Each morning we sit at the intersection. It takes us ten minutes to turn left.
We sit in the car, craning our necks in opposite directions as what seems like the entire city streams past us at top speed. It seems like we are always late and always rushing. It feels very different from the five-minute commute we took for granted the past ten years.
I used to walk to work along a gravel road that was bounded by a railway on one side and a river on the other. This was a picture I took one winter morning a few years ago.
I wondered about this shift from the small towns we have lived in for most of my adult life, to the hustle and swagger of a large city. We have gained so much, we are so grateful. But I do miss the wilderness at my front door. Somehow this surprises me.
We are house hunting, which is far less exciting than I had always imagined. It involves a lot of waiting and a lot of disappointment, it’s emotionally exhausting trying on home after home trying to find one that fits. I feel like I am having an Real Estate-induced identity crisis.
Who are we? Are we the family that buys the old house, the one that needs the walls washed and floors replaced, and its aging brown bathrooms gutted?
Are we the family that buys the small house? The one with sweet sloping ceilings and no dining room? Are we the family that develops creative storage solutions? Am I the woman who sells all of her twenty-two boxes of books because there isn’t room for the bookcases?
Are we the people living in the suburbs with yards the size of postage stamps, or the ones commuting half an hour every day?
The real estate market in Edmonton is insane right now. Houses are selling in hours with multiple offers and quite frankly, it’s intimidating. It’s not how I make decisions. I take weeks to make up my mind about something. It’s a side effect of choosing to live with less. I’ve learned to really think about a purchase before pulling the trigger. First I sit with the feeling of wanting to see if it disappears. I examine the thing from every angle and I wait. I wait and think and ponder to make sure I really need it, you see.
You can’t do that here. By the time I have convinced myself that a house could fit us, and vice versa, it’s sold.
Every night I sit and click through new listings (sometimes there’s only one or two in a week) and I try on these potential lives, try to imagine us coming home to those floors, this kitchen, falling asleep in that bedroom after a long day.
I’ve been thinking lately – dwelling might be a more appropriate word- about what I want from life. What I want my days to look like, how Olive’s childhood will unfold. I’ve been thinking about what we need and what we can live without. I’ve been conducting a sort of running inventory of our lives and trying to step back to view it objectively.
Here’s what I’ve come up with.
I don’t think we will ever be the family with money. The reason I say this is that is that we are deliberately building a small life that requires very little to keep it going, rather than living large with the bills to match, moving up up up.
(I don’t think that is a bad way to live – that same ambition has fueled some of the greatest minds – but it’s just not for me. I don’t have the balls for it.)
The more I think about it, the more I realize that a small life is the only one that feels comfortable for me. It’s the only thing that releases that cold sliver of stress from my gut.
I want exactly two things out of life: I want a close family, and I want to be a writer.
I want to be present with my child(ren) every day, I want to have time with Adam. I want to be able to visit our extended family in BC and be better at maintaining relationships with friends who have become family over the course of decades.
Here’s what I can live without to get that: I can live without a second car. I can live without new clothes. I can live without spa treatments and unnecessary gifts on occasions like Mothers/Fathers Day, Valentines Day etc.
I can live without impulse buys and tropical vacations. I can live without a lot I think, if the trade-off is worth it.
It’s hard to not speed up now that we are finding ourselves deep within the hum and hustle of a city, this place where it takes ten minutes to turn left.
It’s hard not to speed up to match those driving beside us. It feels like we are opting out. It feels like people are going to think we are lazy, or underachieving, or that we are judging them for not doing the same.
I’ve always cared too much what other people thought, and here where it’s even harder to shut out that noise, I have to work double to distinguish my wants from other people’s wants. I’ve always struggled with placing too much value on what other people think – or worse, what I perceive they think. I’ve been steered by and hurt by those judgement too many times to count.
I’m still trying to shake it, this “what will they think?”-itis, so I’m in no place to give advice, but I think that it can really help to search out those people in your life who truly want the best for you, and value their opinions over those who may not.
We are really lucky to have some of these people in our corner rooting for us, enthusiastic about our lives and our choices, genuinely hoping they work out as planned. We are incredible lucky to have this support, these family and these friends, and it’s their opinions I need to gauge decisions against, not those who offer support with a generous side of schadenfreude.
They give advice without also doling out judgement. They lend a supportive shoulder without feeling secretly gleeful if we fail (because they know that everyone does at some point), and are there ready to celebrate when we get back up. We all need those people. They are what will keep you from drowning in a sea of self-doubt and second-guessing.
Well, they’re what is currently keeping me from doing that, I mean.
We don’t sit at the intersection anymore each morning, Adam goes it alone.
At home, I am trying to make a go of it as an author, a writer, a mother. I am finding my footing, and trying not to feel like failing,
I am looking for wilderness, continually surprised that I miss it at all.