Colouring outside the lines

Remember colouring books from when you were a child? The crisp white pages with pictures of everything from gingerbread houses and Santa claus to trucks and princess, all outlined in thick black ink. When we first started to colour as toddlers or preschoolers, we were mostly colouring over the drawings, with little attention to the lines or picking appropriate colours even! But as we got older, our colouring skills got better and we learned to stay within the lines, we learned to pick the “right” colours according to the real world. For some reason, purple trees ceased to exist around age 8 or 9! We learn how to fit inside the lines, what the expectations are for us and how to meet them.

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But along with the expectations for ourselves, we also learn to divide the world up: good drawings and bad drawings, we divide by gender and age and interests and yes, even race and class. We learn that everything and everyone should fit into a cookie cutter box in order to be “right” or “perfect.”

Well life isn’t perfect, is it?

When we don’t meet the expectations we’ve set for ourselves or our people, we feel like we’ve failed. I remember when I would work really hard on a picture from a colouring book and then, I’d make a “mistake” and some of my colouring would go outside the line. I have always had a hard time getting past what I saw as a glaring mistake on the paper. Usually I would end up crumpling the drawing up and throwing it away, rather than seeing the mistake in front of me. I always preferred that the “failure”, the imperfection in my eyes at least, to be hidden from me and everyone else. I couldn’t get past this imperfection. I still have a hard time with that today.

We’ve had a rough month, my family and I. And I’ve had to deal with a lot of failure and imperfections, in myself, my family, my choices, and the Canadian legal system which is ANYTHING but perfect. I hadn’t wanted to share anything about this online until it was completed in court… you simply never know who will stumble upon this blog and use things I’ve written against me!

We were going through a legal battle in order to have the right to relocate to Ottawa for employment purposes with our two oldest children. Their legal father was fighting me in court to prevent this move from taking place. Our legal counsel, and indeed everyone we talked to and all the research we had done, indicated that we would have no problems with being successful in this endeavour. The law was on our side, we had followed it to the letter, and we were good parents who had done nothing wrong… we fully expected success and had moved forward with plans based on this, incurring thousands of dollars in relocation costs, not to mention legal bills.

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T and I, outside Surrey Provincial Courthouse on day 1 of our trial, before everything went horribly wrong!

Unfortunately we were not successful for a whole hosts of reasons which I will not get into at this point in time. On September 8, the judgment was handed down that my 2 oldest children could not leave the Lower Mainland, leaving me in quite the quandry. My wife and daughter were in Ottawa and we had invested a significant amount of money to relocate our family there. Plus there was still the issue of a lack of employment here in BC for her, who had always been the primary breadwinner in our family! Initially we decided that we would continue to live separately, Momma T and Miss D in Ottawa while myself, Mr. T & H remained in BC as we were legally required to do, and then we would restart a relocation process in 9-12 months, if our situation had changed sufficiently to guarantee success. We had been advised that an appeal would be $25-$35K, had a low chance of success, and could result in us being required to pay the opposition’s court costs on top of our own! We chose not to appeal.

Further complicating matters, it seemed that I had a battle ahead to regain custodial guardianship of my children, of getting them back into my full time care, as they had always been and where it is in their best interest to live. I was being prevented from doing so by their father and had to pursue legal means to return them to me. To say that it was a stressful and difficult time would be an understatement.

On September 14, I was able to get them back into my care. It was an extremely difficult, emotional and stressful situation for all of us, and everyone who helped me and listened to me that week! (A huge thank you to all of you… and you know who you are!) And at that moment, after I had the kids back in my custody and I was holding them, still sobbing uncontrollably in the back seat of the car, everything became clear. My family needed to be reunited in BC. Work, housing… all of that would fall into place in the long run. But, for our children and our own mental health, we all needed to be together again, as a family. As the family we had been since T&H were 3 years old and Momma T moved to BC to be with us. We have been moving forward with our plans to reunite in Burnaby mid-October and we are all excitedly counting down the days to that reunification!

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The emotional rollercoaster of the last month has been extremely difficult… to put it mildly. The judgment really threw me for a loop. We have been working towards the Ottawa relocation for approximately 9 months and had been reassured at every step of the process that we had an open and shut case, that all the facts were in our favour, and that there was no reason to suspect we wouldn’t be successful. And so being unsuccessful hadn’t crossed my mind, except briefly once or twice, and certainly more throughout the actual trial when the judge showed significant bias against my side from the outset! Hearing that our relocation was denied simply shattered me to unrecognizable pieces and I broke down into a bitter, angry, and deeply wretched shell of a person. All I could see were the pieces of my life scattered on the floor in that judgment. I was so angry that my ex would be so vindictive that he would destroy my family, without so much as a conversation with me, and ultimately hurting our children deeply in the process, all out of fear of losing love. After the judgment came down, I felt caught with an impossible choice between my wife and daughter in Ottawa, and my two sons in BC. Hearing the words that we had lost, I couldn’t breathe and sobbed uncontrollably, filled with ugly blackness and anger, yelling “why?” at their father, and who knows what else I said?! My arms and legs weakened and I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t catch my breathe, and couldn’t understand how I ended up at this point in my life where everything was destroyed and unrecognizable. I don’t remember what I said, but I do know that I was angry and hateful. I didn’t understand why my counsel couldn’t tell me when the kids would be back in my care, but I suspect he was scared of me that day… I was a little over the top with craziness! I was eventually led out of the courtroom and home for the night. Later a good friend came over, bringing alcohol, Haagen Dazs ice cream, and distraction in the form of Settlers of Catan. I got very drunk, ate a lot, and won the game… it was a good distraction but I was still feeling raw with emotion.

There is nothing like almost losing everything that is most important to you in life to realize how important these things are to you, and really how lucky I am. And I am very lucky with great richness in my life.

Focus-on-the-goodSince that horrible weekend I’ve been trying to focus on the positives, which is difficult to do! Particularly when you are living in a spare bedroom of a friend, are being denied access to your children, have no income, and are living far away from your family! I was focusing on where I had failed, on the mistakes, on the imperfections in my life, and on how I was not measuring up to my own expectations. I was focusing on where my crayon had gone outside the lines and ruined the picture perfect drawing of my life.

So instead, I focus on the positive things, and on the things I can control. And I am learning to have faith, like Peter I am learning to trust in God and have faith that I will be supported as I take a risk and walk on the rough waters of my life. (Matthew 14:22-33) If I choose to stay in the boat, I’ll never walk on water.

There is much I have learned from this process. We have all been transformed by it, and transformation is sometimes a painful, raw, and emotional process. But without the storm, we cannot have the rainbow. And without the rainbow, we will never reach the pot of gold. So as strange as it may seem, I am going to give thanks for the opportunity for growth and learning I’ve had by losing this legal battle. I am choosing to focus on the rainbow and the pot of gold that is my family, rather than the storm I’ve left behind. Here’s to the next chapter!

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The time in between

Funny thing, this in between time.

I’ve arrived in Ontario… I’ve been here since Sunday… but our new home is not yet ready. Moving trucks arrive June 19 and we take possession that same day.

But that’s a week away.

In the meantime, we are living at our family cottage on the Ottawa river, an hour outside of the city itself. My parents live next door which comes with advantages and disadvantages (sorry Mom.) 

And by “we”, I mean Mr. T, Mr. H, and me. Momma T has started her job in Ottawa and we have lined up daycare for Miss D so they have returned to Ottawa after a weekend at the cottage and are living with her parents. We aren’t all there because well, it’s a condo and 5 house guests is just too many for that small space!

So we are living separately and this is hard. We may have saved rent for a month, but the living separately and in limbo is hard.

I haven’t really been to visit the cottage in 25 years and much has changed in that time. It’s got 25 more years of wear and tear on it and it is looking decidedly tired and run down. It was probably run down 25 years ago! But there is a wonderful deck built onto it now, a great fire pit area, and a dock that extends into the water for diving off. And it is a roof over our heads, with recreation and relaxation and respite.

I have appreciated living by the water greatly in the past week, as Ottawa experienced its first heat wave of the season and temperatures soared into the mid-30s. I cannot imagine living in Ottawa in that heat. I’m sure i’ll experience it soon enough… the summer has just begun! The heat has broken now and today we have prepared for the incoming stormy weather expected overnight. I have to admit that I’m loving the windy weather and cooler temperatures… it feels almost like autumn, my favourite time of year to be at the cottage.

But we are all living in limbo in the meantime, and it is wearing us down. The kids are quick to argue, I’m quick to respond with anger. Our tempers and fuses are short. Today’s weather kept us inside for much of the day and we are all feeling a little bored as a result.

I haven’t had a permanent home in a month now. I don’t know how people do this on a more permanent basis? I think of my outdoor rec friend Jason who seems to live on the road with his wife and brood of 3 young kids, and wonder how he does it, day in and day out? Maybe its the mindset going into it, knowing that it will be for 6 months or 6 years or whatever length of time you decide on. Or maybe it just takes a different type of person?

But I’m finding it hard, this living in between realities. I don’t have the comfort of a permanent base, of a routine, or of all my ‘people’ around me. I miss friends and familiar faces in my every day living and moving about. I even miss my Starbucks baristas, who knew my drink and prepared it properly without me reciting the recipe to them. I love my kids, but I’m tired of them, their idiosyncrasies, their conversations, and their constant demands for attention or food or refereeing! Soon enough they will be back in BC for 6 long weeks without me, and I know that I will miss their every move and every whine and every demand! I will regret being annoyed by them today.

But I was. It is days like today that reinforce the fact that there is no way that I could ever home school my children. I’m not sure we’d live to tell the tale!

June 19. We take possession of our new home on June 19. And then we can start to build our life in Ottawa.

Unfortunately there is still some uncertainty as to future paths of our family, and that will not be determined until the end of the summer at the earliest. This weighs heavily on my mind but I have had faith thus far in my journey and believe that I must maintain that trust into the future. We waver, but still hold steadfast and believe, together, that this was the correct path for our family, now and into the future.

There was a poem I used to love:

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I used to yearn to know the future and what lay in store for me. And then one day, someone said to me, “but that would take the adventure out of it!” This is true.

But I think I’ve had sufficient adventure to last me for awhile. I’m ready to settle down and have some quiet for a bit. And I’d like to know where our family will be in a year, or even 6 months from now!

There’s a lot going on these days!

It’s an understatement to say that our family is busy these days! Sometimes we feel like we are in a 3 ring circus!

We have the regular every day things like managing kids school schedules and extra curricular activities, but also so many other things going on too.

It’s amazing how many different things we have to think about when planning a cross country move. There are the usual things with moving like setting up utilities in your new place and shutting them off in your old place, but also getting quotes from moving companies and then actually hiring one to do the job, getting rid of ALL the extra things that we’ve accumulated over the years and that make no sense to move across the country when you are paying $10/lb, and doing your final rounds of good-byes and visits. There is a lot to do.

But we have a few extra things thrown into our regular April & May, even without the move across Canada!

BC Children’s Hospital: H has been on a wait list since the fall, for a program at BC Children’s Hospital. And we’ve been hoping and praying that we would get a space for him before the end of May. We were committed to extending our stay if we needed to. The program is a 4 week in-patient program, which provides multi-disciplinary assessment and support of children, youth and their families who are dealing with mental health and/or psychiatric issues. We found out a few weeks ago that H’s space is available April 11-May 12, which is perfect for us. We are very thankful that the program was able to rush his application and provide us with this opportunity before we leave. So next Tuesday, we will be driving to BCCH on a daily basis and taking H to this program. I don’t know much about how this will roll out for us, but I do know that it adds another layer to our daily complications!

Other Assessments: At the same time, we have been going through additional assessments and diagnoses protocols for H through private clinics. We get the results of these assessments at the end of April and are waiting with bated breath until then! These are important to do as they will inform future education placements for H.

Trips and plans: Momma T is heading out on the trip of a lifetime with her good friend A. This trip has been in the works for a year so there is no doubt in our minds that it is still happening, but timing isn’t ideal at this point! Momma T is heading to Spain to walk part of El Camino de Santiago. (http://santiago-compostela.net/)  This walk is partly a pilgrimage and professional development for her faith formation and to support her work as a minister with the United Church. It is really important that she have this opportunity and truly, the time to herself. She really needs this because she gives so much to our family and to others. She is gone April 22-May 10, which overlaps perfectly with H’s program at BCCH.

Box Lacrosse: And this is Box Lacrosse season. Both T&H play box lacrosse every year. For T it is the sport that drives him. He loves this sport and, if the weather is good, you will find him outside practising using an empty net with targets, or he’ll get H out there in goalie gear and practice taking shots on him which is great practice for them both. Last year, T & H were on separate teams, which meant a lot of juggling and running around all over the lower mainland. After much discussion and looking at our schedule with BCCH, we made the decision that H would not play this year. We are all making sacrifices so that H can do the program at BCCH and this is HIS sacrifice. It just isn’t his year for this one sport. This will allow me to focus my extra curricular energy on getting T to/from his lacrosse events. Which will be a job in and of itself given that I’m single parenting for much of that time and will have a toddler with a pretty strict bedtime routine to handle too!

Education: Trying to juggle the kids current extra curriculars, school schedules, pro d days, field trips… this is HARD work! We are also trying to wrap up this school year a month early with all the associated IEP meetings, conferences, etc. And then setting up the kids for next year with appropriate placements and supports in the Ottawa Carleton School Board. Thankfully we’ve made a great connection there and it looks like there is excellent understanding and supports that will be made available.

Moving: Did I mention we are moving? Well we have a cross Canada trip to plan in here too! While Momma T and Miss D are flying, T&H and me are driving & camping. I haven’t done a bit of work on booking campsites or figuring out our route, and I must get on that! Suggestions are welcome!

So yes, there is a lot going on. So forgive me if I don’t get back to you immediately or if I’m not calling everyone up to set up separate coffee ‘good-bye’ meetings… I am sad to be leaving and I’d love to see every last one of you, but frankly, we are overwhelmed and have a hard time keeping our heads above the water these days! We are planning to have an Open House before we leave but at this point no idea when! Stay tuned!!!