January 16, 2017

Did you ever look through a kaleidoscope when you were a kid? The colors and shapes moving and changing as you turned the blue plastic tube? Pretty right?

Yes, when you are a kid it can be very entertaining.

But what about when you close your eyes as an adult and that’s what you see.

Without a blue plastic tube.

Lately I have felt like that when I’ve closed my eyes? Like pieces of my life are moving and changing but somebody else is turning the tube. It out of my control. It’s not pretty and it’s not fun. It’s scary.

I’m a list person. A schedule person. A calendar person. Plans are what I live for and thrive on. Uncertainty and change are…….unknowns.

But that is what my life is right now and I am going to have to find a way to stop the colors and shapes from distracting me. I need to find a way to make them work for me. A way to make best of them.

Oh to be a kid again.

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An English woman, a Scot and and an Irish woman walk into a pub

moving truck

An English woman, a Scot and and an Irish woman walk into a pub. No really, they did and it’s not the lead into a bad joke, it’s how I researched this post.

For as long as my husband and I have known each other (17 years) we have been talking about moving. We love living on the West Coast but, for my husbands work, opportunities are pretty limited here. First it was Memphis, then Boston, then Seattle and now Ottawa. Or maybe Seattle again. None of these discussions have come to fruition yet but it could happen any day and I want to be prepared. While I completely support him and his choice of work, I have never lived anywhere other than the North Shore of Vancouver (other than a couple of years working in Banff) so it’s safe to say that I’m a bit apprehensive of loading up the moving van and starting over. With a young daughter.

So I asked some friends who have made big moves with children to meet me for a drink so that I can get the skinny on what it takes to move, not just to a new city, but to a new country.

(This is where the joke line comes in)

I have to say, I got a bit more than I bargained for though.  The conversation ran from moving to kids to traditions to religion to shopping and sports and back to moving. As I struggled to keep up with three different accents and three different stories, I got some great insight into what moving with a family is all about. But I also got a bit of a lesson on what it means to be an ex-pat. Each of these three women has moved from the UK to Canada either for work or for a better family lifestyle. “If we didn’t have kids we would still be living in London.” And make no mistake “I am going home (to Scotland) to die.” Clearly they love their home land.

Moving to another city within North America may seem like a momentous change for me, but realistically not a lot would be different. Perhaps some differences in local terms may pop up. For example, on the West Coast you spend the summer at the “cabin” but in the east you spend the summer at the “cottage”. Really, a first world issue. Moving to anther country can bring vast differences. Religion, while for some an important part of life in Canada, is woven into everyones upbringing in the UK. One of my friend’s son hasn’t been baptized yet and she thinks that when her mother finds out that she may just stick him in a sink full of water just to make sure he’s covered.

“You have to do what you have to do”.

While life in Canada has its traditions, hockey for example, nothing can compare to the rich traditions of the British isles. It’s what one of my friends misses the most if she stops to think about it. “Shared history” is something that can not be reproduced when you start fresh in a new place. A ceilidh, I learned, is a traditional social gathering which usually involves Gaelic music and dancing. And telling somebody to “stick it up your jumper” is not a term of endearment. John Lewis is a store not a person. And real hockey isn’t played on ice, it’s played on a field of grass.

“Moving from the UK to Canada was less traumatic than moving from Scotland to England”. So, I learned, it’s not really about how far you move but how different the area you move to is from what you are used to. Yes, things will be different and you will miss the “shared history” of where you have come from but if you go with reservations and close yourself off, it can be horribly lonely. If you go with an open attitude and are willing to put yourself out there and meet people and experience new things, then it becomes an adventure. Especially with kids.

“They will be looking to you for help in adjusting and if you are anxious, then they will be too.”

As usual I have gone into writing this post with one thing in mind and come out with insight into, not only that subject, but far, far more. I have a new respect for these women who have let behind a comfort and history in order to move their families forward. I know that if it comes to that, I will be able to do the same. The Best Thing in Life is having inspiring women to help you along the way.

A Shoebox Full of Memories

Venice 2

I have a shoebox of pictures that has been sitting in a corner of my bedroom for many months. Today I picked it up and looked through it. Pictures from when I was a baby, a toddler and a school kid. Pictures of me and my friends from high school, college and my early twenties. Pictures of my wedding and my kids. What will I do with this shoebox of memories? I will use it as the inspiration for Throw Back Thursdays. Each week (hopefully) I will pick a picture and try to recreate the story behind that picture or pictures. Wish me luck.

The picture I chose today is of me at age twenty in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. This was about two and a half months into a four-month adventure in Europe with my friend Kathryn. We had taken the overnight train the night before from Florence and were spending the day wandering around the city. The pigeons in St Mark’s were ridiculous. They were, at times, a little frightening. If you stopped feeding them they would follow you around pecking at your feet and reminding you that they were there. Just in case you hadn’t noticed the few thousand of them lurking around. Every once in a while something would startle them and they would all rise and fly around for a few seconds. The noise from their wings was deafening.

At lunch time we found a little cafe with tables and chairs outside on one of the canals. We thought we had ordered sandwiches and two glasses of wine that we could afford but the waiter brought out a bottle and plopped it on the table. Even though we protested in our best Italian we ended up blowing the whole day’s budget on a bottle of red wine that was so delicious that in the end we didn’t care how much it cost. Guess we would be eating crackers for dinner. The sun was shining and we had no cares, other than the fact we would be eating crackers for dinner. The waiters were no doubt having a good laugh at our expense. They probably hadn’t thought about the fact that they wouldn’t be getting a good tip. If they got one at all.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the tiny streets and looking into the stores. The carnival masks, that were everywhere, were beautiful but kind of creepy at the same time. Brilliant colours and dramatic shapes covered in bright ribbons and jewels. Crimson lips and smoky eyes seemed to be watching you from the stores walls. I could picture some of them on a tall man with a long black cape and hood skulking around corners and sweeping unsuspecting young girls into dark corners. Venice, for me, was one of those cities that I found exciting and scary. It felt mysterious and just a little dark. Not a place I would want to be late at night yet I imagined they have some great parties.

At the end of a long day we took the ferry back to our hostel. Kate fished the bottle of Amaretto we had bought in Florence the day before out of her backpack and we sat on her bunk, toasted Venice and ate crackers. The next day we would take the train to Vienna and our adventure would continue.  The Best Thing in Life is remembering days like this and smiling a little.

MY DARKEST TIME

dark and scary

Life is pretty good these days. No, actually it’s great. It wasn’t always that way though. There was a time, about thirteen years ago, when my life was a complete mess. Wait, that’s not true. My life wasn’t a mess. I was a mess. A complete disaster actually. My life was complicated and things hadn’t been going my way. Not small things either. Major life things.

Having bounced back from an ugly divorce, I had remarried a wonderful man, my son was in his first year of school and I had a great job. All was good. Then the other shoe dropped. The day after we got married in Hawaii, the company that my husband worked for relocated to Memphis, Tennessee. A great opportunity to move ahead in his career,this wasn’t something he could turn down. We made the decision that he would go ahead and take the relocation and I would approach my ex-husband on the subject of me taking my son to live there as well. Unfortunately, he didn’t agree, neither did a judge….or an appeal judge for that matter. In hindsight they were right, but at the time I was devastated. I just wanted to put the past behind me and start a new life.

So there I was, living in a rental home and sharing custody of my son with a man who not only resented me for trying to take his son away but was bound and determined to share all of that information with my son. As much as we hated being apart, the company had offered my husband an amazing position and even though it did have a finite time frame attached to it (four years) we were newlyweds who only saw each other once a month if we were lucky. I hated being alone and it wasn’t any easier for him. We had sold our townhouse in hopes of being able to make a quick move so half of our belongings were in storage. It was a nice enough place but it wasn’t home. On the outside I had it all under control. Taking my son to school, going through the motions of life but underneath I was floundering in depression, sleep deprivation and anxiety over my relationship with my son and my new husband.

dark and scary 2

At the worst of it I would lie in bed at night in the empty house and imagine that gang members were creeping down the dark driveway to break into the house and attack me. It was so dark, so specific, so violent.  Yet so real to me. I would open my eyes and tell myself how ridiculous it was. I would go downstairs and turn on all the lights, look out the window and re-assure myself that everything was okay. The coast was clear. Back up to bed I would go. Close my eyes and the exact same thoughts would invade my mind. Just as I got close to sleep I would hear a tiny creak and my eyes would fly open and my mind would be all in a whirl again. It didn’t seem to matter how tired I was, I couldn’t get the images out of my head.

I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep or the depression but my decision-making abilities were all but gone. One day I needed to go to the grocery store for dinner. I wandered around for almost an hour trying to decide if we should have burgers or pasta. Did I want something healthy or tasty and quick. I didn’t want to have to cook so maybe should just get something frozen.

I left the store with a loaf of bread.

Half way to the car I thought this is stupid and I should go back and just buy something. I turned around and headed back to the store. Half way to the store I turned around again and headed back to the car. Sitting in the car I silently cried. It’s just dinner. Why is this so hard?

Believe it or not I didn’t go to the doctor for what was really bothering me. I can’t even remember why I was there but it must have been pretty obvious that I was a mess. After writing me a prescription for sleeping pills and an anti-depressant he suggested I go and talk to somebody. What? No, I’m fine. I just needed some sleep and everything will be good.

At that point I was still in denial.

I couldn’t even tell a man I had known for years what was going on. He was great. He said okay well just go see this friend of mine and if she says your okay then you can come back and tell me I was wrong.

It was just what I thought it would be. A couple of comfortable chairs, books on self-help and lots of candles. Close your eyes and calm your mind she said. I closed my eyes but all I saw was movement. Grey moving shapes flashed in front of me. My mind wouldn’t, couldn’t, stop moving. Try again she suggested. I closed my eyes again. No, still can’t get the world to stop spinning. Opening my eyes again I choked back tears and everything poured out. I explained the last year of my life and how I seemed to have lost any control over what was going on. I wish I could say that after spending an hour with her I had a better grasp on things but that would be a lie. It took us months to get me back on track. The sleeping pills helped. Along with antidepressants and a lot more appointments in the room with comfy chairs.

So why, when things are so good do I go back to that time?  It was dark and scary and out of control. I go back because it’s important for me to remember that all of the Best Things in My Life were with me through all of it.  And they still are.  I just couldn’t see them through all the grey swirling movement in my head.