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FINDING MY GREAT BIG LOVE | Part 1 | Kirkland Street: Fairy Tale or Fallacy?

Updated: Jun 25



It is not uncommon for my glamping guests to tell me that I am living their dream. This is interesting to me on many levels, mostly because my snobby, city slicker, younger self would have been absolutely mortified if she had glimpsed future me. It is also interesting because the road that led me here was not a straight one, my trajectory is mostly due to detours caused by heartbreak and necessity.


But I am grateful for these detours in life because ironically they have guided me home to my authentic self.


Shortly after moving into Deer Lake Lodge in June 2021 friends and family would ask me how it was going. By the excited tone in their voice I could tell that they thought I was living my dream, but I wasn’t. “It was a bumpy landing,” I’d reply, cryptically. I can honestly say that it’s been a long, and interesting, three years and I did not foresee the contentment I currently feel even as recently as six months ago.


It occurs to me now that each of the three houses I’ve owned over the past 22 years represents a significant chapter in my personal growth, they are metaphorical mirrors reflecting where I was (and am at) in my life. I bought my first two houses with my ex-husband and I recall our first house with nostalgia, our kids were in their golden years and my marriage was intact — but deeply flawed — I just didn’t know it yet. Our second house was where everything fell apart, but from this broken place I rebuilt my house, and my life. I bought my third house, Deer Lake Lodge, on my own three years ago today with my boyfriend at my side and a dream to turn it into a glampground. But my first year of ownership was a challenging one with many things falling spectacularly apart (yet again).


When it did I tucked myself into my most recent chrysalis — my yellow farmhouse in Ontario’s cottage country — and transformed like a caterpillar. As a result I am feeling more like myself (the me I am meant to be) but my metamorphosis has been much slower than that of a caterpillar to butterfly, it has occurred gradually over the past two decades.


So, at the risk of naval gazing (and because some people are sincerely interested), this is my story about how a snobby city slicker, born and bred in Toronto, ended up a country bumpkin running a glampground 20 minutes west of South River, a humble one stoplight town in the Almaguin Highlands.


 

HOUSE No.1 ~ KIRKLAND STREET



When I first met my (now ex-)husband, we were in our early 20’s and we’d both been busy checking things off what I now call The Master Plan Checklist — high school diploma (check), undergrad degree (check), gap year spent travelling (check), move back to Toronto to work (me) and pursue a Master's Degree (him). It was 1992 and like Ross and Phoebe from the hit show Friends, we were a constance presence at our mutual friends’ apartment. Like Ross and Rachel, we fell in love (check), and three years later we got married (check) and moved to England so that he could pursue a PhD (check).


In 2002, after almost seven years of living abroad in both the UK and Thailand, my husband landed his dream job as a tenure track professor at the University of Guelph (check). With a two year old son and a new born daughter in tow (check and check) we were more than ready to return to Canada to nest, which meant buying our first house together.


We set our sights on downtown Guelph, and as we began our search my cousin had told me that when you walk into right house you’ll know it, you’ll spend more time debating about buying a pair of shoes than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house. She was right, and pulling up to our yellow brick house on Kirkland Street was love at first sight.


Kirkland Street was a private sale and my husband had heard about it through word-of-mouth, from the moment we walked in I knew it was meant to be ours. Once abandoned, this cheerful victorian had been lovingly restored while maintaining its good bones. The porch, front door and doorbell were all original, as were the pine floors, moulding, banister and windows. It had high ceilings and an open concept on the main floor, upstairs there were three bedrooms and a bathroom with a clawfoot tub and skylight. Perfect.


Half an hour later we pulled $500 out of a bank machine as a deposit and signed the purchase agreement. I now know that’s not much of a deposit, but that’s how naive we were. There were some hick-ups as it went through, but we navigated them together and bought our first family home (check).   


Moving into Kirkland Street was beyond my wildest dreams. On our first day there neighbours brought me homemade bread and wine. When the tweenagers up the street invited my toddler son to play road hockey with them I felt like we had won the life lottery. When we had another boy two years later our family felt complete (final check). Living a “good life” seemed a given.



I was in my mid-30’s and The Master Plan had fallen beautifully into place, and yet there was one moment shortly after we moved into Kirkland Street that now feels like life was whispering in my ear foreshadowing what was to come.


The house was quiet and it was a perfectly serene moment until a disturbing thought-shadow fell across me. I was alone sitting on a packing box in our unfurnished dining room looking out the window at a tree blowing gently in the wind, and even though I had everything I could want and more, I felt a void like emptiness — like something essential, but nebulous, was missing from my life.


But that thought felt obnoxiously ungrateful, so I chased it away and told myself to not be so spoilt or some higher power would come along and take something precious away from me giving me something real to cry about. But that moment sticks in my memory like it was yesterday, and I still wonder what my unconscious was trying to tell me.


 

CRACKING OPEN


Our first few years in Guelph were your typical busy young family joys and stressors. My ex threw himself into work and excelled at his new job where he was rewarded with tenure, and teaching awards, and the maximum salary increase a professor could earn in any given year.      


With the demands of three kids in four years, I stayed home and ran the household and volunteered at Guelph’s Family and Children Services. I made lots of new friends and we quickly felt at home in our wonderful new community. When I see a mom of three young kids these days I realize now that we were in the trenches, having three kids in four years is nuts, but it didn’t really feel like it most of the time. To be sure, the days were long, but the years were short, and when I look back at photos taken around this time we really were blessed and happy. My favourite photo from this time is my daughter's first day of kindergarten, her doll is discarded on the lawn behind her and my son has his arm around her neck as he gives her big brother advice about what to expect.



Life was good, or so I thought, until about a month before my 40th birthday at which time it felt as if an emotional dam had burst open, and once it did there was no holding back the flood of tears.


When I went to my doctor she said that I had probably been struggling with a low grade depression for a while but it had become a higher grade one due to a triggering event, did I know what that might be?


I told her that my eldest son, then 9-years old, had just been diagnosed with ADHD and I was finding this tough. “That’s not it,” she replied, with a confidence that confused me. When she asked me what I did for self-care I was even more bewildered, I had literally never heard of this before. Then she asked me some probing questions about my marriage and it was the first time I wondered whether I was living in a fairytale or a fallacy.


When I went home and told my husband that the doctor said I was depressed he told me that was strange, I'd always been much happier than he was. Which was true up until that point.


I want to put on record here that my eldest son’s journey has been difficult and his story is not mine to share. However, his journey has had a profound impact on my life trajectory and I can’t share my story without overlapping with his occasionally. The dilemma when writing these blogs is how much to share, and how much to hold back, I am a mama bear after all. I hope I have gotten the balance right.


I will say this though, souls as sensitive as his are canaries in the coal mine, and looking back on it my ex-husband and I were living lives of quiet desperation that my son was keenly attuned to, unfortunately to his own detriment.


 

WAKING UP


I now feel like I slept walked my way through the first 40 years of my life and then I woke up. My wake up call was quite dramatic, I could not ignore it. If there is a fine line between sanity and insanity then it was a tight-rope that I walked and crossed over a few times.


I had a few manic episodes during my 40’s that I now describe as anxiety on steroids. It is a very scary experience to know that your mind is a runaway train and it has given me a lot of empathy for those who struggle with their mental health. It has also given me a window into the chaos of the brain when someone is manic allowing me to have a unique persecutive on it. Taking a walk on the wild side is not something anyone does willingly, it is the brains way of shutting down and staying safe when the real world becomes too much for it.


I am lucky though, the chemical imbalance in my brain is manageable and I have found ways to control my raging anxiety with mindfulness. I now have the self-awareness of noticing what I call “that funny feeling” coming on, and when I do I dig into my bag of tricks to fight it off. Practicing The Serenity Prayer and knowing what I can, and can’t, control has helped a lot. Letting go of trying to control outcomes has been very freeing, as has figuring out that I can’t control much, all I can control is my emotional reaction to what life throws at me.


But this is spoken from the vantage point of a 55 year old, my 40 year old self did not know this yet. So instead of dealing with the emerging cracks in the foundation of my life I became obsessed with house hunting using the excuse that our boys were sharing a room as the reason why we “needed” to move.


It was your typical ill fated attempt to fix the inside by fixing the outside first, but I quickly learned that everywhere you go — there you are.


 

DETOURS ON THE ROAD OF LIFE


I threw myself into house hunting with abandon and pursued a home I had been coveting on Oxford Street for a few years. Oxford Street is a lovely, tree lined street in downtown Guelph that I often walked down it when I was walking my kids to and from school. I have a weakness for old houses that need fixing up, and this house was a red brick beauty with a white wraparound porch that had peeling paint and a crooked floor. It often looked abandoned and it felt like a house that needed new life, so I did some asking around and discovered that an elderly widow named Mary was living there all by herself. I slipped a photo of our family and a letter in her mailbox letting her know that if she was interested in selling her house privately, our family would love to buy it.


Timing is everything. Not only was she ready to sell her family home of more than 40 years (much to her children's delight because they’d all moved away and had been trying to get her to move closer to them for years), but she only wanted to sell it to us and she didn’t care what price she got for it (that part definitely did not delight her children, in fact it caused quite a division amongst them).


I felt a bit fraudulent knowing that Mary wanted to sell to us partly because we presented like a happy family, but at the time I believed that we were just in a rough patch and I was hopeful that we would get back to being that again soon.


 

"Thirteen months after moving into our even dreamier dream home, my husband and I separated. After 21 years together there was no friendly conscious uncoupling for us, just a painful, messy process of tearing the last vestiges of our relationship apart. In the divorce proceedings I bought him out of our family home, we had bought it together, but now it was mine alone."



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