Praise for Two Roads Home

“As propulsive as a thriller, with characters so real they draw blood, this is a powerful novel that never lets up.”

-Steven Price, author of By Gaslight

“Two Roads Home is an elegantly crafted, nuanced work that reveals how we stretch our bonds, and sometimes betray them, to belong, matter or survive.”

-Shauna Singh Baldwin, author of What the Body Remembers and Tiger Claw

My Family Stories

The stories below originally appeared in Island Parent Magazine.

When kids get to a certain age they start quitting—they drop music lessons, sports, extracurricular activities. It happens around grade six or seven, and I know this because that's when our oldest daughter stopped running cross country, quit the school band and stopped playing softball. She tried to quit piano too, but by then my wife and I had caught on and insisted she continue.

Our other two girls are now reaching that same age and so my wife and I are vigilant. Just as school started this year, we sat each of our three girls down for a brief talk about the sports and extra curricular activities they were going to do this year. We pulled them aside, one after the other, closed the family room door for some privacy and discussed what each wanted to do this year.

Along with hip-hop, cross-country, piano and swimming, our nine year old, Vivian, told us that she wanted to play basketball. This was a surprise because after the Women's World Cup, she'd become obsessed with Hope Solo and I'd imagined she'd want to play soccer—almost every day throughout the summer, she'd pulled me into the back yard the moment I came home from work and I'd take shots on her using a make shift goal we'd set up. When it came time to choose though, she wanted basketball.

My wife had tried to get Vivian into night league basketball last year, but it's not the easiest sport to join. We weren't able to simply register online or contact someone to get assigned a team, we had to find a team on your own. It felt like some kind of secret society where you have to know someone to get in. We phoned and emailed, we contacted the league, contacted coaches but last year all the teams seemed to be full and Vivian didn't get to play.

This year, we started early. My wife made a few phone calls, and soon enough Viv was on a team, but that team never got enough players. They ended up folding into another team which was going to practice a half hour drive away. My wife started again, a campaign this time--emails and phone calls until we found a second team. They'd already set their practice schedule: 3 o'clock on Wednesdays at a gym ten minutes drive from Vivian's school. Unfortunately, none of Viv's classmates wanted to join which meant we had no carpool options. It also meant Vivian wouldn't have any friends on the team, but she'd been out dribbling a basketball at night and we'd made a big deal of insisting our kids each play a team sport this fall. I asked if she'd consider soccer. She said no, she wanted to play basketball. We signed her up.

On the days I have to take Vivian to practice, I leave my office for a late lunch, hop on my bike, ride home, pick up the car, collect Vivian, drop her at Oaklands School, return the car so my wife can get it to pick her up, jump back on my bike and peddle into to work about an hour later. It's one of those juggling acts that's become common in our world of highly organized play.

Fortunately, Vivian's loving basketball—she loves her team mates, she loves her coach and she loves the game. So far she's scored one basket and her team's won one game, but the best part of any game I've seen had nothing to do with either of these things. Last week after Viv finished one of her shifts, she ran around the side of the court, came over, hugged her older sister, her mother and then me and without a word ran back over to the bench to wait for her next shift.

I've watched all three of our kids play a lot of sports over the years, but that's the first time anyone's stopped mid-game to give out hugs. Maybe there's something different about basketball.
Our middle daughter Tessa went on a week long school trip to Quebec last month. There were about forty kids in the group and the airport was crowded the morning they left--the whole departure area packed with parents and siblings up early to see the kids off.

It's always lonely to return to a house with one less child. We still had our two other girls at home, but Tessa left a gap in the family--one less place setting at dinner, one less voice in the conversation, one less child sprawled on the floor doing homework. It was a taste of what it’ll be like when our kids start leaving for real, and I’ll be completely honest here: it’s a future that frightens me. It's not just that I don't want to be getting older, it's the thought of losing this phase of life I’ve loved so much: having a crowd of kids in the house, a boisterous and busy family life, and of course being needed by my children.

Our oldest daughter Evelyn is in grade eleven now and is determined to go away for University. I tell her that's fine with me, and on one level it is, but I can already feel in my bones just how much I’ll miss her, even though in many ways I know she's already grown up and ready for life.

Last year on my way home from a business trip, the taxi parked half in our drive to drop me off. While I dug around for a credit card, a woman turned the corner and headed our way, and I felt bad that we were blocking her path. Then I realized it was Evelyn, my own sixteen year old daughter. For a moment there I'd seen her as anyone else might—a woman walking down the street—and I knew that adulthood is just around the corner for her.

This week with Tessa in Quebec, I found myself standing in front of the house with a neighbour telling this story, and talking about how quickly this magical time is over. Plenty of people warned me about how short this phase of life would seem. When our kids were really young, strangers used to stop us to say enjoy it: this time goes quick. We were on our own raising kids, no grandparents in town to help and sometimes that sort of advice was hard to hear. There were days it felt like I was bent double under the strain of three young children. What I wanted most back then was an hour or two to myself. The best birthday present was a babysitter so my wife and I could go out just the two of us. For Father's Day I wanted a little time to write or to read.

That equation flipped pretty quickly. Once all the kids were in school, life was easier and time to myself wasn't so important. More recently the equation shifted again: What’s special now is spending time with my kids. For the past few years, my wish for Fathers Day has been to go out for a meal with each of my daughters, breakfast with one, lunch with another, dinner with the third. These days I'm wishing time would slow down, wanting more of exactly what I have now.

Maybe Tessa's trip to Quebec, and our week without her, was practice--a chance for my wife and I to get ready for life with fewer bodies in the house. Without a doubt it was also a reminder: enjoy what you have now to it’s fullest because it’s not going to last. Which is exactly the advice strangers used to give me back when I was toting around babies and toddlers.

Looking back at how my wife and I have been raising our three daughters, at least a part of me seems to be attempting to recreate the best of my own childhood. That's likely part of the reason I forced our fourteen year old daughter on a fifteen day canoe and kayak trip in Northern Ontario this summer. When I was fourteen, I went on a similar trip--two weeks in Algonquin Park with a program called Outreach. While I wouldn't say I enjoyed it, I certainly learned a lot. I grew and matured. It was good for me.

Raising three daughters, I sometimes fear we're allowing a princess kind of a childhood—too much time at the mall, not enough dirt under their fingernails; more concerned about appearance than adventure; more time spent on Facebook than in front of campfires. And so when our eldest daughter Evelyn turned fourteen, we suggested she go on a canoe trip with Outreach. We wanted her to know what it is to go camping--not glamping or car camping, but real, out-in-the-wilderness, no-cell-phone-reception camping. Two weeks in the wilderness to learn about canoeing, kayaking and outdoor life seemed a great opportunity.

Evelyn on the other hand wanted nothing to do with this, and for almost a year, we had endless arguments about it. Even when Evelyn learned that her cousin from Germany would go if she went, she still refused. My wife and I didn't give up. We worked away at her. My parents worked away at her. Even my brother wrote her an email about how important it is to try different things and challenge yourself. Our campaign to convince Evelyn lasted for months, but she steadfastly refused.

Over the past fourteen years of parenting, I've learned the difference between offering a reward and giving a bribe. A bribe is when you want the kids to do something for your benefit—like paying the kids to give you a back massage. A reward is when you're encouraging them to do something difficult that is for themselves—like going on a wilderness canoe trip.
With this in mind, my wife and I suggested we contribute some money towards the new iPhone Evelyn wanted, and last winter, she and her cousin signed up and booked tickets to travel to Ontario where they'd stay with my parents while they did pre-trip training.

Up until the very day Evelyn flew to Ontario, in fact beyond that and through the first days of training in Kingston, Evelyn still insisted that she didn't want to go. My wife and I talked to her on the phone every day and did our best to reassure her. In each of those conversations we hoped to detect some part of her that was looking forward to the experience--even if she mostly didn't want to go, surely deep inside some aspect of the trip excited her. If it existed, we never found it. In those phone calls what we most heard was dread.

Almost every day while Evelyn was in Kingston we talked by phone, and then it was radio silence while she went canoeing in Killarney Provincial Park and kayaking around Georgian Bay.
Our house seemed a little quiet with one less kid. Every evening we discussed what Evelyn might be doing, we checked the weather and even went camping ourselves just to share a bit of the experience. Throughout, both her sisters missed her--one night our youngest daughter burst into tears when we started talking about Evelyn.

One of those evenings we had friends over for dinner. At this point, everyone knew of Evelyn's trip, and just about every parent we talked to loved the idea. Half way into dinner, our friend Jon said he'd bet ten dollars that within a year Evelyn would say she wanted to go again next year.

I opened my wallet, pulled out a ten dollar bill and set it behind a porcelain dish for safe keeping. “I'll keep this here for a year and it's yours if she says she wants to go again. Believe me, there's nothing I'd like more than for you to win this money.”
Evelyn's trip, of course, was fine. By day two she was friends with everyone in her group. She and her cousin had a great time together--though they were the least experienced paddlers in the group. Once they needed someone to tow their double kayak to catch up, once in a while they fell behind on a portage. Evelyn got about sixty mosquito bites, but she survived. It's now a month later and while Evelyn firmly says she never wants to go again, by phone, just hours after her return, she did thank me for making her go.

Hearing that was almost as good as hearing that she wanted to go again, but I don't think I owe Jon the ten dollars.