In between Canada Day July 1st and Independence Day July 4th is a very important anniversary: July 2nd, the day we uprooted our kids, our dog, our jobs, our lives and headed to the largest State south of the border, to the 4th largest US city, to heat humidity and HOAs, to start the next adventure with our family. It is hard to believe a year has passed. I can’t decide if that’s because so much has happened or not enough yet for a whole year to make sense. Either way, it’s true; I have lived in Houston for a year and I have mixed feelings about it.
I remember July 2nd last year. We stayed at a hotel near the Edmonton airport with our dog, were up early, organized and ready to go. Plenty of time, we thought. We were wrong. We took our dog to the wrong part of the airport and a pet version of Amazing Race ensued complete with me crying as I waited past security for my husband to hopefully make it through in time for us to catch our one-way flight. We made it but it was an incredibly stressful start to our journey.
For the first couple weeks after we arrived, we lived like college kids (er, with 3 children) until our moving truck arrived from Canada! We spent so. much. money. at Target and Costco and Kroger setting up our house. But every night, we jumped into the pool, toasted each other and grinned from ear to ear! It felt like vacation.
Then, it was time to get serious. Figure out phones school registration immunization drivers license ez tags fire ants. I blogged about some of my early experiences but then I just had to stop. I had to stop trying to recount my experiences and just manage my way through them. Got the kids started in school, met people in the neighbourhood, started getting into a routine. Then, there was a hurricane. I blogged about that too; it still feels like yesterday. For a prairie girl, it was shocking. My Houston story will always begin with Harvey, making my kids sleep with headlamps around their necks wishing I had whistles too so that, between the floods and tornadoes, if the house caved in, I could find them. It was terrifying and we were lucky; we didn’t flood. I can only imagine the feelings of those who did.
Then, we hosted our “Houston family” for nearly two months as they rebuilt their flooded home. We loved having them and felt privileged to be able to help in that way. It too defines our Houston beginnings. The day they moved out and returned to their home, I learned my friend Stephanie died. And then 3 days later, my mom died. Transitions don’t slow down for grief.
Carry on carrying on, I received letters from school warning that without blah blah blah vaccinations not necessary in Canada, my kids would be “removed” from class. (But God forbid you take your kids out of school for a half day for a solar eclipse or a family vacation. No, that won’t do in Texas.) Hidden curriculum took on new meaning as I struggled to understand US culture. And driving in Houston. That is a skill in and of itself. I learned to get around and keep up, but country gravel roads surrounded by green Alberta farmland were replaced with a concrete jungle full of aggressive Americans.
Fast forward to Christmas, a green Christmas. To a trip to Mexico where every family member got sick save one, but other than that we haven’t been sick at all THANK GOD because healthcare is so. very. different. I am a smart lady. I have benefits and insurance and still I would not go to the doctor here unless absolutely necessary. I don’t know where to go or how to negotiate the system and we have a deductible, a big one. I was starting to reconcile that everything boils down to business and it left me bewildered.
Fast forward a month and boom, no more employment insurance income for me. Fair enough, I was grateful for any of it. But I didn’t understand the timing. I thought I had a year, I thought I would start looking at job options in May and felt blindsided by this information. I was not prepared to suddenly come face to face with the loss of my career, my profession, my identity. I haven’t not worked since I was 14 years old except for maternity leaves which is still bloody well work. Oh, and I didn’t even know I needed a special authorization to work at all, so there began another bureaucratic process that took months. Did I relax in the meantime? No I did not. I scoured job postings and pondered how to make some kind of job work while also ensuring I kept our lives kept running. I spent hours awake at night wondering why God would take me away from Occupational Therapy, land me here, and then leave me hanging. I have prayed about what to do next. I still don’t have an answer.
It is hard to read posts from friends back in Canada, to see them carrying on with their lives and traditions, growing their careers, having fun without me. But even if I wanted to go back, I feel like the world I was once a part of has evolved and I am now a bystander and observer. My new life includes useless standardized school test stress, a neighbourhood bully, HOA warnings about a torn basketball net while the country crumbles in political strife. Gun violence then more gun violence, this time less than 30 miles away. That is not far enough. What am I doing here?
And here’s the other narrative.
We had no idea when we choose our home that it has a high elevation. God knew the storm was coming and he put us in a position to stay dry and serve others with what we had. The kids had an extra two weeks off school, more in line with the Canadian schedule, and this felt like a bonus rest after so much stress. We were just starting to know Houston and we saw examples of community and neighbourly love that brings tears to my eyes. The storm grew my love for Texas faster than anything else could have.
Just after the storm, I started to make friends. I found them through Instagram and this blog – every blind-friend date was a success! I showed up to the Canadians in Katy events and coffee dates and guess what? These women are some of the finest I have ever met. They are kind, funny, helpful and encouraging. They have been in my shoes; they get it all. I wouldn’t trade moving here for anything because if I didn’t move here, I wouldn’t know them and my life is so much richer for it. I told my kids when we were deciding whether to move that we could stay in our circle and our circle would get bigger over time as we did different things, made friends, went to school and church and hockey and lived our lives. But if we moved, we would get a whole other circle that would grow over time. So no, I can’t go back to my Canadian circle, but it’s still there and this one in Texas is growing.
My kids have handled all the transitions better than me (maybe because of me). They switched languages of instruction and still managed to get A’s and negotiate the much different learning environment of 1500+ kids. My daughter just laughed when her teacher thought she didn’t know her alphabet because she named “z” zed. They took everything in stride. Despite some drama in the stands, my son’s hockey team won their division and he made a couple great friends (and so did I!). We live in a cul-de-sac perfectly suited to road hockey and when he goes out to shoot pucks, our toddler neighbours toddle out. We put out mini sticks and mini nets for them and they love it! When these little Indian and Angolan boys go the NHL, we will be cheering them on (and maybe take a little credit)!
Our neighbourhood is so safe with only one entry point. Walking to the bus on a daily basis has helped me get to know the other families and when I was invited to their What’s App group, I felt like I won a major victory! My “Canadians in the ‘Hood” party might not have happened last summer, but we plan to have it this year! To fully appreciate what this means to us, remember that we lived out of town on an acreage back in Canada. We hardly knew our neighbours so Texas is the place that has shown us what it means to be in a neighbourhood.
Texas has brought out the best in my husband. He works hard but manages his stress (most of the time) and loves his job. He no longer spends 6 hours every weekend mowing grass and the rest of his time working on the house and trying to keep all the balls in the air. He loves the pool and outdoor kitchen and bought a smoker the first chance he got – when in Texas, barbecue, and I don’t mean hotdogs. My husband is thriving and that is answered prayer.
I’m in not one but two great book clubs and have continued to blog and spread the love of thrifting! I know there are people here who now thrift and think about slow fashion because of me. One changed life is enough. On the same day I received a dismissive response from Katy ISD about work, I received an email from Houston Moms Blog inviting me to be a contributor and through that I have met more incredible women and been led to new experiences, like the social media conference I was at this weekend where I met even more people and learned so much. We have attended so many churches, met great people and our daughter got baptized outdoors in early May!
So what I realize in this narrative is this: one year in, our community here in Texas has a solid foundation. If I compared my expectations of what I thought I would accomplish this year versus what did happen, I would have to concede that my expectations were redundant. They were based on what I thought I knew – perhaps because of my previous experience of living abroad in my early twenties with no kids and almost no possessions. So no, I didn’t meet my expectations but now I know that I expected the wrong things. I expected to make friends, not find Texas sisters whom I cherish and inspiring women my mother’s age who give me so much hope. I expected to quickly find work, not to have the gift of being available for my whole family so we could all transition well. I expected to find work in a related field, not grow my faith and my skills in a whole different area. I expected my kids wouldn’t care whether I worked since that’s all they’ve ever known, not that they would say, we don’t want you to work, we love that you’re here for us. I expected to find the days long and boring, not busy but relaxed. I expected I would miss snow, not that I would find satisfaction in one magical snowy day. I expected to have more money to travel to Canada, not to learn what it’s like to just want to be home. I expected to miss my sister so much, not to text her daily and have her visit twice, to feel like she’s always near. I expected to miss my friends so much, not experience the delight of their visits and being able to share this city and new blessings with them. I expected to read all day and do everything else I always thought I’d do if I “wasn’t working”, not to discover that staying at home is a whole different kind of work that has as much value as any other occupation I’ve ever done. I expected to feel like an outsider, not to learn that you can have Canadian pride and Texan pride at the same time. I expected to want to move back to Canada, not to want to stay here and continue to build this life.
I decided last July 2nd that I would not refer to Canada as “back home” because my home is here now. My home is here.