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I Cannot Believe We Did This (Part 1)

Sweat was running down my back as I held my ten year old’s sticky hand and dragged him along the crowded airport corridor. Occasionally people looked at us in alarm probably because he was not wearing a face covering, but also maybe because I appeared unhinged. I called back to my seven year old twins to keep up, they were crying, and falling behind. Their heavy backpacks bounced as they ran and their winter coats were definitely too warm for a sprint through an airport. All my children had asked to use a toilet, but we could not find one and now it was too late. My heavy breathing accentuated the pungent aroma of my own breath recycled back to myself in my medical mask that I had been wearing for over 16 hours. I looked ahead to see where my partner was, we were so far behind that he wasn’t in view anymore. I knew which gate we were headed to and that he was likely trying to get there as quickly as possible to delay departure since final boarding had already been called. The boys were definitely peeing their pants at this point, all three of them. We made it onto the plane just as announcements were made and everyone was asked to “make sure their seat backs and tray tables were in their full upright position with their seat belts securely fastened and all carry-on luggage stowed underneath the seat in front or in the overhead bins.”

A concerned flight attendant approached and informed me that we would have to leave the airplane if my son was not wearing the appropriate face covering. Mr. K wore his sunflower lanyard, which seems to be quite recognized as a symbol of hidden disability in the UK, but now that we were back in Canada, was not doing us any good. I fished out both our doctor’s letter and flight form filled out and signed by an additional doctor stating that he was not able or required to wear a mask. I showed her his negative Covid test as well. She seemed somewhat suspicious but okay with things overall and running out of time for any action to be made before the plane would take off from Montreal and deliver us to our final destination of Ottawa. After discussing with her colleague, she said that they actually had a note on his mask exemption, her colleague had forgotten to let her know. She let us use the toilets, and apologized for asking me for proof of disability. Thankfully, my recurring nightmare of being removed from a flight due to mask non-compliance did not come true on this day.

Customs in Montreal were the slowest I had ever experienced. If we did not catch Covid-19 from the plane, I was sure we would catch it from the complete lack of social distancing in the winding line at customs. The constantly changing requirements were likely making it difficult for agents to perform their jobs. Mr. G kept announcing loudly, ”THIS IS BORING. I AM HUNGRY. I AM TIRED. I NEED TO REST,” sentiments that I guarantee every person in the line with us would have agreed with. When you cross the Atlantic ocean, queues magically turn into lines again. And no one is as skilled at them.

In the Montreal airport we had to go through security a second time, we were not aware of this beforehand. Between the slow lines, security, and having to stop and fill out paperwork for our household goods which were to follow as this was our “first port of entry,” there was no time left for frivolities like toilet breaks or eating. At security my tall partner with crazed eyes basically shouted at the security employees, “what do you need from us?! What’s next? This needs to be quick!” Not our finest moment but you do what you have to do. I think that those who work in airports see a lot of people at their worst, especially at this time. I applaud them for their service and patience.

Sitting on that airplane heading to Ottawa is the most relieved I have ever felt in my life. I held Mr. K’s meaty hand and took photos of Montreal lit up at night even though Mr. K doesn’t like when I take photos out of “his” airplane window. We did it. We were headed home. I had worried about this moment since the beginning of our time abroad, four and a half years ago. My worries had intensified since the pandemic. Travelling with Mr. K is unpredictable and stressful, even though he always copes better than I think he will.

If we had missed our Montreal flight to Ottawa, we would have had to quarantine in Montreal, even though we had an Airbnb set up for our quarantine in Ottawa. I don’t think we could have survived a two week quarantine in a hotel with our children. We need more space than that, and we need to be able to go outside, Mr. K especially. We even had a Doctor’s note stating that he needed time outdoors for his physical and mental well being. If we had missed that flight, we also might not have closed on the purchase of our house. The day after our two week quarantine, we closed on the house, signed and delivered papers to our lawyer, and got the keys to this house we had never seen in person before. Making our flight connection had never been more important. We were also lucky to miss the hotel quarantine and additional testing which became a requirement shortly after we arrived back in Canada.

Our most stressful experience as a couple, so far, has been buying our first house during a pandemic, remotely, from overseas. Luckily, we had friends who could recommend an excellent mortgage broker, realtor, and lawyer. We had online introductions with these people and then basically had to trust them and give them all our money. Once we were pre approved for a mortgage, we started to schedule house viewings. Our realtor knew what we were looking for, and was actually able to guide us to look at areas that we had not considered but that he thought would be a good fit. It was clear very early on that houses were going fast and selling high. House prices were consistently $100,000 over what we would have expected them to be, and then most houses were selling $100,000 or more over that. A house across the street from where I sit typing, sold for $200,000 over asking in one day a week ago.

We would schedule a viewing and then be available to video chat with our realtor as he would walk us through the house. He would advise us a bit, but ultimately, it was our choice if we wanted to make an offer. We made an offer on two separate houses that we liked, but definitely didn’t love. The bidding wars were such that we didn’t get either. My favourite thing that our realtor did was to tell us to not keep bidding, because the houses were not worth the price the offers were reaching. We were feeling quite desperate and likely would have paid far over asking on either of the two houses.

Waiting to hear if our offer had been accepted, or if we should put in another offer always happened between 11 pm and 2 am UK time. Needless to say, we were losing sleep. My partner took to taking stress naps on the floor in the living room with his phone laid on his chest. I honestly worried for his health as his anxiety was so high.

In the end, we got the right house. It is beautiful, spacious, a bit weird, perfect for us. It had been on the market for a few months (a lifetime in this climate) and the owners were not desperate to sell quickly, as they were waiting for the right buyers. In the end, we got it for under asking, a true miracle. The inspection, which we did virtually, did not find any major issues, so we know that the racoons moved in after that. With our house figured out, we could focus our worry on the trip itself. I am happy to report that the stress naps on the living room floor stopped.

In the weeks before our long travel day, Canada placed a ban on flights coming in from the UK. A new, more deadly strain of Coronavirus had been discovered in London. We were supposed to fly out of London, and had all our dates, accommodations, housing purchase needs, and movers planned and scheduled. We held our breath and tried to enjoy the most stressful Christmas ever. There was also a shipping container shortage, so it became unclear how the movers would be able to accomplish their job of relocating our home contents. Just before Christmas, requirements changed and Mr. K would need a negative COVID test to qualify for mask exemption. They also changed the doctor’s note requirements. So the letter I had from our specialist paediatrician (an appointment that was no small feat to schedule during the second wave of the pandemic in the UK) was no longer sufficient. I had to try to see if a doctor who knew Mr. K would fill out the Air Canada required form. We were able to contact our family doctor, by post, between Christmas and New Years and she did fill out the form for a fee. Doctors do not like filling out forms in the UK, especially during the holidays and busy pandemic times. We were concerned that Mr. K’s COVID test results were dictating our entire move success, it didn’t seem fair that it was all up to him. We had spent the better part of a year keeping him away from other people to make sure that he didn’t need to undergo COVID tests, only to now need one. We knew that he would be extremely difficult to test, and he was.

After the New Year, it was announced that ALL travellers would now need a negative COVID test, we still did not have word on whether the travel ban would be lifted at all, but we were forced to carry on and hope that we would be able to fly. The first pharmacy I called basically laughed at me and said they didn’t have room to see five people on such short notice. Luckily, the second pharmacy I called could accommodate us and promise our results within 48 hours. Negative tests had to be done no more than 72 hours before. So, in case we were faced with an inconclusive test and retesting, we were there at that pharmacy exactly 72 hours before our flight to Canada would depart. Tests were 150 pounds each, for a grand total of 750 pounds (1300 Canadian dollars). Everyone was very brave, Mr. K was difficult as predicted. I had to sit on his torso while my partner held his head still and the nurse administered the evasive swabs, twenty seconds deep deep in each nostril. As we were leaving the pharmacy, we noticed that the room we had our tests done in had tinted glass, but the bottom of the window was clear. Anyone walking by would have clearly seen us forcing Mr. K to take his test, hopefully they were entertained, not terrified.

Saturday before our movers were to arrive, the flight ban to Canada had been quietly lifted, and we discovered that our hotel booking had been cancelled. We were not even notified, we only noticed because we were going over things and doing our own checks in a haze of anxiety. Obviously, there was a general UK travel ban ongoing, and staying at a hotel with your family would appear a direct contradiction. We found a Holiday Inn Express that was still open in the neighbouring city of Gloucester and called to make a reservation. They were quite dubious of us and we had to prove that we were travelling/moving on official business. Luckily, my partner’s employer (the government of Canada) provided us with official letters for just such instances.The nights that we did stay at the hotel, we felt very safe and taken care of by the hotel staff. There were very few people staying and the service was absolutely excellent.

We were in the process of selling our vehicle whilst the movers were at our house. Gloucestershire was in a lockdown, UK lockdowns are much stricter than Canadian lockdowns I have learned. I rented a vehicle, the rental agency was concerned with why I would need a car at that time, concerned that I might be travelling. As I was only using it for necessity in Cheltenham, and was able to prove this, it was allowed.

The movers arrived bright and early Monday morning. I was shuffling the children out the side door as they were entering the front door. The movers wore masks most of the time (not all the time strangely), the only person allowed in the house with them was my partner, although he spent most of his time staying out of their way and standing awkwardly in the garage. We were required to have all the windows open for air circulation, we were not to share pens with the movers, and we needed to have an abundance of soap for hand washing as well as hand sanitizer available. I drove the boys to the McDonald’s drive thru just as the sun was rising. It was quite idyllic really, I even took a photo. The boys had bacon sandwiches, which sadly are not a thing back here in Canada.

We had packed our suitcases at this point. We had three suitcases between the five of us and then a backpack each. The backpacks for the boys were filled with little toys, books, colouring paraphernalia. We dropped off breakfast for my partner, and then our plan was to hike up Cleeve Hill for one last time (sob). Mr. G was really enjoying looking through his books and papers in his backpack. As we rounded the final corner of the windy road up Cleeve, he announced that he was not feeling well and then vomited all over himself, the backpack full of goodies, and the rental car. I did not have that much at my disposal for cleaning, so I told him not to move and we drove back home with the windows down and instructions that Mr. L not look at his twin because every time he did he started to gag and I didn’t want to deal with any more sick.

At the house, I pulled the bacon sandwich vomit car alongside, we couldn’t go inside because the movers were there. I had to instruct my partner what to bring to me. I got wipes, a plastic bag, and then he brought me Mr. K’s clothes by mistake from the suitcase, and had to go back in and try again. We couldn’t go inside and throw the boy in the shower, we obviously were not allowed to enter anyone else’s home, and we didn’t have our hotel room for another two days so we were trapped, in a stinky rental car on the street outside our house. I stripped the boy naked right on the street and wiped him down, he then hid under my coat until his father finally found him the right clothes. Luckily, we had not been able to sell our laundry machine, so we were able to throw things in there. Unluckily, the clothes were not rinsed thoroughly, so they had to go through twice. Don’t forget that we did not have a dryer in the UK, so we had to hang the pukey clothes to dry. I had put out a bag of donation clothing that very morning, that had not been picked up yet, so I was able to dig through our donations and find a coat that we were getting rid of, to keep him warm for the day. The boys were only allowed to look out the window from then on in the rental car (and in any vehicle for the rest of their lives).

I had two days to keep the kids out of the house during strict lockdown. My government letter was in my pocket with me at all times in case we were stopped, since we were certainly breaking many rules. We eventually did make it up Cleeve Hill, twice actually. We went to many many playgrounds (but only if we were the sole people there). We ate food from KFC, McDonalds, and Starbucks, as these are the only drive-thrus in Cheltenham. We were SO happy to check into our hotel at the end of the second day. We just laid in bed and watched TV for hours, ordered room service, had baths and showers, it was fantastic.

As in any successful partnership, there are things that are delegated to me, and things that are delegated to my partner. The best part is that after twenty two years, we do not even need to discuss, as our roles are automatic. Even though I am definitely the primary driver in the family, my partner usually ends up taking the lead in vehicle sales and purchases, mainly due to the unfortunate sexism that still exists in this industry. We had an agreed buyer for our Ford Focus, a dealer was to purchase through a service. There was a driver arranged to pick up the car, but the pick up date kept changing. It got to the point when my partner had to say, “pick up tomorrow, or I sell to someone else because I leave the country the following day- forever.” It sounds dramatic because it was.

The driver had to take a train from Scotland, which was delayed due to travel restrictions. He finally arrived, and took the car for a test drive. Everything went swimmingly, sale was agreed, money was transferred and appeared in our bank account. Partner was relieved. No sooner had my partner sat down and breathed a sigh of relief, then the driver called to say that the car would not start. My partner bolted up and headed out to meet the driver, after calling the dealership who had insinuated that there may be an undisclosed electrical problem thus voiding the sale. My partner thought that surely, it was just a battery issue as we were not driving our car very much due to never-ending lockdowns, the driver had just taken a quick drive and then plugged in all his phones and chargers. Our kind neighbour came to help with cables to jump start the car, it started without issue and we luckily never heard from the car people again.

(part 2 coming soon)


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