I took the boys for a long-overdue visit to my parents today.
It’s tricky to visit them, it really is. Our weekends are jam-packed with activities and chores and stuff, the usual mundane stuff that apparently is driving middle-class white people insane. They both still work, and they are a 3-hour round trip away, so weekday evenings are also out.
This is all a cop-out, by the way. There have been some awkward visits in the past few years; since George was born, really, and when my anxiety was really bad I just could not face the whole process. The drive on the provincial highway with the highest fatal accident rate. Keeping the kids in check. Possibly landing there at the same time as my brother and his family, which adds a whole other layer of stress and noise to the proceedings.
I’m trying to rebuild the relationship, and make sure that my children are close with their grandparents, but it’s been a slow slog, and not helped in any way by my mental health struggles.
Anyway. Remembrance Day meant no school or work for any of us, and Michael looked like he wanted a day to pretend he’s still single & childless, so I bundled up the kids and off we went.
And you know? It was pretty nice. On the drive down we played a kids’ Canadian history trivia game I picked up this summer; it’s designed for car trips, and the answer key includes little background stories about a lot of the questions so we learned some stuff, too. When we got tired of that, I decided to let them listen to Xmas music, because why the hell not? It’s fun, it was cold out today, and I need something to get me in the spirit so I can get the shopping done.
My parents have recently had a bunch of work done on their property, and this was my first chance to see it. A little background, first: from 1982 until 1993, we lived in a… well, we call it “The Shack”, and this isn’t far off. It was balanced on sonitubes filled with concrete, instead of a foundation. The floors were not insulated (and in a Canadian winter, let me tell you, that fucking sucks). It had electricity but no running water until 1986, and we never did have an indoor toilet. Until 1984? maybe 85? there were only three rooms: the kitchen, which featured an old wood-burning cookstove and a single army cot that my parents slept in; and two tiny bedrooms for my sister and I.
Over the years my poor dad put thousands of dollars and thousands of hours into trying to make that shack into a proper home, adding rooms, putting a foundation under it, raising the roof to make a loft for my sister and I. They tried so hard, but you can’t gild shit, you know? Finally in 1993 they gave up, got a mortgage, and built a beautiful home right in front of the old one.
The old house didn’t get torn down until fairly recently – maybe ten years ago? My brother did the demo work, and piled everything up inside the foundation. The plan was to get everything trucked away and the site leveled one day.
What with one thing and another, that “one day” only happened about a month ago.
My parents now have a huge backyard space. Several dead and dying evergreens were also taken out by the landscapers, so now there are beautiful hardwoods dotted around.
It was so strange to see smooth earth where my childhood house stood… but not strange in a bad way. I had a pretty contented childhood, really; we didn’t have much in the way of material comforts but I never doubted that I was loved. That said, I hated that house. I was embarrassed to bring friends home. I despised the outhouse (especially in February; let me tell you, you don’t just casually get up to go pee at 3AM if it involves walking across the yard in your nightgown and snow boots). I didn’t like the lack of privacy, the needing to share a room with my sister for twelve long years, the too-steep stairs up to the loft, the freezing cold every morning until the fire got going and the wood stove gradually heated the house.
Who I am and the choices I’ve made as a person and a mother were largely shaped by that house, both for good and for ill.
It felt like closing a book to see the last of the house finally gone, wiped clean. My kids ran around on the empty space. Leaves skittered. My parents raked and seeded the whole space, and tiny shoots of late-season grass were coming up.
We walked all over the property, looked up at the beech tree, wandered down by the lake to see the beaver lodges, got nicely chilled in the November air. Eventually we went back inside and had some tea. I cuddled mom’s new kitten. The boys drew pictures and chattered away about school, art class, Halloween, baseball.