A couple of weeks ago, you turned 15 months old. It’s taken me a while to write this post because, truth be told, it’s been a bit of a rough month. Teething (on your part) and illness (on daddy’s part) has meant that I’ve only had a handful of sleep-filled nights over the past four weeks and although I hate to moan about sleep-deprivation, there is something to be said for sleep. I mean, I’m pretty sure it exists for a reason.
But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Whatever pain you put us through in the middle of the night, you made up for tenfold during the day.
You’ve grown leaps and bounds this month. Your vocabulary keeps evolving, though most of your words still start with D. This is particularly funny when you spot a fly and say douche for the French mouche. Having said that, you do now say nanana for banana. So, progress.
Our big adventure this month was a trip to Italy. You charmed the pants off every single Italian you met, men and women alike falling to their knees calling you bellissima, bella, carina, felice. They particularly got a kick out of the Italian translation for your name, Scricciolo, which is rather onomatopoeic for how screechy you’ve become lately. You’ve certainly found your voice and I’m afraid to say that you sound less like a wren and more like something prehistoric. Your favourite thing about Italy was playing in the pool at the villa, tasting gelato for the first time, being pushed around on the tricycle and having both granny and grand-ma at your beck and call. Your least favourite part was sleeping. Surprise, surprise. So daddy and I would sit in the hammock with you as the sun set and as the lights started to twinkle over Florence, one at a time, a thousand city constellations, you’d eventually fall asleep to the sound of us talking. This was my favourite part. A little family time on a warm indian summer’s eve. We rarely get those hot nights in London so it was a special treat.
You are learning at a rate of knots. Just the other morning I showed you how to polish an apple on your shirt and that afternoon you did it for your dad. You now say bye-bye cat (rather, dye-dye dat) whenever you say goodbye to a cat or a train or the bath water, or anyone for that matter. You also come up to me and wave your hands in front of your nose to let me know that you’ve done a stinky poo. I generally smell you before you tell me but you’ve surprised me on occasion. You also shrug your shoulders and say ah-ah, as in “oh well” when something doesn’t quite work out. For example, if I tell you there’s no more cheese (lie) or the volume on your toy pig is broken (another lie) or we can’t go outside because we’ve lost your shoes (a-hem), I just say oh well, and you shrug your shoulders and say ah-ah and walk away… until you find your shoes and I’m busted.
You still refuse to drink milk unless it’s in cereal. But you have no problems dipping your fingers into the ground cumin and coriander in the little bowl on the counter. And you can’t get enough of fried mushrooms with garlic. And you never miss an occasion to drink my cold Rooibos or peppermint tea, or to dip your fingers in the kilo tub of peanut butter.
Your laugh. You love a good laugh and I love to hear you laugh. If everyone in a room is laughing, you chime in with great exaggeration like it’s the funniest thing you’ve ever heard even though you haven’t a clue what we’re talking about. You’ve also somehow figured out how to be cute — by turning your head slightly to the side, ear to shoulder, squinting your eyes, and flashing of one of your irresistible smiles. Sometimes, however, your enthusiasm turns your face into a grimace, like a dog smiling, which still somehow manages to be cute.
What else? You’ve sprouted a record number of teeth this month (five), which accounts for the sleepless nights. That’s been super fun. This last molar though. Ouch! I felt for you, my little dumpling, I really did.
You’ve become quite the train spotter. Every time we hear a train, I have to rush you to the tracks and prop you up so that you can wave at it. Bye-bye train.
You’re also a serial dental floss unraveller. Woe is the dental floss that falls into your hands. You unravel it within an inch of its 50-metre-long life in a matter of seconds.
Last month, I rescued two small yellow chairs that were about to be binned at the local children’s centre. Perfect Wren-sized wooden chairs. And I’m so happy that I found them because you LOVE them. Whenever you have a little collation or a cup of water, you plop yourself in your chair and snack away. You also love the small ledge that leads to the terrace. Any kind of stoop, really, any place where you can contemplate life’s great mysteries, or indulge on a piece of cheese.
You’re very much into doing things the adult way these days. Using my spoon or fork. Drinking out of a big person’s glass. And you’re so helpful, my little scricciolo, whether it be hanging clothes or wiping messes or emptying the dishwasher. You love to give me one utensil at a time, each time yelling ta-da as if you’re a magician pulling spoons and knives and forks out of your hat.
You continue to dance to all manners of sounds: onions being chopped, a train passing by, the dishwasher starting, the little jingle the washing machine makes when a cycle has ended. But you block your ears every single time you hear a siren. Sometimes I think you are doing it for fun and then I stretch my hearing as far as it can go and sure enough… the faint sound of a siren twenty miles away.
When I say I love you, you reply with mm-hmm. I’m not sure if that means I know or I love you too or yes, mom, you already told me ten times today.
You run away whenever I tell you it’s time for a nappy change and when I catch you, you giggle and giggle and curl up like a beetle or a little hedgehog so that it’s nearly impossible to pick you up.
Your walk has turned into a confident march. We walk ev-e-ry-where! And it takes fooooorever. Because, of course, you must open and close each gate you encounter and, these days, attempt to pop every single crab apple you find along the sidewalk, into your mouth. I’m teaching you how to look both ways before crossing the street and you are learning to wave to motorists to thank them for stopping at cross walks.
I especially love that you know the way home. You know exactly how to get there and where our walkway is. You guide me home. Everyday, even when I’m lost in the throes of motherhood, you help me find my way back home. Back to you. Back to now, where nothing else matters. Ok. Maybe not at 2am. At 2am, I have visions of putting you up for adoption. But most hours of most days, you make me blissfully happy.
Every morning, at 6:30am, I pick you up out of your cot and take you into bed with us for a ten-minute snuggle and then we come down the stairs and you use all the strength in your pudgy fingers to turn the light on, which blinds us both. And when our eyes adjust and the sleepy fog lifts, I look at you and I swear you look different from the night before. Every single morning. How is that possible? I’m still amazed by the miracle that is you. How is it that not that long you didn’t even exist and now here you are? A star among us, shining bright. Today, at Stay and Play, a woman remarked on how you smile with your whole face. I can’t imagine a better compliment for a parent. You light up this world, you do. And I’m so proud and grateful to be your mama.
Is it possible to lose your creativity? Like a set of keys. Misplaced in the fridge, accidentally kicked under the sofa, deep in the pockets of the jeans you wore yesterday? I’ve retraced my steps but no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember when I felt it last.
Maybe it’s stress and worry and lack of sleep conspiring against creativity. I haven’t done my morning pages in months, haven’t been in the mood to pick up my camera. Christ! The last time I posted anything on Instagram was nearly two weeks ago. I haven’t even felt like looking at Instagram. For someone who’s posted almost daily and fairly consistently for the past few years… I just don’t have the oomph. Perhaps muses take sabbaticals like the rest of us? Maybe mine is sipping a Mai Tai on some beach in Bali.
Elizabeth Gilbert says that “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” Well, either the universe skipped me altogether or I’m blind. I can’t even get a job interview for fuck’s sake (self-deprecation, always super helpful!) In all honesty though, my self-esteem is at an all-time low. I’ve been changing nappies and teaching someone to say ba-na-na and singing the wheels on the bus go round and round and round for the past year. I look like I’m about 98 years old. And we’re moving into a flat that we can’t afford at the end of next month and our heating doesn’t work and I have to find a nursery for Wren and I’m just paralysed with fear. Scared shitless of every little thing. I am so deep down in this funk, you guys. Does this ever happen to you? Where every little thing just feels like one little thing too much. Too much? Too many? Ah! Fuck it! Who gives a shite. And is there anything worse than feeling unhappy when you know that really, there’s nothing to be unhappy about? Like in a at-least-I-don’t-have-to-walk-15-miles-to-get-a-glass-of-water-from-the-village-well kind of unhappy.
So this is a pretty depressing post, isn’t it? And as you can see, I’m not even trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I’m just running deeper down the rabbit hole. But I figured it was that or no post at all and I did promise to write. So there. It’s been a tough month. I’m having a moan. Tomorrow’s another day. Maybe my muse will come back. Or maybe I’ll eat a whole bag of potato chips for lunch.
P.S. Reading this post has helped immensely. Motherhood can sometimes be a lonely ride and it’s good to know we’re not alone.
Although we’ve crossed the threshold into autumn, I still miss you. Your time with us was far too short, but I’m so grateful for each of your 31 days, your dry, sunny weekends, for giving us Brits one small taste of summer after June and July’s failed attempts.
You were the month of seaside adventures and Negroni cocktails and a long-overdue date night; early morning yoga classes (back when the sun still poured in through the shutters at dawn), long walks in the countryside, a river swim (Wren’s first), iced coffees, rosy baby cheeks, lidos and water fountains and paddling pools, beers and BBQs on the terrace, corn on the cob, tomatoes that smelled like sunshine, a trip to Dreamland, a hazy kind of light, golden fields, wild flowers slowly drying on the stalk and sunflower heads drooping heavily.
I miss everything about you, August. It’s too bad you couldn’t stick around a little longer. Don’t tell the others, but you are by far my favourite month. Lucky for me, September and October vie for second place so it makes the goodbye slightly less painful. Here’s to apple crumbles and wood fires, soups and stews, Indian summer (fingers crossed), shadows getting longer and light slanting low, trick or treating, pumpkins, sweaters and scarves, leaves falling, whiskey, Neil Young’s Harvest album.
Until next year.
We’ve just returned from ten days in Tuscany, where the sun is honey-glazed and the grapes are warm and silver-leafed olive trees grow in golden groves; the land of fior di latte gelato and pizza Margherita, chirping crickets and clusters of cypresses and the best damned Chianti I’ve ever tasted.
I tried to write while I was there, in the hammock, glass of wine in hand, overlooking the Tuscan hills to Florence down below. I truly did. But the sun was so warm and the hammock so somnolent that, well, I just couldn’t bring myself to write about somewhere else when I was in a little slice of paradise. Can you blame me, really?
I’m back in London now. It’s grey and chilly and I’ve just dropped mom off at the airport and I’m feeling all the feelings that come with dropping loved ones off at the airport without knowing when you might see them next. I’ve got my wooly socks on and a steaming cup of Rooibos tea by my side and it seems like now is as good a time as any to catch up on the series that I started far too long ago. So, without further ado, the Nelson years.
Lower Bonnington Road, Nelson, British Columbia
Soundtrack: David Gray – Please Forgive Me
I felt as if I’d touched down somewhere over the rainbow, in a magical land of munchkins, that permanently smelled of citrus-pine weed and patchouli incense; where hippies mingled with intellectuals, artists, snowboarding enthusiasts, back-to-the-landers, expats, outdoor adventurers, people who didn’t fit in where they used to be, some living off the grid, many weary of the system, most flying their freak flags high and proud, in this small town nestled in the mountains of British Columbia. A bubble. The kind of place where people talk about energy a lot.
Nelson was good to us from the start, like a sweet old grand-ma having you over for tea, offering you the best biscuits in her cupboard. The energy I talked about earlier meant that there were no chance encounters, that everything led to something amazing*, and we discovered just how serendipitous things could be within a day of crossing the orange bridge that led into town.
We hadn’t been in Nelson for more than 24 hours when we decided to check the community board in the local co-op for places to rent. Within minutes of our arrival, and completely out of the blue, an ex-Deadhead from Colorado asked us if we were looking for a place to stay. Her name was Laurie and she needed farm hands to help with the five acres of land that she and her husband had recently purchased on the outskirts of town. That very night, we visited her organic farm, shared a bong hit and badaboom, badabing… rent sorted.
We lived all summer without electricity or running water in the rustic pioneer cabin that sat on the corner of her land. There was an outhouse up the hill, a cooler for a fridge and a camping stove for cooking. We fixed up the cabin, built greenhouses and a chicken coop, planted peas and potatoes, picked pears and plums and cherries and walnuts, canned tomatoes, froze raspberries and pressed apples for juice. Our days were spent with our hands in the earth, nights reading by candlelight. And afternoons, you could usually find us at our secret aqua-green swim hole ten minutes down the road.
I sometimes babysat the neighbour’s son for pocket-money. The father was an artist who was supposed to be making art while I babysat but he usually tinkered in his basement, moving junk from one side of the room to the other. He called this “cleaning the basement”. His wife wasn’t impressed.
At the weekends, I spent most of my pocket-money at my favourite coffee shop: Oso Negro. Oso Negro was the town hub, with the best organic espresso on Earth (I still believe this to be true); a place that displayed a sign that read: “We want this to be a comfortable space for everyone: customers, passersby, co-workers and neighbours. Blocking the stairs and sidewalk, smoking pot, drumming, playing loud music, letting dogs run loose and littering infringe on people’s space. Please help us maintain a friendly, cooperative environment for people of all ages and walks of life.” This, in my opinion, pretty much epitomises the essence of Nelson.
Laurie had two dogs, Melvin and Harpo. Kevin and I had wanted a dog for years but we were never in the right place, and it was never the right time. It usually isn’t when it comes to pets and babies. “We’ve wanted a dog for years,” we said to Laurie one day, probably while passing a joint (I smoked a lifetime’s worth of weed that summer… and part of the following decade). She said: “You guys should totally get a dog. What better place than a small farm out in the middle of nowhere?” Everything seems like a great idea after you’ve smoked a massive spliff. And so it is that only two weeks into our stay, we walked into Four Paws Only and walked out with a shy, grungy little dog that had been abandoned by his owners, chained to a fence in the backyard. The shelter manager had named him Shadow and although he was indeed our shadow his entire life, we changed his name to Dylan. And then we were three.
Latimer Street, Nelson, British Columbia
Soundtrack: Michael Franti – Stay Human (All the Freaky People)
Towards the end of the summer, Kevin met a lovely woman named Catherine while volunteering on an urban garden in the centre of town. She had a small one-bedroom apartment for rent on the ground floor of her house. Shortly after two planes flew into the Twin Towers, as the days grew shorter and the nights got colder, we moved out of the cabin and into Catherine’s place.
It was at about this time that I was hired as a receptionist at the Nelson Animal Hospital. Incidentally, I got the job because I had adopted Dylan from their animal shelter next door and the shelter’s manager, Keira, had put in a good word for me. Again… happenstance. I’m telling you, the energy, you guys!
Our spot on Latimer Street backed up on miles upon miles of hiking trails. Dylan and I spent a lot of time up there. I once met a cougar tracker on those trails. She had a massive Redbone Coonhound for a dog. He was always taking off and she was always worried that a cougar really got him this time. She was a strange woman. I suppose you’d have to be a bit strange to go off on your own into the woods for days on end tracking cougars. But everyone was a little strange on some level in Nelson. That was part of the town’s charm.
Kevin enrolled in a woodworking class and I took a creative writing course at KSA. I started boxing at the local gym at 6am a few days a week, went running by Sproule Creek, where I usually stopped halfway through to gorge on huckleberries (occasionally sharing a patch with a black bear), and when the snow started to fall (and did it ever fall), I learned to snowboard on Whitewater. And the festivals. Have I mentioned the music festivals? Starbelly Jam and Shambhala, where we danced the night away deep in the Kootenay mountain range until the sun came up.
In March, we were ready for our own space. Catherine’s spot was lovely but eventually we grew tired of washing our dishes in the shower and baking cookies in a toaster oven and we needed space to unpack all the boxes that we’d shipped from Montreal because we’d planned to settle down in this sleepy mountain town.
In the spring we moved into a small two-storey house with a huge back yard a short walk from town. We grew a garden. We drank lots of wine. We didn’t go out much any more. Kootenay Lake was at the end of our street and on hot summer nights, we sometimes walked down to the beach to cool down before bedtime. It was heavenly. That’s also the summer dad came to visit me.
We stayed on Kokanee Avenue until late September, when we decided to move back home. We spread all of our belongings out on the front lawn and sold them for pennies. For all the plans we’d made and all the love we had for Nelson, it was far too removed from both of our families. That year, in hindsight, was the beginning of the end of our relationship. Living in our own space had turned us into pot-smoking recluses and if it hadn’t been for our dog, Dylan, I think we would have split up long before we did (six years later).
I certainly let my freak flag fly in Nelson though, came home with dreadlocks and a lip ring, I did. Perhaps it wasn’t the most flattering look (there was no shortage of comments made about my appearance in my small hometown), but it was an experiment in exploring choices that weren’t mainstream.
In 2003, I wrote this about my time in Nelson: “I can’t thank this town enough for all the life lessons. It taught me what I didn’t want out of life. I was on the fast track towards yuppie ville and I’m so glad I stepped on the breaks and reversed. I now know that a simple life, love and nature are all I need.” Who is that woman? And how did I change so much in the past 15 years? The cynical side of me can’t help but think “Oh, what a load of flower-child crap.” But the truth is I do often long, especially since I’ve had Wren, for a more simple life. I sometimes feel like I’m disconnected from what’s real and important… too busy rushing around in the big city. I wonder if maybe I had it more figured out back then than I do now? But then again, I was stoned all the damn time. Of course life is grand when you’re snowboarding in the winter and skinny dipping in the summer and getting high every day. And I don’t want to get high every day. So maybe I just need to pluck a few of the old lessons and apply them to my life today. I think I’ll start with a garden.
*Seven years after leaving Nelson, I met a British guy named Joe and shortly after meeting, we realised that we’d both lived in Nelson at the exact same time. We like to imagine that we were both walking down Baker Street and I dropped my keys just as he was walking by, or maybe he crouched down to tie his shoelaces, and we were within touching distance of each other but I never saw him and he never saw me and Cupid, cheeky little Cupid, shot one of his arrows so that when we did cross paths again… we would instantly know. And we did.
This past weekend you turned 14 months old. We spent the Bank holiday at your grand-papa Stewart’s. He lives at the end of a very long driveway in a magical garden at the top of the highest hill in all of Hampshire. Your dad and I love it there and it seems you do too. It was so wonderful to be able to leave the doors wide open and let you wander in and out as you pleased, far from traffic and noise and pollution, without the worry of you eating cigarette butts or sticking your fingers in dog poo or cutting yourself on shards of glass or getting hit by a car. I can’t tell you how relaxing this was to the mother of a toddler.
We spent most of the weekend out-of-doors. You had your very first swim in a river on Friday. The water was glacial and took the breath out of your little lungs and the rocks beneath your feet rather shifty and sometimes sharp but you took it in your stride. You especially enjoyed watching dad and I dive under the water and float down the river. This, for some reason, you found to be hilarious.
On Saturday, we went for a four-hour walk. We thought at one point that we’d have to turn around because you neither wanted to walk nor be in the child carrier but then we veered off the farm path and into the woods and stumbled on horses and sheep and cows and for the rest of the journey, you sat quietly, taking in the sights. I can’t tell you how proud we are of you. You’re such a little trooper.
If I’m being honest though, we’ve had been a bit of a challenging week. Not only have you cut your first molar and are on your way to cutting a second (which means tsunamis of saliva), you also seem to have contracted hand, foot and mouth disease, which, although quite common is still pretty vial. You look like you have the plague, with blisters on your hands and feet and canker sores in your mouth and a foul mood to go with it (I can’t blame you, I’d be pissed off too). It’s been a looooong week of sleepless nights but yesterday, the fog lifted and you finally slept through. Mostly, that is. By 3am, your room had turned chilly (it’s an old house) and so I took you into our warm bed and you spent the next four hours windmilling between dad and I. Still, I’ll take that any day over the dozen times you’ve been waking up in tears over the past seven nights.
We have to talk about a couple of things. Firstly, the pram. You’ve suddenly taken a dislike to it. I’ve tried to reassure you that it’s not some whale that’s going to swallow you whole but I think, really, your annoyance coincides with learning to walk. These days, you’d much rather push the pram than to sit in it. Which is fine, often times. But sometimes we have places to be, my little crumpet, and we’d never get there at your albeit-rather-quick-for-such-small-legs pace.
Also, the biting and scratching. Not cool. Especially not cool? You laughing at me when I use my stern voice and say no about the biting and scratching. I do not find this funny at all. I’m at a loss. Part of me is grateful that you generally only bite and scratch me. But most of me wishes you didn’t do it at all. I’m starting to look like one of those zombies in the Walking Dead. I think it’s just a phase. It’s just a phase, right? You’re not going to turn into some psycho agro child, are you? Dear Lord, please let it be a phase.
You’ve added a few new words to your repertoire this past month. You can now say duddles (for bubbles) and dodage (for fromage) and duck (for duck). Essentially, all of your words start with a D and anything you don’t know how to say is dada or a variation of dada, much to your actual dada’s dismay. Dada for thank you. Dada for blueberries. Dada for mama. Everything else is “that”, including your bunny. I keep calling him Monsieur Lapin but you insist on calling him “that”. This is very confusing. You’ve also been practicing your T’s lately. Some days you walk around stuttering ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta for minutes on end.
You now say uh-oh whenever you drop something. You haven’t quite caught on that uh-oh is typically reserved for accidents, not for when you purposefully drop something. You also like to make a satisfied Hhhhaaaa! sound after drinking, like you’ve just taken a sip of an ice-cold beer at the end of a long day doing manual labour under a harsh sun.
You love to dance and not only to music, to sounds in general. You sway to the sound of a ticking clock and a growling lawn mower and a whirling salad spinner, equally. You love anything with a beat.
To say that you have a mild addiction to duddles is a gross understatement. I’m not sure whether it’s the bubbles themselves that you love or the taste of the soap on your fingers after you’ve popped them. Either way, there isn’t a day (read: hour) that goes by without you asking for duddles.
You’ve learned to sip through a straw and you’re obsessed with balls and you love to point at planes in the sky and play peekaboo with your books and you can identify the duck and the cat and the dog in Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? You also bring our shoes when we ask for them, and even when we don’t, your not-so-subtle hint that you want to go play outside.
You’re now really weird about having things stuck on your hands and feet. Anytime there’s a strand of hair or a wet leaf or a blade of grass or a pebble you look at me, slightly worried and make this long whining sound until I’ve removed the offending object. I’ve taught you to wipe your hands together, which has brought some relief, but this whole thing is terribly perplexing to you. Again, dear Lord, please let this be a phase.
You are a daredevil, especially when we’re hanging out on the bed. You love to go right up to the edge, turn slightly towards me, give me a cheeky smile knowing that I’ll catch you (often by the pant leg) as you try to kamikaze off. I suffer at least one heart attack a day. You’re going to send me to an early grave with all these antics but I’d much rather you be adventurous and take risks, a veritable Pippi Longstocking, than be afraid of everything.
One of your favourite games is when we play hide and seek with bunny. You say “that?” and I say “Où est Mr. Lapin?” and you raise your shoulders to your ears and your hands to your shoulders in a gesture that means you haven’t a clue. And then we go around the house. Is bunny in the cupboard? Is he under daddy’s hat? Is he in my pocket? Is bunny in the rubbish bin? Is he under the sofa? Eventually, we find him right where we left him (usually on the floor). We then have a little giggle and you throw him back on the ground and we start all over again. And again. And again.
But my favourite favourite thing this month happened last week. Daddy came home after a spectacularly crap day and I said” “Tu veux donner un câlin à papa?” (translation: I think your daddy could use a hug), something I’d never said before. And you walked up to him, wrapped your arms around his legs, snuggled right into him and said “Awwwwww”. It was the sweetest thing, one of those many heart-warming moments that make being a parent worthwhile. The kind that makes you think “Ok, maybe I won’t put her up for adoption… yet.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You are pure magic. And this journey with you just keeps on getting better.
Thank you for being such a little comedian, for making us smile and laugh every single day.
Is it just me or is summer the only season that can make you feel like you’ve gone back in time, to a more innocent time? Thousands of diamonds sparkling on water, the sound of the ice cream truck, the smell of tomatoes on the vine and fields of clover, the way the wind plays with the clothes on the line, impromptu picnics in the park, grasshoppers and cicadas. Is there anything better than a midsummer’s day?
You guys! Something AMAZING has happened. No, we didn’t win the lottery. No, I haven’t landed my dream job yet. No, we haven’t sold our house and found the perfect home! None of those amazing things happened, but the next best thing happened, which is that I found old blog posts, posts that I thought I’d lost forever, posts that were eaten up by a nasty virus in 2007 only to be spit out by the Wayback Machine last week. It felt like stumbling across my very own flux capacitor. Wayback Machine, I love you! I knew I’d written all about my gypsy years on the old blog and having to write about them all over again (with way fewer brain cells and little time to go down memory lane) brought up all the bitterness I’d felt at losing them nearly ten years ago. And then suddenly, there they were. Like magic. Wayback magic.
I was going to simply copy and paste what I’d written at the time but… Oh! I don’t think I can do it, you guys. Anything that starts with “the adventures of Bohemian Girl and Pagan Pal continue” makes me cringe and kind of want to hide under a rock, any rock, any object large enough to shield me from my 32-year-old hippie self (not that there’s anything wrong with hippies, I love hippies, it’s my mediocre writing that I have a problem with).
So I kept the facts, got rid of the fluff (so. much. fluff.) and adapted the text for 2016. Here we go, part three of all the places I’ve ever lived. If you fancy playing catch-up, here’s part one and part two.
It had been almost a year since we’d graduated from uni and we were those students. The fresh-out-of-uni-jobless-twenty-somethings coming to grips with the fact that maybe their chosen degree wasn’t synonymous with a career in their chosen field and therefore facing the inevitable question — Fuuuuuuck! What do I do now? — that comes with that realisation. Graduating from university is a bit like being in a dark room for days on end and then coming out into a bright sunny day, blinded and a bit disoriented. I’d been a student for so long, I felt disillusioned by the real world.
My ex-boss offered me an office job and Kevin went back to work for Pfizer. We figured we’d make a bit of money then mosey on down to the next destination.We lived at his parent’s place while we figured it out, because we didn’t have a place to live or a pot to piss in. A while turned into a year, which was about nine months too long. Don’t get me wrong, Kevin’s parents were the sweetest, most generous people I know but we mostly lived in his bedroom in the basement and it was so dark and cold down there that I actually had a hard time physically opening my eyes in the morning. The TV was always on, the air conditioning too. The lights were always off. Perhaps I was depressed. Was this the bright future I’d been waiting for?
We had to do something. We couldn’t live in that basement forever. So we started to scour the Ornithological Newsletter for internships, a last-ditch attempt at doing work that was related to our degrees. We figured it would be a stepping stone in the right direction.We found a scientist that was looking for two interns in Jamaica and we applied as a couple.
Cockpit Country, Jamaica
Soundtrack: Bob Marley (of course) – Three Little Birds
I found this poem the other day, in my archives, on the old silver hard drive that threatens to die every time I boot it up. I wrote this poem in 2002, while living in Nelson, BC. I was stoned a lot and taking Creative Writing at the Kootenay School of the Arts and I nearly shit myself every Tuesday night when I had to read my assignment out loud, in front of the entire class.
I lived this poem in the spring of 1998, while volunteering as an Avian Field Biologist for the Wildlife Preservation Trust. Kevin and I spent three months roughing it in Cockpit Country, often regarded as Jamaica’s most inhospitable region, where we studied Yellow-Billed and Black-Billed Parrots. It was the first time I experienced being a minority and it is also where I became an expert at spotting, identifying and removing ticks in places one should never have to find and remove ticks, ever. I came out of it humbled and grateful for things we all take for granted, such as running water and electricity and not having to worry about a finding a giant centipede in your backpack.
This poem is not a staggering work of genius, far from it. But it’s the closest thing I have to describe the three months I spent in Jamaica, all those years ago.
I drive inland behind a small taxi
cramped with ten passengers
some hanging out of the windows,
past lobster huts and ice markets
where men lift frozen blocks
with picks like beaks of hawks.
I turn left at the last electrical pole
where shoeless children,
bare feet powdered with silt,
walk miles from school to home;
they wave and chase me down
narrow winding roads.
Past the local bar,
a rainbow painted shack
with a hot tin roof and Red Stripe on tap.
Blue smoke sways over dreadlocks,
over the woman with buttery cheeks
who tells jokes with a spirited belly laugh
while Leroy, red eyes stained with yellow veins,
rolls a fat reefer using a brown paper bag.
I cross the stone bridge over the river
where women scrub laundry
upstream from the neighbour’s rotting cow
until their fingers are raw,
until nothing is left but white.
Parrots fly overhead
whistling apple green wings
past ashen houses and burnt cane fields
where black stakes stand
and men carry sugar sticks on bare backs.
Two donkeys saunter
down the middle of the road.
they pick up speed but stay
in the middle of the road.
boys climb coconut trees,
cattle egrets perch on brown cows,
Miss Rose, the English man’s maid
chases roosters and chickens
in a mustard-coloured year.
Sun burns into earth,
the blue tint of night swallows the jungle,
a thousand bats spill out of the wide mouth
of the cave up the hill
beetles fly with eyes lit like headlights,
the sky looks like a highway
a traffic jam of miniature cars.
Brown lizards flaunt egg yolk throats,
the ruby eyes of pottoo birds float
above fence posts.
Toads surface by the hundred,
fat and flat,
they cover the entire road.
They all lead me home.
Rue Fredmir, Pierrefonds, Québec
Soundtrack: Jewel – Foolish Games
When we came back from Jamaica, we lived at my in-laws* again, partially to look after Kevin’s mom while she recovered from an operation, but also because: no pot to piss in. We also realised that sitting under a tree in the jungle for eight hours, waiting for a parrot to fly in and out of its nest perhaps wasn’t the career we’d imagined for ourselves. Maybe I didn’t want to be the next Jane Goodall after all (nobody can be the next Jane Goodall, there’s only one Jane Goodall). Fuuuuuuck! What do I do now?
The previous year, when I’d returned from my Hawaiian internship and we’d taken a month-long road trip across Canada, we stopped in Calgary and ate a steak at Earl’s Kitchen. We hadn’t seen each other for months, we were fresh out of uni and high on life and the steak was so damn good and the wine too and we were chatting with the waitress who was telling us we should move to Calgary, the booming land of opportunity, a city built on oil and agriculture and internet technology, where yuppies and cowboys mingle at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. And that’s when a seed was planted. The seed stayed dormant for a year and then started to grow during the summer of 1998. By fall, the branches were overgrown and heavy with fruit, ripe for the picking. Kevin’s brother knew a couple of people just outside of Calgary who offered us a place to stay and that settled it. We packed what we could into Kevin’s car and headed west.
A trailer just outside of the Rockies, Alberta
Soundtrack: Jann Arden – Good Mother
We spent the autumn of 1998 in Bob and Brenda’s Jayco trailer on their land at the outskirts of the city. We helped in the greenhouse, planting and harvesting lettuce and basil, while we searched for a job. We spent a lot of time in their Jacuzzi, watching the sun set behind the mountains, smoking cigars (as one does) and drinking fine wines. The wonderful thing about having older friends is that they usually have refined taste and they introduce you to so much amazing shit! It is in that very hot tub that I fell in love with whiskey. It’s a love that will last a lifetime. We made homemade ravioli, went for hikes in Kananaskis, fed their pig, ate a lot of fresh lettuce and basil, walked their dog and met their niece Andrea and her husband Jeff (this serendipitous encounter will ultimately lead us to our next move).
I eventually got a job as a receptionist for an internet company in downtown Calgary, where I dressed the part (read: stupidly uncomfortable shoes) and spent my days repeating “Good morning/afternoon, Net Shepherd, how may I direct your call?” and drank way too many hazelnut-flavoured coffees. I worked with redneck Bills and Dicks who were quick to tell a woman where her place was but I learned to stand my ground in this land of macho, macho men. Kev waited tables and made fancy martinis in an upscale restaurant.
Eventually, winter set in and it got mighty cold in the camper van. It was time to leave our tin house and find a proper apartment.
16th Avenue SW, Calgary, Alberta
Soundtrack: Ani Difranco – Your Next Bold Move
Our apartment in Kensington Village was sparse. We didn’t own a single item of furniture. All we had was what we’d packed in the car. We borrowed one bright yellow couch for the living room, a pullout couch for our bedroom, a kitchen table and two chairs. Besides that, there was nothing. No art on the walls, nada. We may have had a TV that sat on a milk crate. The details are fuzzy. It was a long time ago. Christ, it was in the NINETIES!
We both walked to work every day, just across the Bow River, right in the city centre. We spent many nights at the Kensington Pub down the street, watched indie movies at the Plaza Theatre (I saw Life is Beautiful with a girl from work; it was the first time I’d ever watched a foreign movie), bought a shitload of used CDs, jogged along the river at 6am, did Tai-Bo (remember that?) at Heavens Fitness, ate breakfast at the Galaxie Diner most Saturday mornings and enjoyed about a thousand Kitchen Sink muffins from the Good Earth Cafe at the Eau Claire Market. Calgary, for us, was about making money and spending it. We made money, ate amazing food and made more money to eat more amazing food. We didn’t even bother to buy any furniture for our apartment because we were hardly ever there (might have had something to do with our crazy downstairs neighbour who banged on her ceiling every time I so much as farted in my sleep).
I got all my wisdom teeth pulled that year — I have a picture somewhere of me looking miserable, sat at our kitchen table, doing a puzzle, face puffy like a chipmunk storing nuts for the winter.
By April of 1999, we were done with Calgary (just like that) so we quit our jobs, packed up the car again and escaped. We drove down the west coast of the states, tasted wine in Sonoma, walked amongst giants in the Redwood National Park and felt equally small walking along Rodeo Drive, spent five bucks in Las Vegas, ate spicy burritos in New Mexico, hiked down the Grand Canyon… and headed on to our next destination (via another quick pit stop at the in-laws).
Our next destination, of all places, was Hamilton a.k.a. The Hammer, Ontario. During the summer of ’99, we visited Jeff and Andrea, who had moved from Calgary to Hamilton and we thought “Hey, this looks like a nice place to live.” I must have been desperate for change to think that Hamilton looked like a nice place to live. Don’t get me wrong, it has its charms, but I might have thought otherwise had I driven past this prior to moving there: steel town. Explains why we found black suet on your windowsills most mornings and why I suddenly developed a mild case of asthma (which I’d never had before living there and which has since left). Having said that, I do like to believe that things happen for a reason and although The Hammer wasn’t paradise, it was the Universe’s chosen location for some serendipitous encounters, friends I still cherish to this day.
Hamilton was the hub of our yuppie years. I was a Coordinator for the Planned Giving department at McMaster University (read: drinking lots of tea and asking elderly alumni if they’d like to leave a little something for McMaster in their wills). Kevin was a fitness consultant at Curzon’s Fitness, making an insane amount of cash doing next to nothing.
We lived on the second floor of a house and the downstairs tenant was none other than our landlady. She was a small, wiry, Greek lady. She must have been in her 70s but had the energy of a 30-year-old. She’d walk on her heels, bang, bang, bang, from one end of her apartment to the other, bang, bang, bang, like a drill sergeant, and her bedroom was right beneath ours so we had the pleasure of hearing her clear her throat every night just as we were getting ready for bed, as if to say “In case you feel like having sex, just know that I’m right under you and I can hear you.” I can assure you nothing kills the mood more than knowing that a 70-year old lady is listening to your every move.
We did enjoy some things in Hamilton. Like going to the Locke Street Bakery on Saturday mornings for fresh bagels and meeting up with Jeff and Andrea on Thursday nights to share a couple of pitchers and way too many spicy 10-cent chicken wings at the Gown & Gavel Pub.
I joined a triathlon group. I trained like a mofo, running, swimming, spinning, several times a week with the ultimate goal of participating in the Around the Bay 30km Road Race, which I completed in March of 2001.
On the weekends, after training, we’d smoke weed in the attic so that our landlady wouldn’t catch a whiff and evict us. I went to my first rave while living in Hamilton. My life was a dichotomy.
We were making more money than we’d ever made (and ever would for the next decade) but we felt empty. I was 25 years old, attending conferences, preparing financial illustrations, giving seminars about bequests and working 60 hour weeks. I felt like Edward Norton in Fight Club. You know the scene where he’s lying on his couch floating in a world of IKEA furniture? That was us. Our IKEA nesting instinct had taken over and we felt psychologically castrated by our jobs.
“You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple of years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”
I was Jack’s raging bile duct and I needed to get the hell out. So in the spring of 2001, we did what we do best. We packed all of our IKEA possessions, stored them and hit the road. We had loose plans. We thought we’d end up in Vancouver where there was a potential job waiting for me, but on the day of my 26th birthday, we crossed a bright orange bridge and entered a town called Nelson, nestled in the mountains. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that it had just finished raining and the end of a bright rainbow pointed right there, in the lake under the bridge and I, naturally, saw it as a sign. We stopped in Nelson and didn’t go any further.
Within a couple of months I went from wearing high-heeled shoes and corporate suits to living a simple back-to-the-land barefooted hippie life, volunteering on an organic farm and adopting a dog named Dylan. Next up: the Nelson years.
*Note: The term “in-law” is used loosely in Québec, whether you’ve been dating a guy for six months or you’re married to him, his parents pretty much become your in-laws the moment you meet them.