What am I doing?

It is -45 C and I am starting to feel trapped. I haven’t left the house – unless you count visits to the outhouse or to grab more wood, which at these temperatures are so quick that they hardly bear mentioning.

I haven’t left the house in 15 days. I haven’t showered in 15 days. We haven’t done laundry in 15 days … It drops into the low fifty-somethings at night, and while I have all the gear, the woollens, the fur and the thermal underwear to keep me warm, I haven’t left the house in 15 days because, along with all of this skookum gear, I also have a month-and-a-half-old baby.

What the hell am I doing and why do we live here?

We live in the bush. Not so far out, but far enough. In the summer we have to walk one-and-a-half kilometres, canoe across the Klondike River and then drive 15 minutes to reach Dawson.

Winter is easier: walk or snowmobile to the car, then drive to town. But when it’s very cold, the snowmobile won’t start, the car may not start when you get to it, and you’re not sure you can keep a baby warm – even with all the woollens. It seems wiser to just stay home and wait for the weather to break.

Those 15 days last winter were certainly not the first or the last time I have wondered why we live where we do. If mothers in downtown Toronto have a hard time fitting a shower in, why would I live in a cabin, in the middle of the woods, without running water – let alone a shower.

Do you know how many bodily fluids a parent encounters in the span of an average day? Even after the most-thorough sponge bath in a Rubbermaid container, I can’t help feeling that if I were to be placed under one of those blue lights, I’d be a Jackson Pollock of breast milk, spit-up and baby poo.

Some family members think I’m insane (some friends do too) – especially those who also have children. Their concerns are generally melodramatic (But how will you potty train her without a toilet!). However, I believe my challenges are much less dramatic: lots of kids throw a fit when you put them into a car seat, let alone when you put them into a backpack, then into a life jacket and then back into a car seat (luckily my daughter is a patient critter).

I experienced anxiety in the early days of Maggie’s life. I think this is normal. How can you be entirely at ease with such an all-consuming new experience that may also be augmented by the hormonal postpartum ride, which, while not talked about as often, can be as common and as debilitating as postpartum depression.

It is challenging enough to get yourself and your baby out the door when you live next to the grocery store. There were times when the trek to town – which meant getting the Maggie dressed, getting to the car and enduring all possible meltdowns that could occur along the way – seemed impossible. As a result, I had some seriously lonely moments – moments like those 15 days of -45 C when I felt trapped.

Where we live, the way we live, is not unusual here in the Yukon. There are lots of people with outhouses, lots of folks who live in the bush, and many of them have children. We may be unusual in comparison to folks down south, many of whom may not understand why we live where we do. But even with all of the trapped feelings and nerve-wracking moments alone with a baby, my year at home in the bush with Maggie has helped me understand why we live where we do.

In her first year, Maggie has seen more moose, wolves and porcupines than many have seen in their lifetime.

She waves at the great grey owl that lands on its favourite perch at dusk. And at 10 months old I could set Maggie down in a blueberry patch where she would pick berries and feed herself. And she loves wild cranberries.

We have space to grow and harvest our own food. We watch northern lights from our bedroom window. And even on -45 C days, there were far less difficulties in comparison to the 15 days that we spent together.

We could focus on the fact that we didn’t get to shower, we couldn’t go to work and we didn’t see other people for 15 days, but instead we were grateful that we had this opportunity, early on in our family life, to take it easy and to keep each other warm.

No matter where they live, I’m sure all new parents wonder what they are doing, feel ill-prepared or even wonder if they’re doing it all wrong.

At the end of the day, we all ask ourselves What am I doing? – regardless of how recently we’ve showered or how cold it is has been outside.

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