Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Variations of Home

(I wrote this post a few days ago, and was waiting until I got a photo of the door, or something, to post. But I've had a sick baby in my arms for the past couple of days. The words are more important, anyway.)

I remember visiting my parents, not long after moving to the Yukon, and referring to their house as "home". My mom told me that it made her happy to hear that I still thought of it that way.

From then on, I made a concious effort not to refer to it as home. I'd decided that the Yukon would be my new home; I could not have more than one.

I am home now, in my parents' house. It is always a comfortable feeling, as we drive from the airport through the familiar streets of the city in which I grew up. It is a deep exhale as I step through the side door and drop my bags. Everything is familiar: the smell, clean and sweet; the creak of the stairs; the way I immediately begin opening the refridgerator and the cupboards, like my teenaged self looking for something to eat; the way my sister and I fall into the rhythm of setting and clearing the table; the dinner-table conversation. All of the things I fought hard in my twenties, I embrace now. This will always be home.

But home is also a log cabin on the other side of the country, blanketed in snow. Home is the woodstove softly ticking, it is the generator humming through the dark night, it is the complete silence that accompanies a 3 am trip to the outhouse. Each time we drive the long highway between Whitehorse and Dawson, I am awed by the vastness of the territory, the wildness of it; where the only thing moving is the wind through the trees, the only sound the beat of a raven's wings. It is something I treasure but will never possess. It is a darkly beautiful jewel. It is terrifying and comforting at once.

And as we begin this journey of uprootedness, of travel, of not-knowing, home is here, in this bed where I write, my two little boys sleeping spread-eagled, arms flung across one another. Home is any bed that holds the four of us, anywhere, in any country. The familiar sounds of our shared sleep, the particular scent of our skin. 

Home is any place in which we all lay down to sleep; home is any place we all wake up, together.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Leaving on a jet plane

I used to think that a true Yukoner had to "stay the winter". And I've done that. I've lost it at 40 below when the sun doesn't begin to rise til 10 a.m. Those days included lots of Bailey's, pot, and pierogies. T.V. marathons, dinner parties, wine, long bundled up walks on the frozen river. Going back to bed whenever I felt like it, buried under the covers with a space heater cranked up high.

Now that I've got kids, very young kids to be exact, those days feel housebound and crazy-making. Already I feel myself breaking. It's a battle to get Aedan outside for 15 minutes of running around the yard. I know that when he's a bit older, it may be different, but for now, it's really hard. And I am prone to seasonal depression; it's gotten much worse in the last two years. I could take pills. Or, I could leave.

That's what we're doing. We're headed out for almost 4 months, our longest stretch out of the territory yet. And I no longer feel like that makes me less of a Yukoner. Actually I'm over the whole "big tough Yukoner" thing. I want to be healthy and happy for my kids, for my husband, for myself. So we'll be spending 3 weeks in Ontario visiting with family, and then we'll be spending December and January in Costa Rica. We've rented a house there, and we're so excited to be trying out the snowbird lifestyle. It's something a lot of people around here do, and something that P especially wants to explore. 

I can't wait for fresh, ripe fruit juices running down my chin, seafood, ocean breezes, salt water swims, and walks on the beach. Aedan is in love with sea creatures, and for months now he's been talking about seeing dolphins and fish. I'm excited to explore tidal pools with him, play in the sand and the shallows with him. 

I'm going to try my best to update regularly during our travels, and I hope you'll enjoy following along with us on this new adventure!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Thoughts on Halloween

It is Halloween today, the turning of the wheel of the year into the cold, fallow season. This time of year makes me think of hurrying home in the gathering dark, walking along the edges of the sidewalks so that I might kick through fallen leaves, and hear their papery rustle beneath my feet. It makes me think of potted mums, dried corn stalks and bales of straw, of carving pumpkins and eating their seeds, toasted. It makes me think of candles glowing in darkness, of mystery and magic.

I remember Mrs. Cosman, who lived behind the school, giving out candy apples, and my mom driving us over to Nana and Poppa's so they could see our costumes. I remember the last time I went trick or treating with my friends, no parents, and getting lost in an unfamiliar neighbourhood as wet snow began to fall, and, a little older, watching Halloween over and over on Pay Per View, in the dark. I remember how my mom always had two bowls of candy: in one, the good stuff reserved for the little kids; in the other, packages of gum for the older kids.

Hay rides, haunted houses, heavy wool sweaters: all these memories come from Ontario, from my childhood and teenage years. Here in the Yukon, the rustle of fallen leaves underfoot has long been replaced by the crunch of snow: there is a foot of snow outside now. All of the things that I associate with this time of year are buried, muffled by snow. This is not the descent into winter: we are already well into that season. Even after almost 10 years here, I still struggle to incorporate these wildly unbalanced seasons into my psyche. 

I don't feel particularly festive today. My kids are not dressing up. The logistics of going to town just to collect candy I don't want them to eat are too great for me. I worry I'm depriving them of some essential part of childhood, but then again, they're young still. Perhaps a bonfire tonight in the yard, if we can uncover the fire pit.

Do any of you mark this day with something other than costumes and candy? I'd love to hear what this time of year means to you!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mama, are you happy?

I get asked this question every day, several times a day. By my three year old. It is unnerving, but it also serves as an interesting check-in.

He asks it if he senses anger or irritation or sadness in me. Rarely does he ask it when I am actually in a moment of joy. It makes me pause every time he asks, because I'm never quite sure how to answer. I don't think he means it in a general sense. He means it in the moment, the only thing that exists for a three year old. And usually when he asks, I am not particularly happy in that moment. I hate to tell him that: "No, I'm not happy" because he seems to take it personally. He's told me, tearfully: "Mama, I just want you to be happy!"

That absolutely breaks my heart.  It is too much for a three year old to be concerned with his mother's happiness. I start to worry that this last year, which has been such a struggle for me mentally and emotionally, has somehow had an effect on him. And really, how could it not? We spend all of our time together. He's seen me at my absolute lowest. I just hope I can minimize the damage, or at least give him some perspective.

So, when he asks me "Mama, are you happy?" I try to let him know that what I'm feeling is my own, and not his, burden to carry. I tell him that I'm tired, or that I'm frustrated because or that I just need to get out of the house. Aedan constantly asking me to examine my mental state helps me to not completely lose it. It reminds me to examine what's going on in my head, to look at the reason behind why I am reacting the way that I am. It holds me accountable.

I do love the times when I can tell him, honestly, that yes, I am happy. And when I ask him the same question, his standard answer always makes me laugh:

"Aedan, are you happy?"
"I am just a little bit sad because I lost my t-rex."

(It's taking him a long time to get over that one.)

Some days it drives me crazy, the constant asking of that question, but at the same time, I've come to be so grateful for it. He really is my little guru.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The woodpile

If "getting your moose" defines fall in the Klondike, then "getting in your wood" certainly defines winter. Whether you have your own woodlot and cut it yourself, or (like us) you order it from one of the commercial woodcutters in the area; whether you prefer birch or spruce, fire-kill or clean, bucked or bucking it yourself, getting in a few cords of wood is hugely important around here. So many of us at least partially heat our homes with wood heat. Here on the Dempster, it's our only source of heat, and our woodpile is looking mighty fine these days.

We order our wood from a guy named Doug. We've spent the last couple of days bucking (cutting the logs to stove length with a chainsaw), splitting and stacking several cords of wood. It feels good to see all those neatly stacked logs: it is a warm, secure feeling. 


Saturday, October 18, 2014

A moment's peace

It's not been the best of days for me. Full of self-doubt and self-loathing. 

But now, as darkness begins to fall, I sit in a pool of lamplight listening to Chopin while Colm sleeps in my lap. Outside, it has started to snow. P and Aedan have made a bonfire and I can hear the wood popping. Soon, they'll come inside, and we'll have a simple dinner of pea soup and toast. And then it will be bedtime, and tomorrow will be different again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Colm is 1!

My sweet little Collie-saur,

I can't believe you've already been with us for a year, and yet it feels like you've been with us forever. 

With your sparkling blue-grey eyes and your silly little laugh, you bring so much joy to our family. You are such a good-natured little boy; through the very worst of your eczema, through all the rough times with your big brother, you still smile so easy. You wake up smiling every morning (unless you've been woken up too soon) and that smile carries you through the day.

You can be quite serious, too, watching me or Aedan with your curious gaze, your mouth drawn into a pout of concentration. You take the work of packing and unpacking things very seriously indeed, putting all the blocks you can fit into your little shape-sorter. You like to pack and unpack yourself, too, into baskets and boxes.

I think you're going to be a little dare-devil, like your Auntie Brea was, only because you seem to want to do whatever it is that your big brother is doing. Leaping over the back of the couch? Sliding down rocky slopes to the pond's edge? You are all too eager for these things, and you're not even walking yet!

In the last couple of months you are finally taking more than a passing interest in food. You don't seem to be much of a breakfast man, but you love chicken and turkey and tofu, hummus, noodles, rice and beans. You seem mildly interested in vegetables but you won't give fruit the time of day. Except for that one time, when you ate three blueberries. You love drinking water, especially from Mama's cup, and you're fast learning how to handle a cup by yourself. 

You like turning the pages of books but don't seem to care about hearing the story. The dogs make you laugh. You love crawling and tumbling all over our big bed, and you're even starting to rough-house with your brother--or at least, you seem to be a willing participant in his rough play. It scares the crap out of me, but I try to follow your lead. 

You clap and you wave and you're just a delight. We love you so much, Colm Ferguson, and I can't imagine our family without you.

Happy 1st birthday, little love!