As we left, it started to rain a little. I passed those women on the highway, silently wishing them a ride soon. I felt grateful to be dry and heading home.

Lest you think the day was perfect after that: I yelled at the kids to be quiet on the drive home. While I was changing the oil in the generator, the dog decided to become a car chaser and not come when I called him. I cried. I wanted very much to drink the bottle of wine my friend left here in case of emergency.  But I also didn’t want to drink the bottle of wine. I made tea instead. Aedan saw me crying and told me he cared about me. And then I texted with P about how I was feeling and he just listened and didn’t try to fix it and that felt good. And then our friends came to visit and had dinner with us and by the time they left, things were better.

As I headed up to bed with the kids, I was reminded that it all passes. The moods, mine and the kids’, rise and fall like waves, drift like clouds in the sky, whatever metaphor you prefer. Nothing lasts forever. This difficult moment in my life, the bad mornings, the bad days, the sadness: they pass. I don’t have to be the uncomfortable feelings. I don’t have to believe the shitty things my mind tells me, or act on them.

This morning we all woke up in a better mood. We’ll go to the pool, we’ll visit our friends, I’ll make pizza for dinner. I may or may not yell at everyone to be quiet when we drive to town. It can’t all be perfect.

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When Your Choice Doesn’t Feel Like a Choice

Both yesterday and this morning, I woke up with my stomach in a nervous knot, feeling like I could cry. I’m short tempered with the kids: remaining patient with them requires a lot of mental effort. And now that I’m writing it, I realize that for the last four or five days, I’ve been struggling with all of my usual go-to, escape reality habits: screen time and strong urges to overeat and have a few drinks. My mind is trying to hide from an impending return to reality.

Of course, the last month of staying with my parents here in Ontario has been reality, because it’s what we’ve been living. And in that month, I’ve gotten myself back on track. Back to self-care, back to self-awareness, back to some connection with my kids. It’s easy when there are two other adults to help with the kids. This is the way we should be raising our families: in extended family groups. This is the way I’d like to be doing it. It’s the way I feel most sane.

This return to reality, though, a return to my every day reality. And how it’s making me feel sick to my stomach. When I first went to Dawson City, I was unfettered. Sure, I was still fucking up, making mistakes, depressed and far from my true self, but I was free to do it. I had no dependants. I could go where I felt taken. If I wanted to go home tomorrow, I could. If I wanted to move to Quebec City, I could. If I wanted to travel, I could. But now, I’ve got a boatload of responsibility that calls be back to Dawson. I can’t shake it, I can’t run from it. Our livelihood is there, the business that supports my family. And I’m tied to that business because I had children with, married, the person who owns and operates that business.

When we made the decision to move back there last spring, I spent my final therapy sessions circling over the same thing. (And crying. Lots of crying). Over and over, “I don’t want to do this. I have to do this. I don’t want to do this. I have to do this.” I try to frame it as us making a choice, being active in the course of our lives. But really, what kind of choice is it when the alternative is to run the business into the ground and go bankrupt? How do we handle these non-choices in our lives?

Call it being responsible, call it adulting, call it “doing the right thing”; call it what you will. It is fucking hard. Hard to stay focused on the positives, but I’ll list them anyway: we own a well established business. It affords us the luxury to travel across the country several times a year to visit our family. My partner and I can make our own work hours. We have a home there. We have wonderful friends there. We are surrounded by wild beauty. We are a part of a thriving, creative community of people who largely choose to be there.

And yet. And yet. If I could, I would choose to raise my kids close to their grandparents, their aunts and uncles and cousins. I would choose to stay in the place where I got all the help I needed to get my mental health back on track. I would choose the support, the village I already have here. I’m making a choice that I don’t really want to make. Is that even still choice?

The fact is that we have to do these things sometimes. We go where our paths take us, and this is where mine leads. No matter how I look at it, this is the only thing that makes sense. I’ll go into it calling it my choice, because I suppose that feels empowering. I’ll stay focused on each step directly in front of me on the path. Instead of thinking about the things I don’t have, the people I’m missing, I’ll focus on what I do have and the people who show up for me. I’ll keep my eyes open for the opportunities that appear.

It’s the leaving that’s so hard, the taking off, the leap. Not to mention the actual travel: packing everything again, flying across the country with three kids. The whirlwind of Whitehorse, the 500km drive back to a house that will be cold and dark. Taking up life again there. The doing of the thing weighs on me, makes me wish I could just live wholly in one place or the other. Not this straddling the country. But that’s how it is.

I’ll see you on the other side, friends, when I take the next step.

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