Neighbourhoods

From Chinatown to Val-des-Monts — and back again

I crave change. My husband, not so much.

This tension has generally worked well for us, as I have work that takes me to far-flung places around the world, while his jobs tend to keep him in one place. But when faced with the opportunity to trade our small drafty house in Chinatown for a brand new one double its size and with a built-in forest view, we both jumped at the chance to experience country living (without having to give up our city jobs).

The decision to move was perhaps a bit impulsive, but our little pocket of the city was wearing on us. Neighbours hurling insults at each other across our yard and the daily whirr of our neighbour sawing metal in our half of the driveway was annoying but bearable — and then we became parents.  After our son was born, we (okay, mostly I) felt the urge to find more solitude and space. So when a colleague emailed the link to a house her brother had just built in Val-des-Monts, I gaped at the photos. The space! The light! The views! The price (we could actually afford it)! And then I promptly dismissed the idea, as we weren’t ready to sell and I had never even been to Val-des-Monts. The next morning the house was still on my mind, so I packed up our son and drove out to peek in the windows (and check out the drive). Three months later we moved in.

The decision to move is not one I regret. I grew up in a small apartment in downtown Toronto. I spent a large part of my childhood wishing I could move to the country. I longed for a cottage. But many of our city friends thought we were crazy. Before the move, we could both walk to work in under 10 minutes; we needed only one car. My husband’s business demanded he be there daily. And the first few years of living in our new house were magical. We commuted together, and while the traffic was often worse than the original 35-minute drive we had talked ourselves into being doable, it was still time together (and we quickly learned to pack snacks). The second year, we brought our baby daughter home to our new house, and while I initially worried about being isolated, I revelled in our daily walks through the forest with her in the carrier. We started to feel much more attuned to the subtleties of the changing seasons, and we loved watching our view change shape and colour. The smell of spring, watching deer from our window, summer nights aglow with fireflies — there is so much wonder in nature. And nothing beats coming home from work on a hot, humid day and jumping into a lake!

But life became more complicated as our babies turned into toddlers and young children. We started to spend what felt like entire weekends in the car going to activities. While we were now saving a huge amount in childcare (under $400/month for two full-time spots), my son was having trouble fitting in. I felt I was failing as a mother as I fumbled through French conversations with daycare staff to try to advocate for him.

Plus, we now had to commute in two cars to co-ordinate daycare pick-up and drop-off and put in a full day’s work. As winter rolled around, I would obsessively check weather updates, hoping I would be able to make it to the daycare on time should the weather get bad. There is something extra stressful about being separated from your kids by a body of water. And for us — and I think this was at the heart of my discontent — who could we call if, for some reason, we couldn’t make it?

At the end of the day, I missed my community and support system back in the city. I missed diversity. I missed walking to parks. When a new job meant my commute would be an additional 25 minutes, we decided to put the house up for sale.

We moved back to Chinatown in August so that my son could start kindergarten and my daughter could take a spot at our beloved city childcare, where my son had thrived. Within days, they were proper city kids, running to the local splash pad (did I mention I dearly missed parks?). The day we moved into our city pad, we ran into our new neighbours. We were equally thrilled to discover they had kids the same age as ours — plus, they were also in a transition stage, moving back to Ottawa from living abroad. We got to chatting and invited them for a beer after the kids went to bed, with the plan to meet on our shared porch.

As we sat outside, listening to the old but familiar city sounds, enjoying the hot summer evening, I realized this was exactly what I had been missing.  For now, city living makes most sense for us. Perhaps one day, when life is less complicated, we will make it back to our beloved forest views.

Rebecca Davidson works in global health. She (now) lives in Ottawa with her partner and two kids.