Ten Years in Canada

I was born in what was once the small town of Oakville, west of Toronto. I lived there until I was 18, when I went to university, and split my time between Waterloo, Oakville, Ottawa, and Toronto, until January 1998, when I moved away, apparently forever.

I moved to Vancouver, where I spent two bipolar years of amazing experiences and painful relationships. I came to Calgary in March 2000, got married, had a kid. In 2008, my family made the epic decision to move to a completely different part of the world for nearly 18 months of … well, painful experiences and amazing relationships.

Ten years to the minute of this post, we came home.

A decade has passed since we walked into the hotel, found a new parka for Monkey, got the cat out of her bag (totally not a joke or innuendo), and breathed that sigh of “what the hell happened”. We were home. Calgary, Canada. A place we’d not seen in 18 months. We’d only talked with people here, we felt utterly out of place and out of touch.

If that seems odd to you — the idea of feeling out of place when you’re back home again — you need to travel more. And I don’t mean to different places, I mean to a different place for a long time, more than you would normally. Force yourself to live as the locals do: eat where they eat, buy food and cook yourself, learn the habits, understand the culture as more than fancy dress or dance. Once you start to feel comfortable, come back home and see how strange it feels.

That was us a decade ago, sitting into a hotel room at the Calgary Airport, exhausted and bewildered. Well, Alex and I, anyway. Monkey just went to sleep. The cat peed. We didn’t know what would happen next. We had no idea. Our lives in the city had effectively ended 18 months earlier. And I don’t mean “paused”, I mean brought to a close. We had some aspects of our lives still intact: we still owned a house, we still had a bank account, we still had family and friends.

But we had no jobs. My promised position would disappear two days later; Alex had been forced to resign to go on this adventure, and she was already 30-some weeks pregnant with our second child, Choo Choo. We had no car. Things would be … awkward. Even talking with family was a bit weird at first: Canadian English was so easy compared with the Spanish-toned English — or the extra effort of trying to converse with our limited Spanish — that we found ourselves tripping on words.

The day we walked back into our home was even more awkward. We had rented it out, and the agency who had managed the rentals had done a bitterly poor job of maintaining the place. We spent hours cleaning before we could unpack. It felt a mess for weeks afterwards. But slowly, we settled again. We started to live in Calgary, again.

A new job was soon followed by a new child. We met neighbours, fixed up the house, visited with family, travelled when we could. Monkey went to preschool, in Spanish, no less. The kids grew older, and the fabled First Day of school arrived, with Monkey proudly walking into kindergarten. Three years later, Choo Choo would do the same. Alex returned to work, though in a different schedule than preferred, but it was what was reasonable — and we began the days of Mommy being at work while Daddy was at home. The last year has been a different schedule, with Alex at work during the day, but the old schedule is potentially coming back in a few months.

We became the dutiful parents: taking kids to school, picking them up, going to the Parent Council, and volunteering in classes. We helped with the community centre, helped our neighbours, helped our family and our friends. We grew a few more wrinkles than we’d like, gained a few extra pounds we could do without. We took the kids to Costa Rica a couple of years ago, just to see if any of the magic was still there.

I worry sometimes that time is passing far faster than it should, that I’m aging so quickly that things will turn into a blur, and suddenly I’ll be an old man, devastated by the loss of youth and the cold hand of oblivion. But then I have these moments — the milestones, as it were — and I look at the spans of my life and realize that things are worth living. That we sit in moments of pure, absolute horror as time passes and nothing seems to happen, only to realize later that it’s those very moments that challenge us to realize the value of the small events, not the big ones. There will always be big events to pockmark a calendar, but the little events fill it up.

Ten years. It’s been an interesting ride, a proper rollercoaster in every sense and experience. May the next ten be just as tumultuous and riveting.