Maybe some of you miraculously made it to adulthood without ever struggling in your relationship with your parents. It’s been smooth sailing from diapers and training wheels to acne and body odour, to high school exams and college aspirations, to adult Christmas plans and children of your own.
But if you’re like me, the process (like most things in life), has been bumpy, painful, and confusing; a beautiful, complicated, and valuable gift.
On my 23rd birthday, I visited the hospital where I was born, in Kamloops, and I sat in the waiting area on the third floor, listening to the sound of newborns crying down the hall, and imagined my parents waiting for the elevator 23 years before, with their new bundle of joy (errr, bundle of terror? Let’s go for bundle of fierce determination…). This was the moment I would start to see my parents through a lens of immense compassion, relating to them as adults, as people, like me, just doing our best to figure it all out. This unlocked the door to a new friendship with my parents; a new kind of joy in their company, a new curiosity about their lives and their past, and a new protectiveness of them.
I’m a freelance artist. I’ve been a nomad; a vagabond. My parents have been a rock.
This morning Mom and I were texting and reminiscing about all the moving we did as a young family. My parents bought their first home in ’87. She was 22. (I’ll spare you the math, she’s a proud 51!) That alone boggles my mind. Then they sold it, bought another house, had my brother, sold that one and bought this half duplex, where I was born in ’90:
Mom says this duplex is more run down in this photo than it was when we lived there.
What I remember about this house is running up and down the halls wearing only a tea towel as a cape, hiding behind the floor-length curtains, and trying to cover my entire body with slick, dark, mud before any of it dried and turned grey. And singing into the garden hose before an imaginary crowd in the backyard. I suppose my real audience was those hills in the background.
Then we moved to yet another house when I was 3.
This one looks much nicer than it did when we lived there. I remember an older woman next door who used to buy us misfit toys from the thrift store, and a sand pit down the hill in the backyard, where I dug up a plastic dinosaur while playing one day. Perhaps this buried treasure is the life event that precipitated my deep love for Tino.
(This is Tino, in case you’re not following me on Instagram…)
Shortly after my 5th birthday, we moved to Grande Prairie, Alberta. I fed the mice in the sewer chunks of cheese by dropping it down the manhole covers, (with no comprehension of how expensive cheese is…), and got my tongue stuck to a block of ice for the first time. We stuck around there for about another 2 years before heading to Fort St. John, BC.
I rode with Dad in the moving truck, and Grant and Mom drove the Honda. It was a Sunday afternoon, and dad and I were listening to a story on the radio; some piece that had aired long ago. At one point in the story, the audio (would it have been a cassette? Who knows…) got stuck and started skipping. The storyteller said,”Unfortunately, he died.”
Then, for what must have been half an hour, we heard, “F-f-f-fortunately, he died. He died. He-he-he died. Fortunately- fortunately – fortunately, he died. He died. He died.” It sounds morbid now, but I can’t remember my dad and I laughing that hard together at any point in my childhood. This remains one of my favourite memories with my dad.
It was evening by the time we arrived to unload the truck. It was minus 40 degrees and the furnace wasn’t keeping up. That night while I slept, the carbon monoxide detector went off from inside a sealed box somewhere in the house. In the wee hours of the morning, in our brand new unheated house, Dad went to work opening boxes, searching for the screaming detector. When he finally found it, he stood outside, waving it around in the frigid air. The detector didn’t stop, and Mom came into our rooms repeatedly to make sure we were still alive. Dad would’ve called the Fire Department, but the landline wasn’t set up yet, and Mom was convinced we were all going to die, so Dad drove down there at 3am to make sure we were safe and that the detector was malfunctioning.
It turned out the house was built by West-coasters who didn’t understand winter. The furnace was too small to heat the house, and I thought nothing of Mom’s daily winter routine of trying to thaw the toilet’s pipes with her hairdryer.
A few years later, Dad got a job in Lethbridge, and we put the house up for sale. When it didn’t sell, Dad went ahead without us. 9 months we lived 12 hours apart, Mom picking up where Dad left off taking Grant to early morning hockey practices and rearing us pretty much on her own. Eventually the house sold, and we went to Lethbridge, and lived on the westside until the low-hanging, winter sun on Whoop-up Drive blinded my Dad and caused him to smack straight into a moose on the way back from Boxing Day shopping with my brother. The next house was a dud; a shady private sale, and the one after that a former grow-op.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of the wild adventure that the four of us were on. As a kid, this was just our life. Looking back on it now, I put myself in my parents’ position, and the whole thing kind of blows my mind.
I say this to my mom this morning, and she says,
“Ya, we had a greater sense of adventure than you realize!”
I tell her that I don’t think my parents aren’t adventurous. She says,
“I guess I think we appear as sedate people living simple lives now but we have always been searching. Searching, searching, searching.
We were both searching for peace. Now we are just looking for fun.
And yes, it was stressful having little ones while doing all that. We just couldn’t settle for something, some place that didn’t feel quite right. We were advised by our families to just “settle down” and we were reluctant to tell them every time we were trying something new.”
Well, Mom and Dad. You’re champs. I can barely fathom my own life sometimes, and then I think about yours.
Is the word that comes to mind.
I love you.