“I’m fine,” She Lied: Part 4.2 – July, July!

imageI was 27.

In September we moved to Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada. Or Canadaland as I like I like to say. Scott’s company flew Molly and I to the tiny airport. Scott drove our Ford Escape. All of our other possessions would go into storage in Houston. When we flew into Canada, we would fly to Denver, then Calgary, then Edmonton, then we would take a tiny plane – that you just knew was going to fall our of the sky – to Ft. McMurray. I am not a nervous flyer at all, but I am on teeny tiny planes that look like a slight breeze might blow them off course, to say maybe, Russia – I don’t know. Anyway, the company shipped our clothes (which didn’t arrive for two weeks), gave us an allowance for winter clothes, and an allowance for furniture, etc. We lived in the fancy suite of hotel for a month while waiting for our townhouse to be ready. After being in Canada a week, the first cold front came in and we didn’t have jackets or coats. Or anything remotely warm. There was one children’s clothing store in town and I bought Molly a ton of Winter clothes (they only sold expensive clothes and the child was well-dressed) and was told by the owner that I needed to order the child a snowsuit and get her boots immediately. I was all “in September?”

imageOur townhouse was ready and we ordered furniture and winter clothes. I refused to get a parka. I am a chubby southern girl and I don’t do pouffy coats. The snow started shortly after we moved in. It was so beautiful and unreal I had experienced snow probably three times in my life before this, and it was that Louisiana and Georgia snow that melted the day of or the day after it snowed. This snow was for real. It stayed for 6 months. Snow for the first few weeks or a month is gorgeous and fun to play in, easily manipulated into snowmen and fun. The worst part of snow was having to get a munchkin who was potty training dressed for zero degree temperatures. We would have to do this every time we left the house. It got real old real fast. The snow would melt a little and have this hard slippery layer that you couldn’t play in until it snowed again. Then it would get too cold to snow. And I would have to go to the grocery store with a toddler in the snow and ice. Let me tell you about the grocery stores in Canadaland (or at least Ft. McMurray), to get a grocery cart you have to stick a quarter in a little lock that unlocks the carts from each other, then when you return the cart, your quarter ejects back to you. This meant you had to make sure you had a quarter on you when you went to the store. There was also a charge for plastic bags. There was one craft store in town that was tiny. There were three decent restaurants. There was one plus size store in the mall that was a chain called Cotton Ginny and was actually really great. Once the mall had a drugged tiger in a cage you could take photos with. No, I’m not kidding. It was weird.

We were trying for another baby because it had taken so long to have Molly. Of course, I got pregnant right away. I made an appointment with the one of two doctors in town. Our town was like the show Northern Exposure with a little Twin Peaks thrown in. Both OB/GYNs were from other countries, as was every doctor I saw in Ft. McMurray. My OB was African and educated in England. He informed me on my first visit that I would be put on the Gestational Diabetes diet even if I didn’t have GD. Thanks, Dr Ican’trememberhisname. I know I blocked his hame out because my experience was so bad with him. I told him of my miscarriage history and that I was bleeding and he said either I would have a baby or I wouldn’t and there was nothing he could do. Mentally, I knew this, but it was hard for my heart to hear. His bedside manner did not exist. Once I noticed there was a thumb-sized hole in his Bill Cosby sweater and I felt bad for him. I knew how medicine worked in Canada and assumed he had to work a certain number of years in Ft. McMurray before moving to a better, larger area. You don’t get into medicine in Canada for the money. Nurses would come and go, I didn’t have the same nurse each time at his office. The office was in a strip center. The whole thing was completely surreal.

We would go to Edmonton (5 hours away) to the giant West Edmonton mall a few times for fun. It was the biggest mall in the world at the time. It was fun, but exhausting. We went to the only Mexican restaurant there and Scott ordered a chimichanga. They didn’t fry it. It was a burrito. In our town there was a restaurant called Montana’s that was okay. I ordered nachos once and they had mozzarella and ranch style beans on them. We had been told to go to the local seafood joint and get the fish cakes. I wrongly assumed they would be like crab cakes, but no, they were patties that had minced fish and mashed potatoes, formed and fried. I can’t explain how much I missed southern food. I joined the Newcomers Club, which was a Godsend. We had a bookclub and I made an American friend named JoAnn.The bookclub saved my sanity there.

imageWinter was hard. The sun would rise at 9:30 am and set at 3:30 pm. It was incredibly depressing, especially for someone who was already depressed. I slept a lot. Much more than normal. I was not okay.  I went to two scrapbook crops while I was in Canada. People would make fun of my accent. At the deli counter in the grocery store I ordered a pound of sliced turkey and they looked at me like I was crazy and asked me how much I would like in grams. I didn’t know what the hell a gram of turkey was. Should I get two grams of turkey? 30 grams of turkey? I told the guy to start slicing it and I would tell him when to stop and that was how many grams I wanted. They looked at me like I was an alien and asked me to keep talking because of my accent. I believe they thought I came right out of The Deep South and was probably related to everyone in Steel Magnolias.

I fell twice on the ice in Ft. McMurray and was sure I would lose the baby. I didn’t. Then it was spring and then it was summer and believe it or not, it gets very hot in Canada and I thought I would die from the heat. Homes that far north are not airconditioned and I was miserable. We had fans all over the place. It didn’t help that I was huge and couldn’t get comfortable. I ordered this giant candy-can shaped pregnancy pillow that was like having an extra person in our bed. It was the only way I could get any rest.

It was July. My mom came in a week or so before the baby was born. I was ten days late (same as with Molly) when they brought me in for a stress test, only to tell me I was having contractions and admitted me. Scott went home to get my bag. It was July 4th. My holiday. We were going to dinner for our anniversary and my mom would keep Molly. I was upset when they admitted me because we couldn’t celebrate our anniversary. My doctor came in and said the baby would be born by midnight and mentioned it being my American holiday. I said proudly that it was. The anesthesiologist was called in and actually told me that he was perturbed to be on call because he was in the middle of painting his bedroom. Every medical professional I encountered seemed pissed off except for one nurse I had who was Jamaican. She admired my pedicure. I liked her. I had an epidural that didn’t work. I felt everything where you don’t want to feel everything, but legs were completely numb. It was awful. There was no music playing. They were all business. Katherine Grace was born on July 5th, our anniversary. She came into the world angry. She was so late she had meconium in her lungs and was immediately taken to the nursery. It was scary, but I was assured she would be fine. She would be brought to me to nurse, then whisked off again. That night they let her stay in my room, but she cried the entire time. Literally the entire night. I knew this baby would be night and day from my Molly.

imageWe brought Katie home to her big sister and grandmother. Over the next few months, Scott’s mom and dad would visit to meet their newest grandbaby. Scott’s maternal grandmother would pass away while his mom was visiting. Scott went in for the funeral. It was a difficult time.

Molly loved having a sister. She wanted her to play and didn’t understand why the baby couldn’t play. Almost immediately, we realized there was something wrong with Katie. She was breastfeeding and couldn’t keep anything down. She had horrible reflux. After we were home for a few weeks, a nurse from the hospital came out to visit (as they do in Canadaland) and suggested that it was because she was lactose intolerant and that I go lactose-free and introduce a soy formula in addition to nursing. So I did. It didn’t help. Her pediatrician said she may have some rare condition she would need surgery to fix. I went into the anxiety I had when Molly was a baby. I just knew this little angry baby wouldn’t be okay. That she would always cry and vomit and have to have surgery. It turned out that she didn’t have the condition – that she just had horrible very bad no good reflux. She barely smiled and constantly threw up. She would go through 4 or 5 outfits a day and numerous bibs. It was ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. We went home to Louisiana for Christmas that year and Scott went back after two weeks. The girls and I stayed at my parents for another couple of weeks. It turned out not to be a good idea and my sister and I had words. She basically said I was a lazy mother and didn’t care much about my girls. She was still living at home with my parents and her three year old. It was a very hard time and my feeling were incredibly hurt.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care about my girls or that I was a lazy parent. I knew from the beginning when Molly was little and I saw other mothers at playdates and other mothers. In short, I was not a “mother-woman.” In high school, I read one of my favorite novels, The Awakening by Kate Chopin. In the novel there is a mother who sees herself as more than being a mother and as a woman who never saw myself as being a wife and mother and not a big city novelist or writer, I understood this more and more as I had my second child.

From The Awakening: “If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing. Tots as they were, they pulled together and stood their ground in childish battles with doubled fists and uplifted voices, which usually prevailed against the other mother-tots. The quadroon nurse was looked upon as a huge encumbrance, only good to button up waists and panties and to brush and part hair; since it seemed to be a law of society that hair must be parted and brushed.

“In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”

I was simply not a mother-woman. I didn’t swoop in the second a pacifier was dropped. I didn’t run to pick up Molly if she tripped over her feet in the grass. It wasn’t laziness, and if that’s the way people viewed it, then that’s their problem. I was just not THAT mother. Now mother-women are called “helicopter parents.” That is not who I am. I never have been. When we took both kids to West Edmonton Mall for the weekend in the spring, we went to the indoor water park. It smelled of chlorine and the pasty white patrons acted as if they were at Disneyland, when it was really a barebones water park. Nothing fancy, just enough. I was was sitting in the water with baby Katie and looked up and Molly was gone. My anxiety set in. I screamed for Scott. We couldn’t find her for probably 7 minutes. A man walked up holding her hand and she was fine. In my mind, I already had her kidnapped and having to call our family and tell them and going on the news as the horrible American parents who lost their three year old in a water park. That’s how my mind works. Expect the worst. She was fine. Of course she was fine. There was a bar across the street from our hotel called Filthy McNasty’s and that night in the hotel, Molly kept flinging the curtains open to see the neon sign across the street. She was three and she was happy. She loved Blues Clues and would only talk to her grandparents on the phone if they pretended to be Blue the dog. I couldn’t have asked for a better toddler.

imageWhen Katie was 7 months the reflux suddenly stopped. We went to Breckinridge for my sister-in-law’s wedding on the slopes. Katie was crawling. Then walking at 9 months. She was suddenly a happy baby. The first 7 months were miserable and I had been miserable. It had been winter and it was dark. My outlook was dark. I barely left the house. I hated Canada. I grew to hate the snow, the people who asked me to repeat what I had just said so they could hear my accent, not knowing how much things would cost in Canadian money, I hated the fact that they called their two-dollar coin the “twooney.” I hated that the main coffee/donut shop, Tim Hortons, rarely had chocolate for my mochas and that the fast food restaurants had weird Canadian offerings like Poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds). I hated that there was no Popeyes and that KFC didn’t have macaroni and cheese, but had macaroni salad. I hated it when the only plus size store closed in my town.

I started blogging. That was 13 years ago. I mainly posted photos of the babies for family to see, then crafty stuff I was doing. I didn’t blog about anything very personal until we were back in the U.S. I missed my friends. I missed everything American. I hated our Mountain Time Zone. I missed the American Food Network. I got letters from friends, but not many phone calls and it was extremely isolating. My mother told me that she saw that Will had started his own medical practice, so I Googled (or in truth, probably used AskJeeves.com) his name and found some random email address that had to be his. I emailed a short “congratulations, I’m proud of you” type note and was surprised when he emailed back. We asked how each other was doing, I sent him the photo you see of the four of us above. Our emails went back and forth for a few weeks.

imageIt was spring, then it was June and Scott’s job was complete at a mega oil plant. The company was happy with him and I  was happy to be going home . They paid to ship whatever we wanted back home, so I decided to take our bedroom furniture and kitchen table. We sold off everything else and had a garage sale. Scott made the drive back to Louisiana. He didn’t have a job to start at that time, so we decided to live in Mandeville, where his mother and brother lived. His grandparents lived across the lake in New Orleans. The girls and I flew into New Orleans a few days before Katie turned one. We would have her birthday party on the 5th at my in-law’s and my family would come visit too. My still bald baby was one. She was happy and she was one.

It was July. We were rid of Canada. Thank Sweet American Baby Jesus. My 22 month exile was over. I would be back amongst my people and I would be okay. Except that I wouldn’t. I would be worse.

I was 29 the week after Katie turned one.

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