I am what they call a ‘go-getter’ — the kind of Type-A girl who has a timeline in her head of what her life will look like in the next five years. Four years of high school, four years of undergrad, one year of teacher’s college, and I should be teaching. And, that’s exactly how things panned out. In a room full of 18-year-old, Grade 12 Biology students, I was their 22-year-old teacher.
By 23, I had paid off my student debt. By 24, I was married and bought a house in the suburbs. In a rare moment, I would look over my shoulder and find my colleagues and friends bar-hopping, club-hopping, or country-hopping in attempts to find themselves. I didn’t quite understand the notion; what was there to find?
At almost-29, I finally get it.
My years in the suburban home taught me a few lessons. One Saturday evening, as I finally sipped my chai on the deck after spending the afternoon tirelessly cleaning 2500 square feet of meticulously decorated and carefully furnished living space, the dim light bulb above my head began to glow. I was going to be doing this every weekend for the next 40 years. With the Canadian healthcare system, probably even longer.
In a desperate attempt to put together the pieces after hitting the metaphorical brick wall, my mind began to take a second look at that carefully laid out timeline. Where did I go wrong? Everything was so diligently thought out and planned — why wasn’t I happy here?
Time and time again, my thoughts would return to my undergrad days. Amidst the horrors of midterms and exams, I was happy. My favorite pastime was walking the streets of downtown, turning strangers into friends, enjoying the sights and sounds of the morning hustle and bustle, and enjoying the culture I was immersed in. Everything about the city life made me smile.
And, here I was sitting alone in the dream house — literally hearing crickets. This is not me, I think to myself.
Somewhere, somehow, I messed up.
My doubts are drowned in joy when I find out I am pregnant. I tell myself that my suburban home will make sense when it is filled with baby toys in the backyard, a nursery, and playroom. As excited first time parents, we renovate, we decorate, and we strip our home of sharp corners and glass tops.
Then comes baby. I am told to take it easy — no stairs, my midwife says. I feel isolated in my bedroom, but oblige. Healthy mommy means happy baby. My body is en route to recovery, but the gray skies and frigid weather keep my mind isolated. As I peer out of my bedroom window, I see into the neighbor’s living room. She sits alone watching television. Again, my mind returns to memories of the city streets.
Icy December days go by at a snail’s pace. It is March. My husband receives a job offer from a company in San Francisco. In a whirlwind, the house is on the market, our flight is booked, a deposit for a 700 square foot apartment has been made. We are moving next month. My friends and colleagues struggle with the news.
“You just had a baby, and you’re trading your suburban home for a city apartment?!” They are in disbelief. I laugh in response because I know it’s the unconventional route. I laugh because this sequence of events is nowhere to be found on my timeline.
I look back at the way things have unfolded over the course of the last year. I could never have foreseen this life-changing move. I think back to the last year of motherhood, and laugh at my timeline. I am reminded that there is no better teacher than life itself. Sometimes our plans guide us, and sometimes we guide our plans. We learn about ourselves each step of the way. Our mistakes are what teach us about who we are and what makes us happy. We may stumble, but quickly get back up, and stand a little taller.
I no longer walk alone. Now, I walk the city streets accompanied by a little man. He, like his mama, loves the sights and sounds of the city. He greets strangers, and befriends them instantly eager to tell tales of his adventures. He enjoys watching the streetcars roll by, and counting the helicopters in the sky. He leads the way to the local cafe where we watch butterflies flutter through the garden and toddlers play in the dirt.
His smiles and giggles are all the proof I need to reassure myself that I haven’t done my son a disservice by moving to the city. I’m not raising my son in the suburbs. And, as it turns out, that’s quite alright.