Read Part 1: How I wanted to be a fashion editor, then didn’t and Part 2: The Downward Spiral.
I hadn’t really lived on Salt Spring Island since I was 15 years old. Sure, I came back for summers in between school terms, and for a year or two here and there to save money, pay off student loans or regroup before setting out into the world again. But to permanently set up shop in a place where the main industries are tourism, construction and retirement required a comprehensive plan if we wanted to keep our careers going.
So, nearly three years ago, my Toronto-born-and-raised husband and I began laying the groundwork for the life that we’re now living in this isolated community of 10,000 souls.
He, like me, had been working as an editor in newsrooms around the city and was getting mighty tired of sporadic shifts that mostly saw him coming home well past midnight – especially during the bone-chilling winter months.
We had also started talking about the possibility of having a baby or two, and what our life with them would look like: My vision did not include cleaning soiled onesies in an apartment-building washing machine shared by 300 other people or heaving a grocery-and-baby-laden stroller up (and down) streetcar steps.
But, on our salaries, that was the level of city living we could afford.
And while moving to Salt Spring might have seemed like a drastic change, we would be far from the first to take the plunge. My British parents moved to this wooded-and-wild island, sandwiched between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, in the early ’70s (via Vancouver) because they wanted to give my older brothers and me the best chance of having an idyllic childhood. Still, it wasn’t without its risks.
Dad gave up a promising career with an architectural firm to branch out on his own (he’s gone on to win dozens of awards for his heritage restoration work), and Mom left a rewarding nursing job at the Vancouver Children’s Hospital to take on private midwifery clients and a 15-acre farm…. with a two-year-old son and another one on the way (plus, as it happened, a daughter five years later).
But despite the career setbacks, I think their gamble paid off.
I saw over a hundred animals being born on our farm (lambs, kittens, puppies, calves, foals, ducklings, chicks) and knew how to look after each of them; I began driving my dad’s big orange tractor the moment my feet could reach the brake pedal; I learned how to swim soon after I mastered walking, by throwing myself off the dock of our private pond into the warm, murky, tadpole-filled waters.
I am fully aware that many people see their own childhoods through rose-coloured glasses, and I know that I could never recreate what I’ve already lived through. But when we laid out my own formative memories against my husband’s urban-based, subway-and-bologna-sandwich-filled ones, it felt like his were missing a certain richness that only fresh air and tall trees could provide.
We began looking at the types of public service jobs available on the island (read: 9-5 with benefits) that would suit my husband’s skills (and potentially pay the bills), and landed on elementary school teacher — he’d been the head referee at one of Toronto’s largest youth soccer clubs for years and is a kid magnet.
He started taking prerequisite courses for his bachelor of education program (which would consequently be his third university degree) on his days “off” and later applied to two schools in B.C. and two in Toronto. I began looking for freelance projects that could be worked on remotely and decided to only take short-contract editing jobs, in case I got pregnant.
I didn’t, but another health situation presented itself to my family instead; my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Fit and full of energy, Dad’s regular test results had slipped through the cracks and by the time they had found the cancer, it couldn’t be operated on and he had to begin radiation instead.
In between story meetings about eye shadow and interviews with fashion designers on fall trends, I’d quietly find an empty boardroom to check in with family members about PSA levels and body-scan results. Sometimes it was good news, but there would always be the bad right there behind it.
The physical distance between myself, my parents on Salt Spring Island and my brothers in Vancouver weakened my ability to support them—and be supported by them. After a while it began to wear me down, and my commitment to a city-centric career started to wane…it just didn’t seem as important as what was happening back on the west coast.
But teachers’ college was going to be expensive and I had finally found a position as an online fashion editor that ticked all the boxes of my dream-job wish list (respected publication, talented team, good salary, fun content), so we agreed that if my husband got into school in Toronto, we’d stick it out for the length of his program and then reassess.
Once that decision had been made, we both felt a strange sense of relief (mingled with tinges of disappointment at our own airtight practicality): I could keep my career going on its upward path; he could freelance edit while he went to school; I could still hang with my crew of creative women who had become my surrogate sisters over the past seven years; we could continue the regular brunch date with our close-knit group of journalism-school friends; we could enjoy our stellar south-facing city view from our midtown apartment for a little longer; and my husband wouldn’t have to break his parents’ hearts by moving across the country.
But sometimes the universe has a way of circumventing your head (and your best-laid plans) and going straight for the heart. When the admissions letters began arriving in May earlier this year, we found out that despite positive feedback from entrance boards, my husband didn’t get into either Toronto school… but he did get into both B.C. ones.
So, that was that. As soon as he paid his deposit to a school on Vancouver Island, we began whirling into action. I had a very hard conversation with my editor-in-chief and we agreed on my summer end date. The husband let his newsroom contract run out and didn’t pursue a new one.
I Skyped my parents and they cried when I told them we needed to be picked up in Vancouver in two months’ time. He called his parents, and they cried too.
Six weeks later, with our eight boxes and four wheelie suitcases packed, Mom calls me and says that the cancer has spread to Dad’s spine. And while I had mentally cursed them before, all of sudden I found myself grateful to those Toronto admissions officers and the decision they made that had forced ours.
Next week: On country-living culture shock, the reality of the rat(trap) race, and the joys of renovations and never-ending caulk.
Emma Yardley is a freelance lifestyle editor and writer who has written for The Toronto Star, The Kit, Metro, 24 Hours, Huffington Post, StyleList Canada, iVillage and a bunch more. She recently moved into her grandmother’s ramshackle seaside cottage on Salt Spring Island with her patient husband and an unusually large collection of brown leather boots. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Facebook and Pinterest at @emmajmyardley.