The Importance of the Bathroom Box

When I moved to Kingston, I was 35, and I’d never lived anywhere else.

Yeah, I’d had a previous address in a different part of the province when I was a kid. But I’d moved up to Kitchener when I was 12, and my formative years were spent in the tricities, calling them home, planting roots, having my children and never having lived anywhere else.

I guess when I run, I run. I Forrest-run.

I’d spent much of my time in Kitchener translating my adult life from one of sheer poverty to gaining a foothold. I’d gone back to school (three times, if we’re being technical, but the second time, it was to go back and finish what I’d previously started). I’d successfully gotten myself out of Geared-to-Income Housing (albeit, prematurely, and fresh full of new obstacles and challenges). And I started a company I ultimately closed, I started a magazine that saw as much praise as it did hate mail. I had as many volunteers as I did enemies. I interviewed dozens and dozens of bands, musicians, artists, celebrities. I had a TV show, and online zines. And lots of ideas.

And yet, I moved to Kingston when I was 35.

A fistful of personal problems stacked the odds against me, and that gave way to the final push to leave Kitchener for good. (The hangman’s noose being a jacked up propane bill that threatened to suffocate any extra money I might have coming into the over-sized house I could no longer afford. No one should spend in excess of four hundred dollars per month on one utility bill alone. Just sayin’.)

What was keeping me in Kitchener? If not a husband, or a home, or a job, or friendships. Clearly, it was the kids. And now came the hardest decision of them all. At ages 16, 14, and 11, could I leave? What would it mean to them? What sort of detriment was I doing to them? What would my decision to move four hours away cost them in the long run?

The battle raged forward.

The decision to leave and to start a life here didn’t come lightly, or over a couple of weeks. It took an emotional toll on my life; months in the making before I left for good. The first nattering of the notion came about July. I moved in November.

Why did I feel confident to leave at all? The answer is an unequivocal – I didn’t. But I weighed out all the options. At the time the decision was finally clear to move, it was because I’d been working every evening, and nearly every weekend. My only day off was sometimes Sunday. My children would hop on a school bus, and I’d leave them with their father’s every week night while I went to work. And because I was paying an astronomical amount of money in rent and bills at a farmhouse I was trying to carry on, I was working a day job, and a weekend job plus a weekly Friday night gig to keep food on the table.

In short – my children were living nearly 90% with their father’s. 

Once I’d accepted that, moving made even more sense. I was going to be able to have full weekends with the kids again. I’d be coming back. I’d be bringing them to Kingston. They’d do weeks here, summers here, March breaks here. And I’d see them often. Maybe even more often than I actually was when I lived nearest to them.

What’s harder than living four hours away? Living ten minutes away and explaining why you still can’t see them.

And as I calculated and calibrated the move, wrapped and taped the boxes; as I swept out the particles of my past life from basement corners and living room window sills, I wept longer and harder than I ever had from anything that came previous in my sphere. I waged a fighting war against my fears and inhibitions; I battle yelled against my guilt What was I doing? Was this what I should be doing?

I justified, and cried. I explained, and sobbed. I validated, and bawled. I defended against the naysayers: “Oh, you’re going without the kids? I’m sorry”, to “you’re abandoning your children”, and “they need their mother”.

Yes, my children needed their mother. And I was going to Kingston to find her. I was no longer going to be a ran-ragged, shame-ridden single mother working three (four, five, six jobs) to put bread on the table. I couldn’t walk through certain venue doors without feeling like the world was staring at me. I could no longer carry around the excess baggage of failure that followed me into my adult life. I had to let it go. And I was leaving to ensure my emotional survival. I was going with the blessing  and confidence of my children and their fathers, stepmothers and extended families. And who the hell else should receive a say after that?

I was told by a friend to prepare myself for the tidal wave of grief that was going to engulf my heart on the first night in Kingston. I was advised to brace myself against the emotional tsunami; the one salivating to baptize me in an ocean of guilt. The words lingered in my mind, like dripping candle wax waiting to extinguish the light of my path. How badly was I going to feel when I arrived in a new town, a new apartment, alone? 

When I brought in my bags, and began to unwrap boxes, something dawned on me. I looked around – I had my purse, and my clothes, my extra food items from the cupboard. Many of the major items were left to be shipped up from Kitchener by month’s end. But for now, I had the basics. Didn’t I?

I discovered I was missing the elusive bathroom box. The one with the deodorant, and toothbrushes, and shampoos, conditioners, tampons, and toothpaste. The expensive makeup pallets, and body washes, loofas, and razors. <Insert expletive>

On a first day in town, with barely an extra dime, I headed to the local dollar shop to pick up even the most minor and essential toiletry items I could think of. A sad eye pencil. A two tone pallet. Mini toothpaste – tooth brush … toothbrush? TOOTHBRUSH? I needed a toothbrush. Emphasis on “a”. I needed a toothbrush; singular. I only needed one. 

Not four. One for Mommy. Just Mommy. I didn’t have to buy the kids’ toothbrushes.

That’s when the dam broke free. That’s when I heaved into tears. Standing in the dollar store aisle, looking over cheaply made toothbrushes and holders, I poured my grief into a basket of trinkets. And I cried.

I cried for Kid A, and her sixteen year old, high school, cheerleading heart.

I cried for Kid B, and his first year at secondary school, navigating a new world.

I cried for Kid C, and her first go at being a tween, with the changes that were knocking on her child-like door.

I cried for Kitchener, and my former company, and my ex-friends, my ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends and roommates. I cried for my Mom, and my old toiletries box that was sitting on the floor of my ex-house, in my ex-city, somewhere four hours away.

I think back now about the tears I cried that day in that aisle, in that store, more than two years ago. And I think about how I conquered that day, and the next day, and the days that followed. How I wiped up those tears on dollar store napkins and tissues and lived to see the inside of another day. How the kids bring their own toothbrushes to Kingston, and every time I do, a part of me smiles because even the most minute of moments can be tiny reminders of victories, despite what the outside world perceives, or thinks they know.

My children are well-rounded, intelligent young people being raised by different parents, in different cities, in different ways. But in all things, in all purposes, they are becoming humans that we’re proud of, and proud that our parenting of them excelled while exceeding the stereotypical way of “getting it done”. Their dads, and myself fought hard against to the grain to overcome the way society told us that we had to parent. And we carved paths that championed not only the way our children were going to turn out, but how it shaped the people we are as parents. Their dads and I determined what was the best outcome for these kids, based on the situation that presented itself.

I came to Kingston. They come to Kingston. I came from Kitchener. And I go to Kitchener. And what’s left of our relationship is spent on Insta calls, and text messages, and daily reminders of how much Mama loves them, and how excited they are to see me the next holiday, visit or trip.

Unconventional, or not – the only people who know what’s best for your children are you and your spouse. Don’t forget that.

And don’t forget the bathroom box.

— c ☆


One Comment Add yours

  1. brendaratcliffe says:

    You are their mama and I am sure in their eyes they see a strong mama, who loved her kids but did what she did to survive. They are just as proud of you as you them you taught them to be strong and how to fight.❤️🌹

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