Some people have to leave and some people have to stay. That's just the way it is. I always knew that I was a leaver. I didn't ever picture myself living as an adult in the place I grew up. So I left. And I never came back. And I don't think I ever will. I know this isn't what any parent wants, so I apologize to my parents and parents-in-law. I fully expect my children to leave me. In fact, I would be surprised if they did not (but also secretly pleased). There is so much that you learn from living far away from family, moving frequently, making friends and building your own community. There is also likely wisdom that you gain from staying where you were planted, and giving back to the community that raised you, I will never know these lessons. I don't believe that either choice is superior to the other. I do think that making the correct choice for yourself can contribute to your overall happiness. I also believe that sometimes choices are made for us and we learn and grow from making the best of our circumstances.
If you would like a culture shock, live in Cheltenham, UK, for two years, then go to Edmonton, Canada. I realize that I spent my first twenty years of life living in Edmonton, but I've lived many places since and Alberta really is a unique place. It's full of natural beauty, rich indigenous culture, a vibrant arts scene, and let's not forget the hockey and oil sands (although I usually do). Edmonton has a wild untamed feeling, which is both exhilarating and slightly uncomfortable if you have been away for sixteen years.
We don't visit Edmonton nearly as often as we should. It had been four years since our last visit. Conveniently, all our family live in Edmonton. Our children have three Aunties, three Uncles, four grandparents, three great grandparents, three dogs, and one cousin to visit. Plus great Aunties and Uncles, second cousins, friends, and more dogs. Our children are unpredictable, autism adds an added layer of uncertainty over how travel will go. My partner was so stressed about this trip home that we were not to speak of it if possible. After thoroughly researching and contacting our airlines and all applicable airports regarding supports available, we found ourselves on the M4 to London at four in the morning with a full day of travel ahead of us, a slow leak in a tire that we were hoping would not be a problem, and two nights of Mr.K's insomnia behind us to ensure that we began the journey as exhausted as possible. Honestly, we are always tired. I've nodded off three times writing these first paragraphs.
The journey to Canada was an overall success. Gatwick Airport is very family and disability friendly. No one really slept on the nine hour flight, but there were no meltdowns and we made it! I find the jet-lag going from the UK to Canada not too bad, as Edmonton is seven hours behind and you feel as if you are gaining time. Mr. K does like to keep things interesting so he was up at 2:30 am, 4:30 am, then 6:00 am the first three mornings in Canada. He had a couple of late nights as well, but overall HE SLEPT. So that was helpful. Mr. G and Mr. L had a few early wake-ups, but did well with sleeping for the most part.
The first thing I noticed upon arrival, the roads are HUGE! I feel like if we had ventured to Ottawa, Fredericton, Moncton, or other more Eastern haunts, we would not have been quite so astonished. Picture the M5 in England. Now quadruple it's width and add a large expanse of grass in the centre, as well as wide shoulders and more fields beyond. Alberta has space. I remember when I was a child, I would feel claustrophobic if I was not in a somewhat prairie like setting with as much sky as possible in view. I also really struggled with humidity. Apparently, I am a glutton for punishment as ever since I've been relocating to more condensed locations and the most humid air possible. Then there are the trucks. Everywhere trucks. More trucks than any other type of vehicle. We definitely fall into the "large vehicles are obnoxious" camp since living in the UK. If you drive in England, and park a vehicle in England, you will understand. Since being back in the UK, I've been on the lookout for pickup trucks. I saw one a couple days ago and I almost followed it, I was that intrigued! Car parks with extra spaces and spaces big enough to open the doors on both sides of your vehicle, this is a beautiful thing in Alberta.
Food in Canada is so big! I know that there are places where it is bigger, but still, portions feel large in Alberta! We were at a spray park with family, my partner and his sister left to get slurpees for all. I told him to get small slurpees. He came back and presented me with one, I asked why he didn't get small, he replied that this WAS the smallest size. It would have been a medium or a large here in the UK easily. Side thought, spray parks and slurpees were surely our favourite things in Edmonton. Our children's as well! We thought it would be funny if we purchased a reusable Starbucks (or Starbox if you are my children) Trenta cup and then brought it to a Cheltenham location to fill, just to see their faces! You can fit an entire bottle of wine in a Trenta with room to spare. With. Room. To. Spare. Wow.
An unfortunate feature of our trip to Edmonton was that the smoke from the British Columbia forest fires was really awful this year. There is usually a period of smoke in the summer, I remember it growing up. Forest fires are a fact of life in Western Canada, and are closely monitored and controlled as best as possible. Most days we were there the sky was a yellowish hue, we never could see the Edmonton skyline or pretty river valley very well, and there were frequent air quality warnings. My partner got into the habit of saying that "Edmonton is an apocalyptic hellscape," mostly to bother his sister, which is a brother's right and duty. The majority of our photos have a yellow tint, like Edmonton had it's own filter, of the CSI Miami variety. So fancy!
I thoroughly enjoyed the steak, the fresh Taber corn, the Pink Berry, the dill pickles, the root beer. I quite missed people knowing how to queue properly, tea shops, and everything looking cute. Nothing felt busy in Edmonton, even when people told us that it was busy, there is just more room for personal space and there are less people overall. I think this surprised me the most. We don't even live in the most population dense area of England, yet, there are more people around. England has a lot of people squished on a small island. People who are missing out in the steak and dill pickle department, yet winning at carving out quiet moments for a hot drink and a bit of cake (it's probably how they decompress from always having so many people around).
England and Alberta both have a place in my heart. I don't think that either of them will ever be my forever home, but I feel like the luckiest person because I get to experience both. They both have shaped who I am, and aren't we all a wonderful mix of our experiences? The flight home was less smooth. Mr. K had perhaps his worst shop experience ever in the airport, as he decided he wanted to make it snow in each glass snow globe as quickly as possible, followed by wanting to eat the chocolate from Kinder Eggs immediately, and then literally crushing them in his hand and gobbling them up in the shop as fast as I could scoop up the foil to have the bar code available to pay for them. He did eventually crash on the plane for a few hours, thank goodness.The slow leaking tire pulled through, but I was too tired to drive the full two and a half hours to Cheltenham. After an hour and a half we had an emergency services exit, with no available parking (welcome back to England), so we had a second emergency services exit. This time my partner was able to purchase Red Bull and some other forms of sugar whilst Mr. L emergency peed in the trees, Mr. G slept, and Mr. K complained. We survived, the Cotswolds felt like home as we drove those winding narrow roads and a bed has never felt so glorious. Never.