by Jenny Hyslop
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: April 2018
Oh hey there, city and suburb-dwelling parents. Wise choice to settle your family in an urban zone. On those nights when the idea of making dinner seems impossible, you can have a hot Chinese, Indian, or Italian dinner delivered to your door. You’ve got a cornucopia of extra-curricular activities to choose from for your kids. There are parks and museums and theatres for family outings or date nights. Makes a whole lot of sense.
And howdy to the rest of you, the country-dwellers, island denizens, and townies. It’s a smart decision to live in a place with a smaller population. You’ve got plenty of nature around you, a close-knit community to help out, and a safe space for your children to independently roam. Makes a whole lot of sense.
Wherever you choose to live with your family, there will be opportunities, and there will be drawbacks. Maybe it doesn’t have to be one versus the other: cabins, campfires, and cabbage versus condos, culture, and curry. You can make the most out of wherever you live by taking full advantage of the pros, mitigating the cons, and doing your best to mimic the experiences that aren’t readily available.
As for my family, we chose rural. But only relatively recently, and only after years of debate and puzzling over the where and the how and the what. About two years ago, an opportunity suddenly arose and we decided to take the plunge: we moved from an apartment near downtown Victoria to a house in an island community with a population less than half that of the high school I attended.
What do we love about living here? Nature is everywhere. We can walk from our front door to a rainforest ravine in 10 minutes. Our family can identify 10 times more trees, plants and birds than we could as city-dwellers. We rent a whole house with a full ocean view on a half-acre lot where we’re working little by little to create a productive food garden. I won’t tell you what we pay for it; that’s crass, and the number will cause you Victorians to spit your almond milk matcha lattés all over this page.
Everyday interactions with folks at the grocery store and post office and library are authentic. I’m not saying “Hi. How are you” in that automated generic way, where all you expect back from the vaguely familiar person working the till is a “Fine, thanks” as she continues to scan your noodles and weigh your produce. I’d actually like to know what’s up with Lisa and the deck she’s building and her new puppy. Oh, and people are thrilled to have children on the island. This is a village with a declining population, so new young families are practically met down at the ferry with a welcoming brigade. Kids are treated like celebrities here. There are very few places or events where they aren’t welcome.
When we first moved, I was out and about with the kids while my husband was at work. When he got home, I started to tell him about the day’s adventures: “Oh, I know everything you guys did today,” he interrupted with a laugh. “I stopped by the Co-op on the way home and everyone you ran into earlier filled me in on what you got up to.”
Do we miss some things about the city? Damn skippy, we do. Mainly we miss our friends and family members we left behind. But we also sometimes pine for our favourite restaurants and specific products that can’t be found up here. I do occasionally wish there were a few more options for outings, hobbies, and entertainment. And once in a while I miss living in a place where you can exist in an echo chamber. My city friends came from a big enough pool that I found people who were more or less on the same page when it came to politics and personal ethics. The pool is smaller here, so there’s a bigger range of ideas among the people I interact with on a daily basis, many with contrary opinions to my own.
But over the last several months, I’ve realized that we can work our way around those cons, and maybe even see some of them as potential pros. I’ve always enjoyed cooking a variety of foods from different cultures, but I find I do so even more often here when I can’t just order in or eat out. We’re getting way better at coming up with quick dinners with whatever we’ve got on hand on those tricky busy nights with a rather bare fridge. There is an obvious money-saving advantage there, too.
Believe it or not, I think our family actually goes to more events and takes part in more activities than when we lived in the city. I used to get overwhelmed by the scope of happenings in the city, and so more often than not, we didn’t seek them out, and we stuck to our usual routine. But here, there aren’t a whole lot of special events or activities, so you can take them or leave them. And usually I take them. The community theatre is putting on a murder mystery? Sure! Saturday night karaoke? Go for it! After-school soccer? Why not! But what if, at some point in the not-too-distant future one of my kids has a burning desire to take up salsa dancing or jazz drumming lessons? Well, we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. With many lessons these days, there’s the option of learning via Skype, as one 12-year-old here does with his bagpipes. And if that burning desire turns into full-on “this is what I need to do for the rest of my life” passion, we can reassess our living situation.
As for that echo chamber, I’m realizing that interacting with people from different ends of the political or philosophical spectrum can be a very good thing. It’s so easy to get stuck in the idea that those who don’t believe the same things as I do are the clear-cut (pun intended) Bad Guys. When I chat with that guy on the ferry who loves to talk about his grand kids, and then see the sign on his lawn for a political party that I’d certainly never vote for, I’m reminded that there are usually plenty of shades of grey. It’s a lot harder to villainize someone whom you see all the time and appreciate certain qualities about them.
Back to you city folk. You can certainly find ways to enjoy some of the best bits of country living without actually moving. Get out into nature as often as you can. Become involved with some kind of community beyond your job: volunteer somewhere or get to know your neighbours. Spend time with people of all ages, with different backgrounds and ideas. And hang out with your close friends and family more often. Have potlucks and board game nights, even if it means courageously showing people what your house really looks like most of the time. Give the toilet bowl a quick scrub, toss half a dozen of the most embarrassing odds and ends in the closet, and you’re good to go.
If your brain short-circuits when you check out the seemingly endless options for entertainment or lessons, fake the simplicity. Back when I went to art school, some of my fellow pink-haired, pierced students would whine and complain about restrictions on projects. But I loved having boundaries. Sometimes confining myself in one area freed me up to try something that hadn’t previously occurred to me in a different area. So maybe you tell your kids (or yourself) to choose one or two activities within walking or biking distance only. Or seek out only activities that are free. You might find something that you wouldn’t otherwise have thought to try.
So to all you parents on this big, beautiful hunk of rock: Get outside your comfort zone when you’re feeling bored or stuck where you are. Create a boundary when you feel overwhelmed by your options. Find ways to take the best of both city and country living and create your own sweet spot for your family, one where you can have your cake and eat it too.
Jenny Hyslop is a yoga instructor/preschool teacher/artist/writer/comedian/collector and seller of vintage odds/mama of two. She lives in a wee island community and loves to continuously add titles to her bio.
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