I overheard a guy say this on the phone as he sat down on a bench in Millenium Park in July 2016. I guess this park wasn’t in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off because it didn’t exist yet.
Chicago is an amazing city. Maybe it made a greater impression on me because I had no expectations, unlike New York where you expect what you’ve seen in movies or something. Chicago just exuded this vibe of confidence. It is charming, crazy, interesting, just the kind of place you want to spend time. I completely understand now why John Hughes set so many movies there.
I have nothing else to say at the moment but just needed to capture this moment, sitting on a park bench in a park in the city of Chicago.
In the UK, or at least in my experience sharing flats in London, as a tenant you don’t usually need to have your own furniture. Many places come furnished, even with beds. I remember when I moved into Castle Aspenlea at the beginning of my crazy London years, Blacksnake mentioned he’d considered swapping the beds over between what would be my room and his because his had a dip in the middle. I got the comfy bed in that house. Similarly, the bed in the flat where Mr Chewbacca and I first lived together was part of the package.
In Australia it’s different. You’d rarely get a furnished place. It’s great to have your own things when you first move out of home, but beds are expensive so futons are big amongst the young flatties. I had one I bought for $100 and used for years, it was great, and my mum still has it, some 15 years later. I bought it because I got my first serious boyfriend and I only had a king single at home. Funny, seems childish to think of that now!
When we moved to Sydney we ended up with a furnished place. The landlady, who lived above us in the mansion, was Chinese and apparently they are very big on hard beds. Ours was hard as a rock, and squeaky. But we liked not having to buy one and luckily we enjoy a firm sleeping surface. It was in this bed that I went into labour with my son. And that was when I started to think about the significance of a bed. We spend more time there consistently than anywhere else, a third of our lives prostrate on this surface perfected according to designs developed and redeveloped over hundreds of years. Yet we don’t think much about who’s been there before and why. Because that’s kind of gross to think about I guess!
We bought a fantastic bed when we moved from that first Sydney place, the best mattress in the world, it would seem. We loved our bed. It was an incredibly painful process to go through to sell it, realising with horror that the new owners were only willing to spend a quarter of what we’d paid, an eighth even, because it was used. By two people. For three years. Yet, inexplicably, somehow those same people would pay double that to stay one night in a hotel, sleeping in a bed they’d never seen, in which a plethora of strangers had done who knows what for years, a bed whose sheets may or may not have been cleaned to the standard required… The lack of logic is unbearable! But such is the way of things.
When we got to Canada, we bought another lovely mattress, brand new. I think we did it mainly because we thought there was a good chance we’d stay. And because we were sick of lying on some ancient, stained single mattress and there weren’t second-hand options around. We didn’t spend quite as much, about half what we’d spent on our Aussie bed, but it was still a great mattress. There’s nothing more comforting than a nice, comfy bed.
And of course, when we left Canada, yet again we had to sell our lovely bed. I couldn’t believe it when people began enquiring and were just interested in the frame, or didn’t particularly care what kind of mattress it came with. We eventually sold it to a Brazilian couple who’d just moved to Toronto for about a third of what we’d paid less than a year before. Yet again it struck me how extraordinary it is, the way we think about and treat our sleeping surface. Particularly because that point marked the beginning of a long period of sleeping on uncomfortable surfaces. Hotel beds, which are usually great, then the plane, horribly uncomfortable but temporary, the beds at my mum’s which involved a choice between an ancient, soft mattress that gave Mr Chewbacca a back ache or a fold out couch with a chunky futon whose contents constantly redistributed themselves so you could feel the wooden frame beneath. That had been my couch when I lived alone, years before. We were grateful though, to have somewhere, and to attempt to readjust to Aussie life, transitioning gently in this place that most consider paradise in Australia, the Byron Shire.
The sleeping arrangements became yet more complex when we eventually hired a campervan and embarked on our journey down the east coast of Australia from Brisbane, stopping along the way at caravan parks and with friends. We invited ourselves to sleep in the spare room at some good friends’ house on the NSW central coast and in Canberra my dad put us up in a nice serviced apartment but other than that we slept in the campervan. It was actually really comfortable sleeping up the top above the driver’s seat but it sucked getting up and down to deal with Thumper who of course never sleeps through the night. The kids shared the other double bed at the back of the camper which would also have been okay if it weren’t for the night wakings. While it was really fun driving and staying in campsites along the way, we were clearly all pretty over not having any fixed abode. We stayed with some other good friends when we got to Melbourne and were so grateful to have an ensuite room all to ourselves with little beds either side of ours for the kids.
Once we’d decided to go back to Canberra to live, we knew that beds were the beginning of piecing our lives back together. Staying with my dad was really difficult in a one bedroom place which isn’t really set up for us. The day after we arrived we had an amazing stroke of luck whereby we went to look at a place we didn’t think we would get because we had no income, yet because the landlord was desperate for tenants and the agent could see we were genuine, we found ourselves signing a lease that afternoon! So suddenly we had a house, after two months of being without. We bought some airbeds (which, incidentally, are freezing cold to sleep on if the air surrounding is in the slightest bit cold!) and once again realised just how important beds are.
This time we didn’t buy new. We didn’t have the money. We cut it so fine actually, down to our last few dollars before receiving a first pay packet and suddenly everything was okay again. So we got a couple of second hand mattresses for the kids – one was free, I think, brought by an incredibly kind and generous mum of a good friend. Our mattress we bought for $30 off a lady selling her house to move in with her ageing father. She told me she paid $2,000 originally and I’d believe her, it’s super comfy. She also sold us a Dyson for cheap (although it turned out to be clogged up with urine-infested cat hair and gunk). We’ve not bought a bed frame, and frankly, that feels like an extravagance and somewhat unnecessary. We’ll see how we feel come winter.
Anyway once we had beds, then we could finally relax. A couch, tv, kitchen table, other bits and pieces, all great, but the beds, those are the fundamental building blocks of a home. Without beds, you have nowhere to rest. The bed is home.
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.
It’s been only four months since our arrival in Toronto, but it feels like an eternity in some respects. Life isn’t easy here. Not that I thought it would be easy to study full time with two small children in a foreign country. I really don’t know how I’m doing this, but I am. No, it’s more than the general challenge of managing the workload and juggling priorities and responsibilities. I’m being reminded, yet again, that life in Australia is generally easier.
I don’t know how I’ll explain this properly, but I’ll try. From the age of about 11 or 12 I watched a fantastic teenage high school drama called Degrassi. Well, it has many iterations of that name: Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High. There was even a movie. And then came Degrassi: The Next Generation. It’s still running now but I don’t watch it any more, I’m kind of past it and none of the characters I used to watch are in it any more (well, technically a few are, playing parents and teachers, but still, it’s not the same). I watched during the “golden years” (the 80s!) and I attribute much of my sex education and learning about morals and ethics to this awesome show. Degrassi, for anyone who doesn’t know, was set at a community school in Toronto. So anything I knew about life here prior to moving was pretty much based on what I’d watched over the years.
Aside from all the wonderful storylines and themes and amazing lessons I learnt, I think back now and I realise I did get a vague sense of life in Toronto. Nothing concrete, it wasn’t like they were trying to give an impression of life in this city through the show – it was about teenagers and coming of age and life lessons, not about Toronto. But there were references and because I watched every episode over and over again I absorbed every tiny detail of the characters’ lives. I gained insight into the types of people that lived in Toronto in this time, and I think the way they were portrayed was very realistic. These were everyday kids, some poor, some middle class, some from broken homes, some from stable families; some kids were from true working-class backgrounds, from different ethnicities, and a variety of cultural persuasions. This sense slowly emerged of life in Toronto being a little bit of a struggle. Perhaps not so much for the middle class kids, but most of the characters in the show had real struggles, and their socio-economic backgrounds were very clearly portrayed. Life was hard. I think this is still the case for the majority of Torontonians.
Okay so Degrassi was a dramatisation. And it happened in the 80s, coming up to 30 years ago now. But there’s something… yeah, I knew this would be hard to explain. There’s something hard about life that infiltrates the corners of many an episode, some kind of feeling or impression – walking in the cold, catching an old streetcar, dealing with money problems – something difficult about life that is there in the background. Maybe because it’s got a semi-industrial feel to it, I don’t know. And that feeling is here in Toronto. We don’t even live in Toronto proper, we live about 40km outside it, but I travel in most days to go to uni and I have a sense of the city now. I catch the subway and I see all the people doing it tough. I notice how many people are working their guts out for low wages, hating the cold, doing the same thing day in, day out, for what kind of reward? A badly constructed house? A Honda? A measly couple of weeks’ holiday a year?
This is a very inefficient city. It may just be a Toronto thing, or even an Ontario thing. I don’t think it’s a Canadian thing necessarily. But there are so many systems and processes that are outdated and a certain way because that’s how it’s been done for a long time. I think there’s a bit of this in the US too but I can only speak to what I’ve seen thus far. The point is, it’s getting me down. The frustrating protocols, ways of doing things, that are just so badly organised and out of date are the worst! I could list everything if I had a week. But I don’t want to put this place down because there’s a lot of goodness here. I’m beginning to realise that, for me, the bad outweighs the good though.
So… should we? I don’t even want to write it…
Should we go back? Was this a failed experiment? Will we return to Australia with our tails between our legs? Life was really good before we left. We had savings, nearly enough to put a deposit on a house. We had a fabulous new car, Mr Chewbacca had a great job and we had all that we needed at home. Oh I can’t bear to think of what we gave up to come here! The positive thing, and what I must keep reminding myself, is that I am getting a degree out of this, and hopefully it will forge a new career path that I will actually enjoy and be paid well in the process. I don’t even know what’s going to happen, maybe I should put all these thoughts on the shelf and focus on enjoying where we are and what I’m doing, because it is great. Now if only it would snow…
How do you know when you’re on the ‘right’ path? I feel like I used to know, before I got distracted by life. It’s like, in my teenage years and 20s I used to have huge amounts of time to ponder and think over things. Too much time really. An ex-boyfriend (who, when he was my boyfriend, wouldn’t commit enough to my liking and I desperately wanted him to buy me some jewellery to symbolise our commitment) once bought me a birthday present, I think when I was about 22. It was a silver ID bracelet and he’d had it engraved. On the front it had my name and on the back was “No Thinking Zone”. I think we’d been dating a year or so and he wasn’t really intellectually the right person for me but he easily saw my issue back then. I was thinking too much, going over every little thing, obsessing.
Oh if only I had the time to obsess now! Something happened, I think, around the time that first serious relationship started to break down, and life started to become full. I resisted, of course, and it was only because that boyfriend announced he was leaving for a stint in London that I pig-headedly pushed my way forward and ended up leaving for my own London adventure a few months before him. I resisted it all the way, was convinced I would be there for about six months, and I wasn’t going there to party it up like all the other antipodeans. Oh no, I was just going for, um, the experience, whatever that was… And I’d be back in six months anyway. I didn’t need to let my hair down and be stupid on the other side of the world to find out who I was. I was going to fix my relationship, get married, and settle down in Canberra. Or Melbourne. That was me eight years ago. I would sit and think things over, imagine myself in various scenarios, get a feeling, and know the right path. I don’t think that’s what I did with my decision to go to London, although I know for certain it was the right choice. I became a completely different person, a much better person, after living in London. And I met Mr Chewbacca, which is one of the best things that could have happened to me.
With my decision to step into a new life in London, I forfeited this process of assessing my future plans. I began to be spontaneous, and ended up doing a lot of things I would never have considered previously as a result. Some things I can’t say I’m particularly proud of, and I don’t know how positively they contributed to who I am now, but I’m here to tell the tale (not in a public forum though!) and I don’t regret anything. I do miss that clarity, however, those moments of contemplation which allowed me to see the right path. I haven’t got the time now, to sit and think and plan, and so much has happened, life and circumstances have descended upon me in layer upon layer of possible deviations from the right path so that there is now no going back. I can’t sort back through each layer, meticulously choosing my path at every turn. Too much has happened.
So now I am on the path I’m on. I’m here, in Canada, a country I never even envisaged visiting let alone living in, and I’m doing an MA at one of the top universities in North America. As a family, we’ve taken a huge risk coming here. A risk for what? Because we didn’t know for sure if Australia was the right place for us. We couldn’t handle any more 40 degree endless summers. We wanted snow and beautiful trees and piles of leaves and traditions at the ‘right’ time of year, to be in a place that feels like it’s a little more in touch with the world. The course I’m doing is certainly leading me in the right direction and it’s fantastic to be studying again, especially with a level of maturity that allows me to apply myself fully to the material and achieve good results. But it will be ending all too soon.
Many MA programs are two years but this one is unfortunately just one year. I love this university, I am so privileged to be taught by some exceptional academics. I seriously want to do a PhD. But there’s one problem: this university is in Toronto, in the city. I don’t want to live in the city. In fact although I live 40km out of the city, that’s still too close. I can’t wait to move. But if I wanted to do further study I’d have to stay close enough to commute.
I got some clarity around what we might do next yesterday and I know what our options are in terms of staying on in Canada once I’ve graduated next year in June. Unfortunately, none of those options is clearly the right one. We haven’t been here long enough to decide whether to go back home or stay on permanently, another year testing things out at least seems the right thing, but that’s not an easy thing to do. These decisions are depressing me! I wish it wasn’t so complicated, and so much about money!
I listen to my Aussie music, stuff I never listened to when I was at home, and I actually miss home, I miss it for the first time since London. I don’t believe in regrets, they are a waste of time, everything happens exactly as it should. But there are so many things that, if I’d just thought at the time with some clarity, taken a few moments to sit and really make the decisions without rushing, I’d have gone a different way and things would be better. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’ll never know, there’s no such thing as Sliding Doors. Right now, we’ve got some serious thinking to do and big decisions loom yet again. Wasn’t it meant to be easier than this? Didn’t I plan to settle down and enjoy simple family life when I left London?
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.
Drafted when I thought we had only 50 days to departure. We ended up re booking so this was actually about 65 days but whatever.
So it turns out we really are doing this Canada thing. On the nights I’m really tired, like earlier this week when little Thumper was sick and wakeful, I thought to myself, “no, I can’t do this. It’s too much, I can’t handle the upheaval.” As I sat downstaìrs on the couch cuddling my squirming worm at 2am, I imagined turning to Mr Chewbacca the next day and just saying, “hey. Let’s just stay. Let’s not be insane. Shall we?”
But as it turned out, I didn’t feel quite so certain the next day. In fact I felt mildly excited about the move. It’s hard because our visas still haven’t been approved, and we’d hoped to have them locked down by now, our fault really. And the cost, urgh, it’s terrifying! I’d always wondered why people had ‘moving overseas’ garage sales but now I know: unless your work or someone else is paying, you can’t afford to take the vast majority of your stuff.
But we’ve spoken to a nice Canadian lady at a local relocation company to help try to take some of the stress out of doing this thing without local help. It’s making it feel a little more real. Just a little. We’re still on denial most of the time!