10 Doors: The Finale

Our New Apartment

A continuation of Door #9…

We had been without a place to call our own for half a year. Six whole months of not technically having a home, but being welcomed into nine temporary ones. Under any circumstance this would have been amazing, but during a global pandemic if felt extraordinary. From Bend to Montreal, doors opened for Daniel and I to have a safe and supportive transition from our life in Oregon to our new life in Vermont. And now, finally, we were heading toward our 10th and final door— that of our new apartment in Montpelier— and the landlord’s message said that it was unlocked and awaiting our arrival. 

We had been staying at our family’s church-cottage in Quebec for the last week, without the ability to make international calls—so I hadn’t been able to confirm the delivery of my moving cubes. The last time I spoke to them I had learned that if I waited until my move in date, they would charge an entire month, even though I just needed a couple days. I attempted to reach out to my new landlord, current tenants and neighbors to see if there was a place to put two big cubes for those extra days–It felt like a terrible first impression, but it saved me a lot of money and I liked the idea that I might be able to start unpacking the second I arrived. 

None of them had matched my level of concern, hadn’t even really responded, so I couldn’t tell if they were annoyed or if it just didn’t really matter to any of them. I hoped for the latter, wondering if it was possible that everything would actually work out smoothly. We packed my mom’s car, grateful to be able to borrow it and one of my sisters, and the three of us made the short drive to the border. Despite it still being officially closed, our American passports got us over effortlessly. The road meandered through cute Vermont towns and we pulling over to fill up on maple syrup—jugs of it were just sitting out on the side of the road with a jar for money. Our first taste of Vermont was licking maple/vanilla swirl CreeMees, on handmade rocking chairs. Vermont life was sweet already!

As we turned the corner onto our new street, I immediately saw my cubes, politely taking up one parking spot, safe and sound. I squealed with relief and excitement. We parked next to them and climbed out of the car. A young woman was out in the yard gardening and we introduced ourselves—I immediately liked her. I had been so concerned about whoever lived on the ground floor being annoyed with the pitter-patter of tiny feet, but without prompting she told me how happy they were when they heard that another kiddo was moving in. Having lived below two toddler, they seemed to sincerely miss the liveliness. 

We climbed the steps of our porch and I swung the front door open, not completely sure what to expect. Having only been inside the apartment once for a short time, I felt like I was exploring it for the first time. The mud room had been filled with a huge tangle of bikes, so my first thought was how big it was. I hadn’t been sure, but there was plenty of room for my big antique gargoyle faced storage bench. 

The three of us climbed the first set of maple stairs, and arrived at a bright and beautiful main level. Like opening a pile of present, we ventured into each room, discovering their charm and quirks. We took in its big windows and expertly curated interior colors, natural wood floors and stained glass in the walls of both bathrooms. I was excited to decode and problem solve the set up of my new home, with enough room for me to have both an office and a guest room; a living room and a playroom; plus a washer and drier and a storage basement. I looked forward to setting up my burnt-orangey-red couch against the sophisticated blue and natural wood of the living room, and hang art on the walls.

Even though it was already late in the day, we got to work unloading the storage cubes. I noticed some minor damage here or there, but having sat in the summer sun for several months on top of bumping down the highway for 3,000 miles, things seem to be in impressive shape. Until I saw the two big storage bins that held my great-grandmother’s china, dented and crushed and my heart sank. After carrying them inside, I braced myself for shards as I lifted the lids…and discovered that miraculously not a single piece was broken or chipped. She had purchased the set during the pandemic of 1918, and I felt her strength within that delicate gold rimmed white china. I declared that it was time that I bought a china cabinet to display it. 

My queen bed had been a fraction of an inch too big to fit up the old stairways, so with the help of my neighbors we hosted it up onto the balcony and pulled it into the guest bedroom. That first night, I floated on the air-mattress, my head spinning and my body aching from walking up two flights of steps all day. I was tired but so deeply relieved to have finally arrived. 

They say that when you’re in the right spot at the right time, things just fall into place. It seemed that no sooner did I think of something that I would need for my new home, than someone would offer it, or we would find it sitting there, gifted from the previous tenants—from essential furniture to a water filtration system to a strategically placed train for Daniel to immediately start playing with. My first text on my first morning was from my first new friend, the woman who I had met when I was apartment hunting. She was asking if I could use a dining table or china cabinet— of which I was beyond excited to get both.

I downloaded an app for a neighborhood forum and decided to reach out the community in search of a few things to make my house more of a home. No sooner had it posted than my email flooded with people offering me everything on my list. We spent the rest of the week collecting these gifts from new neighbors, until all the rooms were filled with greenery, both Daniel and I had rocking chairs, lamps and stained glass shone in their respective ways, and our new house felt like Home. 

I hung curtains over the many windows, using some from my booth at the Portland Saturday Market, and others from the previous tenants, the colors coming together magically. Looking out, I caught sight of a little girl playing across the field–She looked about the same age as Daniel. And at another window I chuckled when I noticed that the clock tower at City Hall was unapologetically seven minutes off. It felt so different from the big city of Portland; comforting, quaint, quiet, calm. The capitol building glinted in the sun and the trees easily outnumbered the buildings ten to one–the green leaves, blushing from the cold breeze that had whipped through the night before, promised an impressive show of colors in the near future. I was very excited for my first official New England autumn! Which, I’d been endlessly warned, would be the prelude to an extremely cold white winter like I had never experienced before. I stood at the window just smiling.

Postscript

It has been exactly a year since we walked into our tenth door and made ourselves at home in Montpelier. We’ve started to settled into small town life where our next-door neighbor is our mailman and “put it on my tab” is still an acceptable form of payment.

As I write this another neighbor has delivered our organic CSA to the front porch. Daniel just got home from his nature based school, with 3:1 ratio of students to teachers. We are happy and healthy and I am thankful every day to be living here. It has, across the board, been the safest state to live in during the global pandemic. Despite the challenging times of COVID, we’ve both made some wonderful new friends— many of which I realized I didn’t know what the lower half of their faces looked like until recently.

The little girl across the field is the 4th generation being raised in that house, her last name the same as our street. She turned out to not only be about Daniel’s age, but exactly Daniel’s age, born only a couple hours earlier— Instant buddies. 

Often, in spite of our happiness, we talk about how much we miss our Portland life and our friends that we had to say goodbye to. It turns out that you can feel the comfort and security of being home while simultaneously being homesick. They say that home is where the heart is, and having left a piece of my heart back in the Pacific Northwest, I continue to feel the separation daily even after a year away. Those friendships can’t be replaced, nor will we try. This is just the start of a whole new chapter. Thanks for reading along.

Love,

Laura

10 Doors: Door #9

Montreal

A continuation of Door #8….

I emptied all of the bags into a big heap of belongings on the bed in our Sunday School bedroom. I had been lugging around this mountain for over four months—packing it felt like it had happened yesterday and a life time ago simultaneously. The pile consisted of treasures that I didn’t want to lose in the moving cubes, clothing for all potential weather, objects that might come in handy, and lots of snacks. Now, tasked with paring down our bags to make room in the car for my sister, I reevaluated.

Sorting through our possessions, I was reminded of an insight an ultralight long-distance hiker once gave me, “We tend to overpack for our fears.” According to my luggage, a pile of snacks dominating the mountain, I was afraid of starving to death— or of Daniel being hungry and my blood sugar dropping and the disaster that would ensue. Slipping a couple Lara bars back in the bag, I left behind the rest of the nonperishable food, half our clothes, and all the books and toys that hadn’t been looked at since surviving hotel quarantine.  

Tetris’ing everything into the car, we piled in, my sister and her dog sitting up front with me, with Daniel and Nana in the back. The rearview mirror allowed me a portal into their contentment together—they held hands as I pulled the car in reverse. Then I drove us away from our quiet church-cottage and toward the colossal chaos of the big city. 

Navigating through Montreal is an exciting game. The roads are constantly under construction in the warmer months, lanes changing, exits switching and whole streets up and moving. The signs are all in French, and the drivers are in a rush. Getting to my destination always feels like a braggable accomplishment. As I pulled down the familiar (and often inconvenient) one-way street I started seeing important street signs that I couldn’t understand. And then at the head of my mom’s street stood a man waving people away, behind him evidence of heavy construction. 

We parked at the corner and started unloading the tightly packed car, carrying everything an inconvenient distance to the house—A two story red brick row house tucked into its spot the line. Walking up three cement steps, decorated with small blue tiles, we approached our Ninth Door, white with a frosted glass oval window. I entered my family’s house with an armful of things, and immediately felt the crushing weight of my Bonus Dad’s absence. It was the first time that I had been back in his home since he passed in April, and his absence was a constant presence. 

Continuing the grueling work of hauling everything from the car, I had to walk by the flagger an awkward amount of times. We started by acknowledging each other at every pass, then switched to averting our eyes and ignoring each other. On one of the passes I stopped to see if he could fill me in on what was going on. He did not, or maybe just didn’t want to, speak English. Luckily a neighbor explained that they were pulling out the old water pipes. The extent of construction would include the entire street and everyone’s front yards, replacing the pipes right up to the front door. Our timing was impeccable— arriving so that we could be around for loud, vibrating construction that started very early and ran late, with an added bonus of the water being shut off. 

Luckily the day they dug up our yard coincided with my sister’s bday, so we were gone most of the time. The first apples were ripe and she chose an orchard to pick from. A wagon ride was part of the adventure, and with our masks on and the wind blowing in our hair, our smiles were visible in our eyes. 

We were dropped off and told which rows were ready. With ladders already against some of the trees, Daniel climbed up to perch in the branches, pulling apples off and happily eating them. It was the perfect crisp day for apple picking, a sweetening warmth in-between hints of autumn in the breeze. 

Afterwards we had a picnic, complete with bday cake, and then set out on what was supposed to be a short hike. Unfamiliar with the difference between a mile and a kilometer and distracted by the beautiful forest, I didn’t start to doubt our path soon enough. Before we knew it we had been walking too long, finally realizing that we weren’t on the loop. Reluctantly we turned around and started to make that whole journey again in reverse. Daniel’s 2.5 year old legs wouldn’t take another step, and I had no choice but to carry his napping body all the way back. My petite stature strained under the 40lbs, and boy golly do I wish that I had a strong man around sometimes. But it is in those challenging moments (like moving across the country) that I get to discover that I am stronger and braver than I ever knew possible.

The birthday celebration continued with an evening outing. Having not attended a public event since the pandemic started, nor having had a second away from my child since we left Oregon, I jumped at the opportunity for my mom to babysit. My sisters, brother-in-law and I had tickets to Foresta Lumina Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook. I had no idea what to expect as night settled into darkness and rain clouds loomed overhead. 

We parked with the masses and then stood socially distanced in line. A few rain drops and then we were through the gates. The enchanted forest was made even more mysterious by the other masked patrons that we would see on occasion. Immersed inside a magical world, we ventured through two miles of trails, and with the use of sound, fog, projection and lighting we explored the story of a young woman’s journey. The tech-nerd-theatre-kid in me ate it up. The show took us a couple hours to complete and ended with us hiking out of the massive rock faced gorge– the epilogue was the clouds, glowing from a full moon, dramatically parting and begging for applause. 

We only stayed in Montreal for a week— spinning our wheels with a heightened sense of urgency, the buzz of construction intensifying the feeling of unease. When it rains it pours so it shouldn’t have been surprising that we were also having plumbing and roof issues; on top of a growing list of legalities of settling an estate; plus the immediate need to hire someone to replace the pipes where the city left off, before the massive hole in the front yard got filled. 

Each of the issues on their own would have been overwhelming and yet, somehow, the combined flood seemed to dilute each of them ever so sightly. I spent my time trying to find any available plumbers or roofers, during a pandemic— always incredibly grateful when they would speak to me in English. Some things got scheduled, yet we were denied the satisfaction of completion. We decided to retreat back into the calm of our church-cottage and the tiny town in which it sat. The final countdown had officially begun. T-minus 10 days until I got the keys to my new life in Vermont. 

Stay tuned for the final installment with Door #10…

10 Doors: Door #8

The Church

A continuation of Door #7

Unsure of our chances, we made a run for the closed border between the US and Canada. Having already moved 3,000 miles to be closer to family, the border remaining closed between us stung me personally. Every month, hope of its reopening had been dangled and then yanked back at the last minute. The only people still allowed over the border were those traveling for essential reasons…so we were faced with the burden of proof.

The stretch of road leading to the border crossing lay eerily still—completely empty except for huge red signs announced that the border was closed and that we needed to turn back. Despite the discouragement we bravely pushed toward the gate. My heart pounded so loudly that I feared the big cameras might be able to detect it. An extremely attractive border guard waved us forward. 

I always flush when dealing with important matters like crossing borders, but this was a blush too. Was he flirting with me, or just being friendly? Was he aware of the enhanced attractiveness that his uniform provided him? It made me fumble even more with the documents and our story, while he remained patient and handsome. He typed away on his computer and things seemed to be going in our favor, until his brow furrowed and his index finger popped up to give pause. He stepped out to go speak to another official about our situation. 

We couldn’t hear what they were saying, but we watched through the window as he gestured toward us, her eyes following sternly. Her body language made me doubt this was going to work, and my quickly beating heart plummeted to my gut when she started moving toward us. “I see here that you are basically a Canadian because your mom is. But I’m concerned that if I let you over the father is going to want to come up too,” she said, gesturing toward Daniel in the backseat. “There is no father!” my voice came out sounding like it was giving itself a high-five. I blushed again, and they waved us through. 

Within minutes we were parked beside our family’s church-cottage in a tiny Quebec town. In the snow of December ’19, we had made our way from Montreal to meet with a realtor for a look inside. The church had been decommissioned, sitting unused for years before we found it. The search had been for a weekend cabin large enough for the family to gather and when they dropped the price it popped up on our radar.

The 185 year old church stood tall on its humble roots. The white church on white snow, created a classic picturesque image of New England. It’s easy to love a place that has always been loved. It was obviously built well and respectfully maintained even as it sat empty. The first time that we stepped foot inside it felt warm and inviting. As if Sunday service had just ended, a pair of reading glasses still lay at the pulpit. A few personal pillows and tissue boxes were scattered throughout the pews, the wear on the carpet revealing the favorite spots to sit. A kaleidoscope of colors shone through the massive stained glass windows, the details of which had been hand painted by talented artists. Above us a masterfully assembled ceiling, shaped like a hull, added to the warmth of the room with its natural wood. The air hummed with the countless hopes and worries that had been intently focused on within that space. When I took Daniel to the washroom I discovered hot water and a fresh hand towel. In an unexpected way we felt at home, and taking an exciting leap of faith my parents purchased it.

We’re not a religious family, so I have no preconceived negative connotations with a church. I am a sucker for an old building though and I was excited to get to finally spend some quality time in it. We parked near the side door, lifting the luggage down onto the damp grass, and rolling them over to a long deck. I pulled the luggage up behind me, the wheels playing the rhythm of the wooden planks until a final deep note of the threshold. 

Opening the dark green door we entered into a small mud room. After pausing briefly to open the second door, we entered into a large open space with natural wood floors. Historically it had been used as the Community Room, and we had started to add more creature comforts, creating clusters of furniture to serve as rooms. 

I plopped some of my load down there, rolling on through the 50’s kitchen with teal boomerang patterned laminate countertops and chrome handles, then up the brown shag carpeted steps. At the top of the stairs was the Sunday School Room, with an angled ceiling and a hand-crafted partition dividing the space. The same hand had created the many low cabinets on castors that held all the art supplies and toys that had been left behind. I put down the heavy luggage that I was carrying, feeling the relief of the weight being lifted both physically and figuratively. I marveled at how familiar and comforting this place felt for no particular reason whatsoever. 

We settled in, hunkering down for two weeks of government enforced quarantine. Since cell reception was weak inside we tried to remember to leave my mom’s phone on a windowsill for the best chance at receiving the daily call to check up on us. Not that we weren’t following the rules, it’s just the added pressure of feeling like you are constantly being watched. And with a threat of a million dollar fine, I tensed at every car that slowed down to look at the church (which is an all day occurrence), expecting them to knock on the door for visual confirmation of compliance. 

Thankfully one of my sisters joined our quarantine, bringing with her a puppy pal for Daniel to run around with. The two of them created quite the racket within the wooden walls, but they played hard and cuddled often, and we were all grateful for their ability to entertain each other. We excitedly caught toads in the expansive yard and carefully harvested sweet blackberries from bushes near the cemetery. We rebuilt a play structure that we found in the back, and Nana taught Daniel the useful skill of how to swing on his own. 

We passed the time cleaning, organizing and studying the smallest details of our new church-cottage, trying to decode its past and dream up its future. After we survived all fourteen days of our solitude we celebrated our freedom with a walk down the tiny town’s quiet Main Street to the Commons. We didn’t see anyone, but we stopping to pet a Crookshanks doppelgänger and smell the flowers. Daniel and I lay on the grass of the Commons and watched the clouds, breathing in the summer. 

Laying around should have been more enjoyable, and I tried to shake my impatience—but I longed to finally unpack and settle into our new Vermont home. Unfortunately, I still had several weeks to kill before we could move in. My mind often wandered, attempting to remember the details of the apartment and arrange the furniture in my head, but found that there were too many blank spots in my memory for it to be constructive. 

My mom was itching to be more productive too, and we decided it was best to head to her Montreal home to get some important legalities settled with my Bonus Dad’s estate. I wasn’t looking forward to being there without him, anticipating that the weight of his absence would be crushing. But we gathered up our bags again and made our way toward the island.

Read Door #9 here…

10 Doors: Door #7

The Manor

A continuation of Door #6

The seventh door’s gatekeeper was a pink pig keychain. We had a very brief description on where to find it, which felt like a treasure hunt into the unknown. We took a drive out of the town, turned down a dirt road lined by corn fields, quickly veered left and pulled up alongside a huge white barn next to a stately brick manor. Double checking the directions to confirm that we were in the right place, we peeled ourselves out of the overpacked car and started for the garage door. 

The instructions felt far too casual to effectively get us inside a stranger’s house. There was mention of the pink pig being in a medicine cabinet inside the garage—but first thing’s first, how do we get into the garage? I tried the handle on the side door and was surprised that it opened easily, with the slight twist of my unfamiliar wrist. Even though I felt like I was sneaking in, the door knew no difference and opened wide.

There wasn’t much in the garage. Some bins for trash and recycling, a few tools on a few separate work benches, a set of winter tires, and an off white medicine cabinet. I reached for the cabinet’s tiny silver handle, and by pushing my reflection out of the way I pulled the little door open. Inside, on the bottom shelf, sat a bright pink, polyurethane pig. I snatched it up waving it in victory for my mom and Daniel to see— the key, dangling from a short chain, swayed excitedly. 

There were three doors in the garage, and it felt silly to be unsure of which one this key belonged to. The door we had entered from narrowed our options down to two, and I picked the wrong one, as it opened into the back yard. There seemed to be only one other option, but that door revealed two more doors. Rechecking the message, we chose the door on the right and we were finally rewarded as the key turned the lock. 

What we walked into was comfortable and well curated—Cottage Style, Shabby Chic, blending impressive antiques and overstuffed country print living room furniture. The house was tall and long, with three different ways to get to the grand entrance that was rarely used. We walked the center hallway stopping to look at the many framed monochrome portraits, some of them seeming vaguely familiar. Ascending the staircase, we picked out our bedrooms, each had its own fireplace and felt like a portal into the past. Out the many windows the corn field rippled to the horizon.

We settled in nicely, unpacked and made dinner. The crickets called forth the dusk as I put Daniel to bed, followed by the shocking totality of night in the country. The darkness breathed life into the antiques, they all seemed to creak and moan as they stretched out into the shadows. Their beauty only the surface layer of their long history. Separately they were harmless, but they fed off of each other, the energy building as a storm outside began to brew. That primordial feeling of being watched made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The old portraits’ eyes now followed me as I walked quickly down the hall and up the stairs to my mom.

I found her in a beautifully furnished room, sitting in a vintage armchair, a rolled up magazine in her hand and her eyes on the windows. All three of the windows in the room were crawling with countless flies, an eery hum intensifying the creepiness. Huge streaks of lightening. Wind. Then thunder rumbles and shook the ghosts from their dark corners. The old house groaned as the storm descended, the heat from the day being pummeled out of it by countless raindrops that washed over it in forceful sheets. My mom swatted at the disturbing swarm of flies in her room, but I seemed to have something even more sinister in mine. 

Not bothering to turn on any lights, I had entered my room with my phone’s flashlight on. I got ready for bed, unable to shake the feeling of being watched. The storm continued outside, every once and awhile the lightening would light up the room for a split second before blunging back into darkness for the rumble of thunder. I lay in bed trying to will sleep, a thin sheet was all that protected me from the spooky shadows—my body clenched and my eyes squeezed shut, an irrational and instinctual response to fear. There was a chill in the air, despite the summer heat. A flash of lightening popped my eyes open and caught a glint of something on the fireplace. What was that? I waited for another flash that didn’t come, and instead reached for my phone’s flash light again. 

Shining the light toward the fireplace, something glinted again. A gooey, reddish brown substance was dripping down the fireplace from behind the mantle. I slowly sat up, knowing that I was going to go closer, but wishing that I wouldn’t. Swinging my legs to the floor, the wooden boards creaked as I made the short trip and crouched down beside the fireplace. My index finger reluctantly inched forwarded, making contact and retreating, taking with it a sticky smear of red. The fireplace was definitely dripping blood. 

As a child I suffered from nightmares and my parents took me to a dream doctor. What I learned about fear and the power of the mind, is that we possess the ability to choose if we get swept away in it or not. Choice is a useful tool. It puts the power internally, instead of giving it away to something external. Things are not just done to us—we control our world. And a lot of that power comes from our breath. Our bodies take their cue off of our breath, to pump in adrenalin or melatonin. So, despite my fear I chose not to give any power to whatever mischief this house was up to. Instead I wiped off my finger, got back into bed, took some slow breaths and drifted off to sleep. 

By day the antiques went back to their charming ways. The rooms sighed as gentle morning light flooded in through the sheer curtains. I took my morning tea out to the large front porch and watched the calm waves in the ocean of corn. The tiniest of movements caught my attention in the massive lawn and I moved closer for a better look. Setting my ‘Feel the Bern’ mug on the white steps beside me, I put my feet down into the cool grass tipped with dew. I saw the movement again. Teeny. Tiny. Little. Toads! I squealed with joy as I pounced and scooped one up. At only a centimeter big, the garden bugs outweighed the little guy and his sheer cuteness make me squeal again and run into the house to show my mom. Not understanding if my outburst was good or bad she came running at her name, relieved to see pure joy on my face.

Daniel and I spent the morning toad hunting and then the three of us walked the quiet dirt road up the hill to hug trees and say hello to several horses. On the way back Daniel ducked into the first row of corn parallel to the street. We watched him very carefully, matching his speed—I regretted having put him in a green shirt that day. He navigated through the tall stalks easily and confidently, my fearful eyes never leaving him. And then out of nowhere a new row appeared, wedging between us and pushing him out deeper into the sea of corn. My mom and I panicked a bit as we lost sight of him. 

I dove in where I assumed he must be, yelling his name, my voice higher than usual. “What, Mama?” Daniel said poking his head out of the shadows of corn, confused by my concern. In relief I picked him up and brought him back into the bright light of the dirt road. I don’t think that I’m cut out for country living. 

Returning to the comforts of town, it was finally time to see the apartment that I had been obsessing over. We met the landlord out front, and before his face slipped behind his mask, his attractiveness sparked the beginnings of a fantasy about him fixing a leaky sink. But as his hand opened the screen door I saw his wedding ring, and shaking off those silly thoughts, I followed him up into the apartment.

He gave us a tour and I had an easy chat with one of the current tenants (who quickly became my go to person for all things Montpelier + kiddo related). We didn’t stay long—it felt intrusive to be snooping around in someone else’s home, particularly during a pandemic. But my suspicions were confirmed— this is where I wanted to live. It was just outside my price range, but directly inside my ideal location, and checked off all my biggest desires on my Wish List. 

“How many people are ahead of me for this apartment?” I asked the landlord, my voice tight, afraid of the answer. “Three or four,” he responded, though he still handed me the application. I filled it out in the car the second I thanked him for his time, and sent it over to him immediately. I was grateful that he responded quickly, didn’t charge an application fee, ran my credit and offered me the apartment by the very next day. 

Absolutely elated to have signed the lease on our new home, a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. The only downside was that I still needed to wait a month and a half before we got the keys. My mom and I started talking about what our next move should be. The owners of the manor were heading back shortly, and we were less than two hours away from our family cottage in Quebec— which would be a perfect spot to spend the summer. The only thing stopping us was the mere technicality of a closed border. 

Stay tuned for Door #8…

10 Doors: Door #6

The Infirmary

A continuation of Door #5…

The Sixth Door was painted bright red, a brass knocker at its heart. Swollen with the July heat, the heavy wood stuck a little in its frame, bearing scars from being forced opened—it required a firm but gentle hand to close. Our host, Beth, stood beside it on the stoop, welcoming us into a beautiful home with fresh food, local wine, and piles of toys— my eyes watered with relief. Our new temporary home turned out to be a converted military infirmary from the Civil War. A hundred and fifty-six years after the first patients arrived, Daniel and I entered through the same solid door, all of us seeking respite and health. 

I allowed myself to go down a rabbit hole, learning about Montpelier, Vermont, and its role in the Civil War. I learned about Florence Nightingale’s direct influence on the build of the room I slept—her emphases on the importance of multiple windows to let in sunlight and increase airflow for “enchanting good morale” —acknowledging the important connection between mental health and physical health. I often found myself staring out the many windows, admiring how the original windowpanes slightly distorted the outside world—blurring the shadows and trees into euphony of cool tones. In this way the days dissolved into a quiet, steady flow of time; the sun either setting or rising without expecting anything of us. We licked the last of our quarantine with cold popsicles in hand, while we rocked beside each other on Mom and Daniel sized rocking chairs. 

After our fourteenth day of solitude, the sunshine and summer flowers joined forces to celebrate our freedom. Equipped with a colorful tourist map of the town, we excitedly ventured out—not even our masks could contain the magnitude of our smiles. And though we walked down unfamiliar streets, the locals seem to welcome us with (socially distanced) open arms. 

My first impression of my new little city (a generous estimate of 7,500 residence) was that it is quintessentially quaint. Modern conveniences are housed in hundred year old buildings. People say hello as they pass on the street. Like a mini Portland, Oregon, a river runs through it, straddled by bridges, downtown sits on both sides. We turned down State Street and crossed over the Winooski River, as it ducked below the street, and disappeared under a row of historic red brick buildings.

I was relieved to see that the friendly locals were all masked— and that being masked didn’t make them grouchy. It feels like a lifetime ago that seeing someone hiding their face, robber style, would have triggered fear. Now, seeing someone covered up, brings comfort. I equate it to respect and solidarity—It triggers a swelling sense of pride and comradely that we are stronger together, even as we are asked to separate. 

It wasn’t long before our walk brought us to a massive green lawn, a sweeping welcome toward the white columned capitol building—its shinning gold dome catching the sun and glowing. My first thought was that the gold seemed freshly polished, and my mind trailed off on logistics. At its top stood a bright white statue— that of a woman clutching several things. I later learned that she is Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility and the dome definitely doesn’t need shining at just shy of 24 karat gold. 

Returning back to our temporary home, we got the other room ready for my mom’s arrival from Montreal. Having already moved 3,000 miles, the US/Canadian border remaining closed was a mere technicality against the already seemingly impossible journey. And though we weren’t completely certain that my mom would be allowed to cross over, attempting it was inevitable. Armed with all the important documents that she could possibly need, she braved the last 130 miles between us.

And then, finally, she was there in front of us. Emotion overflowed as I hugged my mom close for the first time in 7 months— for the first time since the world came to a screeching halt, the love of her life died, my Portland life ended and hugs in general had become a thing of the past. Tears of joy and pain rolled down my face to be absorbed by my mask.

We got straight to work— the daunting job of finding a new home in an unfamiliar land. I was immensely grateful for my mom’s help, and her car. I had unsuccessfully attempted to rent a house from quarantine with the help of my local friend Alan, and now there didn’t seem to be much available. Leaving Daniel with my mom I masked up and headed out.

The first place I looked at didn’t sound like a good match, since it was only a one bedroom— but there was something about the ad that drew me over. The woman renting the space behind her home turn out to be a Single Mother By Choice with a son, and we became instant friends—sitting outside talking long after I’d concluded that the space was too small for us. 

Next on the list was a two bedroom on the edge of the two hundred acre wilderness park in town. Stepping over the foot-and-a-half gap between the warped steps and the crooked porch I instantly knew that this wasn’t the place for us either. Plus the neighbors were a bunch of college guys. I’ve lived with college guys— Hard Pass. 

After that I looked at a huge three bedroom with dark wood built-ins and long halls. Sandwiched between a massive bolder and a major street, it made me uneasy. And my cellphone didn’t get reception. I liked the old man more than the old house and he regaled me with tales of buying a home on the US/CA border. The kitchen had been in Canada but since the front door was in the US, custom taxes were applied when new kitchen appliances were brought in. We both laughed at the absurdity. 

I returned home, delighted with my interactions with the locals, but scared that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to live among them. It was the first time that it really sunk in that I had chosen a tiny town without any new builds—In order for me to find a place, it would mean that someone else had to leave it. Late into the night I was unable to turn my brain off from the weight of worry. I returned to Craig’s List for more late night scrolling.

I had been in the habit of looking at Craig’s List multiple times a day, which had fostered a general feeling of anxiety. From the pits of doubt and fear (what if I’ve made a terrible mistake and end up regretting this whole crazy move?!) I lay in the dark expecting nothing. Then, all of a sudden, there it was, MY HOME. I knew it in my gut and I flushed with excitement and anxiety that it could be snatched out from under me. If it hadn’t been the middle of the night I would have called them immediately. 

I looked through the pictures in the ad excessively, obsessively. I called the second it felt like an appropriate time to do so and tried to leave the best voicemail message ever. The pressure was too great and I gushed and blushed through a rambling message that thankfully also included my phone number. 

While I waited for my future landlord to return my call, I tried to focus on other important things. It somehow surprises me that life goes on—even during a pandemic. We’ve all turned out to be much more adaptable than once assumed. We’ve embraced technology as the new norm for face-to-face visits, school, work, even weddings. My mom, Daniel and I dressed up, grabbed some fancy glasses and pulled my computer out onto the lawn. We opened the computer to join with family and friends, via Zoom, to witness my cousin getting married to a fine young man who has made a great life with her. A gorgeous Vermont sunset served as a backdrop to their idyllic beach ceremony, and we cheers-ed to their happiness.

I had to wait until Monday for that call back. And then I was told I’d needed to wait almost a week to see the place. We were really wracking up a bill staying at the Airbnb, and it wasn’t sustainable so we put out some feelers for alternatives. My mom posted a message on Facebook to see if anyone happened to know someone out here in Vermont, and within the day we were talking to a friend of a New Mexican friend who lived about 15 minutes away and just so happen to be out of town but had left a spare key and clean sheets on the beds. “I was wondering who would be staying at our place while we are gone. Make yourself at home.” So, we started packing up for mystery Door #7.

Stay tuned for Door #7...

10 Doors: Door #5

Hotel Quarantine

A continuation of Door #4…

The quickest way to minimize an emotional upset is to focus on physical protocol. No time for tears. Armed with hand sanitizer, wipes, masks and gloves we bravely entered into the buzz of an airport during a pandemic. As if I had sprouted more hands in the night, I was able to juggle two enormous suitcases, three carryons, a stroller, carseat and sleepy toddler—moving us through an invisible cloud of COVID-19. Sidestepping people, dodging coughs, jumping through airport rigamarole, and wiping surfaces, all while keeping a smile on my face—because even though no one could see it, I knew my kiddo could feel it. 

The self-check wasn’t working so I lugged everything over to the endlessly winding check-in line, but it was obvious that things were not working smoothly there either. It wasn’t even 5am so people were confused and short-fused, and those that were hired to help seemed to making things worse. People around us eventually started dropping like flies, having waited so long that they missed their flight. With every disappointed person in front of me, we moved one spot closer. I was thankful that we had given ourselves a solid two hours before our flight—make that three, the flight was delayed. Having pulled out all my tricks to keep Daniel entertained during our hour spent in line, I had nothing left to offer except the iPad. 

Two overbooked, delayed, unsettling flights later, we arrived into Burlington and a row of empty rocking chairs welcomed us to Vermont. Amazing how comforting the absence of people can be sometimes. We gathered our belongings, and found a van to fit it all into. The driver’s incessant chatter was a tad overwhelming after such a long journey, but luckily his friendliness was my first impression of Vermonters and not the hotel manager. 

From behind a plexiglass wall, the hotel manager eyed us suspiciously while she slathered on more hand sensitizer. She gathered together a large stack of papers and pamphlets and verbally gave me more information than my exhausted brain could retain. After filling out the necessary paper work, and signing the Certificate of Compliance for quarantining requirements, we were rewarded with a hotel card key and a pointer finger in the direction of our room.

I looked at the monstrous pile of luggage behind me, wondering how I ever managed to get it here from Oregon, and uncertain if I could make it all the way to our room alone. But the hotel manager continued to eye us from behind her protective shield, obviously annoyed that we were still standing in a public space. 

By wedging a suitcase to hold open the door, I managed to fit everything into the small elevator without any room to spare. The ding announced our arrival into a long hall, two straight rows of off-white doors stood like stained teeth, the breath of 20 years of smoking and drinking coffee still in the air. 

We counted down the numbers to our room and slipped the key card in the door. A little green light blinked on, invited us through Door #5 and into a small kitchen—beyond it the fixings of a dining room, office, living room, bedroom and bathroom, all sharing the narrow space between me and the retro mustard curtains. I pushed and pulled all of our belongings in behind me and shut out the rest of the world. The fire escape route on the back of the door accentuated You Are Here. Though I would have rather been anywhere else. 

Looking back on the challenges I’ve faced in my life, quarantining in a hotel room with a potty-training toddler is definitely high on the list. Thankfully we had food because my friend Ally, a former Portland neighbor, had been able to stock our fridge prior to our arrival. But food, though it does technically nourish the body, it often does little for the soul, and staying alive and living have never felt so separate. 

Quarantine was thick and heavy, like sitting under a block of white tofu, hoping that you don’t suffocate under the blandness. Living by the philosophy that only boring people get bored, I’ve never allowed myself to succumb to it. But in this hotel room the hours oozed together into a pile of nothingness, blending days together. The clock’s red faced numbers ticked by at an unnatural pace, mocking me from the corner of the room. 

I tried to stick to some resemblance of a schedule, for our collective sanity, but the different time zone threw everything for a loop. So instead of the schedule being based on the taunting clock, it became a loose daily routine. We started our mornings, whenever we felt like it, with maple syrup, hot water and milk— coining this beverage “Vermont tea”. Sipping our tea (mine with actual tea added) on the couch, we looked out of our “windy window” at a wall of green trees that often thrashed about, my single plant cutting sat in a glass on the sill. Art, playing, reading, TV watching, everything usually devolved into Daniel literally jumping off the furniture.

I encouraged the physical movement, and luckily the furniture provided lots of differing activities. The king size bed, for the classic jumping and flopping; the teal and tan couch for balancing along its back and arms; The yellow high back armchair for jumping, talking on the archaic corded phone, and making a tiny cubby fort; and the most fun of all, the office chair, combined with the desk for pushing off, for continuously spinning around and around. 

I got away with doing less physical activities because I was absorbed in thought. Continuing the online search for a home while consumed with worry that we had contracted COVID19 during our travels, kept me quite busy. I was constantly wondering if he felt hot, or if I could smell things. Was I more tired than usual? Was that headache the first symptom of doom? Or perhaps these were all normal reactions to being trapped in a single room with stale hotel air, poor lighting and the endless mush of quarantining.

When the fear of the pandemic, stress of moving and a pile of pee soaked toddler clothes started to burry us alive, I decided that for our sanity we needed to break the rules and sneak outside for some fresh air. Armed with our masks, hand sanitizer and sunglasses, I scooped Daniel up onto my left hip and we quickly and quietly made a break for it. We took the back halls and didn’t see anyone along the way. 

I flung the right side of my body against the backdoor, pushing our way out into the blinding July sun. Even through the mask, my first inhale of Vermont was lush and hot, the unfamiliar scent of unseen cows floated by and made me smile. We immediately ducked into the wild field behind the hotel, our presences kept a secret by overgrown plants that I’d never met before—tall fluffy sumac hung overhead and flowering burdock playfully grabbed at our clothing. 

We weren’t outside long. But the benefits of the warmth and moving air had put some sun back in my disposition.  We tried to sneak back in through the same door, but my keycard just kept giving me the red light. Admitting defeat and knowing that we were busted, we made our way around to the front doors and entered the lobby. Being greeted by an empty front desk, I kept shifting Daniel’s 35lbs from one hip to the other, not wanting to put him down. My relief at seeing the hotel manager turn the corner was met with her fear and disapproval at recognizing that we had escaped quarantine. 

I flew into apologies and excuses and she kept her distance slipping safely behind the plexiglass shield. She instructed me to properly dispose of my infected malfunctioning keycard and slipped me a new one through a small slit. Rushing back to our room, we again retreated inside, closing the door, removing masks and settling in for another eternity in isolation.  

Perhaps someone stronger than myself could have lasted longer, but when I learned that there wouldn’t be a reduced sentence from the possibility of a negative test (there were no available appointments within 30miles), I felt broken, and reached out for help. 

My mom found an Airbnb in Montpelier, which would at least bring me closer to where I wanted to be. Through the fog of isolation I couldn’t quite grasp how I could get from Point A to Point B and felt defeated and alone. “Just call the host and explain your situation,” my mom instructed me over the phone, “Maybe she’ll have some advice.” 

Though I was reluctant to do so, the alternative seemed impossible so I picked up the phone. A friendly voice answered my call and after I told her all about my situation with the magic words, “…stuck in a hotel room with a toddler…” she exclaimed, “Just come here! It will be so much better! I have so many toys and books for him! You’ll have a yard to go out in. I can do your laundry and get you groceries…” I was choking back tears at the thought of such luxurious support. 

During our phone conversation, Beth had suggested that I simply explain to an Uber driver that we’d been quarantining for the last eight days and needed a ride to Montpelier (40 minutes away) to finish up. I wasn’t completely convinced that it would work, but I packed us up and checked out, with adrenaline coursing through my body. Vermont has taken a self-policed, community pressured approach to the pandemic. So there wasn’t any fees associated with breaking quarantine, I just felt horribly guilty about it. On the other hand I knew that we couldn’t last another week there. 

The Uber driver turned out to be phenomenal. While we headed south, he filled me in on all things Vermont; I watched out my window, taking it all in: No roadsigns, no airplanes, endless trees, interrupted by pastures and a speckling of farmhouses. Daniel slept like an angel the whole time. When we arrived into this strange new land of Montpelier, our driver took the time to give me a tour of my new little town, making suggestions and pointing things out. And when we finally arrived, Beth was standing on the stoop, Door #6 open wide, inviting us in. 

Stay tuned for Door #6…

10 Doors: Door #4

My Best Friend’s House

A continuation of Door #3

There are some doors that lead you into places that you never want to leave. Those are usually the places that hold the people that you can’t believe you previously survived without. As I descended the steep stairs toward my 4th door, I was struck for the millionth time, just how lucky I was to have met Amy in 2014—when she had pink hair and I was a wide eyed newbie at the Portland Saturday Market. We’ve laughed about our first awkward conversation all those years ago, one seasoned jewelry designer to a beginner—but what could have formed into a rivalry, evolved into a lifelong friendship. 

With the enthusiasm of giggling BFF girls, once we exchanged numbers we never stopped texting each other. I can count on one hand the amount of days in the last 7 years that we haven’t messaged back-and-forth. To have found that type of friendship, especially in our 30s, was surprising. Having the kind of friend who knows everything about you— your deepest secrets and what you ate for dinner—offers an entertaining narrative to the monotony of life, enriching the mundane and dampening stress. That type of dependable, unconditional, exceptional support elevates a friendship to “Best” status. 

Stepping down off of the last step, Amy, her husband Mitch, and little Lucca greeted us at a three panel glass French door. Walking into their home felt familiar and comforting, and my sigh of relief at arriving might have been audible. Obviously we hadn’t been able to see each other much since the pandemic started and we had all been looking forward to spending some quality time together. We had timed it out so that we could celebrate Canadian Day and Fourth of July together, out on their deck like we’ve done every year since they bought the house. 

The deck, from the perfect perch high on the west hill, had a direct view of Sellwood’s fireworks show along the Willamette River.  Fourth of July parties started before they even moved in—when the house stood empty, covered with shag carpet, the air still murky from the previous owners. Snapshots of us over the years, red, white and blue, capturing the progression of our lives changing as our baby bumps and then kiddos joined the pictures. 

I remember the year I was pregnant, sitting under a blanket, watching the fireworks and thinking back on the previous year when I had been the only single person at the party. Life can certainly change quickly and unexpectedly. I had wondered what the next year would look like with a baby in my arms, but there had been no way of really knowing how it would feel to hold Daniel, his precious little ears covered to the sounds of celebratory explosions. There is something about the powerfully loud display of colors that demands your attention and invites reflection; the darkness lit up in an expression of fleeting colors, the sparkle raining down to evoke a primal reaction of “Ooh” and “Aah”. 

Summers in Portland have always been a glorious time; the intoxication of endless blooming flowers and blossoms. Having to pack up and move away during my favorite season seemed particularly cruel. I hired a couple masked movers to help me with the big stuff, and then I took several days to carry out everything else, fitting each odd shape next to another, like an intricate puzzle, until both moving/storage cubes were filled to the brim. I accepted help in the eleventh hour from some good friends and purged what couldn’t fit— forming an epic free pile on the corner that was descended on, and picked clean. 

I watched my cubes as they were hoisted onto a semi truck bed, instantly fearing that my packing wasn’t good enough for their bumpy 3,000 mile journey east. It’s an unsettling feeling to see all of your possessions driving away, (hopefully) heading for storage somewhere in a random Vermont town, for an undetermined amount of time. But it certainly freed me up to travel lighter.

The worst part about moving this way was that I couldn’t take my beloved house plants with me. I didn’t really have an option because I knew that I couldn’t handle driving a big moving truck across the country by myself, with a toddler, surrounded by COVID19. Instead I took a single cutting to carry with me—a stalk from a dracaena that had been in all of my bedrooms, throughout my entire childhood and into my adult life, spanning three states. I had to give up my car, Howie, too. I had him washed and detailed before dropping him off at his wonderful new home. I finally checked off the last of my To Do List but there was more sadness than relief in doing so.

The emptiness of my apartment weighed me down, making it hard to breath. I felt heavy with mourning the loss of my Portland life, mixed with the wariness of the future, plus the anxiety of transition, amplified by a global pandemic. I collapsed into Amy’s house, emotionally and physically too exhausted for the next big challenge of finding a place to live. Thankfully Amy and Mitch were there to lean on, both extremely patient with me and this all consuming task. They got involved with the hunt, offered suggestions as I tried to form a plan from under the pressures of sadness, fear and excitement. We sifted through a seemingly endless supply of potential options, in towns I’d never even heard of. It was obvious that I needed to just narrow it down.

The main objective was finding a location that had all-season easy access to my family north of the border. That eliminated some of the smaller towns off the beaten path, or anything too far south. I did some more research, and it seemed that in general Vermont comprises safe towns, with above average schools and more trees than people. I wondered how small town life would be, and hoped that it would be exactly like moving onto the set of Northern Exposure or Gilmore Girls. 

Since I hadn’t had the opportunity to form a personal opinion—having only driven through Vermont on occasion—I decided to rely on the insights of friends. I knew two people in the whole state: Alan, a neighbor from my childhood home in New Mexico, and Ally, a neighbor from my time in SE Portland. I picked both of their brains and Montpelier (pronounced Peel-yer) sounded like it might be a good fit. As the state capital it had the accessibility and amenities I needed, with a friendly small town feel at less than 8,000 people. As a fan of Gilmore Girls, Amy supported my decision, and the narrowed search for housing was underway… though now we continually came up empty handed.

Despite having finally decided on Montpelier, the move itself continued to feel unreal, and the goodbyes just impossible. Outside, the boys rode scooters around the deck or splashed in the kiddy pool, stopping to lick dripping popsicles and yell “I LOVE YOU” into each others’ ears. Sitting on the ground, with one boy in each arm, Mitch rocked onto his back as giggles, squeals and 6 legs flew up into the air. Rocking back into an upright position, the boys cheered for more. And more. And more. Daniel soaked up the male energy and my heart swelled for him and this precious time together. 

Life during a pandemic is more complicated and more simple all at once. Our reaction is to try to force the expanse and pace of normal life upon it by continually making plans. But all that planning is futile, and everything will inevitably need to be canceled. My heart breaks for the important gatherings that were missed—my grandmother’s 90th Birthday Party (may she R.I.P.), two close family weddings and my Bonus Dad’s funeral. Amy and I booked a house in BC for a lady & baby get away. I made plans with some Australian friends and bought plane tickets to the south west and others to the north east; plane tickets down to Florida and up to Quebec. Canceled, canceled, canceled, canceled, canceled. It chips and tarnishes the psyche to be that heavily disappointed that many times. 

After I reluctantly canceled our flight to New Mexico, the date of our Vermont arrival was determined for us by affordable ticket prices. And as the days flew toward that date, I became increasingly self absorbed, fixated on apartment hunting in a town I’d never visited, feeling the disappointment of leaving a city that I love without being able to say a proper goodbye.

Before I knew it, it was July 15th, 2020 at 4:30 in the morning, and Amy was dropped us off at the PDX Airport. Unrivaled as the Best Airport in the US, it has served me well as the portal to 12 years of travel adventures; the first to welcome me home each time. I acknowledged the end of an era, with a knot in my gut and a lump in my throat. 

The final goodbye with Amy was lost in a juggle of luggage, masks and signs telling us to keep on moving. Our goodbyes had already happened the night before, as she made me a beautiful gift that I have worn on my wrist every second since. I had cried then, and cry again now, with the same heartache as that night. Our friendship withstands time and distance, but it represents a whole cherished chapter that I hated to see end.

Breathing through the lump in my throat, I gathered all of my luggage together: Pulling two huge rolling suitcases, tethered together, behind me with my right hand; a snack pack riding on top of them filled with sustenance for the uncertain journey ahead; a massive black duffle bag containing a carseat thrown over my right shoulder; while I steered the blue canopy stroller with my left hand; my flowered Marry Poppins duffle bag hanging off the back of it, containing everything but the coat hanger; and Daniel lounging in the stroller, his blue dinosaur backpack on his lap. Both of us masked up and slathered in hand sanitizer. There was no turning back now. Feeling brave and a little crazy, we took the leap, and splashed into the unknown.

Stay tuned for Door #5…

10 Doors: Door #3

The Sleepover Party

A continuation of Door #2...

Before packing everything we owned to move 3,000 miles, Daniel and I packed our suitcases and drove across town. Ascending the rock studded cement steps, we arrived at our third door—a shiny brass doorknob on a white framed glass door, opening up into the fun and artistic home of our friends Anissa and little Cece. The walls were decorated with Anissa’s talented artwork, rainbows danced at the breakfast nook, a cute bunny nibbled quietly in the living room, toys overflowed, fish swam, and if a unicorn had walked out of the back bedroom I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. 

Anissa and I met when she posted in our Single Moms By Choice Facebook group, offering childcare with her toddler daughter in tow. The four of us were instant friends. The kids were only a month apart in age, and she and I understood each other in a way that no one else could. There was relief and a thrill when we found each other, discovering that our stories were almost the same, and more importantly our outlooks moving forward. We had both been faced with an unexpected pregnancy before making the decision to embrace motherhood, and we continued to rejoice in it with every (exhausted) fiber of our being.

Because the choice to be a solo parent came during the pregnancy and not before, we both had slight impostor syndrome when we hung out with the Single Moms By Choice group. They were an impressive bunch of strong woman, most of which were in their late 30s-40s with successful careers to show for their years. These woman who, for one reason or another, decided that they either didn’t need or didn’t want a man to have a baby with. The majority of them had experienced expensive and complicated fertility journeys, overcoming the odds with determination and grace.

I had been interested in the SMBC group, long before I found myself at potlucks with them. As I entered into my 30s, I become acutely aware of the fact that I seemed to be surrounded by incredible, ambitious, beautiful women—the majority of which were single. It struck me as odd. Individually the ladies fell on all spectrums of the story, some had escaped bad relationships, some had never found a lasting one at all. I landed somewhere in between, having found a great guy, but we had decided to end the engagement before the wedding. Collectively, we were all actively searching and coming up empty handed. 

I once went on a date with this Swedish guy. He was sexy and smart and only in town for the weekend. We practically spent the whole time together. When I mentioned my observation to him he said that he had noticed the same phenomenon in his own country and had some thoughts on the matter. He believed that the strong women who don’t need a man, come across as not wanting a man. The shift in gender equality and easy accessibility to birth control, had meant that women had the opportunity to focus on their education and careers instead of creating families. Consequently, traditional gender roles, which historically gave everyone a place and a job in the household, had been disrupted. Uncertain of where they belonged, intimidated, and feeling inept at successfully wooing an empowered woman, men were left floundering. And, as years tend to sail by quickly, having not made room for a man, women remain infinitely alone.

At the time, I was personally on the fence about having children, caught between a blaring biological clock, and the joys of pressing snooze to sleep-in indefinitely. With the birth rate on the decline, what felt like a personal dilemma was actually a global crisis. It seems that Sweden had put significant attention into raising their fertility rate, though both of our countries fell below the threshold of 2.1/per woman—the minimum to maintain an equilibrium between the elderly and young. The power to make personal decisions often comes with a collective price. Though the logical brain has the power to override instinctual impulse, perhaps our inability to settle hinders our ability to settle down. 

Making the decision to have a baby is only the first step in the large expanse of parenthood. Afterwards there are a million decisions that one must make, most of which can be contradictory to what your friends have done, without making either of you a better or worse parent. Anissa and I navigated parenthood with a similar mindset, making the same choices on things like co-sleeping and nursing. The four of us fit together effortlessly. 

There was an excitement about spending this time together—Like one long sleepover. Daniel was so happy! His sweet friend Cece, with her Shirley Temple curls and frilly dresses, brought out his gentlemanly side. He often just tenderly rested his arm around her back, or held her hand, soaking up the feeling of closeness. 

In the afternoon we took our cold drinks to a patch of sunny lawn outside their apartment, and the kids played in the blue kiddy pool, warmed by a long day. Some of the water made its way to the lush orange and green nasturtiums, by way of a pail green watering can—Daniel’s little toddler body straining under the weight of it. But always up for a physical challenge, he successfully hoisted it up, pouring the water out on the happy plants. 

It was from this yard, one late afternoon, that we heard the chanting of a Black Lives Matter march off in the distance. We felt the beat long before we could make out their words. Neither of us needed any prompting as we scooped up our kiddos and made a run to catch up. Our kids are just barely still small enough to run with, mine already much more than half my size—the neighbors smiled at my effort. We managed to catch up just at the very end of the long stream of masked protester, and walked parallel on the sidewalk, remaining COVIDly conscious. Those that didn’t have signs, had their empty hands raised, “Hands up, Don’t Shoot, Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”. Charged with their energy, we joined in the wave of chanting and the electricity of the group made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. We marched up the hill with them, the intensity maintaining. When they turned right and headed on, we turned left and headed home, talking to our kids about what we had just experienced and why. It doesn’t feel like two is too young to start the conversation—Cece is biracial and Daniel is a white male—The future starts here. 

There is vast comfort in knowing another solo mom who always seems to be on the same page. In a parallel universe we would have just moved in with them and raised our kids as a team. Anissa is by far one of the most patient, creative, beautiful, mindful, Super Moms out there. She took us on smoothly and graciously, making dinner or watching Daniel, whatever she could do to help. The support took a huge weight off of my shoulders, while I bore the pressure of tying up all the loose ends. I was immensely grateful. Especially when everything is always more complicated and stressful than you anticipate. 

For example, my car, dubbed Howie, just wouldn’t start one morning, foiling my attempted to rush out the door. Waiting for a jump from AAA became a test of composure, forcing me to breath through the wasted time. Eventually I arrived at my apartment, but made the mistake of parking in the driveway and the battery died again. A face-off between the inevitable delivery of the shipping cubes, and the eventual arrival of a mechanic to replace my battery, had me anxiously waiting with sweaty crossed fingers. Miraculously, the mechanic finished just as the semi-truck arrived, and I slipped my car out, as the fork lift brought the cubes down into place by my garage.

Before I loaded everything into the shipping cubes I set an appointment to call Bio Dad. There was a small part of me that hoped that if I told him that we were moving so far away that it would be the catalyst that he needed to come meet his kid—he might even beg me to stay. Maybe just threaten to take me to court and force me to stay. Or send the cops to the airport and detain us. I’d fight him. He wouldn’t have the right— he’s not even listed on the birth certificate. I’d win in court, but it would be a dragged out show down. It would probably be super expensive; definitely be dramatic and stressful. I really just want the freedom to move away, peacefully. He picked up on the second ring. “How are you? ….Moving?…. Oh, where? That makes sense… That’s good… I’m glad that you are making the best decision for you and your child.” 

We chatted for another 40 minutes, like we tend to do once a year. We always go a couple rounds of slaps but no punches. He touches on my decision to keep the pregnancy— and how he’ll never understand why. I touch on his decision not to be a part of the kid’s life— and how I’ll never understand why. We don’t get too deep into it, but emotions rise for a moment, and then one of us always eventually stops the loop and changes the subject. He makes jokes, I laugh easily, the tension loosens. We always remind each other that we only want the best for each other. We remember why we liked each other so much, and acknowledge how complicated the situation is. And then we leave on a high note, addressing each other by name to say goodbye. He always sends a little bit of money. Not as much as the court would have him give, but he does it without prompting and consistently on the last day of every month. It helps him sleep at night. And it puts some food on our plate. Mostly it’s just an acknowledgment, a nod to the fact that Daniel is here and he hasn’t forgotten that. Life is long and their story is not over. At the end of the day, I’m just relieved that there is no drama, and I maintain the freedom to move.

Packing, purging, planning and posting my beloved house plants for sale, every day becomes a series of tasks and hoops. Feeling nervous about trying to sell Howie during a pandemic, I was surprised to be reminded that things often have a magical way of working out—a benevolent benefactor not only wanted to scoop him up for a generous price, but also allowed me to keep him while I was still in town. Putting one foot in front of the other, I try not to think too many steps ahead, because it doesn’t take much to feel overwhelmed. Our time in Oregon is starting to come to an end, but we have one more Portland door to enter, before heading to Vermont. Daniel and I pack up our suitcases once again and head into the SW hills.

Stay tuned for Door #4…

10 Doors: Door #2

Our Portland Home

A continuation of Door #1…

Standing back at the glass door of our Portland apartment, my fingers automatically type in my code on the chrome keypad. At the sound of the lock releasing, I swing the door open and a whiff of home floods me with memories: Of waddling in during my third trimester, my moving boxes piled high; welcoming my son home from the hospital, his three doting grandparents in tow; my brother standing at the stove, a dishcloth over his shoulder; the trials and tribulations of new parenthood with two solid years of sleepless nights; the warmth of countless guests and cups of tea; and daily life with our next-door neighbors, Rebecca and little Edison. I had returned, only to pack up and leave forever. The thought was absolutely heart-wrenching.

The kid in me had rejoiced over my deepest wish coming true, to be neighbors with my childhood best friend, Rebecca. Thirty years prior, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I had found myself in the middle of 1st grade, painfully slipping behind in literacy. I couldn’t move past the fact that everyone else looked at the curve of a C, the sharp point of an A and a long stem of a T, and formed a furry cat in their mind. It seemed like magic to me. My teacher saw my struggle and paired me with the quiet, dark haired, no-nonsense girl, in a pink jumper, named Rebecca. 

Rebecca was studious and I was gregarious and somehow our teacher saw the compatibility in our differences. We weren’t an obvious pair—the fact that she would rather do homework than play was incomprehensible to me, and she couldn’t fathom why I’d want to spend my recess kiss-tagging with boys. It’s doubtful that we would have gravitated toward each other naturally, but before I knew it we were inseparable.

That first best friendship planted itself deep in my heart, an unconditional life-long bond. Even though life managed to physically tear us apart, those formative years we spent together, set a foundation for who we became, and carved out the way we’d always fit together—our strengths and weaknesses complementing each other, forever making us stronger together. 

It was no surprise that she grew up to be a successful business woman and I grew up to be an artist. But thankfully both winding paths eventually led us to Portland, Oregon. And when I unexpectedly became pregnant in our 30s, with the overwhelming what-ifs making me feel like I was free-falling, Rebecca caught me. She was in the position to offer me stability and security—low rent in a wonderful neighborhood. 

She owned twin condos in the inner NE quadrant, their modern aesthetic pressed up against each other, towering three stories and punctuated with a rooftop garden. With two main houses and two separate ground floor apartments, she had styled each space to perfection. The apartment on the north side was clean, quiet, dark and safe, the perfect place for me as a new solo parent living in a fog of exhaustion. 

She had a son, Edison, the year before I got pregnant. And after her divorce she moved down into the apartment on the south side. We converted our garages into bonus living spaces, and in the mornings we would grab our tea, open our garage doors onto our conjoined astroturf lawn, and watch the boys play. As exaggerations of us, they didn’t instantly click, but the sweet moments shared felt even more precious. There is a contentment that comes from sitting beside someone who you’ve known since childhood, while you watch your children form their own friendship. 

I thought we would have countless more mornings together. But without warning it ended. As we all mourned the loss of our pre-COVID schedules, I started the process of letting go of the Portland life that I had cultivated and adored for over 11 years. Not being able to really say goodbye to our friends was the hardest part. The salt in the wound was watching the 20-somethings across the street, giving zero shits, pitch their beer tent and throw a casual, unmasked, corn hole playing, day-drinking party. I longed to be that reckless. To embrace my friends and squeeze them close. But I loved them too much to take the risk. So I settled for awkward social distanced goodbyes—a poor substitute for the rich friendships that I was leaving behind. 

Starting over in a new place, without those friendships and without that neighborhood, was a challenge that I didn’t feel ready for yet. I strapped Daniel’s blue helmet to his head and he shot off on his bright green scooter. The familiarity of our neighborhood was comforting, not a single sidewalk crack would come as a surprise. Turning right we passed by the neighbor’s house, their golden raspberry bushes were growing back in nicely. We cautiously looked both ways at the intersection, where we’d once helped a bicyclist to his feet after a hit-and-run knocked him down. Safely on the other side of the street, we passed the chickens with their gray bunny roommate and arrived at Daniel and Edison’s Montessori/Reggio Emilia influenced preschool. We stopped to smell their organic roses and with a final full inhale of the perfume, Daniel pushed on ahead, scootering under the canopy of leaves, and popping out into the sunlight beside the urban ZZZ Goat Farm. We made our way around the block to eat tart scarlet cherries from a neighbor’s tree and crouched down to pet the resident black cat.

A block away sat N. Williams Street, with its eclectic assortment of delicious foods, cute shops, workout studios and a natural foods grocer boasting in large letters, “The Friendliest Store In Town”. I appreciated everything that my neighborhood had to offer, but over the years I had felt guilty for that, as I’d witnessed the continual gentrification of a historically Black neighborhood. My favorite restaurants had filled in the empty buildings that had long since been jazz clubs. Old craftsman homes had been sold and mowed down—big modern buildings now stood in their place offering delicious vegan options. My head spun in the dichotomy, knowing that for one to exist the other couldn’t and my gain had been someone’s loss. That evening, after Daniel was asleep, I could hear the chanting of the Black Lives Matter protests as they marched down N. Williams, the beat of their feet, the volume of their collective voice, shaking the history loose from the newly paved street. Since I couldn’t join them, I wrote. (Read it here). 

Either by conscious choice or by circumstance, things have started to change. I don’t think the points would have hit as poignantly had we all not been stopped in our tracks by COVID-19. There is a general uneasiness that comes with living in a pandemic, a rawness. Even mundane, every day chores, can bring about anxiety. The constant stream of updates and mandates, shift and evolve as we doggie paddle further into these uncharted waters of the global pandemic, trying to keep our heads up. Sometimes it feels like if just one more thing gets piled on, we’re going under.

For me, one of those added stresses had been about Daniel’s dental work. What had started out as a tiny chip in his tooth, had dragged on into a frustrating, bureaucratic, narrow minded, economical class disparity, western ideological, single-mom shaming, blatant disregard for the fragile development of a baby’s brain, ordeal. And despite all of my conscientious efforts it had brought us to the point of needing oral surgery. Willingly heading into a hospital during a pandemic was not my first choice, but I was very much looking forward to having the whole thing behind us. 

Our appointment was finally scheduled for the same hospital that Daniel was born in, pending a negative COVID test. I had been warned that the test would be extremely uncomfortable, as the cotton swab would have to be inserted far enough up the nasal passage that ancient Egyptian embalmers would be impressed. Lucky for us, this torture was conveniently set up in a drive-thru tent in SW Portland. I hadn’t remembered that Daniel’s Bio Dad lived a block away until we innocently drove right past. The already present knots in my stomach did a flip, and I made a mental note to give him a call about the move. Then I allowed myself 20 full seconds of a pity party that I had to face this steaming pile of challenges alone. 

A couple days later we rose before the sun to make our way the few blocks to the hospital. We waited our turn in a 6’ bubble for the COVID screening of questions and temperatures and, once we were checked in, we skipped the waiting area, and were led straight into a private room. Our shoes squeaked down the quiet brightly lit halls, and I wondered if it was timing or virus that had emptied them.

Daniel was being brave and sweet, instantly winning over the medical staff. I was strong and friendly too, until they wheeled him away and I was alone. Then I cried, feeling the helplessness that comes when there is nothing to do but wait. Thankfully the oral surgery went smoothly and my brave little boy was returned to me with two less teeth, two caps, two crowns and a sticky face from a grape popsicle in post op. I pulled him close, snuggling into his sweetness, the smell reminding me that my labor there had been fueled by endless sips of grape juice.

Once we returned home, Daniel’s recovery was almost instantaneous. The Tooth Fairy paid up and his smile was still just as contagious. With that finally behind us, I got to work on making a list: a game plan for sorting, packing, purging and tying up loose ends before our 3,000 mile move. I didn’t want to make Daniel feel unsettled by living in a sea of boxes and chaos, so we hatched a plan to move in with friends while I packed. First stop was to the home of Anissa and her daughter Cece.

Stay tuned for Door #3

10 Doors: Door #1

The Bend House

Continuation of 10 Doors: Threshold…

After 2 weeks of isolation and potty training, I emerged like a newborn fawn, shaky on my legs and timid to the world. But a plan had begun to form. First step was joining forces with a family in central Oregon. Somehow I mustered enough courage and packed up my little Honda with everything that could fit in the Fit. I buckled my toddler into his carseat, tucked somewhere between the crate of books and the perishables, stuck a cutting of my favorite houseplant in the cup holder and hit the gas for Mt. Hood Pass. We left without knowing when we would/could return. 

I was white-knuckling it from the second I grabbed the wheel. There was snow in the forecast for the mountain pass, plus rumors that I could be stopped by police for attempting to “travel”. I thought that I masked my anxiety well, but Daniel feels everything. “Careful, Momma,” his cute 2 year old voice chimed in from the backseat, warming and breaking my heart all at once. These must be particularly hard times for those that don’t understand why the world changed overnight.

160 miles later we arrived in Bend, Oregon, and at the First Door—panels of natural wood and fogged glass, opening up into the beautiful modern home of our friends Ida, Alex and little James. As they invited us in, our eyes sailed through the living room with high vaulted ceilings, passed the large open deck and beyond into an endless expanse of blue skies and fluffy tops of ponderosa pines. A joyous feast after quarantining in a North-facing ground level apartment. But even more than the view, it was the luxury of sharing in the stress of life during a pandemic. I felt like I could finally take a deep breath of fresh air. 

When you first meet someone, you never know where the twists and turns of life are going to take you. When Daniel was still an infant, and after all my helpful visitors had returned home, I sought out the camaraderie of local Mom’s Groups. I stumbled upon a post in our neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Group offering a free space for new moms to gather. When that afternoon arrived I rang the doorbell of a lovely family home and was invited into a living room bustling with moms and tiny babies, all of which would quickly become our friends. There was no way of predicting that the woman laying out along the couch, in a particularly lovely nursing dress, feeding her blond haired baby boy, would become one of the most significant people in our lives. 

Ida matched her baby, with the same sunny hair, rosy cheeks and hard-edged glint in the eye. Though you couldn’t tell by listening to her, she was born and raised in Sweden, married an ambitious American named Alex and settled down a long way from home. She spoke several languages effortlessly and always took special care to speak to her baby in Swedish so that he’d be fluent too. She introduced me to Elimination Communication and the Instant Pot and we took infant CPR and baby swim lessons together. 

Before the boys were even mobile we split our weeks trading them back and forth, giving us each a few hours of baby-free time. The two of them were always mistaken as twins in the double stroller, and we spent the good part of two years parenting along side each other. Little Daniel and I joined them for dinners, holidays and even a ladies’ soak in their hot tub while Alex watched the kids. 

They had been spending an increasing amount of time in their 2nd home in Bend the winter before the pandemic hit, so it wasn’t any surprise that they were now almost exclusively living out there. Ida and I had been talking about the challenges, fears and developmental concerns we had for our growing toddlers in isolation, and when she mentioned that there was plenty of room for us out there with them, we made the plan to move in. 

The 5 of us lived together for 2 months, though we were never sure if it would be for a week or a year. We planned out our month, as best we could, on a white board calendar, using 5 colors to accentuating holidays and divide up the responsibilities of childcare, cooking and cleanup. As we planned out our meals, Ida and I flipped through recipe books, getting excited about what delicious things we wanted to cook. We compiled a pretty hefty grocery list, and in trying to shop less often, we sometimes filled up two shopping carts.

When it was my turn to do the grocery shopping, I felt woefully unprepared. I pulled into the parking lot and chose a spot away from everyone else. Sitting in my car I took in several long breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I pulled my hair back and up into a big messy bun and slipped my hands into some surgical gloves. Another deep breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth. I pulled an N95 mask down into place and pinched the metal band to fit my nose. I caught my reflection in the rearview mirror and my eyes watered. There’s nothing like feeling as if you are risking your life just to get food. 

It felt like I hadn’t gone grocery shopping in years, certainly not since the pandemic started. It seemed silly to be scared, but the mask restricted my view, restricted my breath, and I felt my anxiety level increase. I grabbed a cart from the clean side, and slipped in through the sliding glass doors. 

I don’t know what I expected to find in there, but somehow I was shocked to discover a brightly lit, colorful, friendly grocery store with bountiful options. I gripped my shopping list and narrowed my focus to the mission: getting everything on the paper and getting out as quickly as possible. At the checkout counter the woman’s smile could be detected by a slight rise in her mask, as friendly wrinkles appeared beside her twinkling eyes. She asked me if I had found everything all right and I teared up under the enormity of a casual human exchange. I looked away with a, “Yes, thank you.” 

Arriving back at the Bend House the decontamination process began. We always washed everything that we brought into the house. And what couldn’t be washed was put into quarantine in the garage. I put my contaminated clothes in the washer and scrubbed every inch of my body, always hoping and praying that I had done everything right and hadn’t let the COVID leak in.

When we weren’t braving the outer world, we juggled the challenges of raising two toddler boys. Having been best buds practically since birth, their friendship took on a whole new level as roommates. They fought, fussed, played and loved each other like siblings. And, though a little more tactful, the three of us adults had our own conflicts to overcome. Those few rough moments tied us even closer together, a team against the turbulent world outside that door. 

It was on the expansive porch, overlooking the ponderosa pines, that I learned of my Bonus Dad, Leo’s, death. The blinding blue sky, and butterflies playing in the subtle breeze felt impossibly pleasant and I forgot the phone pressed up against my ear. Death steals from us what we hold precious above all else. But no damper can be put on love. In fact, in some ways it takes that love to another level, as our dead now speak inside us and through us, an intimacy that isn’t possible as two separate people in the turbulence of interpersonal communication. Leo and I had never been particularly close, but I know that he loved me like his own flesh and blood daughter, and since his death I’ve cried, laughed and felt his presence more clearly than when our complicated relationship was still malleable. He’s now with me daily, when before we’d easily go months without speaking. 

Being given the space and support to mourn his death, was one of the biggest gifts of our time in Bend. As April’s giant Pink Super Moon rested on the horizon, I was able to walk out the door alone, to fill the moonbeams with my tears without worry of scaring my child. The tenuousness of life never feels as precarious as it does when you’re tottering in a world where people are dying by the thousands, and one of your own is taken from you. What strikes me is our ability to compartmentalize and push forward into a new day, regardless. We are extremely resilient. 

Our society’s general disconnect between life and inevitable death, felt particularly obvious to me during the spring holiday season. I welcomed the levity of deviled eggs and haroset and set out a fun Easter basket of gifts for Daniel. It is Swedish Easter tradition to dress the children up like little witches with red round cheeks and a brown speckling of freckles. I found some wood glue in the garage and made the boys two little brooms to ride around on. We set the backyard up for an Easter egg hunt and the toddlers excitedly ran each bright plastic egg back to the basket upon discovery, finding more pleasure in the retrieval than what was inside them. 

As the weeks continued to pass, life at the Bend House was good and we felt lucky. My little budding extravert continued to grow (and pick up some more Swedish) because of the social stimulus. The fresh air and the companionship took some of the sting off of having to continually cancel big plans and plane tickets, as the pandemic continued to get worse instead of better. The hardest part was not being able to gather together with my family for a funeral. The US/CA border extended their closure. 

With everything shut down and canceled it was ridiculously strenuous trying to get Daniel the dental work that we had been told he needed days before COVID closed their doors. I had been calling for several weeks with no return call, before I finally got an actual human on the phone. She told me that they were booked out solid for several more months, but had I thought about having the procedure done at the hospital instead? The relief in finally being able to schedule his oral surgery hit me with a flood of emotions. The timeline for the next step in our journey had been decided for us. We would be returning to Portland for his appointment and then packing up our apartment for our big cross country move.

Once again I tetrised our belongings back into the Fit, leaving behind my plant cutting which now lived happily in a pot. We began our difficult goodbyes to three very important people. The sadness in leaving was comforted only by invaluable hugs. The preciousness and rarity of human contact during a pandemic can never be taken for granted. As we drove away I tried not to think about all the goodbyes ahead of me, all the friendships that couldn’t be punctuated with an embrace. Leaving Portland was going to be astronomically difficult. 

Stay tuned for Door #2: Our Portland Home

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