The small room in our rent house that Bride #1 used as an office had no door, and the landlord had no explanation, or solution. I lovingly installed a curtain in place of a door so she had the illusion of privacy, and silence. An actual door would have been helpful as I led the COVID version of school each day at the nearby dining room table. Like everyone, we struggled with the myriad of websites and resources the various teachers employed. I don’t know how many times passwords were reset in those early weeks, but I know there wasn’t a lot of learning. There were, instead, regular melt-downs with many harsh words directed at yours truly (Bride #1 would eventually emerge and restore order as only she can). I tried to jazz things up with experiments like how to re-wire an outlet, and the power of a lever (shout out to Archimedes). It was a tough crowd.
Thing #1 decided that he needed exactly none of this and took himself upstairs to his room for self-study which, to his credit, he mostly pulled off. That left me mano-a-mano with Thing #2 in the pressure cooker that was our dining room. I soon decided that at least some of the almost-learning needed to take place outside. The solution: the purchase of a used, sixteen-foot battleship of a canoe which we would wheel down the street to the beach.
The canoe became our daily math problem. Thing #2 weighed 90 pounds. I was a multiple of this amount (still am). Distributing these wildly different weights along the axis of a tippy, sixteen foot canoe would make even Archimedes reach for a calculator.
Our first few outings, using the crab trap we’d been dragging around for years, went off amazingly well. Thing #1 was invited every time but had no interest in paddling, or being confined to a canoe that also contained Thing #2. I did manage to sucker our friend (the one I originally met in Nicaragua) to come out with us one day. His eyes widened and grip tightened as Thing #2 scrambled and jumped around, pushing us to the point of tipping at regular intervals. After we set the traps and beached on a nearby island, our friend (who I’ll call Crusty) let out a stream of profanity that ended with the declaration that he’d rather swim home than get back in the canoe.
Crusty’s words were prophetic. In our next outing, with Thing #2 riding quite high in the bow, paddling air (his decision in terms of positing) we were struck by a wave and flipped into the water. His head popped out of the water, eyes as big as saucers. I think he finally understood why Crusty hadn’t been a big fan of falling into the 50 degree water (10 degrees for most of the world).
I remedied this situation by putting together a customized set of outriggers which defied any of Thing #2’s attempts to flip us. The outriggers were soon joined by an electric trolling motor and we became the talk of the beach. Lugging big green, especially now with a motor and battery, down the street and across the sand became a bit of a chore. Others (mainly Bride #1) expressed an interest in the water but were less keen on the labor needed to get the canoe to it. There were also doubts, some valid, expressed regarding our seamanship. So, I sold the canoe for a tidy profit and invested in kayaks. If Thing #2 decided to stand on one end of his kayak, which he did, it was only his problem. Life was good.
With COVID restrictions firmly in place, and with the walls of our house closing in, we expanded our scope to include trails, parks and anything else we could find in the great outdoors. This proved to be a challenge as everyone else in BC was just as stir-crazy as we were (as were the pesky Albertans before the ban on interprovincial travel came into effect). Campgrounds, when you could get in, were akin to parking lots. Thing #2 and I found a way around all of this by taking a rental car down a series of logging roads and, eventually, four-wheeler trails until we emerged on our own private beach. We stayed for four full days, playing with fire and fishing the kelp beds. The spines from the fish proved to be the end of the inflatable kayak we’d brought along, but it was given a semi-Viking funeral (with the remains taken to the dump on the way home).
Meanwhile, my bride discovered a not-so-fun wrinkle in her legal studies. She had already passed several of the Canadian mini-bar exams, but learned that all non-Canadian lawyers were also required to serve as what amounts to a six-month internship for a Canadian law firm. A quick check of the small number of law firms on the island revealed that the there were few, if any, large enough that they could support (or would want) an intern. Pursuing her law license meant that she would have to move to Vancouver for six months once her graduate program ended. Finding a job as a lawyer thereafter would also be greatly aided by a permanent move to Vancouver, which none of us wanted. After a fair amount of hand-wringing, the quest to become a Canadian attorney was defeated by this quirk of Canadian law, which, per the Canadian lawyers we spoke with, was exactly what was intended.
Canada uses a points-based system for residency and I, with my wealth of experience in finance and retirement plans specific to US law, even with my heroic duties as headmaster thrown in, didn’t move the needle. What mattered was a graduate degree from a Canadian University, which my bride would soon (hopefully) have. That, and a full-time job (but not as a lawyer). When we recounted this saga to one of our friends in the provincial government, she said that a part-time research position she’d just posted had over 300 applicants — most with an advanced degree (or three) and many with prior experience in a related position. That proved to be the same for any positions posted in Victoria.
We needed residency so we could stay in Canada and, maybe, buy a house without having to pay the twenty percent foreign buyer’s tax. That’s right — a 20% tax on the final price of the home for foreign buyers. That tax was insult on injury as prices had already risen thirty percent since our arrival. A tear down house, such as either we had rented, would easily fetch a million plus. An actual house that you would want to live in was a whole different story. Decent houses in our area had bidding wars that often ended with a final price of around two million. Nice houses – dare I say character houses – were fetching in excess of three million CAD.
It grew harder and harder to see how would could ever stay long-term. I tested the job market via a head hunter and soon had multiple interviews lined up with financial firms. A job for me might not get us residency, but could, perhaps, help us afford a house with a mortgage that I could leave to Things #1 and #2 to sort out once I was gone. Just after I finished cleaning up my C.V., the headhunter, a bit sheepish, called back and said everything was cancelled. No Canadian employers wanted to hire anyone who wasn’t already a permanent resident. The C.V. and it’s creative grasp of reality went back into the drawer.
There were some bright spots during the lockdown. Tracey and some of her classmates escaped the doldrums with hikes. Schools welcomed students back in the fall of 2020, full-time for Thing #2 and part-time for Thing #1. Thing #2 suddenly had a core group of friends that enjoyed mischief almost as much as him. I am guilty of helping this along by participating in the construction of homemade rockets. A little potassium nitrate and some powdered sugar goes a long way. No, not everything I do is perfect.
Health-wise, I was finally diagnosed with post thrombotic disorder, which in layman’s terms means the veins in my right leg are permanently damaged from the clots that I was gifted by the cancer (that’s the working theory). The good news is that I now know why the dark spells happen and can do my best to work around them. Nobody leaves here without singing a little blues, but our mission to get me squared away was complete. I was as good as I was going to get, now it was time to figure out what we were going to do with ourselves.