We’re on the children’s train riding through the forest in Stanley Park, a massive piece of public land in the middle of Vancouver, British Columbia. My Mama’s Boy, at three months, is the youngest one on board. While the older children on the train — toddlers and school-age girls and boys — take in the lush surroundings and bask in the cool damp air, my son cries, nurses, and naps. But Neil and I are in heaven. This is the second-last day of our ten-day visit to Vancouver, and we’ve made a decision. We’re moving from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the United States to Canada, from urban life to a different kind of urban life, one where nature will (we hope) be front and center.
Let me backtrack. Months ago, when I was pregnant with M.B., my husband Neil — a sociologist — heard about an opening in his specialty at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. This is where our friend Emily was raised, a place she and her husband Julian rated one of their favorite cities in the world, so they urged Neil to apply for the job. He was offered it, with tenure, and soon we had a decision to make: return to Boston after Neil’s sabbatical year, or take a chance at making a life for ourselves, and a permanent home, in this new and faraway place.
While Neil wrestled with career concerns, I pictured the life I’d imagined versus the new sort of life we might lead in Vancouver. Just as I always thought I’d have a daughter, I always (not so secretly) believed I’d end up back in New York City, a train ride from the suburbs where I grew up, in the place that had formed me as a young adult living on my own after college. Marrying an academic with limited job mobility (there are only so many schools in a given city) didn’t faze me. I was the Don Quixote of trailing spouses. As a writer, I can work anywhere I can plug in my laptop. And Neil, over the past few years, has gotten job offers in enough cities to fill a travel shelf in the bookstore: Austin, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cambridge. Why not New York City? I thought I had my life mapped out, including the beautiful girl we’d adopt from India and the home we’d make in New York City. But, as my therapist told me years ago, “You don’t even know what amazing, unexpected things may be in your future.” And so here I am in the middle of a forest, my baby boy strapped to my shoulders, my c-section scar still sore beneath my jeans, about to move coasts and countries.
After the train pulls in and drops us off, we go for a walk in the park, circling a small lake ringed with impossibly tall, thick trees. We talk about what we’d each be giving up by moving to this new city. Many of my oldest and closest friends live in the Northeast. And while I can write anywhere, I wonder what it will mean for me to permanently leave behind the places that haunted and inspired me from my childhood and adolescence. The thought of starting over again exhausts me — Neil and I have lived in four different states during our eight-year courtship and marriage. But we have so much to gain from this move. I’ve been offered a class to teach in the creative writing department at UBC. We’ve already found a neighborhood where we might want to live. But most important of all is our boy. Would he like it here? We look around, marveling at the lake and the trees and the birds showing off their wingspans overhead. We talk about the incredible childcare center and nursery school at the university, with ample space to play, a four-to-one ratio of teachers to students, and green space galore. We imagine walks we’ll take by the seawall, mountains we’ll hike, ferries we’ll ride, and summer vacations we’ll spend on rugged Vancouver Island. I picture M.B. in sixteen or seventeen years, grabbing his snowboard and taking a bus to the snow. And let’s not forget the diversity of the city, the international feel, the amazing foods (the salmon! the sushi! the Indian food!) and, most of all, the easy, everyday access to nature.
I’m sure if the right job had come up, my Mama’s Boy would find just as much wonder in the subways of New York City as in the rainforests of B.C. Perhaps it’s more for me than him that I am excited about French immersion public schools and summer days at the public swimming pools by English Bay. The main thing, I think, is knowing that we’ll be together, that my two best friends, my guys (not to mention our faithful dog Salem), are going to be by my side as we cross the continent on our next big adventure.