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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Home Fire

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It’s been a little over a week since we moved back into our Dempster house. It feels good to be home. It feels right. And that surprises me.

Living out here, forty kilometers from town, with no close neighbours, limited running water and off-grid is not easy. Over the years here, I’ve struggled with the isolation of it, which is only exacerbated by the isolation of new motherhood. I’ve cursed the hoops I have to jump through to do something as simple as wash my hair or bathe my kids or pee in the night in the middle of winter.

But of all the houses I’ve lived in over the last few years, this one feels like home.

Immediately, as soon as I step through the door, I feel home. The woodsmoke smell, the sunny south facing windows, the creaks in the floors. Even the pair of whiskey jacks have come back, never far, swooping in to pick over the scrapings of the oatmeal or rice pot that we cast over the front porch before washing the dishes. My familiars.

Our yard is full of snow still. It melts more every day, and the usual mini lakes and streams open up: there’s one by the woodpile that we must cross to start the generator, and another conveniently located right in front of the outhouse. We cut channels in the ice to help the meltwater drain away.

Tomorrow we’re off to Whitehorse for a few days, and starting next week my day off to write will be Thursday, rather than Tuesday, so that’s when I’ll be updating my blog (until things change again!)

Finding Home

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Since I first left Ontario for the Yukon in 2005, I have made my home in many places. Run-down trailers, bedrooms in shared homes, wall tents, apartments, and a log cabin in the woods. I’ve lived here in Dawson City, back in London, Ontario and in Quebec City. I have bounced around so much over the last 12 years and friends, I am tried of it.

I want my roots to reach down deep into the soil. I want to plant perennials in my garden and enjoy them the following summer. I want to unpack my suitcase. I want to put my damn suitcase in a closet somewhere and forget about it for awhile. I want the boys to have their own bedroom, with their own beds and dressers and secrets whispered under covers. I want to renovate my kitchen (except not really because there are a lot of decision to be made in renovating a kitchen).

We’ve been living in a rented house in town since November, and our time there is fast coming to an end. And if you’re not from Dawson then let me tell you that finding a family home to rent here is next to impossible. And buying a home here, while possible, would mean taking on another big load of debt for us. It seems reckless to do when we’ve got this lovely log home just sitting there waiting for us 40 kilometers out of town. Sure, there’s no indoor plumbing, and our closest neighbours are birds…but it’s ours. We own it and I planted perennials in the garden last year and I want to see if they come up or if I killed them. I want to step out of my door and walk the forest trail to the nearby pond. I want to sit down there and not think about getting up again for a few years, anyway. I want to put in a septic field and indoor plumbing and build a guest cabin and an outdoor sauna. I want to fill my green house with basil and tomatoes and nothing else.

We’ve decided to move back there at the end of March. We’ve decided to try and make this place work. Close friends and family will be worried right now. But I’m the one who has been pushing for this move. Maybe it’s the pragmatic Virgo in me, or maybe, at the other end of the scale, it’s me going off of my gut feelings. But this is what makes the most sense. And it feels right, too.

Truthfully, of all of the places I’ve landed in the last 12 years, this is the place that makes me feel home. Which is bizarre, because I’ve had such a difficult time there. But the children are that much older now, that much more independent, and I am that much further along in my own journey. I feel better able to meet the challenges of rural living. I know what I need to function, and I’m getting better at honouring those needs.

It will mean more driving. It will mean that sometimes I spend a night, alone, in town. For a little while, it will mean showers in town and laundry in town and pooping outside. I’m ready for it.

We’re making plans to finish the inside properly (no more plywood floor and insulation ceilings for us!) and over the summer we’ll look into a septic field and building an addition that includes a real bathroom, with a flushing toilet and everything. Dreamy.

I suppose this is an aspect of accepting where I am, and what I’ve got. Much of the suffering (I use that in the Buddhist sense, which is to say, the dissatisfaction) of my life comes from me pining for things I don’t have, for things that are not my reality. I won’t promise to love every moment of living out there, but I will promise not to let the rough spots take over. I will accept the bad with the good. I will stay present through all of it, so that when I’m cursing having to go to the outhouse in the cold, I might also look up and see the northern lights. Both of those things can co-exist.

It will be a challenge, yes. But one I feel much better equipped to handle.

 

Noticing

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Not long after he’d been up this morning, Aedan announced that he had to poop. We haven’t moved into town yet, so this means that we have to put on our boots, our coats, our hats, grab a headlamp or a flashlight, and trudge to the outhouse. As we cross the porch, I glance at the thermometer: -25 celcius. My nose tingles; the exposed skin of my face stings. I realize my new parka might not cut it this winter. Our boots squeak on the hard-packed snow that leads us to the outhouse. I help Aedan get his pants down, help him get up on the pink foam seat. I hold the light over him because he is afraid of the dark. We wait. After a moment, he looks up at me and says “the poop’s not ready.”

We head back into the house and proceed with breakfast. Soon, he announces that he thinks the poop is ready. This time, Paul takes him out. They’re back after only a minute or two. Still not ready. We go through this a half dozen times, each time with the boots, the coats, the hats, on and off. I’m getting tired of this. I can’t shake the chill, my tea has gone cold. I imagine it’s no fun for Aedan, either.

But the seventh time I take him out, standing in the dark encouraging him to just wait another minute and see if it happens, I hear an owl hooting in the distance. Hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo. I hold my breath, whisper to Aedan to listen. We hear it again, and again. And then I notice the complete absence of any other sound. I look up and I notice the pale ghost of last night’s aurora. I notice the bright, slender waning moon, the few stars that still hang in the sky. The silhouettes of bare trees. I exhale and I allow myself to slip into the noticing, to feel a moment’s gratitude for this outhouse that takes us out at times of the day and night when we’d otherwise stay tucked inside; this lifestyle that gives me chances to experience things I’d otherwise miss.

I don’t mean to romanticize it: I still grumble when I have to go out there in the winter time. And ushering my five year old out every twenty minutes over the course of the morning until he relaxes enough to poop is no great joy; but there are moments of beauty, if I stay open to them. This holds true for most aspects of life: always a faint glimmer of something beautiful, if you look hard enough.

What beauty will you notice today?

The Journey from There to Here

We left my parents’ house last Thursday. My mom dropped us at the airport and we said a goodbye that was like ripping a Band-Aid off. I wiped my tears, and then dove headlong into the ordeal that is traveling with three kids. We checked our bags and our car seats, we found some dinner, we joined the mass of people waiting to board the flight to Vancouver. While we waited, Aedan lay on the floor, blocking the way. He refused to listen to us. He and Colm decided it would be a really good time to wrestle. Charlotte twisted around in her umbrella stroller to look at me. “Nur? Nur? Nur?” I sighed, pulled the boys apart for what felt like the millionth time, and told Charlotte we’d nurse on the plane. Finally, we heard the pre-board announcement for people traveling with small children, wound our way to the front, and got onto the plane.

We were in a middle row, four seats across. Me, Charlotte on my lap, Colm, Paul, and Aedan. We stashed our bags, and buckled everyone into their seats. Colm wanted his headphones out so he could watch a movie. Charlotte was like an octopus in my arms, hard to contain. Aedan puked all over himself. A very kind flight attendant helped Paul clean him up. They got him settled with a blanket and extra barf bags. All I could do was offer words of sympathy and encouragement while I tried to keep octo-baby from hammering on the seat in front of us. It was a lesson in letting go.

Aedan puked a few more times, and fell asleep. Charlotte fell asleep. Colm fell asleep. I gazed longingly at a woman a few rows ahead, traveling alone. She was watching a movie (X-Men: Apocalypse) and drinking red wine. Silently, I willed her to enjoy every moment of it. I watched Finding Dory without the sound and drank gingerale.

After nine hours and two airplanes, we were in Whitehorse. We checked into our hotel and all fell asleep.

The kids, however, were still on eastern time. Friday began at 4:30 in the morning. We did our best to contain them until it was time to do some quick shopping and hit the road. I got onto the North Klondike Highway, heading to Dawson, by 9. The kids were all asleep in their car seats. The trees were bare brush strokes against the clouded sky. I had tea and classical music on the radio, until I lost the signal. It was bliss, and I let it fill me up. Eventually, the kids woke up. We stopped for lunch by a rushing creek. Charlotte cried a lot because she hates the car seat. I looped through the half dozen kid’s songs I know until my voice was hoarse. After about five hours of driving, we were home.

I took the kids to a friend’s house while Paul got our cabin warmed up. It’s winter here in the North. Snow is falling as I write this; temperatures are well below zero. When I finally brought the kids home, they were so excited to be there: they ran around the living room yelling and laughing, they dumped all of their toys on the floor, they jumped on the furniture. We all collapsed into bed beneath a pile of blankets, feeling deep love for each other and our little home in the woods.

The next day, our first full day back, was a challenge. Aedan was afraid to use the outhouse in the dark. Repeatedly, I plopped the crying baby on the floor so I could take her brother out there, with a flashlight, to try again. A mix of the sudden cold and the dark kept frustrating the endeavor. This would be so much easier, I thought, if we didn’t live in the bush. I felt myself growing irritated. I’d been having such kind thoughts about this place, about our life here, but the reality of it is different. We hardly had any water, so I had to ration it until Paul came back from town with more. It took forever to get the kids dressed to go outside once the sun came up, and they’d only been out a few minutes before they were cold, bored, hungry. I longed to call a friend over for tea, but we live 40 kilometers from town, with no neighbours in walking distance. I felt trapped, as usual. By the end of the day I was yelling at the baby because she wouldn’t stop crying as I cooked dinner. I wanted a glass of wine. I wanted the whole fucking bottle. Instead, I overate and went to bed the minute Paul got home.

It’s a hell of a trip, coming from the drawn out, balmy autumn of southwestern Ontario to the sudden and decided Yukon winter; from the comfort and support of my parents’ and their home to the challenges of life in an isolated bush cabin. But things are getting better as I re-adjust to our reality. We’re moving into a rented house in town in a couple of weeks, and the nuts and bolts of life will be simplified. The baby will still cry to be held when I try to cook dinner. It will still take forever to dress all of us to go outside, and they’ll probably all want to come in the minute it’s done. But I won’t have to take Aedan to the outhouse in the dark. And I can call my girlfriends over for tea or take a yoga class or get a babysitter without too much trouble.

As for the here, in this moment: Paul has taken the boys to town to fill our water tank; Charlotte is asleep. The first snowfall is coming down over the black spruce that crowd the edges of our property. The woodstove is ticking away and I can smell the birch burning and it’s just beautiful.

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