My sweetie, two kids and I are one of the many families that sold our way-too-expensive “family” home in Metro Vancouver and headed East. Way East, all the way to my little hometown in Ontario.
It wasn’t an easy decision despite the clear financial benefit. Like anyone living in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland, leaving is tough. It means saying goodbye to the mountains and ocean – the meeting of which truly do create one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It means leaving the mellowest Canadian climate, with winter temperatures that rarely dip below freezing. It also means leaving the very liberal mindset which is one of the biggest attractions for Canadians that are fed up with some of the conservative values more likely to be found east of the city.
For us it also meant leaving family since my sweetie was born and raised there – the family that had been there for the birth of my boys and every milestone after. They were, by far, the hardest to say goodbye to.
But before I tell you what led us to our decision to leave, I want to back up a bit and share a bit more of my story…
I moved to Vancouver nine years ago, at the end of August 2007. When I booked the plane ticket I was only planning on staying for a few months. I was a bit of a wanderer back then, usually spending winters in Costa Rica and summers in Ontario. But when I got to Vancouver, it didn’t take me long to realize my wandering days were over and I had found a place to stay.
I remember walking north on Commercial Drive from Broadway that first day. The busyness of the neighbourhood, the groceries with their food out on the sidewalks, the gorgeous mix of people… I was enamored. In the days that followed – filled with yoga classes, hanging out in the park, chilling on patios and wandering the small organic grocery stores – I felt like all the parts of me had finally shown up in one place, with the majestic North Shore mountains watching over everyone.
And I decided, I would stay forever.
I met my love about a year and a half later. Our lives were typical Vancouver lives – we would head up to Squamish on the weekends for rock climbing, perhaps Pemberton for a romantic getaway. Winter days were spent snowshoeing on the North Shore. Life was beautiful from the tops of mountains and rocky crags. The beers at the Howe Sound Brew Pub after climbing The Chief on my 28th birthday were the best beers I ever tasted.
Then babies entered the picture and a few years later we found ourselves with a hefty mortgage, two kids in daycare and no time to play in the outdoor playground that surrounded us.
We tried. We really tried. We watched our budget. We made sacrifices. We understood that eventually it would be easier. Eventually we wouldn’t have the costs of daycare. Eventually the kids wouldn’t be so little and we would have more free time. We knew that was coming and we were waiting for it.
Then last summer, things started to shift… After years of dealing with serious body pain following a rock climbing fall and undiagnosed concussion, I had a major back spasm that kept me in bed for weeks. And despite the love I received on Facebook, no one showed up to help. I was barely able to walk and still had to manage all the day to day responsibilities of motherhood. Thankfully, my mom flew in from Ontario and got me through the last weeks of that horribly painful time.
And I don’t blame people for not being there for me. Rather, I see that as just a reality of life in the city. People are busy. It’s hard to support one another when there are big-ass mortgages to pay off and too many kid drop-offs and pick ups. On the path our lives had taken, our “people” were spread out across the Lower Mainland – from Squamish to White Rock, Kits to Coquitlam – a common occurrence when family life forces you out of the cute city neighbourhoods. So quite literally, there was a traffic jam between their houses and mine.
And as a small town girl who was used to community, I realized that this wasn’t OK for me. This wasn’t how I had ever wanted to live my life – disconnected, isolated.
Fast forward a few months and it’s Thanksgiving. Growing up it has always been my favourite holiday. In Ontario it means crisp, cool air, and nature at its best with red, yellow and orange leaves filling the landscape. After big family dinners as a kid, my mother and I created new traditions with great friends when she separated from my step-dad. It was always a big table. Always filled with love and laughter. People I had known my entire life would come together to celebrate, to connect, to eat.
But on this rainy Thanksgiving day in Vancouver, people were once again busy. And my little family was sitting at home, just us. I sat down to read my boys a book – Franklin’s Thanksgiving.
The story goes something like this…
Franklin’s grandparents, who traditionally come for Thanksgiving dinner, write to tell Franklin that they can’t make it that year. Franklin is devastated but in the days that follow he gets the great idea to invite others from his community to his family dinner. Unknown to him or each other, both of his parents come to the same decision and when Thanksgiving dinner rolls around their guests are so plentiful that they need to move the feast outside. And there they sit to eat, surrounded by community. Surrounded by love.
Reading this to my boys, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I thought of my community back home, sitting around a table together to feast and I was struck with one simple question:
Why aren’t we there?
Suddenly, with the biggest emotions since the birth of my children washing over me, I realized that I had to go home, that I needed my community. I realized that waiting around for the mortgage to become reasonable and the kids to get a bit older and new friends to become old friends was ridiculous. I needed my people. The ones that had always been there. I needed them to be happy, to be the kind of mom I aspired to be, to create the life I wanted. And I wanted my children to grow up with the same sense of community that I had been blessed to know. I wanted them to be raised by a village.
Six weeks after my tears fell upon Franklin’s Thanksgiving we sold our house and four months later, our plane touched down in Ottawa on a Friday evening. We were tired and pretty weirded-out by the fact that we had packed up our lives and left the city we thought we’d raise our boys in. My mom picked us up at the airport and we drove to our new house, in my old town. We pulled into the driveway and there it was:
Community. On our back porch, waiting for us.
After nine years away – I had fallen in love, had two children, changed careers – there they were. With food, drink and helpful hands. With smiles. With tears. With love.
Family and friends, welcoming us home.
In this moment, as the snow blankets the world with its pristine whiteness, I crave curling up with a good book, a hot chocolate and a roaring fire. I crave simplicity. I crave comfort. I can clearly see that a busy life is a wasted life because we miss the moments that really count.
I’ve just started editing a new manuscript and it’s going to be a beautiful book, one I think I will order multiple copies of and send out to every woman I love. It’s a sweet mix of self-care, Ayurveda and our strength as women. It’s like magic for my soul right now. Allowing me to sink in and uncover the love for myself that can get hidden in the mess of appointments, difficult children, volunteer tasks and grocery shopping, along with the many many other things that have me running around fairly frantically on a day to day basis.
And this mess, it clouds my mind so easily. It hides the truth of self-love and soul-contentment that I desperately wish to be led by each day. But that is life. At least for me. It is a constant shifting from hustle to peace. From external to internal. There is no perfection available on this path. I need to keep bringing myself back to internal focus and strength – to a place of pure self-love. Whether it’s a particularly powerful yoga class or a reiki session with the amazing woman that I’m blessed to have in my town, or a beautiful book, or a good long talk with a girlfriend, I always need something to bring me back. Again and again. To remind me that I don’t need to get stuck in the busy, in the mindlessness.
And maybe the snow does that too. It requires us to slow down, to cuddle up and look inward. Yes, we can fight it and our modern culture often requires that of us, but when we don’t… when we see it as an opportunity to step away from the hustle and make soup while drinking tea with rosy cheeks after building a snowman… that is the gift it gives us.
We’re all about to go down the road of holiday craziness… and my dear American friends, you kick it off hardcore with Thanksgiving (and that very weird phenomenon called Black Friday). But no matter which country we call home, the next six weeks will be filled with parties, shopping, baking, decorating. Families will come to stay. Friends will stop by. Children will eat too many cookies and stay up too late. And it’s beautiful. I adore the holiday season, especially this year back in my hometown with hopes that it will be white. My town plays Christmas carols out of the town hall, filling the downtown streets with music. The street lights are decorated with wreaths and shop windows are decked. It’s true Canadian Christmas magic and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s just the extra glass of wine…
Or the 3rd late night in a row…
Or one more party with a dessert spread to make every sugar addict sink to their knees and thank the universe/lord/Allah/Jesus for the blessing.
Those get me. They throw me off. They push me away from this centre that I feel so good about when I’m in it. And so I need another reminder, another pull back to conscious soul-contentment: the right book, yoga class, a sweaty afternoon snowshoe. An experience. Because inspirational quotes flying past my eyes on Instagram just don’t make the cut. I need more, a stronger touch point.
So I’m starting the season with a proactive approach: I booked myself in for 3 yoga classes this week and aim to attend at least 2 each week through the season. I messaged a friend about a lunch date. I’ve got a plan for a women’s snowshoeing afternoon brewing in my head. And a lovely little Secret Santa potluck with some of my oldest besties. One of my holiday rituals, Molly Mahar’s Holiday Council, is on my calendar for 3 hours of serious me time to reflect and dream. I’ve signed up for a restorative yoga + vision boarding workshop just before New Year. I’ve told my sweetie that at least once a week I want to spend the evening just hanging out with him, talking or playing a board game. All that’s left is to decide which evening I cuddle up on the couch (solo) and watch Love Actually.
Amidst the to-do list, I’m choosing me. I’m choosing to honour this time. To treat myself well. To claim the space for my soul amidst the hustle and bustle because you know what? Inner peace/soul-contentment/self-love…. whatever you call it, it doesn’t just happen by itself. Nor is it something that happens once and then sticks around. It needs to be nourished. It needs to be cultivated.
That also means that when we lose it, when the hustle and bustle takes over, we can get it back. We can trust that it will be there waiting for us if we create the space and welcome it in. This holiday season, put your soul on the agenda too. Claim the space for it.
If you follow me, you know that my family and I recently left Vancouver BC, and moved back to my hometown in rural Ontario. If you’re new around here, that’s all the background you need to know to understand this post. With that said…
Here I am, living in my hometown.
I was gone for nine years – fell in love, had two children, changed careers and started my own business, suffered through and healed from an incredibly devastating physical injury, and also found my way through years of perinatal and post-partum depression. To say that they were formative years is a bit of an understatement.
I am not the woman I was when I last lived in this town.
It’s a powerful thing to live away from the place where everybody knows who you are. Away from the people who know your stories, who know the wins and losses that shaped you. There’s a sense of freedom that comes with it, an opportunity to leave behind the parts of you that no longer fit so that you may unearth the parts of you that will take you forward.
Because the roles you grew up playing, the boxes you did or did not fit in – they can hold you back. Keep you stuck, stagnant. Your opportunity for expansion, for growth, can be limited by the patterns and habits you associate with home, by the expectations of those who have known you forever.
I think this is why so many people feel the pull to leave their hometowns, particularly when they are small towns. There is a need to discover what life is like without everyone you’ve grown up with – without the teachers that watched you grow, the friends who you made all your dumbest decisions with. We need space to be ourselves in a more pure form, without falling back into a default self.
This is what I know to be true about my time in Vancouver: I lived a big life, full of joy and sorrow, and I managed each moment on my own, figuring out, day by day, exactly who I am. Living in a big city on the other side of the country I got to be whoever the fuck I wanted to be. I got to reinvent, to rediscover, to CHOOSE how I’m going to live in the world and do it without anyone asking why I’m so different or what happened.
And then I moved home… and the expectations of others, the old habits, the boxes I fit in or didn’t… they were all here waiting for me. With a thousand visual cues too… biking through the same streets, seeing the same buildings, even the same faces… I have moments these days when I feel like those nine years didn’t even happen.
Which causes me to freak out a little, because I don’t want to lose what I gained. I don’t want to go backwards. I don’t want to shrink.
But in your little hometown, it’s hard to not fall back into everything that you were before.
I think that’s why so many people never move back home. They’ve finally connected to a sense of self that feels true to them, a sense of self that they never want to lose and they fear that going back, to the same place, to the same people, will erase all the change. Because it’s hard to be different than you were in a small town. And if the you that you’ve become doesn’t fit in, it may feel impossible to return. I can think of one wonderful friend who now lives on the other side of the world, rocking a beautiful mix of city and beach culture… living in bikinis by day and heels by night…. How would she ever return here? To a town where tractors drive down the main street and you’ve got to jump on a plane if you want to catch some surf.
Sometimes “home” just doesn’t fit anymore. I get that. And that was my biggest worry before we moved.
And now, 5 months into living here, with the care-free days of summer behind us, I find myself pulled to re-navigate… to take time to assess Who am I here? These past few months I have easily sunk back into this life, telling people regularly that it feels like I never left. That it feels normal. But I’m realizing now, that I’m not OK with that. I can’t let my past become my present just because the streets and faces look the same.
I know I can live a life with more peace, with more compassion, with more nurturing than I used to offer myself a decade ago. I have worked so hard to develop a truer connection to self, a more conscious existence in the world. I can’t give that up. I have shed so many tears for that growth. I have written so many words to uncover my desires, my dreams, my wisdom. Deep breaths, meditations, beach walks and mountain summits – each a moment for reflection and growth. Each one making me more me.
We gain so much self-knowledge when we find ourselves somewhere no one knows us. We are gifted with the precious opportunity to start fresh. And when we choose to move home, because we so dearly miss our people, we must choose everyday to keep all those experiences in our heart, to maintain and continue our expansion. To show ourselves that all that we learned about ourselves when we were away, is true.
And then perhaps we will arrive at a true peace, one in which we integrate all of it. We accept and respect our past while continuing on our new path. We acknowledge that we are a sum of all our experiences and that our truest self, our purest wisdom, comes when we feel whole.
Moving home…. To a SMALL town. My hometown.
There’s nothing like it. Everywhere I go, there are people I know.
I walk out my back door and see straight across the fence to the deck where my Grade 9 homeroom teacher enjoys the weather with his lovely wife.
Or I walk out my front door and see the house owned by a guy I went to high school with, where a group of them gather every Friday to play poker.
Or just next door – a wonderfully complicated family connection because that’s the way my family rolls. Family through and through.
Small town. Hometown.
The same grocery store.
The same bank.
The same pharmacy.
The park, the farmer’s market, the festivals.
Every little bit of it is the same.
Driving the roads from here to there, I realize my kids will know the same roads.
Talking with family friends out and about, I realize my kids will call them family friends too.
This year my son will go to the same little school I did, taught by the same woman who taught me.
This is home.
The home I didn’t even know I wanted.
Where I thought life was too simple and opportunities too sparse.
And where, truth be told, I thought it was stupid to stay, judging those who did.
Where I thought minds were closed and culture was absent
The home I had walked away from, in search of something bigger, better. In search of more.
And yet here we are, in my little hometown.
With our lives bursting with play, connection and joy.
Surrounded by love.
And now I know, this small town is everything we need.
Because of where I live I drive through the “seedy” side of town on my way to and from downtown. And in Vancouver, it’s a pretty intense area. Driving through you will see lines of people awaiting food or shelter. You will see women on street corners. You will see sadness. Deep sadness.
On my way to meet friends, attend networking events, connect with clients I am literally driving through sadness to make my biggest dreams come true.
And yes, it impacts me.
Especially the women on the street corners.
I drive by in my nice car, sitting on leather seats with the AC flowing. And even though my necklace might have been bought at the grocery story, I feel beautiful. I feel confident.
I see these women and think of everything I have that they don’t. Again and again, this train of thought takes me beyond nice clothes and a reliable vehicle, a warm house and healthy food. All those things are great and I’m sure the women would LOVE to have them in their life but there’s something bigger and much more important that I have that they lack.
And that is everything.
In my life, I have endless opportunities to experience joy, peace, security and love. I get to live in a good, safe neighbourhood. I get to send my kids to French Immersion AND be able to help them with their homework. I get to travel with my family and explore other countries. I get to nourish my body with exercise, health practitioners and rest.
But perhaps the biggest opportunity that comes to mind as I drive by these women is my opportunity to follow my dreams, to go after what I want and do what I know I am meant to do in this world.
I get to live my purpose.
And likely, if you’re reading this, you have the opportunity to live your purpose too.
This opportunity, I realize as I see the pain on these women’s faces, is matched by responsibility.
The responsibility to never let an opportunity pass me by.
The responsibility to follow my dreams.
It’s not a responsibility to scoff at. It’s not something to take lightly. If you are in the position to follow your dreams, even if it means starting small or working late or taking a risk, you MUST do this.
Why? Because your actions will make the world a better place.
More women bringing light and purpose into their everyday makes waves. More women living with their heart leading the way makes an impact. More goodness, more service, more joy, peace, stability and love.
And if there’s more of that in this world I believe some of it will find it’s way to the seedy parts of town, to the long lines waiting, to the women on the corners.
Through our greatness we bring light to many, even those we never know.
Share your brilliance with the world.