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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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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