Dear Friends

Letters home from Prince George.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dear Friends 20

Written: March 18, 2007
Published: March 20, 2007

Dear Friends,

Just when you think you’ve got the hang of this whole ‘living in Canada’ thing, along comes Valentine’s Day to spoil the illusion. I thought I knew how Valentine’s works; I buy a card and possibly some other things for Zoë, and that’s it. I vaguely remember the exchange of hand-made cards at school – it was always a time of great embarrassment for the socially awkward teenager – but since about 1981, there has only been one other person involved in my Valentine’s Days.

So, imagine my surprise when, just after Christmas, I saw a box of pink and red cards on sale at the local hardware store (hardware stores are more than just hardware stores, but that’s a whole tangent I haven’t got space for right now) . I looked twice – who on earth would need a box of 32 Valentine’s cards? Two or three I could understand – presumably that would be the teenage ‘covering all the bases’ market, but 32?

I thought little more of it until I came to buy my own card this year. I browsed the card section at the drug store (see comment about hardware stores above), and was confronted with a bewildering array of pink love tokens. ‘To my brother on Valentine’s’ read one. There was an entire section for ‘grandparents to grandchildren’, and – you may be ahead of me here – another for ‘grandchildren to grandparents’. I’m sure I saw cards for step-parents and sisters-in-law. Try sending a Valentine to your sister-in-law in Britain, I thought – those cards would have to be stocked next to the ‘sorry about your divorce’ ones (no, I’m kidding about those; at least, I think I am).

Conor came home from school with a half-remembered plan about making a card for one girl in his class. We thought this seemed like an excellent idea – pair the children off, so no-one gets left out. Oddly, he came home with a list of the whole class, but he seemed relatively clear that he was to make a card for one girl. Cameron had no specific instructions, and we presumed that Grade 4s were above such things. Conor put some effort into his card, and we felt sure that the girl in question would be pleased.

That night, the boys came home with backpacks bulging. They tipped them out on to the kitchen table. It seems that the idea was for them to give cards (and possibly candy) to all the other children in the class; they each came home with upwards of 20 other cards – from boys as well as girls – as well as a vast array of chocolate hearts. I’m not sure exactly what the message of Valentine’s Day is here – be nice to each other, I suppose – but it’s not the same declaration of romantic love as the one I grew up with.

So to the parents of all the other children in the boys’ classes, I apologise – we didn’t know. It’s not that our boys don’t like your children; it’s just that no-one told us. And particularly to the parents of one girl who came home with a lovingly crafted card about three times the size of all the others – we didn’t know!

So that’s one more thing to chalk up to experience, and in the last few days I have encountered another. We made great sport last year of the fact that Zoë had two Mother’s Days – one before we left the UK and one about two months later here. The corollary to this did not occur to me until last week, when I went to buy a Mother’s Day card for my mother. There is, of course, no such thing – not yet, at any rate. The boys and I spent ages scouring the racks for something appropriate, and I’m not sure we quite got it right – but I‘m sure the thought will be appreciated. So when we do get our own Mother’s Day, I’ll make sure I buy one for next year. Of course, I’ll put it somewhere so secure that I’ll never be able to find it ten months later, but – as I say – it’s the thought which counts.

And even calling up to wish her a happy Mother’s Day is fraught with difficulty now. For the best part of a year, we have been mentally calculating the 8 hour time difference. I still have to think about it, but it’s not too far from automatic now. And then, because the US decided to start daylight saving 3 weeks early, we are now in a mixed zone – I think I’m pretty certain that the difference is 7 hours until the end of the month, and that it’ll be 9 hours at the end of October – unless I’ve got that backwards. In any event, whenever I call, I’ll have got it wrong, and it’ll be the middle of dinner. Or supper, or whatever that meal is called now.

There’s a long explanation of why Canada’s daylight saving is decided in Washington, DC, but I’ll spare you that.

So, here I sit – still being confused by unexpected things, even though I am, at time of writing, only 3 weeks away from our first anniversary. We arrived in Prince George on April 4th last year, and it feels like about three weeks have passed since then. I know that the year is almost up, because I’m getting renewal notices for car insurance, and house insurance, and all the other things we bough in those first few weeks, but it can’t be.

When we arrived, there was still a little snow on the ground – I don’t know if this lot will shift in three weeks, but there’s still a lot of it out there – this morning, we awoke to another few inches, which has at least covered up the old, grit-filled, stuff. Once it’s gone – or mostly gone, I think we’ll know our first year is up. How do we feel now?

Ask me next time.