We are coming to the end of our Canadian adventure and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I kind of wish we’d have had the opportunity (or been coerced) to stay longer, another year. I wonder what may have happened had I been accepted at somewhere like Calgary instead, where the course was two years. I feel as if we’d stay in Canada for good if we were here another year. Like we’d be too ensconced.
One thing’s for sure: I’m not in love with Canada. I don’t have the connection to North America that Mr Chewbacca does. He wishes we were staying. I kind of understand why but I still can’t quite get over not being ‘in love’ with Canada. It’s a beautiful country, the seasons happen at the right time of year and there are proper seasons that you really look forward to. The landscape is beautiful, as are the plants and animals and all of that appeals to me far more than the Australian equivalents. Canadians are good people, nice people. Similar to the Americans, they often don’t get sarcasm, they can be conservative and overly restrained but they love their country with humility and they welcome everyone as equals. You can’t fault that aspect. Australia could really take a leaf out of Canada’s book in that respect actually. I wish we’d had the chance to visit the west coast but it just wasn’t to be. I think we will return if only to see the rest of the country.
We did do some road trips to New York and Chicago which were awesome and I’m so glad I let Mr C talk me into it. I have to be honest and say I never really wanted to come to North America. It just never had that pull for me, I wanted to go to Europe instead, a place I imagined I’d fit into. And I did, when I went. I felt that connection to the place when I lived in London. Culturally it’s quite a homely place for me. Canada isn’t. But I suppose, given more time, it could be.
Anyway, it’s too late for that now, we’re off, in two weeks’ time. Almost on a daily basis someone asks me, ‘but why are you leaving?’ as if there’s no good reason. And to be honest, when I hear myself explaining the reasoning, it really doesn’t sound convincing.
“Oh, well, I came to do a masters and it was a one-year course and so I’ve just graduated and, yeah, that’s it, I’m done…”
“So what will you do with it, when you get back? What sort of work will you be looking for?”
“Oh. Well, nothing to do with my degree. I didn’t really do the degree for that. I did it so we could come to Canada really, for the experience, and because I knew I could do it. Yes, I like what I studied, I enjoyed doing it and I want to do more, but at the same time we really wanted to see whether Canada might be our forever home.”
“And it wasn’t.”
“No. I guess not.”
“Why is that?”
“Um… I… I don’t really know. I’m not even sure… Yeah. I don’t know.” <cue the awkward silence and rapid change of topic>
“So I hear this year we’re in for a big snow fall. Typical, just when we decide to go back, we’ll miss it!”
That’s pretty much how all the conversations go. Daily conversations. I find myself questioning our decision to leave all the time in my own head, but any time someone else questions it I try to justify our decision to go home. I guess I’ve just come to the conclusion that it needs to happen, that we’ll all be happier at home, and that staying here is like staying in limbo. I’m not sure if that’s right or not really, but I do feel really excited about the prospect of going home to Melbourne and starting something new, finally settling.
So, it’s official: we’re going home! Yes, that’s right, after… what is it, seven months? I don’t know, something like that… seven months in Canada, we have decided we actually belong in Melbourne. So we’re going home. It’s not been an easy decision, not at all, and although it’s completely thrilling to think we are going home, it’s also somewhat scary. And there’s that feeling of… I don’t know, disappointment? No, that’s not the right word. Not regret either. I don’t do regret, it’s a waste of time. But… there’s this feeling that we should have known. But you know, the longer I stumble along through life, the more I become aware that some lessons can only be learnt the “hard” way. That is, there was only one way we were going to come to the realisation that we belong where we were, and that was by going away.
It’s been a pretty amazing journey in a lot of ways. Well, I can really only speak for myself here, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this MA here at U of T. It’s taught me so much, and that’s not even including the stuff I’m actually meant to learn for the program itself! The more I do, the more I put myself out there, challenge myself, the more chances I take, the more I realise I have a right to do this too. Just because these people here are doing PhDs or studying at this amazing, prestigious university doesn’t make them any more special or talented than me. And no, it’s not a competition. But I think when you’re sitting at home in some backwater like Canberra you develop a little bit of an inferiority complex. Or rather, you think that all those people studying at Harvard or famous people in Hollywood or people who work for The Economist in London or some top PR guru at some swanky firm in Sydney have something you’ll never have. And that’s just not true. You can absolutely be up at the level of anyone else. There is no one “better” than you. Just because you’re studying photography at TAFE doesn’t mean you haven’t got the same potential as someone doing a PhD in English Lit at Oxford. It’s all perception and self-belief.
Anyway, It’s time to go home to Melbourne. I still have about six weeks of study left (what?! Is that it?!!) and then graduation in May plus the Dude will see out the school year up until the end of June. We’ve booked to fly out at the end of July and now I’m gathering quotes from moving companies. We will have some rest time at my mum’s before heading back down to lovely Melbourne and reconstructing a life there. Hopefully we can both get work fairly soon and a mortgage will be on the horizon. I balk slightly at the amount of work this is going to take, but my heart is warmed at the thought of finally setting up home somewhere. To think I was complaining about not being settled some eight years ago when Mr Chewbacca and I met!
Some people might say this is history repeating itself. My British grandparents came to Melbourne as Ten Pound Poms in 1959. The decision to leave London was, I think, partly motivated by my grandfather who had travelled a lot during his time in the army and knew there was more out there than doing what ten generations of his family had done before him working at the docks in London. My grandmother was very much attached to familiarity and found it hard to leave her home. She didn’t feel safe a lot in her life and London gave her a feeling of safety which she left when she agreed to go to Australia. So they went. And it was hard, I think. But granddad got work and things were going well enough. Then he had an accident at work where two fingers were severed. It was serious enough to land him in hospital for a time and the family without an income. I’m pretty sure my grandmother was either heavily pregnant or had just given birth to my uncle at the time. My dad, who was about 12 or 13 when his brother was born, was the eldest. The story goes that he ended up on some kind of game show that donates money to families in need and apparently this helped the family get by while granddad was recovering. In the end, the accident was the best thing that could have happened as granddad received an insurance payout and for the first time ever the family had the opportunity to put a deposit on a property. While waiting for the payout to be awarded, another spanner brought the whole thing to a grinding halt: they had word from London that my granddad’s mother was ill and may not last long. With the insurance money through, the family actually had the means to return home for her funeral. But that would preclude any home-buying in Melbourne. Granddad, typically, left the family’s next move in the hands of fate. He decreed that if the property purchase was approved by the following Monday, they’d stay. If not, they’d return. And as fate would have it, they ended up returning. It was a mistake, of course. Well, nothing is a mistake. But returning to the UK was like a step backward and wasn’t really good for anyone. There’s a lot more to the story, lots I don’t know and probably some bits I got wrong, but I wanted to share this to illustrate why what’s happening for me and my family now is something of a repetition. This time, however, this time we’ve done it right. We are making the right decision. I know, because I have no doubts whatsoever about it.
As I write this, the snow is falling outside – probably the last snowfall of the season before spring descends and humidity returns with a vengeance. It is probably as close to a perfect winter’s day as you can get, exactly what we came for. It’s been generally a disappointing winter for the most part, quite mild and so erratic, although I suspect the latter is normal. I will definitely miss the snow when it goes. But we will go to the snow back home and take the Dude and Thumper skating at the only rink in Melbourne.
So it’s all happening, the wheels are in motion. There’s a lot more to write about this, in the context of why we decided to come to Canada in the first place. There are a few unanswered questions. I’ll get back to you later on those. While there is a slight feeling of disappointment that our little experiment didn’t quite work out, there’s a much stronger feeling of happiness that this is exactly where we need to be, right now. We are going home and we are satisfied that it’s our home. No more searching and wondering and restlessness. We’re for Melbourne.
Not a day goes past now when Mr Chewbacca doesn’t ask me, “so, we’ve pretty much decided we’re going home, right?” And I inevitably reply with some shaky response along the lines of, “yeah, I don’t know, maybe, we need to talk about it…” It’s hard to find time to talk when we’re busy with study, work, kids and all we want to do of an evening is collapse on the couch and escape into tv. That’s also partly just an excuse for not discussing what is a really difficult issue. Do we leave Canada and go back home to Australia?
Ideally we’d make a list of pros and cons and that would help us decide. Regardless of the strategy, this is a super hard decision to make. There are a few reasons for that. Firstly, although we both miss home, we haven’t had a great deal of time to get used to Canada so it’s hard to differentiate between missing home and actually being sure we want to move back to Australia for good. Secondly, we are financially in dire straits, having spent everything to get here and do what we’re doing, so it feels like we stuffed up if we return with so much less than when we left. Thirdly, we haven’t ended up in the best place, in an area or environment that suits us, so even though it’s nice enough in our little neighbourhood, the awareness that we’re in the wrong area adds more weight to our wanting to go. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that it’s been Murphy’s Law from the get-go, from the moment we decided to leave. Not only that but Melbourne bent over backwards to get us to stay.
I actually started looking at places to rent in Melbourne the other day. Oh Australia, why are your houses so ugly?! I much prefer North American architecture. And so many rentals in Australia haven’t been renovated since the 70s, it’s awful. A bit depressing actually and made me hesitate about looking into going home any further.
But if we stayed? Oh, what a big undertaking! Visas, jobs, money, moving, schools, daycare… I don’t know if I have it in me. I would need to find full time work which I think would be a big challenge. And the kids, will they be overlooked while Mr C and I work like demons to satisfy visa requirements? Again, I just can’t see how it will work. I don’t think I want it enough.
Don’t get me wrong, the seasons and the trees are gorgeous and far nicer than anything you’d get back home. The northern hemisphere seasons are great also because it’s winter at Christmas etc… But I’m not sure that’s enough to make me put in the hard yards to stay. I wanna go home.
I actually have a home! It’s a revelation really, for me. I’ve always struggled with knowing where I belong so it seems logical to embrace what I know now that I have identified it. The irony is, now I know where I belong, I’m not there and it’s going to be an effort to get there! I also have to think about what’s best for the family as a whole and try to calm Mr C’s worries about it all, about whether we’d do the right thing in going back. It’s going to be big, whatever we decide.
In life, you get ups and downs. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. You look forward to something, you have a great time, you reminisce with friends, it’s all good stuff. You tend not to remember the bad unless you’re wallowing in despair. You need a bit of bad to know just how good the good is. But when you’re experiencing the bad, it’s so hard to retain that perspective.
Right now is a bad point. I’d love to blame it on PMS but I can’t. Since the very beginning, when we first talked about moving to Canada, there have been so many signs telling us not to go. I don’t want to say I’m reliant on omens or whatever because I’m not, I believe in putting in the hard yards and doing everything to achieve exactly what you want in life, but by the same token I’ve had too many experiences throughout my life to deny the existence of some kind of higher power, spiritual world, the universe, whatever you want to call it. The universe tells you what’s what, guides you along the path, presents you with opportunities to improve and progress, if you actually notice of course. The signs against going to Canada were there all along and it continues to be tough going. Not that it wouldn’t be even if the signs were positive and we were supposed to be doing this; no one is denying the enormity of what we’ve set out to do, moving halfway across the world based on a crazy dream of snow at Christmas and beautiful landscapes. We’ve done stuff like this before and it’s been so hard! But not like this.
Since meeting, Mr Chewbacca and I have made many moves and overcome many obstacles during those moves. I remember finding our first place together in London, that was really difficult! Lots of stuff went wrong. I dinged the hire car. Our landlord was clearly dodgy and wanted rent paid by cheque or cash only. Then moving back to Australia, that was a massive drama. Not only did we have huge problems agreeing on where to go (I wish I’d stood my ground and we’d gone to Melbourne, things would be so different!), we struggled finding a place to live with only one of us working and just took the first thing that came along. Our wedding was organised last minute and my dress was accidentally transparent, I never tasted my awesome wedding cake that my mum bent over backwards to arrange at the last minute and I ended up in the worst job I’ve ever had. Our place turned out to be amazing but we had to move somewhere bigger because the Dude arrived. And that was shit as we had to settle for hell (ie. South West Sydney), the removalist wasn’t even a real removalist (just a small middle-aged couple with a graffitied truck), our house was fibro with no air con, and, well, other stuff happened that made it hard to remember that place fondly.
Then, finally we could leave Sydney, but we had to move to Canberra for six months to live in my run-down investment property while we renovated enough to be able to sell it and afford a move to Melbourne. We actually did it. I got a job (narrowly losing to my job in Sydney as worst job ever), and somehow we managed to renovate and sell with no money, just credit cards. We did enjoy Canberra but the whole renovation was hard work and we got screwed by a dodgy handyman.
Finally, we made it to Melbourne. Okay, so it wasn’t perfect. It was super tough. Jobs were scarce and I was pregnant. We ended up with total assholes for neighbours. But it was Melbourne, and after 18 months there we’d begun to find our niche. I actually had friends, new friends, for the first time in years, and they were people that I had lots in common with. Mr C had a really great permanent job. Dude was in an awesome kindergarten. We had all we needed, a great car, nothing to want for. We were happy. Except, the weather. Those fucking 40 degree days. Bloody Australian summer.
So why? Why did we go? The weather was a big reason, as I explained previously. I really wish people had been a bit more shocked about it when we told them. I wish I’d listened when people told me I’d be mad to leave Melbourne. Why did we take this leap, I asked myself every time something went wrong with this move. We’d ask each other as we ran up against barriers and logistical problems arose time and again and we grew slightly uneasy about whether we should really do this. But we knew that if we didn’t do it, we’d always wonder.
I won’t go on. But this is a low point. One of those times when you just feel regret inching it’s way in, no matter how much you remind yourself how pointless it is. I hate it too because it reminds me of family who did stuff like this and could never stop going over the story of why they left and how big a mistake it was. This kind of a move, done wrong, can really screw up a kid. I’m just glad at least that ours are still little enough to bounce back.
Every sign was there from the beginning. And right to the end. We almost didn’t even board our flight! And now, now we are left with nothing but the experience. And me with a degree. Is it enough? I hope so. We could be buying a house in Melbourne now but instead…
I end this post with an apology for its whiny negativity (a bit of perspective on my part wouldn’t go astray!) and a promise that the next one will be less ranty. I feel better already just for having written this!
I adore my immediate family, my husband and kids, and although they’re far away it’s nice to have a strong connection with my children’s grandparents too. But I don’t mention much about my extended family. I’m an only child, so I’m talking about aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This is because I haven’t made much effort to be in touch with them. Actually, I’m going to be honest here, I’ve actively avoided them. And now, at the age of 37, for the first time, I’m beginning to feel terrible about that. So this post is an apology to my family for cutting them out, even if they didn’t notice.
I didn’t really grow up with my cousins. They mainly lived in Sydney and my parents and I moved to Canberra when I was two or three. We’d visit of course, but it’s not the same. And frankly, I don’t know why, but I always felt different, like I didn’t really identify with my family. On one side, I think the lack of language contributed – they all spoke or understood a bit of Serbian and I knew none at all. On the other side, I felt a little closer to them, but culturally, again, they were more ‘Aussie’ or something. When I was a teenager and even into my 20s I was a real snob. Yeah, this is an honest post. I was so stuck up, constantly comparing myself with others, insecure, immature, unable to accept that everyone is different, with different influences and ideas and desires and strengths and weaknesses.
Having said that, I was very anti-Australia for the longest time, despite having been born and growing up in Australia. I considered myself ‘European’, whatever that means. I think it meant that I didn’t identify with Australian culture and I felt like being European was classier, like people from Europe have more of a world view, are more educated, more intelligent, more refined. I was revolted by bogans. It really was snobbery on my part.
I think there were a couple of pivotal moments that changed my perception about my cultural identity and where I belonged, but it’s only recently that my familial identity has begun to matter. Just after turning 18, my dad took me to the UK for five weeks. I was so excited as it was my first overseas trip and I was finally going to visit this mythical land of ‘England’ where I felt my cultural heart truly belonged. It was a shock, to say the least. I will never forget the feeling of weight I experienced; all those people, all that history, all mixed up, rushing, spilling, washing over me. I felt claustrophobic, weighed down by the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ that had happened in that place over the centuries of city living. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t wait to get out. I was amazed at how dirty all the London transit vans were, just smog and road dirt accumulating. Some of the roads, remnants of Roman walls, puddles filling in uneven pavement, crowds trying to enter and exit stations and trains, it was all so full and overwhelming to me, a very naive, immature teenager with very little experience of the real world. I’d come from Canberra, the cleanest, quietest city in the world, a population of around 350,000 neatly arranged in suburbs around a handful of peaceful ‘town centres’. This is a city that was planned. The closest thing to a traffic jam occurs when you have to slow down a little bit because the NRMA are jump starting someone’s Datsun in the Parliamentary Triangle and it’s 8am. Everyone in Canberra drives. It’s about as far from London as you can get in every respect.
So at 18, I realised I wasn’t European. I was so glad to be Aussie. We landed at Sydney airport on a warm January evening and I have never been so glad to get into a creaky Falcon with a Lebanese driver and try not to get car sick because the suspension on those things is like a roller coaster ride gone wrong! I was home. But the gratitude for being home didn’t last long. Four years later I embarked on an adventure to take advantage of a scholarship and I studied in Siena, Italy for three months. That was a great experience and my world view expanded quite a bit.
When push finally came to shove and I realised how toxic my life in Canberra had become, I went back to London in 2007. I was 28. I planned to stay for six months and I wasn’t there to party it up or take drugs or have fun. I didn’t do fun. So much for that. As I’m sure anyone who knows me knows, my London years changed my life. I met the love of my life, I grew up about 20 years in the space of two and a half, and my sense of cultural identity got a whole lot more complex.
Moving back to Australia in 2010 and having my son in 2011, the pull to find where I belonged, to find a home, was even stronger. But I didn’t yet equate home with family. I was starting a family, sure, but I still had this firm belief that ‘my’ family would be my husband and child(ren), and the extended family, some of whom I’d fallen out with by this point over various misunderstandings and overreactions, were not going to be part of my life. I am a fair person by nature, but I’m also a classic overreactor. If I feel stressed or under pressure, I will back out. I’ll just drop everything, push everyone away; it’s all or nothing. I am insecure, I hate intervening or getting in people’s way. I don’t want to disturb. But often this is interpreted as snooty-ness or rudeness when really it’s the extreme opposite! My worst nightmare is having to ask for something, even if it’s something I’m entitled to, something I own, I just don’t want to confront, I don’t want to state my case, I don’t want to attract attention to myself.
So continuing on from my escape to London, I slowly began to extricate myself from any hint of connection to my extended family. They are all clever, sensitive, aware people, and I’m sure many of them wondered what my problem was, why I was trying to disappear from their lives. I worried that one falling out meant I’d automatically burnt my bridges with others connected to that one person, so I just unfriended everyone on facebook and set my profile to private and got on with life.
As my son grew up and my husband and I got to know each other better, questions arose. My husband was a bit miffed at not getting to meet my family, but I remember saying, oh, don’t worry, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Secretly, though, I knew that wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know how to make things right. I felt stressed out by all the emotional stuff I was going through and I couldn’t deal with the communication challenge. So I keep everyone at arm’s length.
I think since coming to Canada and experiencing such homesickness I have also begun to feel sad about my lack of connection with my extended family. I unblocked everyone ages ago and my profile is no longer totally locked down. I occasionally have a little look around, see some comments and conversations on the pages of some family who I am still privileged enough to be friends with, and I see them loving each other, my family. I see how grateful they are to have each other, how much of an effort they make to stay in touch, and I envy that connection. I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and stupid. I don’t know if I’ve burnt my bridges, I hope not, but I don’t know what I could say that could make it right. All I hope is that my family can forgive my silliness and we can move on in peace. I hope we can reconnect, but if not, I hope they all know that I bear no one ill will and I am grateful for each person’s impact on my life.
We’ve been working hard to get some basics set up this week. I wanted to mention a few things we have done that might be helpful for anyone else moving to Canada.
Our house contained no furniture whatsoever on that first day we arrived. And of course having sold everything before moving except for a bookshelf and our son’s bed frame, we needed to buy some replacements. Our budget wouldn’t allow for new stuff and with little kids it’s really not practical to buy brand new as you’re constantly worried they’ll trash it and you’re having to make a whole bunch of rules about being gentle with the furniture when really there are more important things to be policing. So it was second hand all the way.
The problem with buying second hand is that, these days, you need the Internet to find stuff. And of course not only did we not have Internet at the house, we didn’t have Canadian numbers so couldn’t text or call people advertising things for sale. So an Internet connection became our primary focus and because cable TV goes hand-in-hand with wifi, we had to buy a TV as our first piece of furniture. Ridiculous! But that’s just how things seem to go with this move, one thing depends upon another and so on until you find yourself having to buy an electric screwdriver in order to use the toilet.
We bought our TV from Costco and it sat on the borrowed dining table while the cable guy connected our Internet. We asked around and went to half a dozen furniture places but realised very quickly that our thoughts about buying second hand were spot on and we couldn’t afford anything new, even heavily discounted.
The next options were Kijiji, kind of like Gumtree, for those in Australia and the UK, and various buy/sell/swap groups on Facebook. The trouble with buying stuff like this, aside from not having the Internet or phone numbers, was that even if we settled on something, how would we actually get it? The hire car we got is just a Toyota Rav4 (what a crap car, I’d never buy one!) so not much room to carry big items of furniture.
We met our neighbour on the other side (not the burly, bare-chested towtruck driver guy) who very kindly invited us to dinner with her family which was delightful and very welcome given we were starting to get sick of eating out after five days of it since arriving. Someone mentioned it was possible to hire trucks for the day from Home Depot, more or less like Bunnings in Australia or B&Q in the UK. So we thought, great, we’re set.
After doing a bit of hunting around, I discovered something called a consignment store. We drove down and it was basically just a second hand furniture store. After looking at new stuff in other stores like The Brick or even Ikea, we knew even the cheapest new stuff would be out of our price range. The stuff in the consignment store was priced well and the sales assistant was fantastic, showing us everything they had that we could have missed just browsing around by ourselves. We discovered prices were flexible so we chose what we liked, based on what we could afford predominantly, and we ended up with two big chests of drawers, a TV unit, an armchair, an ottoman, three side tables, a padded blanket box, a matching bedside table and cupboard for the Dude’s room, an oversized coffee table and a glider for about $900 all up. We took what we could on the spot and arranged to pick up the rest the next day in a $20 hired truck from Home Depot.
Well. It wasn’t straight forward. When Mr Chewbacca rang to ask about availability of trucks he was told they will not hire to someone without an Ontario driver’s licence. So he rang U Haul and was told something just as ridiculous. It’s like they didn’t know that people from other places might want to hire a truck and they really had no idea what to say. I did some quick Internet research and discovered a bit on U Haul’s own website saying they’d accept a licence from overseas and eventually we convinced them. What a stupid ordeal! Like most stuff of this nature in Canada, it’s bureaucratic and any systems in place are antiquated.
Anyway so Mr C picked up the stuff and that was great, we had some proper furniture finally! We found a lovely couch on Kijiji and after some research, traipsing around various different shops, purchases and returns, we settled on some rugs from Walmart and Canadian Tire as the house has no carpet in it.
Oh, the house. I could write a whole series of posts about how dodgy it is in terms of the quality of workmanship, materials, everything. It’s not the age of the house, it’s clearly just been built to a very low standard. And over the years it’s been painted or updated or repaired but never to a good standard. I now understand fully why Mike Holmes is as successful as he is. I think he may be the only Canadian thus far to realise that you need actual standards to construct a house properly. Anyway, we’ve got toilets that get easily blocked, walls that are slightly curved by accident, strangely undulating floors, warm patches on kitchen tiles, doors that don’t fit properly, just cheap, shoddy workmanship all round.
The fridge, which is from Ikea, of all places (generally speaking rental properties here come with whitegoods), looks pretty but the water dispenser gives very odd-tasting water and the water hammer is so loud. Oh and it doesn’t fit in the space properly so has been rammed in and actually warped the surrounding cupboards. No air circulation. And you can’t open the cupboards above it because the doors get stuck on top of the fridge! The microwave (another fixture) is balancing on a weird shelf that juts out at just the right level for you to take out an eye of you move while standing in front. The oven is this huge white standalone monster, self-cleaning apparently, and all gas! It’s a beast and looks ancient but apparently isn’t and works well. Virtually all the kitchen cupboards are too small and not easily accessible. It’s like the whole kitchen was built for show, not to actually be used.
Anyway, enough whingeing, suffice it to say the house looks cool but pretty much needs to be rebuilt from scratch and we now have furniture! We also have a car, the purchase of which and inevitable associated drama is a story for another time. And our stuff arrived from Australia. We spent thousands to send toys to Canada apparently…
There’s so much to catch up on with our story of the journey to Canada but I’ll document first our early days here now because I think the jetlag might turn my brain to mush and I’ll forget easily.
We left our hotel in Melbourne at 7:30am on Friday 31 July. A large taxi took us to Tullamarine with our six big bags, two car seats and pram. We had a decent amount of time to get on the first of three flights, a short jaunt from Melbourne to Sydney. But as soon as we went to check in for our 9:30am flight, the first disaster hit. QANTAS wouldn’t allow us to board the flight as the immigration requirement specified that all passengers need either a valid visa or a return ticket. The nature of our visas meant that while we’d received pre-approval, we wouldn’t be granted visas until border crossing in Canada. And while Mr Chewbacca had a return ticket due to his visa’s requirement to demonstrate intent to return to Australia, the kids and I had only one way tickets. Stymied at the first step!
Mr C in particular was fuming when we realised we’d need to book return tickets on the spot and I ended up doing all the talking to try and keep everything cordial which was very hard, although to their credit the QANTAS staff did everything they could short of copping a $30,000 fine for us. They put us on a flight at 10, checked through our many bags and we headed down to sales to sort out the tickets. Once we got over the initial shock of discovering we’d be maxing out the credit card in one hit, we relaxed knowing we’d book fully refundable tickets and get them cancelled as soon as we arrived in Toronto. Except of course something went wrong with the credit card payment and it wouldn’t go through. They sent Mr C and the Dude through security to board the flight and I stayed to finalise the booking with the little Thumper asleep in the ergo on my back. The Dude was crying not understanding where mummy was and both Mr C and I were on the brink of tears worrying we would miss the flight. We didn’t say it but I know we were both thinking that this did not bode well for the rest of what was always going to be a challenging journey.
Anyway, with ten minutes to spare I literally ran to board the flight, picturing how I’d apologise to all the other passengers waiting to leave. The staff were great, so kind, and they reassured me the flight was already delayed due to something else. I am normally calm in these situations but I was so stressed out at what had just happened. I also quickly realised that because we were on a later domestic flight, we’d be rushing to get to our next flight through to Dallas. So I asked the flight attendant to call ahead and try to make sure we’d be given swift passage. I never do stuff like that – asking for things goes totally against my Libran diplomacy! As it happened, it wasn’t too bad and we went straight through and onto the flight I was dreading: 16 hours, Sydney to Dallas.
It was long, yes, but somehow it just wasn’t that bad. Both kids were really chilled, and the Dude even let us do a modified bedtime routine and went off to sleep using his seat and the spare one next to it to lie down. He did keep flailing out his legs and nearly rolling off the seats so we had to hold him, plus the little one didn’t stay down for long in the bassinet so I mainly held her while she slept which was sweet but very uncomfortable for me. But overall we sailed through that long flight quite easily.
We collected our bags in Dallas and were surprised to find one missing. It was an odd setup at the baggage collection area with random baggage handling people hanging around suspiciously as though we were supposed to tip them when they helped us with our bags. After realising our bag was gone we traipsed to the lost luggage counter and a super helpful dude took down the number and wrote out a thing to give to American Airlines upon arrival in Toronto. We then went through to the baggage transit area which basically involved dumping our remaining luggage on the floor alongside about 500 other suitcases with a few confused baggage handlers hovering about looking thoroughly disorganised. We weren’t sure whether we’d see it again.
Dallas Fort Worth is a fairly big airport and because we were there for five hours we decided to get one of those 30 minute hotels and have a shower. We then ate a horrible McDonald’s and then just wandered down to our gate. For a few minutes we relaxed and I took a few photos of the kids playing and looking out over the tarmac. But that didn’t last long. For some inexplicable reason, they changed the gate where we were meant to board and so we had to rush to what was effectively the other side of a massive airport. It was so far we had to take a train!
We lined up to board our final flight, Dallas to Toronto, worrying about the hoops we’d have to jump through to be granted our visas. It seemed fitting that we’d run into obstacles there. Of course as soon as the staff saw us and realised who we were they took our passports and asked us to wait in an alcove while they boarded all the other passengers! No real explanation. We thought it might be because they wanted us to pay excess baggage as our heavy bags were over the allowance for American Airlines. But no, after some cautious questions we ascertained that there was yet again some technical glitch whereby the baby’s ticket wasn’t attached to mine or something. It seemed to take forever to get the go ahead to board!
Once on our final two hour leg, the tiredness really set in. We had the nicest air hostess in the universe do everything she could to make us comfortable but alas, both of us had trouble staying awake. The little one conked out again within minutes of taking off and the Dude chilled out eating some chocolate from a snack pack we were given. We were almost there.
When we landed in Toronto we roused ourselves and gave each other a hand squeeze and a look: we still had to get through immigration. What if they gave us a hard time? What if we didn’t have the right paperwork? What if they said no, we won’t be issuing a visa, sorry, you’ll just have to go home. Maybe it was because we’ve watched too many episodes of Border Patrol but I know we were both nervous.
We headed to collect our bags only to discover another piece missing, the baby’s car seat. I began to realise that the more pieces you have, the higher chance of something going missing. And you could probably guarantee that if it was the last item of yours to be checked in then it would be the most likely to be lost. American Airlines were awesome, and the three people working at nearly midnight were doing everything to find our stuff. They took our address at the hotel while giving some suggestions about nice places to live in the Greater Toronto Area and we were on our way with our somewhat fewer pieces of luggage. Through passport control who weren’t interested in our visa status at all, we arrived at immigration.
There were no other travellers there and a lovely smiling Canadian waved us over. He chatted away, pausing to give directions to the bathroom because of course the Dude needed to go at this most critical moment! I nervously explained that I’d left the “duration of stay” section blank because it wanted the exact number of days and I felt silly writing 365 when I truly wasn’t sure! He totally didn’t mind. He didn’t ask to see anything, just our passports and preapproval letters. The only thing that held us up was Mr Chewbacca rabbiting on about how we’re going to watch the baseball and the guy was obviously a fan and had a bit of a chat. He handed us some official-looking sheets of paper and we were off to customs! We couldn’t believe it, it wasn’t an ordeal, we’d sailed through just fine. Customs were nice too and I think impressed with me ticking the box to declare food “just in case”, just like a good Aussie always does. We stepped out into a warm evening and realised we’d need to wait a bit for the car we’d hired as we were early. It was nearly midnight in Toronto but we were still on Aussie time and felt like zombies anyway! We ate chocolate, the Dude pointed at all the giant North American trucks masquerading as cars and thus began our time in Toronto.
Our guy picked us up in one of those enormous SUVs and drove to our hotel which was a nice place from the look of it. We were barely upright yet still smiling and glad to be there at this point. We got up to the room and immediately got ready for bed. I’ve rarely been that tired in my life! The Dude crashed out on his sofa bed and the other three of us in the big bed and apart from one very scary wakeup from the Dude where he jumped out of bed and ran crying out of our room and down the hall, we slept until 10 or 11am. Toronto: we had finally arrived.