What a view!

My grandparents moved to Nepean in 1976, right around the time my sister Jen was born. The house was smaller than their old house, with less corners to explore, but we came to love it. We loved it, of course, for the family held within but also for the little things like the smell of cedar by the hedge, and playing dinky cars along the mortar on the stone fireplace, and the little toads that gathered near the leaky tap beside the kitchen door. Daddy Harold never fixed that tap in the 26 years they lived there because Nana loved the little toads just as much as we did. And we loved the tall fir tree beside the house.

Daddy Harold had two rules about the tree. We couldn’t get help up and we couldn’t drag anything over to get up. If we couldn’t get up on our own then we just weren’t old enough. My sisters are the ones who figured out a work around. We could climb the nearby fence and shimmy across a branch to the trunk and then climb. That opened up a fair bit of entertainment. Once we even climbed up the tree then across to the roof… but only once. The branches were too small and wobbly. Otherwise we’d just climb up for a bit then go back down. My sisters liked to go up and chat with each other on the branches but I liked to go up for the solitude. I’d feel the breeze against my cheeks and listen to the wind softly ruffle the fir needles. And, of course, each year it got a bit easier to climb as we got just that bit taller.

Nana and I blogEvery summer my grandparents would take each of us on our own for one week. It gave my parents a bit of a break and us a break too. I can’t remember how old I was this particular summer trip but I do remember it was a beautiful day. Nana settled down on one of those long, folding lawn chairs with a book and a wide brimmed hat while I made a beeline for the tree.

I didn’t have any plans for how far I’d climb, I was just enjoying the moment. I climbed past the roof of the house but that was no big deal or goal as they lived in a bungalow. Then I climbed a bit further and looked out through a gap in the branches.

“Nana!” I said excitedly. “I can see the pool!”

“That’s nice dear,” she said. Her head didn’t even move.

I kept climbing. The pool was, after all, only three blocks away. It wasn’t like I’d climbed that far. I got a bit higher and announced that I could see Ikea, which was in Nepean at the time and got the same remark. And onwards I went. I had to call a bit louder to say I could see the Rideau River… same with the Parliament buildings.

The trunk was quite a bit thinner by then and the branches were getting farther apart. Luckily I had really good upper body strength because I was reaching above my head and hauling myself up to the next branch. Then I reached another open space. Wow! Everything was so distant yet so detailed and there was a shimmer of water on the horizon.

“Nana! Nana! I can see the Gatineau River!!!”

“That’s nice dear,” came her exact same reply. I couldn’t see her at this point but I was reasonably sure she hadn’t looked up. That must have been one hell of a good book!

By now I was standing on my tiptoes to grasp the next branch. I knew that was risky but I was so close to reaching the top of the tree and there’s a lot more bragging power in saying I climbed to the top than there is to say I almost made it. The trunk and the branches were the same size and it moved slightly in the breeze. And then suddenly the next branch was the last.

The top of the tree was like a little nest, round and flat with branches cupped around it. I felt safe for the first time in about ten minutes, rocking gently and watching the world. The Gatineau glittered in the sunlight and, beyond it was a city. I named the only one I knew, other than Quebec, which I knew was too far away even at that age.

“Nana! Nana! Guess what? I can see Montreal!!!”

This time I could see her, still in the same position, “That’s nice d-” she stopped as her brain detangled from the novel and caught up with my words. “What did you say???”

She dropped the book and looked up… and up… and up. Her hat fell off as her head tilted.

“Kathleen Ellen Atkinson! You get down here right this instant!”

Going down was a hell of a lot harder than going up. It was scary enough to stand on my tiptoes and reach for a branch. It was ten times harder to let myself down from a branch then let go, trusting that I’d positioned myself well enough for the branch below. And doing that time and time again. I don’t particularly remember the views. I do, however, remember that trip down.

I finally made it to the ground, where my much shaken Nana was waiting for a hug.

“Don’t you ever climb that high again!” she scolded, and I didn’t. I don’t think I got much higher than roof height after that and that was just high enough for me.

Another spin around the sun…

oldI was brushing my teeth last night then could feel a wave of doom hovering over me. I snuggled Smudge, who purred and drooled all over my hand, read a good book, ate vegan ice cream, chatted with my Mom and Colin on the phone, and listened to quiet music. The wave stayed, crested and silent, and once in bed, I slowly slipped into an exhausted slumber only to wake again at midnight. The wave crashed as I got up, drowning me in terror barely before my feet hit the floor. This time breathing and quiet music were not going to cut it, not on their own. So I took some Ativan, listened to some tunes, and finally crashed. It wasn’t until morning that I realized today’s the first anniversary of me moving into this apartment.

Back in 2012 I picked out an apartment for Colin and I to live in. I fully figured that he’d need to stay living with me so I picked an apartment that seemed perfect for us. Two bedrooms, two balconies, lots of closets, two storage lockers (one en suite), gym, indoor and outdoor pool, nearby library, and lots of shopping. We had three grocery stores plus a Giant Tiger (with a good size grocery area) all within a 10 minute walk plus a Dollarama, Value Village, and three drug stores. It was convenient and, between the two of us, affordable. I just hadn’t factored in one thing. I couldn’t handle living with Colin.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Colin dearly. He’s an amazing person with great insights into a lot of topics but we often disagree (especially over politics). And I’m not interested in Reddit. I’m really not interested in hearing about the Men’s Rights Forums on Reddit. And I completely, absolutely, do not want to hear about their topic of the day at 3:30am. Colin knows he’s only supposed to wake me in case of emergency. Unfortunately he seems to thinks that big feelings are an emergency and will do anything, up to and including flicking on and off my lights and yelling at me, to keep me up to hear why he has big feelings. I have explained the difference between emotions and the apartment burning down more than once, he simply doesn’t see the difference. To him they’re both BIG. We also have completely different standards on clutter, where I prefer none and he prefers decidedly more. Which is why, when I was offered this apartment back in the beginning of 2019, I hesitated for a moment and then took it. The town was farther away from my family and I’d never set foot in it but the unit was subsidized and it would just be the cats and I. Saying “yes” felt awfully like jumping off a cliff but I still did it. And, with that, I changed our lives.

Moving here was such a huge change for me. Not only had I left Colin behind in a half empty apartment, I’d also left behind close friends and supportive groups. Our closest grocery store and Dollarama were a five minute walk away before; I could see Metro from our windows. Now they were between 20 minutes to a half hour away. We were supposed to have groups and activities start in my new building then covid hit a month later and everything got canceled. We had exactly one card night. Thankfully I became friends with my neighbour because the options for making friends were very small. And just as thankfully, groups reopened on Zoom so I could still see my old friends and discuss new topics. I even joined a zoom exercise group with my parents and began singing karaoke with friends via Facebook chat.

Getting used to the size of my apartment was another issue. I joke that it’s my tiny apartment but it really is just that. More than one person has described it as “a one bedroom but it’s kind of like a bachelor”. It’s open concept but has a separate bathroom and bedroom. I’m used to it now, and moving the kitchen table from in front of the hutch to right in the centre of the kitchen helped, but there have been several times the smallness of the apartment has triggered a panic attack. I’ve spent quite a bit of time this year buying relaxing decor. It wasn’t just out of some need to shop. Thankfully time and feeling soothed have made a difference. Every corner I look at holds something I love and the apartment has slowly become home.

Covid curtailed a lot of exploration too. My new town has quite an expansive old downtown with lots of small shops and little cafes. In pre-covid times my Mom and I planned on doing quite a bit of window shopping and ambling until we found a place to eat. Hard to do when everything’s closed. There’s a Thai restaurant I’ve been planning on ordering from for over a year now but they don’t do delivery and have fairly odd hours. Maybe this summer?

newAs for now, I’ve got an online grocery store to shop through, I’ve sorted out the bus system, I’ve found several nearby walking paths, I’ve got a dentist, doctor, and optometrist, and I’ve got three local Dollaramas and a Winners for happy shopping. Life is starting to settle and, thankfully, it’s settling well.

I have no idea what’s going to have happened by the time February 5, 2022 arrives but I hope I have some amazing things to write about and a whole lot less covid outside my door!

Changes…

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It started drizzling and just didn’t let up. Meanwhile the temperature hovered around the freezing point. I made sure we had several big bottles of water, put spaghetti sauce in the crockpot (thanks Facebook memories for reminding me), and checked our flashlights and candles. Colin, who’s usually planning worst case scenarios for every storm, was scornful.

“Nothing’s going to happen Mom,” he muttered… more than once.

And he was right, kind of. Nothing happened to us at all. Our lights didn’t even flicker. But our block was the only one with power for at least an eight block radius; a tiny dab of light in a sea of black. And, during all that drizzle and wondering what was going to happen, I began to write.

I had thought about writing a blog for a while at that point. I knew Colin was questioning his sexual orientation and gender presentation but everything I could find was about children, there was nothing talking about raising a gender creative teen. That definitely was a niche that needed filling.

I got busy and set up the whole blog then wrote the first post, all without telling Colin. At first he did not want me to write the blog at all then I read him the post and he immediately changed his mind. He thought the blog sounded good but no face shots and no real names. We used artfully posed shots and pseudonyms for years.

And now it’s been seven years exactly. I can’t believe how much has changed since then. We’d only been living in North Oshawa for a year when I started. Now I’m living east of Oshawa and Colin’s north of Toronto… and we have been for almost a year. Colin was in grade 10 and he’s been out of high school with his “certificate of completion” for several years now. I was working at Tim Hortons but then became suicidal and crashed in 2016. I’ve since been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, severe anxiety, autism, ADD, and agoraphobia. I’m on disability. Colin went from being gender non-binary to female for two years. Then he found out he’d lose his fertility on hormones (and we couldn’t afford a sperm bank) so he went back to being male. Well as male as you can be when you only detransitioned for fertility reasons. And I’ve since discovered that I’m asexual and this close to being aromantic by being demiromantic. I’m finding I’m way more interested in women than men but that could simply be because I only have female friends at the moment.

Colin and I croppedWe’re heading into the 8th year of the blog. Instead of being a working single Mom I’m a disabled Granny. My visits with Colin are via Facebook video chats and are as pleasantly mundane as could be. I’ve seen his freshly shoveled deck and watched him scramble eggs. This year I’m hoping to focus more on helping me thrive… or at the very least to stop rating 7 and 8 out of 10 on the depression and anxiety scales. Small attainable goals. I’m sure I’ll succeed.

I won’t be writing again until after Christmas so I’d like to take this time to hope you have the best holiday ever, whether it’s in the past or yet to come, and that 2021 is peaceful, kind, and joyous!

Being the memory keeper…

My parents and I went to visit Colin today. We met in Elgin Park and ate A&W burgers at a picnic table under one of the shelters. While we were eating my Mom looked around and commented on how different it looked with everything tucked away. No food stands, no animals, no rides, no crowds.

Colin looked at her blankly and asked, “What do you mean?”

“Don’t you remember?” my Mom replied. “We used to come here to the fall festival with Daddy Harold.”

But Colin couldn’t remember, not even with me bringing up specific events. And that’s when it dawned on me. I thought I was making memories for them when they were growing up but instead I was making memories for me. They enjoyed the experiences but I’m the only one who remembers. They don’t remember being preschool aged and playing The Grand Old Duke of York in the backyard. They don’t remember putting the slide in the living room. I do.

In some ways I find it sad. I’d love for them to remember all the little things they’ve now forgotten but now they’re adults and will make memories of their own. And maybe someday they’ll want to go through the family albums and revisit the memories they once knew.

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The kids are in the green one

Bon Echo…

We camped the whole time I was growing up and much of those summers were spent at Bon Echo. My parents had a tent trailer, which fit us three girls just fine, and we brought along our friends’ three children (which warranted a tent). Plus our neighbour across the street camped at the same time with their three kids and often brought another neighbours’ two girls. It was a lot of kids and we had a tonne of fun. Swimming, biking, exploring, roasting marshmallows, singing campfire songs, getting lost and finding our way again… all of it was an adventure.

I took my own kids camping. We went to campgrounds closer to home and I loved them, especially Sibbald Point, we had so many great trips there. But Bon Echo was special.

My sister Jen takes her boys to Bon Echo at least once a year and often goes with our cousin Greg, his husband, and a whole bunch of friends.  They’re there right now and, on July second, my parents and I went up to join them. It’s not a short trip, it takes three hours each way, but it’s well worth the drive.

We crunched down the familiar road past two cabins then the scent of pine and camp smoke brought me right back to thirty-five years ago, jumping down the benches of the amphitheatre, positive I was going to fall any second yet somehow managing to stay upright. Walking along a rock strewn path to the point while the waves lapping the ground beside us. Hiding in an old, spider filled change room during a freak thunderstorm.

And then we were at the site, meeting everyone as they got back from a long hike. It was time for a swim on the beach where we always swam at while growing up, the beach that wasn’t the day beach. I like it better because it’s far more scenic with its backdrop of a stories high cliff. This beach is less popular because of the nearness of the underwater drop off. No one wants little Junior to go from chest height to 40ft deep in one step. This year it was more popular than usual due to social distancing. We spread ourselves out as far away as possible from the crowds.

Sometimes time creeps up on you, other times it smacks you in the face. My kids are no longer cuddle bugs snuggling up for bedtime stories, my Dad is no longer young and strong, and we will no longer run through the woods of Bon Echo seeking adventure. That mantle has passed to other children.

We left at dinnertime, saying our long winded goodbyes, and I was grateful to leave. I don’t think I could camp for even one night. I’m not sure I’ll ever camp again. But I’m so glad I went up for the day with my parents. I’m so glad I got to experience that sliver of Bon Echo.

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Eight years later…

Colin posing

Colin posing on one of our walks after the move

It will be eight years in May that Colin and I moved to Oshawa to live in my dream apartment. Two bedrooms, two balconies, and a tonne of storage space… including our own walk in pantry and a storage locker downstairs.

The library and community centre were just a short distance away plus we were surrounded by shopping. Three grocery stores, several drug stores, and enough fast food restaurants to make our livers cry. And then there was the gym and pool downstairs. Talk about bliss to be able to just head downstairs and swim.

I’d picked the apartment for one important reason, there was enough room for both Colin and I. I honestly didn’t think Colin would be able to live on his own. I made sure he was learning life skills like grocery shopping and, later on, paying bills and rent, but I figured this was it. Our final stop. Colin would remain safe with me.

What I didn’t count on is Colin. We just aren’t compatible for living together. I like quiet and order. I find and display a wide assortment of pretty things that I like. My cutlery is from Pier One and is made to look like bronze branches. None of my dishes match, I simply pick out my favourites. Colin, on the other hand, finds my style boring. He loves clutter and computer parts everywhere. He decorates with the computers he’s repaired. They all work and he uses them for various tasks. Clutter makes me uncomfortable and anxious. Plus Colin’s pretty thoughtless. He’ll wake me up at 1am (like last night) to tell me about something, usually men’s rights, and keep waking me each time I fall asleep. After 10 or more minutes I’m awake and he’s done talking. No apology, just an “oh well” before he goes back to his computer game.

I just can’t do it. I love him dearly but I can’t live with him. I’m hoping the move will do him some good, that he’ll find a place and respect it. Meanwhile I’ve got a place of my very own… for the first time. Which is exciting, terrifying, and nerve wracking all rolled into one. I’ve never lived on my own before. I’ve always had parents, a spouse, or kids.

Just one more week and my move should nearly be over. It’s twelve thirty now and I’ve got the 20200129_105252_hdr-01moving elevators booked at 9am in our current place and 11am in my new place.

One thing I’m panicking about is packing. I keep thinking I’m doing well but my eyes skip over stuff because that’s where they go. Except they can’t stay there… and there are so many little things to sort. It’s only a week but will we need medical supplies before then. Is it safe to pack the bandaids? I don’t want to pack too quickly but I also don’t want to be frantically packing at 7am next week.

My new apartment (and building) look good. They aren’t what I planned but they’re still nice. It will be wonderful to have a place of my own that’s clean and safe.

But as I watch Colin’s belongings either get packed or turfed, the bare bones of our apartment show themselves again and I remember my blind optimism that this was going to be my very last home. And then I get back to packing again.

The Ten Year Challenge…

Lately my Facebook newsfeed has been filled with photos of my friends from 2009 to today, leaving people to see the differences. I added mine but felt so much was missing, namely the history going along with the first picture and the growth leading to the last one. They say that a picture’s worth a thousand words but I think some words can really round out the story.

10 year challenge

In 2009 I’d just finished a job working at a call centre representing Sympatico, a Canadian internet company. I started off in the tech support department and moved to billing after half a year. The job paid good money (compared to minimum wage) and came with benefits. The downsides were leaving a 12 and 14 year old home alone until dinnertime. I couldn’t even call them until 5pm. And the extreme pressure. One pressure was time. Three minute bathroom breaks (even if you were on the far side of the building from the washrooms) and getting written up if you were 30 seconds late from any break. The second was also time but phone time. You had to clear security, fix the problem, and make a sale in 15 minutes for tech and ten for business. That had to include any phone calls to other departments, bill adjustments and, for tech support, getting people to unplug every phone jack, except for the one they were calling from *click*. Yeah, quite a few people disconnected the phone.

That summer I got a job at Tim Hortons, a Canadian doughnut store chain, it was still fast paced but not nearly as fast as the call centre. I quickly made friends and got to know the regulars, some of whom came in two and three times a day, every day. The constant movement helped me drop a lot of the weight I’d put on at the call centre (the weight loss was after this photo). I was extremely lucky that my managers were willing to work around my quirks (later diagnosed as autism).

We also lived several blocks away from my parents and sister in a three bedroom apartment in an apartment complex. It wasn’t the best place to live but it was convenient for transit and shopping.

Fast forward to today. I’m about 40 days away from moving into my tiny home and I got to see pictures of one of the units. It looked gorgeous. A spacious kitchen and laminate flooring. I’d hoped to see more of the living room but the two pictures were backlit by the patio doors so all I could see was a wall and the flooring. I won’t see my own place until I move so it was great to get a view of what it will look like.

I haven’t worked since 2016, the year I became suicidal, and am now on disability. It’s hard in some ways. The friends I made through work have faded away but I’ve made new friends in my groups. I’m lucky enough to live in a community with lots of supports and, even though I’m leaving some of my supports behind, I’ll have new supports where I move to.

In 2009 I was positive I was straight; any thoughts to the contrary were quashed immediately. I’ve spent the last five years learning and understanding my sexual orientation. 2009 me would have been both shocked and scared to find out I’m a panromantic asexual and, for a short time, had a girlfriend (who I’m still friends with).

I now have a 22 year old, a 24 year old, and a one year old grandchild, none of which are moving with me. I’m facing my first move alone (well alone with five cats). Colin was supposed to have a meeting for moving options on Monday but it got cancelled at the last minute. He has another meeting tomorrow. And Kait has her own tiny home and family now. It’s her turn to experience childhood second hand.

I’ve been exploring my new community along with my Mom. I’ve done a shop at the local grocery store to see if they have everything I need (they do). I’ve registered the cats at the local vet and myself at the local dentist, both right across the street from my new place. There’s also a pizzeria and a pub which has karaoke. It looks like a good place to settle down.

So much has changed these past 10 years, more than I could ever have anticipated. I can’t help but wonder what my life will be like in 2029!

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A filtered phone taken from one of the trails where I’m moving

Throwback Thursday…

I just found an old photograph of the kids and it’s so sweet I had to share. The kids are eating homemade creamsicles made with juice and yogourt and the cat in the back is our old cat Pumpkin (he’s on a leash).

I know I’ve shared several childhood photos recently but I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic this past week and, well, the kids were adorable.

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There are places I remember…

I stood in the middle of the kitchen and finally had to admit that apartment just wouldn’t work for us. The landlord billed it as a three bedroom and it was ostensibly. Two of the three bedrooms would barely support a crib let alone a bed and every room we saw came with a list of furniture we simply couldn’t fit into the apartment. I was in the kitchen, wondering who could store our solid maple hutch, when I realized we’d have to give up half of our furniture to move in. It just wasn’t feasible. We turned the apartment down.

We were at my parents’ house a few days later and walked in as my sister was describing the apartment she’d just turned down. The whole place needed repainting from top to bottom and the front door was, oddly enough, on the landing at the middle of the stairs. It was a two bedroom (I was pregnant with Colin at the time) and there was a shared backyard. She was dismissive. I was intrigued.

Monday found me at the building trying to find any contact information. There was no apartment for rent sign and no one answered the superintendent’s buzzer. My ex arrived with Kait and a short while later the super arrived. We signed the rental agreement 15 minutes later. The paint was fine and we’d have our own patio and a share of the backyard.

Jeremy in 1998I have so many happy memories from this apartment. We did some big things but it’s the little ones I remember. Sitting reading poetry and bedtime stories at night then singing lullabies to help them sleep. The time they both were sick so I let them blow bubbles in the living room… those hard to pop bubbles that were so popular those days. Playing in the backyard… doing the actions to the Grand Old Duke of York and the Bear went over the Mountain while I sang. We got one of those big wading pools with the rigid sides and I’d stick the foot of their slide into the pool so they could have a water slide. And every warm night the kids took their baby dolls out for a walk around the block in their strollers.

As they grew older, our excursions widened. We went to all the local parks (not all at theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA same time). One of their favourite past times was building a “sand bloom”. This involved dumping a huge pile of sand at the bottom of the slide then sliding through only to build it again. The washer was sometimes gritty but it was worth it for their laughter.

We lucked out and got new neighbours with kids the same age as mine. We did so many activities with them as well as simply playing at home together.

Colin and Kait at McRae PointEvery single summer my parents drove us to a local campground for a week of camping fun. We started out at a small campground then moved to a bigger one that was a bit closer. Both kids were fishes and loved being in the water. We caught (and released) frogs, roasted marshmallows, sang campfire songs, and read before bed. They were magical times I still look back on and enjoy.

Life wasn’t perfect. I was perpetually broke and had to plan the kids’ birthdays half afirst profile picture year in advance so I could afford the basics for a party. Presents were often bought at Dollarama and riding the bus was a luxury we could rarely afford. But we still had fun and I always had food in the kitchen and snacks available.

I went to the dentist today and walked along Green Street to stand diagonally across the street from our old building. It’s been sold a couple of times since we lived there and half the hedge is dead from vines, something our superintendent warned would happen. It looked a lot smaller than I remembered. Maybe it was all the memories stuffed in it that made it seem bigger to me than in reality. There’s a Dollarama where our old grocery store used to be and I picked up a couple of items before heading for home.

At the time it seemed like they’d be young forever. The days were so long and filled with a myriad of little activities. But of course they grew up. The days go by so much more quickly now. Now Kait’s in my former position of Mommy, raising her baby and keeping him entertained. I hope she ends up with as many happy memories as I have or even more.

Goodbye Green Street. You were a wonderful place to raise a family!

Back to school - Kait grade 1 2001b