Toronto was my home for 12 years. Anyone who knows me is well aware that I continuously spouted the virtues of city life whenever I got the chance. Though most of our friends opted for more northern parts of the GTA, Sharon and I were happy to plant ourselves smack inside the smog and asphalt of downtown. We loved everything about it. I could grab a greasy breakfast pretty much next door, and the movie theater was a stumble down Queen St. across from the Italian Bistro we frequented. Whenever we wanted to blow off a little steam or imbibe some inebriants we could take the 10-minute streetcar ride to the dead center of the city and indulge until the TTC plopped us back in front of our house at 2 AM. We only needed the one car, and even that was used just to get me back and forth to work because Sharon worked on the transit line. People were continuously pointing out the noise, the traffic, and the vagrancy, but we either didn’t notice or didn’t care. It all blissfully blended into the living city for us, and that was the life we wanted.
And then came Carey.
I think that deep down somewhere we both knew that eventually we’d have to re-think the whole city thing when offspring entered the picture. That time came when Carey started walking and we became convinced that he’d soon open the front door and take the 5 toddler steps to the middle of Greenwood Ave. Though we knew that we had to do something, Sharon and I still shuddered at the drastic step of setting up the white picket fence somewhere north of Eglinton. I’m not quite sure why. Something in our childhood or journey to adulthood or whatever portrayed the suburbs as the FINAL COMPROMISE, the official signal that the Death of Youth was upon us and it was time to start trimming nose hairs and drinking iron supplements. This we didn’t want. Not yet anyway. So we looked for a place that would give us the added element of safety for our kid and not take away the convenience and excitement of downtown. Oh yeah, and I didn’t want give the bank my left testicle to mortgage the thing, either – a substantial request with the Toronto real estate market the way it was.
So we found a bargain in the Upper Beach on a nice quiet street off the Danforth, and we completely horrified our friends and family by moving from a detached home to a semi, giving up our backyard and private parking for a deck and finished basement. To us, this made complete sense – we were moving to a more desirable location, and you’re going to make some compromises. The new house had about the same square footage, but much, much more usable space for Carey to run around screaming. As well, the utilities were in better condition and the parking was directly behind the house instead of half a block away. On the other hand, there was virtually no closet or storage space of any kind, the roof was quietly decaying, and the water pressure closely resembled the prostate of a 100-year-old man. Hindsight being what it is, I still think we would have made the move based solely on the neighbourhood – the people were absolutely delightful and the conveniences were even better than those by our former home. Our commitment to city living was reinforced and we were at peace with the compromises we made. Our little urban home was the perfect size for our little family and we were finally comfortable again with our new setup.
And then came Sophie.
Bless her heart, that cute little precious bubble of mirth threw the proverbial wrench into our idyllic situation. Making room for a baby was no problem – we were well prepared for that. It’s making room for her inevitable entourage of crap that provided the conundrum. We suddenly had to accommodate a bassinette, a swing, diaper basket, bouncy seat, high chair, and stroller in our small main living area. The basement that had provided a conservative play area until this point now had to hold twice as many toys – apparently an infant and a 3.5-year-old cannot share playthings unless you particularly enjoy pulling Lego from a small esophagus twice daily, which I don’t. And the clothes – holy crap the clothes – everyone in the Western Hemisphere who had given birth to a female in the past century sent us their baby-wear. Sharon worked feverishly into the night sorting one-piece button-ups while the backyard deck we loved so much began to resemble the loading dock at Baby Central. And don’t forget – this was the beginning of January, so if (God forbid) we needed to grab something from outside our available stock, we were stepping outside to search through boxes at –15 Celsius. In spite of our deft organizational capabilities, we were drowning in a profound cornucopia of children’s paraphernalia, and the piles were getting deeper by the day.
So this takes us to January 9th, 2002, where we sat having dinner with my mom and stepfather, regaling them with tales of our square-foot challenges at home. Mom eagerly took this opportunity (as she always did) to espouse the glories of Whitby living, and we responded (as we always did) with our usual chorus of “We’re not moving out of the city”. She went a little further this time, however, letting us know about one of the newer developments in Whitby that had listed good size, 3-bedroom homes for under $160K. Sharon and I laughed out loud. Surely Mom had misunderstood the sales propaganda – the only thing you can find in the GTA for that price is a one-bedroom wartime bungalow with no roof and a family of foxes living in the cellar. But our interest had been piqued, albeit slightly and skeptically, and when we got home, we casually surfed REALTOR.COM for residences in Whitby. That search was the beginning of the end of our city life.
No sooner had we logged on and entered the price range we were willing to spend when hundreds of listings appeared on our screen. We were astounded. The exact same search in Toronto resulted in 15 listings, all of which required a gun permit and roach killer for residency. In Whitby, we were looking at homes with 4 bedrooms, ensuite bathrooms, in-ground pools, saunas and whirlpools, huge eat-in kitchens – the list of amenities was endless and all within our price range. Sharon and I looked at each other and then back at the flickering screen. The choice was unbelievable, but were we really considering this? Did we really need to move so soon after buying a house? Did we need to move out of our beloved Toronto, or were we just overreacting to our space crisis?
The search itself provided us with the hard-to-reconcile truth. During our previous house searches, we were focused on the proximity to entertainment and our respective offices, as well as older homes with character and charm. Now our searches were aimed at proximity to schools, newer homes, large yards, and huge finished basements, far away from main thoroughfares. Like it or not, our needs had done a complete 180 on us, and we had to resign ourselves to the fact that our fiscal situation would never provide us in Toronto what we could get in Whitby, and it would border on selfishness to deprive our children of wide open spaces and relatively fresh air for one moment longer. The next morning, January 10th, I called uber-realtor Wayne Kahn and got the ball rolling.
A week later, our Stephenson home was listed. A day and a half after that, it was sold. Two days later, we had a beautiful new home in Whitby, and 2.5 months after that, we moved there. Remembering the blur still gives me a headache.
How do we like living in Whitby? Let me summarize it like this: About a week after we moved, Toronto Council upped city taxes 5 percent for the second time in a year. A full ban of cars on downtown streets began serious discussion in May. At the end of June, the quaint urban street on which we used to live was turned into a huge, smelly pile of decomposing crap by striking garbage collectors, and striking city workers effectively shut down day camps, pools, and parks during the worst heat wave in recent memory. You’re freaking right we like it in Whitby.
OK, I should temper that by saying that it took Sharon a little longer to get into it. Being raised in Thornhill, adjusting to suburban life was just a matter of recollection for me. I actually found the relative quiet and noticeably fresher air a welcome change. Sharon just found it oddly disturbing. Where she was used to walking outside and being plunged into the bustle of our neighbours and neighbourhood, she was now being completely overwhelmed by the silence during the day. There didn’t seem to be anyone around between 9 and 5, and as citified mom, she found the isolation rather depressing to say the least. So the writing was on the wall for the final nail in the urban coffin – a second car, and even more horrifying, a minivan. Welcome our previously enjoyed Ford Aerostar. Now Sharon gracefully participates in what she calls the “suburban ballet” – columns of moms driving huge vans dropping off and picking up their kids at day camp and soon school. Being mobile made a huge difference and she now is really getting into the scene, what with swimming, parks, shopping etc., all within a short van ride.
So, in conclusion, it seems that everything seems is running peculiarly smoothly here for the time being. Although, I have to admit, I’ve been thinking lately about how nice it would be to live right on the water, in a nice cottage surrounded by trees, way out in the middle of nowhere.