My sweetie, two kids and I are one of the many families that sold our way-too-expensive “family” home in Metro Vancouver and headed East. Way East, all the way to my little hometown in Ontario.
It wasn’t an easy decision despite the clear financial benefit. Like anyone living in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland, leaving is tough. It means saying goodbye to the mountains and ocean – the meeting of which truly do create one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It means leaving the mellowest Canadian climate, with winter temperatures that rarely dip below freezing. It also means leaving the very liberal mindset which is one of the biggest attractions for Canadians that are fed up with some of the conservative values more likely to be found east of the city.
For us it also meant leaving family since my sweetie was born and raised there – the family that had been there for the birth of my boys and every milestone after. They were, by far, the hardest to say goodbye to.
But before I tell you what led us to our decision to leave, I want to back up a bit and share a bit more of my story…
I moved to Vancouver nine years ago, at the end of August 2007. When I booked the plane ticket I was only planning on staying for a few months. I was a bit of a wanderer back then, usually spending winters in Costa Rica and summers in Ontario. But when I got to Vancouver, it didn’t take me long to realize my wandering days were over and I had found a place to stay.
I remember walking north on Commercial Drive from Broadway that first day. The busyness of the neighbourhood, the groceries with their food out on the sidewalks, the gorgeous mix of people… I was enamored. In the days that followed – filled with yoga classes, hanging out in the park, chilling on patios and wandering the small organic grocery stores – I felt like all the parts of me had finally shown up in one place, with the majestic North Shore mountains watching over everyone.
And I decided, I would stay forever.
I met my love about a year and a half later. Our lives were typical Vancouver lives – we would head up to Squamish on the weekends for rock climbing, perhaps Pemberton for a romantic getaway. Winter days were spent snowshoeing on the North Shore. Life was beautiful from the tops of mountains and rocky crags. The beers at the Howe Sound Brew Pub after climbing The Chief on my 28th birthday were the best beers I ever tasted.
Then babies entered the picture and a few years later we found ourselves with a hefty mortgage, two kids in daycare and no time to play in the outdoor playground that surrounded us.
We tried. We really tried. We watched our budget. We made sacrifices. We understood that eventually it would be easier. Eventually we wouldn’t have the costs of daycare. Eventually the kids wouldn’t be so little and we would have more free time. We knew that was coming and we were waiting for it.
Then last summer, things started to shift… After years of dealing with serious body pain following a rock climbing fall and undiagnosed concussion, I had a major back spasm that kept me in bed for weeks. And despite the love I received on Facebook, no one showed up to help. I was barely able to walk and still had to manage all the day to day responsibilities of motherhood. Thankfully, my mom flew in from Ontario and got me through the last weeks of that horribly painful time.
And I don’t blame people for not being there for me. Rather, I see that as just a reality of life in the city. People are busy. It’s hard to support one another when there are big-ass mortgages to pay off and too many kid drop-offs and pick ups. On the path our lives had taken, our “people” were spread out across the Lower Mainland – from Squamish to White Rock, Kits to Coquitlam – a common occurrence when family life forces you out of the cute city neighbourhoods. So quite literally, there was a traffic jam between their houses and mine.
And as a small town girl who was used to community, I realized that this wasn’t OK for me. This wasn’t how I had ever wanted to live my life – disconnected, isolated.
Fast forward a few months and it’s Thanksgiving. Growing up it has always been my favourite holiday. In Ontario it means crisp, cool air, and nature at its best with red, yellow and orange leaves filling the landscape. After big family dinners as a kid, my mother and I created new traditions with great friends when she separated from my step-dad. It was always a big table. Always filled with love and laughter. People I had known my entire life would come together to celebrate, to connect, to eat.
But on this rainy Thanksgiving day in Vancouver, people were once again busy. And my little family was sitting at home, just us. I sat down to read my boys a book – Franklin’s Thanksgiving.
The story goes something like this…
Franklin’s grandparents, who traditionally come for Thanksgiving dinner, write to tell Franklin that they can’t make it that year. Franklin is devastated but in the days that follow he gets the great idea to invite others from his community to his family dinner. Unknown to him or each other, both of his parents come to the same decision and when Thanksgiving dinner rolls around their guests are so plentiful that they need to move the feast outside. And there they sit to eat, surrounded by community. Surrounded by love.
Reading this to my boys, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I thought of my community back home, sitting around a table together to feast and I was struck with one simple question:
Why aren’t we there?
Suddenly, with the biggest emotions since the birth of my children washing over me, I realized that I had to go home, that I needed my community. I realized that waiting around for the mortgage to become reasonable and the kids to get a bit older and new friends to become old friends was ridiculous. I needed my people. The ones that had always been there. I needed them to be happy, to be the kind of mom I aspired to be, to create the life I wanted. And I wanted my children to grow up with the same sense of community that I had been blessed to know. I wanted them to be raised by a village.
Six weeks after my tears fell upon Franklin’s Thanksgiving we sold our house and four months later, our plane touched down in Ottawa on a Friday evening. We were tired and pretty weirded-out by the fact that we had packed up our lives and left the city we thought we’d raise our boys in. My mom picked us up at the airport and we drove to our new house, in my old town. We pulled into the driveway and there it was:
Community. On our back porch, waiting for us.
After nine years away – I had fallen in love, had two children, changed careers – there they were. With food, drink and helpful hands. With smiles. With tears. With love.
Family and friends, welcoming us home.