Flying Solo

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I’m going to be solo-parenting for the next little while, and so far the experience has brought a few things forward for me. First is a deep appreciation for all that my partner does in the running of our household. I sometimes feel resentment because the childcare falls primarily to me. But now that I also must monitor our water and fill the water tank weekly, keep the generator fueled and its oil changed, clean up the kitchen after I cook, find someone to buck up a cord of firewood, find more firewood…I really see just how much he does. Even the little things, like starting a fire in the early, chill hours of the morning, putting on the birch because I love how it smells: I see them and appreciate them now more than ever.

Last night, when I came home late from work, I got the fire going again so it would be warm when we woke up today. Crouched in front of the stove, breathing life into the flames, watching them lick up the kindling that I’d split in the yard a few days earlier, I felt so grateful to the friends helping me through. Who not only babysit my children but clean my house, too. Who take my kids to the park so I can write (or, you know, run some errands unaccompanied), or who give up their weekend so I can go to work.

I felt grateful for this whole experience. In the last week, I’ve learned skills that I never made time for before. I feel empowered and independent again, something I have missed since getting married and starting a family. It was easy to give over all these running-of-the-home tasks to him. But I would also feel frustrated if they needed to be done, and I had time but lacked the knowledge. I used to worry: what if something happened to my partner and I had to keep this place going on my own? It’s hard for me to ask for help. It’s hard for me to be dependant on another. And this experience has challenged both of those things. Leaning on my friends for help with the kids, while gaining a measure of independence at home. I can now do almost all of the things that I’d previously boxed up as “blue jobs.” (I know, super sexist.) The only thing I’d like to learn is how to run the chainsaw. That will have to wait, for now.

I’m grateful for all the hard work I’ve done in the last two years to learn how to better take care of myself. I know those skills will be essential in the coming weeks. I’m down to bare-bones self-care, but I try to savour it. Making time for meditation when I can. Not worrying about writing and polishing poems, but instead focusing on 10 minute freewrites, just to keep my hand moving across the page. Taking some extra time in the shower, even. I’m grateful we have a dog that forces us out for a walk, and that there’s no cell signal in the woods. It’s an hour where I’m far away from my phone.

The season is turning abruptly here. We had a week of uncomfortable, dry heat. Each afternoon, it would reach 35 degrees celcius in the sun. Then: cool mornings and the leaves of the birch and aspen turning golden and brown. One night, strong winds blew much of the leaves down, at least around our place. Geese gather, ready for the long flight south. My thoughts turn to the woodpile, to soups and stews and home-baked bread; to checking which kid needs new boots this winter, or a new coat, and actually trying to be prepared for that (because I’m never prepared for that). I pulled the big duvet out last night and put it on the bed. It’s cozy with the kids in there, too, and for once, I’m glad we still co-sleep.

I’m going to try and keep up with my weekly posting here, but if I miss a week or two, please know life is busy right now and I’m okay! You can find me sporadically on Twitter, and more frequently on Instagram (my account is private, so if you want to follow and we don’t know each other IRL, just send me a DM) and Facebook. Take care, friends!

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Image via Flickr user Tamaki Sono

I came here to write about choosing gratitude. About how, even though things aren’t perfect, I am grateful to have a home in town to live in for the winter. I’m grateful for running water, friends within walking distance. I’m grateful that self-care will be a little bit easier now.

But scrolling through my Facebook feed and reading about First Nation’s people taking peaceful and powerful stands to protect their land, their rights, and their water, in North Dakota and, here in Canada, at Muskrat Falls, I feel like my little gratitudes are so meaningless. Talking about my small life, about walking to the grocery store or watching the ice form on the river, is so useless. There are people out there right now, mothers with their children in their arms, facing down cops in riot gear. Tear gas and sound cannons and military vehicles meant to intimidate. My triumphs and problems, though large in my life, are so insignificant in comparison.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed. I could expand my view to include all of the people fleeing their war-torn homes. All of the people who are being hit hardest by hurricanes, floods, droughts, record high temperatures. All of the people starving while we send perfectly edible food to landfills. Dead zones in the ocean. Mass extinction. I could go on, and on. And on. I could throw up my hands in despair because how could I or anyone else ever have any effect on all of this? It feels out of control, too big, unmanageable.

So I come back to the small. I come back to what I can do today. I can amplify the voices demanding change. I can add my voice to it. I can donate money and supplies. I can educate myself about the damage of colonialism, capitalism, misogyny, rape culture. I can challenge all of my own biases and privileges. I can raise my children to be aware of these things, too. I can raise them to ask uncomfortable questions, to call out wrongs when they see them, to be compassionate and generous and thoughtful human beings. I can hope.

If we all practice taking these small actions each day, if we all take them together, maybe they’ll add up to something greater than all of us. Maybe they’ll add up to the massive change we need, for the planet and for all of us living on it. My small gratitudes don’t seem quite so insignificant, when they go hand in hand with these actions. I am grateful to have my eyes open.

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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