It was May 2010 and I sat in my car outside of my grocery store job talking on the phone to my cousin Stacey. She had been living in Calgary for a couple years at that point and she knew that I was looking at getting into the field of disabilities and I was doing a little bit with a couple agencies in Ontario at the time. She told me all the pros and cons of living in Alberta and the only con in my eyes was being away from family and friends. I was 22, finished university the month prior. She had been using the funding in Alberta for her own boys, and so I trusted that she knew what she was talking about; especially knowing that the options for families were so expensive in Ontario and waitlists had families unable to receive therapy at all. My boyfriend at the time worked at the same grocery store as me, had finished college the year prior and was having a heck of a time finding a job in his field. I got off the phone with Stacey, walked into the grocery store for my shift, and I had made up my mind! I was moving to Alberta!! A manager for the grocery store had just opened a grocery store in Grande Prairie, Alberta and I decided that that was my in. I had a job lined up the very next day. The next step, was talking to my boyfriend about it.
My ex and I sat in a paddle boat in Haliburton, Ontario where I decided that I would bring it up. We were staying in a cute little resort for a couple days to celebrate our 8-year dating anniversary. I wasn’t gentle about it. I said “I’m moving to Alberta at the end of next month, do you want to come?” His first reaction was, “no!” He came from a family with pretty strict parents and I knew that he was worried about their reaction. I knew that it wasn’t a “no” because he wasn’t interested, I knew it was because all of his decisions came from a place of not wanting to disappoint his parents. I was afraid for him too. I knew that he made a lot of decisions based on their influence so, I accepted that this was probably the end of our relationship. By the end of the couple days, and countless talks, he decided that he was going to come with me.
I was excited as I thought about the next steps to moving Alberta. We had to tell… *gulp* our parents. I wasn’t worried about my parents at all. I was worried about my boyfriend’s. My parents were really understanding and supportive. My Dad was a man that believed the Gretzky quote “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and I could tell that he was proud that I was so courageous (because he basically said that). I thought it was funny how my family thought I was so “brave” and I remember thinking that they were a bit insane to have such sad reactions about me leaving. I remember my Dad saying on our back porch, “Mitch, we only have one life and if you never take the chance then you never get ahead. If it all fails, you always have a home to come back to”. I kept those words so close to my heart every time I felt scared within those few weeks leading up to leaving; “you always have a home to come back to”. When we told my boyfriend’s parents, we got the same support, it was quiet support, but support nonetheless. It wasn’t full of quotes and words. There were some tears and many questions. I think they knew I made up our minds (yes, you read that right, I made our minds up) and there was no swaying me to stay in Ontario.
We had about 3 weeks to get our things in order. We had to get the car changed over from his parent’s name to his name. I had to go for my full G licence (the highest level in graduated licensing). I had to pack up my things that would only fit in our little Mazda. I had to find an apartment in Grande Prairie. We had to pick out furniture (that thankfully my parents and my boyfriend’s parents purchased for us as house warming gifts, that would be delivered by the Brick in Grande Prairie). We brought a few pictures of our families, our clothes and our most important possessions. All of these things that had to get done seemed like a long and big list, but it was my first taste of adulthood. I faced them pretty confidently. My Aunt planned us a little going away gathering at her house the weekend before we left. The grocery store in Ajax, Ontario bought us a little cake to celebrate the 17 years that my boyfriend and I had collectively worked there. It was so surreal. I remember being a little nervous, but any time a negative thought popped into my head, I would try and stay excited about all the possibilities that this move meant for me, and I would tell myself “you always have a home to come back to!”
I giggled away the tears that my Mom had, and I laughed when people told me it was a bold move. My youthful, under-developed brain made me fearless (If my pre-frontal cortex had been completely developed, I probably would have talked myself out of it). That was the best decision I ever made! My under-developed youthful brain literally made the best decision of my whole life (thus far)! I needed the fearlessness of my youth to push me in the direction towards all the possibilities that Alberta meant for me. There have been so many times from that decision where my fear has got the best of me and I would back-track or find an out. This move literally forced me to sink or swim, and I learned the art of swimming every style of swimming there was really, really fast. I learned the art of the “baking backstroke”, the “budgeting butterfly” and I even learned a little “freestyle” that came in use when things didn’t always go as planned. I wasn’t really fearful of the things that came though, I “just kept swimming” like Dory would say. That’s all you can really do when something new presents itself. I mean, I have spent a lot of my life in full-blown treading water mode, praying to keep my head above the water. But as I kept my head above water in the first few weeks of being in Alberta I kept telling myself, if it all falls apart “you always have a home to come back to”.
Moving across the country, at 22 with your boyfriend (who you have never lived with before), paying bills, is scary. Each one in isolation is terrifying but, I can honestly say when I look back at that time, I wasn’t scared at all. I was excited and eager, positive and focused and I knew it was right. There have been only a few of those moments in my life where I knew it was “right” down to my core and this is one of those 3 moments that I followed and didn’t talk myself out of.
I have reflected back on that time in my life and I have even thought about it in relation to my 22-year old step daughter and I have realized why my parents and family members were so concerned and thought that I was really brave because it really is.
Since that decision so many doors have opened up for me and that bravery has served me well as I have had to navigate harder things than I ever thought imaginable. That move and that period in my life where I learned all the swim styles, have prepared me for all of the situations that would follow since then. I have survived some pretty rough water conditions and I am genuinely forever grateful that I was “brave” and hard-headed. I am grateful I did it when I was so young that I didn’t have the life experience and brain development to have talked me out of it!
“You always have a home to come back to” was my saving grace as I learned to swim without my parents. Even now, at 33 years old, I still have many places that I call a soft place to land. If all else fails, and I need to get out of my current life, I still have many places that I could hang my hat. Pickering, Ontario holds my past. London, Ontario holds my Mom and my support system I have in her. And I have Calgary, Alberta that I call my home. It’s my true home. My entire adult life has been made here. Everything that I own, I accomplished by my hard work. Everything that I have here has been established by me. My family is here, my life is here. The last 5 years have finally helped me settle down and not need an out and I have realized that these last 5 years have been the first that that I haven’t needed to tell myself if all else fails “you always have a home to come back to”. This is home and it feels amazing to not need a back-up plan or a mantra just to stay!
I am a 33 year old Step-Mom to three kids who would describe me as a dramatic, fun-loving hopeless romantic (insert eyeroll). Transplanted from Pickering, Ontario and currently living in Calgary, Alberta. My friends would describe me as an open-book, a safe space and an ever evolving shoulder to cry on (my friend told me to say that). I work with children with special needs; a career inspired by my involvement with Willowjak. I have been thrown some pretty big curve balls in my short time here on this planet but, have faced them with a good book in hand and a cup of tea on my night stand. My hope is that what I have experienced in my life can be of use to others. Some support to prove that we are not alone; though we may feel like we are, that we are seen; though we feel invisible and that we have a voice; though we may not know we have one yet.
You can hear more about Michelle’s story when she appeared as a guest on Willowjak’s ‘Choose Your Own After’, by listening HERE.