Jul 26, 2012

ups and downs, and love all around

Oh, Ca-na-da,
our home and native land...

Now you'll be singing the refrain of Canada's national anthem all day. You can thank me later. :)

Lovely Canada, the butt of many a joke, became home to Ben and I for almost three years. The people of Calgary, Alberta, embraced us, welcomed Max as a citizen, and generally made us feel utterly at home. Needless to say, moving back to Nashville was hard. But trying to raise our baby boy more than 2,000 miles away from family was harder.

Ben and I both studied abroad as college students, so we knew firsthand that moving home is always tougher than moving away. You are a changed person, and so are those you were close to back home, so it takes a little time to re-connect. Moving home is also not necessarily as exciting as moving to an exotic new land (what, Canada can't be called exotic?). And moving home as new parents adds a whole new dimension of challenges to spending time with (and making new) friends. Grabbing a beer, meeting up for lunch or throwing a last-minute dinner party are much more challenging endeavors than ever before. In Calgary, we had several close friends whose homes we could literally walk to, which suited us wonderfully. But Nashville is sprawling, and we can't really walk anywhere at all.

Ben and I are notoriously poor planners, and we have discovered that the only path to a fulfilling social life in Nashville, with kiddos, is ... you guessed it, to pull out that calendar and pencil things in! More than a day beforehand! We're still getting the hang of the whole parenting/life balance thing, but slowly we're figuring it out.

But easily the most challenging aspect of moving from Canada to the US has been the cultural changes. The lifestyle is just so different! We miss walking around our old Calgary neighborhood and seeing lots of people outside, exercising, enjoying the fresh air no matter the weather. {Based on the swing sets and minivans, our neighborhood is full of families, but they never seem to be outside.} We miss having parks around every street corner, sidewalks in every neighborhood, and a pedestrian and biker-friendly mentality. Luckily I've found a wonderful group of like-minded mamas {Bambino Brigade, for anyone who's interested!} who meet up for hiking and jogging all around Nashville.

We struggle with American politics, too. Anybody who knows Ben and I is probably aware of our left-leaning (by American standards) ideals. This gelled a little better up North than in my hometown. And in Canada we got a little too accustomed to the total lack of stress about health care and personal safety, among other things. We knew we'd have a hard time with those matters when we came back, and well ... we have. Nashville is progressive as far as Southern cities go, but when we first moved back we still felt inundated with a weird mix of in-your-face-Christianity and crime and regressive attitudes about women's rights (that's a US thing, not a Nashville thing). Although I still get fired up about these topics, I suppose that by now I've re-adjusted and learned to tune out the stuff that raises my blood pressure!

And one last thing ... the sense of community, of accountability, is so different. I will never forget some of the random acts of community I saw when we first moved to Calgary. A FedEx delivery man asked a stranger on the sidewalk to help him lift his dolly over the curb. The man gladly helped, and they cordially went about their morning. It was so natural to ask for and receive help that I was floored by this simple act. And then I remember the fateful night that we had to shove our sofa up eight flights of stairs because it wouldn't fit in our apartment building's elevator. Not one, but TWO guys immediately offered to help. Not only did they help, but they spent over an hour finagling that thing up the stairs, taking it apart, and reassembling it inside our apartment. I really love that Americans are independent and self-sufficient, but I think we can take these ideals to the extreme. We are an every-man-for-himself society, and when people are starving or going bankrupt paying health care bills, we tend to think it's not our problem. I know this is a broad generalization, and I promise I don't intend to offend anyone, but this is my personal observation. Canadians tend to have a stronger sense of responsibility for the well-being of fellow citizens. Or, as some would say, they are more socialist-leaning ;)

But enough about my gripes, let's talk about things I LOVE about being home:

* Family. Max adores his Gamma & Pa, his Mormor and Mor-Pa, his Aunt Liz and Uncle Will, and his Aunt Jenny. Ben and I do, too.

* The people of Nashville are oh so friendly. It's always a pleasure to be out and about, chatting with strangers and friends alike.

* Weather. Even at its coldest this past winter, we never put on our Canadian winter coats. Barely a week passed that I wasn't able to easily get outside with Max. Let me tell you, after spending 30 minutes bundling Max up every.single.time I wanted to take him out in Calgary, popping on a rain coat or a light fleece and walking out of the door feels like a blessing.

* Music and culture. Nashville is such a vibrant city, and we've easily (and often) taken advantage of free and kid-friendly music and events, as well as some pretty amazing concerts for our date nights. As fun of a city as Calgary is, the culture and music scene just can't compare to Nashville's.

* Farms. It's not the Calgary's fault that produce only grows for one or two months out of the year! It's cold up there for fruits and veggies! But if you read this blog like ... ever ... then you know how obsessed I am with all the wonderful local fare available here in middle Tennessee.

So there you have it. Ben and I talk a lot about the pros and cons of our old home of Nashville, which is now our new home, versus our temporary (but almost permanent) home in Canada. We're so lucky to have gone through the experience together, to have one another as best friends and confidantes as we navigate the waters of parenthood and country-hopping and learning to live and enjoy our lives to the utmost. We're doing our best to avoid a total identity crisis as we settle back into Tennessee life!

Not to get all philosophical on you, but after traveling and moving around a few times, I often wonder if where you live really impacts the quality of life, or if it's ultimately up to us to make our life what we want it, no matter where we live. When I am fed up with the flaws in America's system, I think about moving back to Canada. But then deep down I feel that if I don't like something about my home country, then I should probably do something about it rather than just move away. What do you guys think? Ben and I seriously ponder this all the time. To be honest, I'm bored with our opinions. Let's hear some other ones!


  1. Jenn,
    This post was fantastic! Mark and I had similar feelings moving back to Nashville from Santa Monica. We loved Miami so much, and when Mark got a job after college, we high-tailed it to Santa Monica for another adventure. His job didn't work out, but we stayed in California for a while, made friends, and finally felt at home. When we decided to get married, we started thinking about a more permanent home, and we realized that in Nashville we could get things that we couldn't get in LA or Miami, such as a HOUSE and a YARD! But we traded in other things that we loved from Miami and LA, such as being able to WALK to our best friends' spots.

    It's also an important point that in the time you spend away you change, your friends change, and your family changes. We learn how to get along without each other, and that isn't a bad thing. But it can be awkward getting back into the mix of your "old life", because honestly, I moved away from Nashville because my old life was stale. It seemed like a defeat somehow, even though it was also what I wanted.

    And the politics, homophobia, and Bible-thumping are a whole different story. :)

    Thanks for helping me reflect some on my own journey, and for sharing yours!

  2. Thanks so much for the reply, Jess! I'm glad we're not the only ones struggling a little with these issues. It's so true, how it can sometimes feel like a defeat to move back after years of adventuring. We got used to being the out-of-towners wherever we went, the ones with an interesting story, and now we're just the ones who were raised in Tennessee and still live here! I suppose that feeling must fade over time :)