We left 12 years ago.
“We will be gone for 2 or 3 years,” we said. And we believed these optimistic words as they left our lips. We held a farewell party in Montreal with our friends, a barbecue and corn on the cob. A few days later in Ottawa, my mom had to walk away when we said goodbye to my parents — me, my husband and our young son. It was too hard.
Two or 3 years. We couldn’t possibly be gone from our beloved homeland longer than that. The child growing inside me would be born on US soil, but she would know Canada as her home. We were confident in our plan. Perhaps naïve is a better word.
With some belongings packed into our sedan, we drove to Minnesota — a place I had never even heard of until Phil told me he’d been offered a job there. To be honest, I watched the movie Fargo just before we moved, to at least give me an idea of what to expect (it wasn’t entirely realistic). We bought a house, redecorated, settled in.
Life was pretty good in the American Midwest. I’d never been so cold in my life (and this coming from a Canadian) but people were friendly and I adjusted to the sight of pick-up trucks, rifles and lawn tractors. We even managed to not get carted off by giant mosquitoes.
Our reputation as Canadians preceded us — at the first neighborhood party we were invited to, the host said “I hear Canadians like their beverages” and made Phil the strongest rum & coke he’d ever had. Needless to say, they helped him home later.
After a year, we packed up again and moved to California. Even though we were pretty comfortable in our new surroundings and had a new baby on our hands, the opportunity presented itself (thanks Dave Taylor!) and the lure of the golden coast was too hard to resist. We bought a house. Redecorated. Renovated. Settled in.
Time was ticking on, but Phil’s work was good and our family was happy. Plus, our parents were enjoying visiting California in the cold dreary months of the Canadian winter.
Raising kids without extended family around is rough, though. There is no support system. No “I’ll get you tickets for Aislinn’s dance recital”, “Would you watch Indira while I go to the doctor?” or “Can you help William with a project?” And the converse is also true — we weren’t home for our family’s birthday parties, graduations, or Sunday dinners. Our kids were growing up without an extended family to love them, support them, and give them the structure they needed to understand their place in the world. This wasn’t how I’d imagined raising our family.
But Phil’s career was progressing there and there was no work in his field in Montreal. We didn’t feel hard-done-by, because we were living in a beautiful spot with wonderful friends and plenty of activities — but we didn’t have a lot of options for getting home.
Our 2-3 year plan had turned into 8 years and counting. We had one Canadian child and two American children. And we were getting restless. So when the opportunity arose to move to Germany, we jumped at it. It wasn’t Canada, but it was a change.
We embraced the German lifestyle — the food, the culture, the language. We bought our Trachten for Octoberfest and decorated our Oster Eier tree. We ate Bretzen and sorted our recycling. We saw ourselves living this charming, culture-steeped European life for years. And then all too soon, it was over. Eighteen months after we arrived in Munich, we packed all our belongings back onto a cargo ship and returned to California. This isn’t what we had planned.
We left 12 years ago, and this isn’t what we had planned.
And yet, we’ve adjusted and thrived, every time. Our family has grown stronger with each move, forced to rely on each other for friendship and support when we felt like strangers in a strange land. When we couldn’t find the grocery store, meet a friendly person or speak the language, we knew that we were never in this alone. Which means we were together for the incredible times too — encountering a tarantula in the wild, eating crêpes on the Champs-Elysées, or watching the endless fireworks off our Munich balcony on New Year’s Eve. We’ve had experiences we never could have dreamed of … never could have planned.
Our life is not perfect. There are many things I wish I could change — some I had control over at the time, some I didn’t. My chest aches when I think of being away from our Canadian home even longer. But compared to the small, naïve plans I had for our family, our life has been rich and full of adventure. And I’ll take that over what I would have planned any day.