Saturday, April 16, 2016

How We Got Here; Why We're Leaving. . . Part The First . . .

So many ideas for posts, this move is triggering, even while we're only at the first stage of waiting for our home to be sold (in case you're curious, yes, there is some action but it would be tempting fate to say much more than that, I think). Today, though, I'm going to answer a question from another Ceri, her namesake's comment having already propelled another post. Ceri in London wondered why we are moving from a home we obviously love, and she speculates that it might have "something to do with the stage of life and the choices we have to make as income reduces and our children become more settled." 

Okay, yes, I began this post a couple of weeks ago, but was too tired, busy, or conflicted emotionally, to finish it. Today, I've dusted off the draft, realised it's pretty close and that any more stalling will soon render it stale-dated. So here you go. 

The short answer would be that Ceri is right and the move has to do with this stage of life. But if you'll indulge me, I'll give you a longer answer. What I hope to explain is why, when we knew we wanted to be back in the city for our last few decades, if not earlier, why did we make such a long detour through a small city that (if we'd been more rigorously honest, if we hadn't been so thoroughly seduced by one tiny island) we knew all along we'd have to leave. . .   

A brief summary seems necessary first: we both grew up in small cities near Vancouver, and we bought our first home in one of those cities when we were Oh! So! Young! (24 and 26, respectively, our daughter only 1). We sold that home to move, for my husband's work, to a very small city (population 17,000,  140-kilometres to next real dot on the map, a town of 11,000) a 1000-kilometre, two-day drive from our families only three years later, and although we came to embrace small-town life and made many good friends in our seven years there, we visited our families "down South" (as the local geography had it) often, and our kids somehow were always oriented to city life. We've often wondered if my husband should have held out a bit longer for a promotion or transfer to Vancouver rather than accepting a transfer to the Vancouver Island city of 60,000 that became our next home. In fact, he was invited to apply for such a position within six months of our settling in to our new home, by which time, of course, we weren't willing to uproot the kids again, and our life here has been so rich that we don't regret the long detour. 

Our first home here was in an area that still featured some rural zoning, but was transitioning to subdivisions. Cows grazed in a field across the street; a lone horse leaned over a fence into the playground at the kids' community school; and we could walk to a beach, cutting through forest paths on the way, in fifteen minutes. Our kids spread themselves out in various grades at that elementary school, but the community grew so quickly that, besides pastures being replaced by cul-de-sacs, the daughter who had to take a bus to high school her first three years transferred to a beautiful new school back in the 'hood, built to accommodate all the families moving into the area. The growth meant that my music studio always had a waiting list, and it also meant that there was abundant community support for all those activities kids take on: I could share driving for swimming lessons, gymnastics, piano lessons, soccer practice and away games.  Much as I was grateful, though, for a network of families with similar commitment to their children's development, the ever-so-slight coercive sense of subdivision life began to grate. (One Christmas, for example, our eight-year-old daughter was surprisingly thrilled at one of my siblings' gift of a set of water and juice glasses and asked if she could be the one to put them in the cupboard -- because, she said, happily setting them in place one by one, "Now we have all matching glasses in the proper cupboard like all my friends." . . . poor, previously deprived child. . . )

Gradually, that dissonance became more pronounced, and although I was happily, if busily, juggling my music-teaching with my kid-chauffeuring with completing my B.A. at the local uni, we occasionally admitted that once the kids eventually moved on, our home's location was too random, really, to believe it could be our "forever home." Not that we articulated such a concept so precisely, but we had come to the city for only one reason, my husband's work, and it began to appear that there wouldn't be enough steps on the ladder here to accommodate his potential. For a while, we both scratched our itchy ambitions through education: I finished my BA and started an MA, and he did an MBA designed to accommodate executives working full-time. Those were crazily busy years.

And during those years, our mortgage got very close to being paid off. As well, while admitting that a big-city move might be best for career advancement, the kids were thriving, for now.  Somehow, then, our restlessness got displaced into looking at recreational property, and somehow (a story for another long post, someday!) we discovered a waterfront cottage just within our financial grasp, and somehow, two years, after buying it, we decided to consolidate our lives in a NE-facing, 800-square-foot cabin. Again, fodder for another long post, all the commuting we then did, kids to school and soccer games and part-time jobs; me to Vancouver, then Victoria, for grad school; Paul to a new job in Vancouver and then a much bigger commute to Ottawa. . . If we hadn't found this home (which we renovated into a more reasonable 1700 square feet, with an additional 300 in a guest cottage),  we probably would have moved to Vancouver, perhaps even to Ottawa for a while. 

But as challenging as the logistics of island life undoubtedly were, the charms of a beautiful setting, a tight-knit community so safe that kids could head out to meet their friends sometime after breakfast, call in for sandwiches a few hours later, and show up for dinner dirty but happy . . . Not to mention swimming in the ocean fifty feet from our front door, gathering on the beach with neighbours to admire passing orcas. . . We lived in our first house for three years, the second for seven, the third for eight, and then, somehow, this place we bought on a crazy impulse 24 years ago this fall has been our full-time home for 21 years.

One by one, of course, the kids moved on. One daughter and her then-boyfriend/now-husband moved into the guest cottage for a year while both went to university the year before she headed off to grad school; my son, our youngest, moved away for a gap year before university, then back home, then a few stutters away and back for co-op terms before the nest was completely empty. My husband worked a few years on the other side of the country, then a few more across the (Georgia) Strait, while I stayed in place so that the kids could finish up high school, then university here in town, meanwhile getting my Master's, then my PhD, then landing a position right in the university here in town. Thus even after Pater retired five years ago, even though the kids were obviously settling in the big city, beginning to raise their own kids, it made sense to stay here until I was ready to retire.

We'd bought the apartment over in the city when Pater landed a promotion there ten or so years ago,and buying a place in an upwardly-trending market made more sense than renting, especially since the kids began gravitating there. Increasingly, I'd be packing up on Thursday or Friday night, trying to remember everything I'd need for an urban weekend, lugging stacks of marking and materials to be prepped. We called it "the best of both worlds," and it was, but bit by bit, the back-and-forth grew a bit wearying. When we were in the city, I crammed my work into early morning and late evening hours, and all the rest seemed to be spent catching up with the younger generations. A treat, absolutely, but when we got back to our island home, we were happy to collapse in our big leather armchairs by the woodstove.

In fact, between my work, which tended to chew up weekends and evenings during term, and Pater's numerous contracts and the several boards he serves on, any social life on this side of the pond languished, and really, on the other side, we only socialised with family.  The ride from town to island in our very reliable commuter boat only takes ten minutes, but during the long winter months, there's not much appeal crossing in the dark, especially if it's raining and blowing hard, or if the docks are treacherous with ice. Over the years we've become less and less willing to do that crossing, and when we're on the island, we tend to stay home of an evening, October through March. Not a problem when I was working and either had marking or prep to do or was glad enough for the respite of a Netflix binge, but we're beginning to want a bit more activity.

Similarly, when I was working, my social energies tended to be exhausted by my students, and I didn't mind so much that we declined many weekend invitations because we were planning to visit the kids in Vancouver. But part of the sadness that's been hitting me the last few years is tied into the huge difference between the rich friendships I nurtured much more carefully before teaching full-time and the ones whose potential I've only tenuously grasped lately.  Moving up my retirement date was at least partly motivated by a determination to give more to friendships, both old and new.

There are certainly people our age living on our little island who manage very active social lives here with a rich complement of hobbies and interests, many of which they pursue "in town," happily commuting by boat, even on those dark winter evenings. But having raised four children who chose to live "away," we now have five grandchildren growing up in places that require a minimum half day's travel, round-trip.  If even two of those grandkids were living in town, we'd probably stay here, but their parents have good jobs and full lives in cities we like.  We're the ones with flexibility now, so with the logistics of that travel growing more wearing, we decided definitively a few years ago that once I retired, we'd give ourselves two to five years to enjoy the island together, at a more relaxed pace, and then move to Vancouver. . .

Next up, a (much shorter, I promise) post about why, having decided to have at least a couple of years together enjoying a slower-paced island life, did we put the house on the market, setting in motion a period of our lives that is not characterised by the words "enjoying" or "slower-paced."

Meanwhile, though, as always, your comments are welcome. I'm curious to know how many of you have relocated for similar reasons. I'd always marveled at people who move across the country to a city or town where they knew no one but their own adult child's family. The uprooting from their own lives seemed so drastic to me, and yet I could see that most often, these moves were happy ones with new social lives established, new activities adopted, new nests feathered. Our move will not be nearly as drastic, moving to a city we've had lifelong ties to, but I'm still feeling a bit apprehensive about making sure we establish fulfilling, interesting, joyful lives independent of our children and grandchildren. So your experience would be appreciated. I'm also happy to share what we find along the way, for those of you who anticipate similar moves down the road.

But now, it's time for yoga. Namaste!

30 comments:

  1. Every place has its downside, doesn't it? Even idyllic ones like your island home. I can well imagine that as much as you loved being so close to the ocean, in that lovely setting, the winter boat commute is something you won't miss. As a Maritimer, I'm well versed on the concept of living "away." Of being far from family and old friends. At least I married an Ottawa boy, and so have made his connections (family and friends) my own. And after living in Ottawa for 30+ years, I have many more friends here than "at home." I love the ambiguity of the phrase "at home." In a phone call to my mum it can get very confusing... "When are you coming home, Susie? How long can you stay before you have to go home?" Too many homes. And on that note... it's funny that although I've lived "away" most of my adult life, when I go "home" I'm never referred to as someone who "comes from away."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You got it! Long, ice-slick docks bucking dangerously between my feet and viciously cold water . . . won't miss that at all!
      The whole thing about "home" -- yes! -- my daughter's "at home" visiting right now, but soon will be going "back home" to Rome. And although it's a bit jarring to hear her say that, I'm so pleased she feels it, after having lived there only a year. . . As for "comes from away," it took us six or seven years here before other islanders stopped saying "oh, you live in X's old place."

      Delete
  2. We have friends who have retired to Thetis Island and are very involved in the community. There is a BC Ferry which makes getting in and off the island much easier so they will be able to stay as long as they do not need constant medical attention or assisted living...I understand your pull to be close to your kids and grandchildren I would not want to be far away from ours either.
    Having lived in our first house for over 30 years with no thoughts of moving I can only imagine what an emotional roller coaster that you are on...so many memories are tied up in your house by the sea on that idyllic island...forging ahead there will be new and exciting changes ahead. Fasten your seatbelt! Life is getting more exciting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ours is an easy island to live on as well, with city water and sewer, shopping just across the street from where the ferry docks in town, although it's a privately run foot-passenger ferry. And many new islanders have, indeed, retired here. For us, the biggest draw is needing to be nearer the kids, as you well understand. . . You're very lucky in that home of yours! As for me, I'm buckling up the seatbelt! ;-)

      Delete
  3. I have lived more than 50 years in Richmond. My mother, daughter and brother's family live within 10km. of me. When I was married in my 20's, first hubby and I bought a place in distant Coquitlam with a 1-year old. Home ownership really made no sense as I commuted to UBC with a pre-schooler. We bought in Richmond and I got a job in Port Moody. When we split up, I lived in a co-op in Richmond with my daughter. Monsieur L-B lived in Port Moody so we had a commuting relationship. When we decided to move in together, my teaching contract was with Richmond so we bought the apartment. Monsieur is not interested in gardens or DIY so it was for the best. I visit with my mum a couple of times a week and with my daughter every 2 weeks. We probably won't move but I love to rent apartments in other cities for a change of scene. Isn't it funny how our lives go? I never thought that I would live in one community for so long. The pull of family is strong at this age, I think.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That Richmond base is so secure for you -- no wonder you feel so comfortable traveling (plus, the airport so close by, what a temptation! ;-)

      Delete
  4. Having sold the waterfront home a few years ago, but not yet owning a city condo as we are both still working on the island, I feel such a resonance with what you are going through. Disengaging from work and family home takes time, but I find myself eagerly anticipating the closer connection to non-work friends, "back-burnered" while working, and of course to family. And, luckily, given the next downsize, I've found that I can live with so much less.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Living on waterfront is truly a privilege, and we've felt small-island life to be the same, but I'm really looking forward to the privilege of living with much less. It's a bit scary, I can't lie, but I'm also beginning to feel the anticipation build. . . I do wonder if it might have been easier to sell the house first, THEN retire, as you're doing, so that work is a distraction to help get over the change, but I don't think we could have pulled that off, realistically. Impressed you managed it.

      Delete
  5. What a full life story! It must be very emotional to recollect memories!
    From my point of view ( and I was living in my home town-capital,around 1 million people- the whole life,even in the same part of it. I was changing houses,three times as I was very little and once after I finished my medical university- and the best one was ,and is, here,so I didn't have to move- almost all my family is very near. I have still my best friends from school, together with spouses) you've chosen the best possible life for your kids to grow up and made all the right moves.Everything looks like it was meant to be.
    So,it is hard to leave a part of life behind (and you did a lot of this in just a year with retirement and all), but ,with family near you and your warm personality,you'll find some interesting people near your new home.
    I have also some friends found in different settings during all stages of my life,even now . It will be same for you and Pater. And a new start-everything shining and new,all drawers perfectly made up-isn't it exciting?
    Dottoressa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always thought I'd stay in the city I grew up in, a tiny city near Vancouver, and I envy you that continuity -- it must be wonderful to have a wealth of friends you've known for so long. But I have to acknowledge all that I've gained by moving a few times, and part of that is knowing that I can do it again, although age won't make it easier, I don't think. But "everything shining and new, all drawers perfectly made up" -- yes! That's exciting, even if I can only manage it for the first few months ;-)

      Delete
  6. 'Everything shining and news, all drawers perfectly made up' - what a lovely way of putting it, Dottoressa. Makes me want to downsize immediately...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks,Ceri in B! I'm thinking about it a lot,too :-)!
      D.

      Delete
  7. I think everyone's relocation story after a major transition such as retirement of both partners can be summed up with "it works till it doesn't."

    Ultimately there are practical reasons for a move to a different location or type of housing. The main thing is that each person is clear about the reasons and wants to do it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Essentially, yes, although we could make this "work" for a few more years and enjoy it. My follow-up post is about why/how we decided to move even while something we enjoy is still working. Your phrase makes a good pivot point for me, and I might borrow it, thanks! So very true that each person has to be clear and must want the move. Tough when one doesn't want to leave and the other is more than ready (as happened with my in-laws). I would hate to have that dilemma.

      Delete
  8. We follow a random path through life, I think, often driven by circumstances we don't entirely control. Embracing that can be rewarding. Your island sounds rather like our village and that is part of the reason for the move we considered. We do live in a backwater and will probably leave one day, just not yet.

    Looking forward to hearing about the next chapter and how you find the upheaval of a relocation to a busier, more urban environment. Whatever you do, do not get a do though...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, random plays a big part, for certain, but I've been very lucky to feel I've always had a choice so far. When things feel stressful or dark, I remind myself of that, although sometimes I want to argue back that the choices are tough tradeoffs. Still, a choice, I argue back. . . so, Dog or No Dog... (I'll be choosing "No" for now, don't worry. . . ;-)

      Delete
  9. Fascinating to read about your moves. You've been much more lively than we have! Basically all our married life in Edinburgh, first of all renting a couple of flats, then buying our first wee upper maisonette, then our current house of 24 years. Now we're planning the reverse move to yours - from the city to a village of about 1000 souls, in the north of Scotland. It's where I grew up, my husband loves it there, and we have had enough of city living. Of course there will be downsides. One thing that won't feature in our move, and in fact hasn't been a feature of our married life, is being near family. My parents were a 4 hour drive away (on increasingly narrow roads), and my husband's an hour and a half. We never had the luxury of being able to call on grandparents for any childcare, and it looks as if our children will repeat the pattern, as neither wants to remain in Scotland. So our forthcoming move is for us alone. We have apologised to the children that they won't have a pied a terre in the city, but since they may end up at the other side of the world I don't think they're too bothered about little Edinburgh!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We were too far from very loving grandparents as well (a 20-hour drive for our first seven years' away, four hours ferry/drive subsequently) -- although ours would come to stay occasionally so we could get a few days away. Makes it tough, and I've envied my friends who could book a dental appointment with short notice, knowing there was childcare nearby. Now I get to offer that to two of ours. But the one who chose to move away won't get that benefit, presumably as a trade-off for other items in the pros column (employment is a biggie!), as with yours, so might as well live in a place that makes you happy! Your village sounds like such a great antidote to years of city life and offer a charming new page for retired life, not too far down the road if I'm remembering correctly. . . and for cities, you'll be able to visit your children, right?

      Delete
  10. I am fascinated by your explanation of the impending move and by the comments. We also live in two places and have to make some decisions in the next couple of years as retirement looms and an increasing need to realise capital to help children to buy a home in the very difficult UK market. Where do go? None of the children are sufficiently settled to help us with that decision. Not that I would want to follow any of them but don't want to make myself too inaccessible either.
    The one mistake I don't want to make is one my mother in law made when she down sized. She bought a sweet and very suitable one bedroomed flat -- except there was no room for a dining table. She lost the ability to be the matriarch and host all the family for Sunday lunch. Even a few grand children was a trial in such a small space. So she always had to be the visitor.
    I hope to be able to go on gathering them all around for as long as possible and as their own families increase!
    Ceri in L

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm really fascinated by all the comments myself. I'm not sure I ever anticipated that this period would involve these sorts of decisions -- in fact, I suspect that when I was younger, I blithely dismissed anything north of having got the children to a reasonable state of employed adulthood and settling into a job I liked as offering any conflict or decision-making beyond whether he or I would clean the toilets and take the garbage out or what movie we would watch on Friday night. I think I was quite sure all the major drama would be sorted by 50-ish. Such a woeful lack of imagination!

      Even though our four are spread through their thirties, one moving into the next decade this year, and they seem to be settled-ish, we had to imagine that the two in the city we're moving to could leave for work or the possibility of a home with a garden. We decided we'd be okay there on our own, although it wouldn't be our preference. Tougher to see the landscape, though, when none of them are yet settled, other than to please yourselves, without, as you say, making yourself too inaccessible. (we helped ours get into the tough real estate market here as well, before making this move).

      If I can reassure a bit, though, even at only 500 square feet, we've had all four of ours, with their partners and their kids, in our current city apartment, although we obviously can't sit around the dining table (we have an Ikea table that seats four, brilliantly folds out to seat 8 or 10. And we've had all the grandkids sleep over, but they don't get their own room. . . much has to do, I guess, with attitudes and standards, and you might be surprised what you can manage. Still, we're on the hunt for something with an extra bedroom!

      Delete
  11. Really interesting post Frances ..I've enjoyed reading about all of your moves ...thanks for sharing this, and readers comments about theirs. We've only moved once, 30 years ago ...out of choice, as we loved the area and we've been lucky that we've been able to stay. Apart from moves for Uni and a year in London for one, our children have stayed fairly near. When we moved it meant leaving all our family about four hours away, so like you I often wished we were closer, especially when the children were young and my mum was unwell. We've spent many hours on motorways over the years!
    Hope you're having a good week.
    Rosie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, you have been lucky, although you were away from family. Four hours is a significant distance, and yet it's accessible on a weekend if you can stand the driving. Sounds as if you're lucky so far, as well, that your kids are staying close by.
      And yes, so far a good week, if busy -- hope you can say the same.

      Delete
  12. This is a really interesting post. I moved to a new place, where we knew no one but my step-daughter and her immediate family. I have no regrets, but at times it was difficult. And although we had talked about moving, knew that our previous home was no longer really working but we were also still emotionally tied to it, we didn't really plan this move. The opportunity arose, we talked about it, and jumped in. It was more difficult because although my spouse agreed, his dementia made it harder for him though, and for a long time I worried about whether he moved because I wanted to or he wanted to as well. But it is done. And I am sure there will be other moves. All I know is you can make plans that are very well thought out and rational and then something changes or falls in place, and that original plan goes out the window. As long as you are in it together it will work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've thought a bit about the way you moved, at such a difficult time, with your husband's cognitive powers not what you were used to. I'm so impressed when I read your posts to see what a rich life you've constructed for yourself in a relatively short time, and this gives me hope for starting to build new social webs.

      Delete
  13. You've obviously worked hard to settle the whole family happily wherever you've ended up and you and Pater definitely have a talent for it .
    I don't envy you the whole downsizing hassle , I must say ( however ruthless you are , you'll still end up with three removal boxes you'll never unpack ) .
    But you've actually made it all sound exciting , in a slightly scarey way ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's true that I have some experience in settling happily and resettling happily -- it's been a long time, but I'm hoping I can pull those skills out and pull it off again.
      As for those three removal boxes never unpacked -- I was a bit shocked at what Pater pulled out of the crawlspace a few weeks ago, clearing out for the new owners. Items I'd assumed had been disposed of 20 years ago . . . languishing in the dark all that time... exciting, in a slightly scary way! ;-)

      Delete
  14. I confess to scrolling down, not doing justice to your lovely writing or your exquisite garden, looking for an answer to this question myself. I trust that whoever is buying your island home will tend to your garden.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words, Lagatta. And I share your hope (not sure if I'm at trust, honestly) that the new owners will care for my garden. I try to remind myself of those exquisite sand paintings that the monks erase as they remind us to embrace impermanence. I think I might have practised more if I'd anticipated how great the challenge!

      Delete

I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...