Life is one big gamble. Find a soul mate, choose a career path, make friends, follow your dreams… in theory. In fact, along the way, you will probably sleep with the wrong guy (a Nickelback fan, for instance), work for the boss-from-hell and realize that you probably won’t become a pop star.
C’est la vie, French shrug, as North Americans grab a suitable self-help book.
We’ve all experienced a few “what the hell was I thinking” moments, times were you were convinced you could totally make it work, no matter how far stretched the idea was.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Here are three of my fairly recent “what the hell was I thinking?” moments. Let’s get them off my chest…
Working in Canada without a visa
I first came to Canada under a visitor status, which is a six-month allowed stay during which you are supposed to be a tourist and do touristy stuff, like drinking maple syrup, marvelling at the lovely snowy scenery and buying Root clothing at factory outlets.
Except that I wasn’t touring the country. I was living in Ottawa with Feng and I was trying to graduate from my French university program, studying the course materials alone (yes, it worked, I graduated in 2005). After a few months, I decided I wanted to stay in Canada. Sure, it was mostly to be with Feng, but I was also quite in love with the country. I could see my future here. I wanted to work. I wanted one of these nice Canadian driving licenses and ID cards with a maple leaf on them.
One tiny detail, though. I hadn’t done any research on the legal ways to immigrate to Canada. I’ll blame it on the fact that Canada wasn’t a destination as popular as it is today, and we only had access to the Internet at the public library.
I wasn’t worried, though. “You speak French and you’re French!” people were telling me. “It’s easy for you!”
Oh, okay, then.
Armed with a few resumes (again, printed at the public library, aka our headquarters back then), I decided to apply for minimum-wage jobs, like I would have done in France as a student. Never mind that I didn’t speak much English and that I didn’t have a visa—things would work out, this is North America after all, we, Europeans, build this country.
Amazingly, I scored a couple of interviews, including a very strange one at Pizza Pizza.
Shockingly, I wasn’t hired. Duh.
Look, I have no excuse. I was 19 and I was naive.
Turned out that working illegally in Canada is difficult. All employers will ask for your social insurance number, some kind of IDs and banking information. I had none of that.
Eventually, I got my shit together and applied for permanent residence. I wanted to become Canadian and there was only one way to do it—legally.
Lesson learned: There is no “come on in, you’re white and speak French!” visa category. You have to follow the process and residence status isn’t a right.
Spending time at Tim Hortons with a newborn
There is a Tim Hortons at the corner of our street. I rarely go there (although I did apply for a job once, see above). But when I was pregnant, I clearly remember thinking that it would be a very convenient place to go with Mark. The logic was as follow: babies don’t sleep through the night, but Tim Hortons opens 24/7, so when the baby can’t sleep, I can hang out at Timmies with him.
I had forgotten a tiny detail. Babies don’t suffer from insomnia. They don’t wake up smiling and happy, willing to go smell the donuts at Tim Hortons. Babies don’t give a shit about Timmies. They scream at the top of their lungs because they want to be changed, fed, rocked. Besides, at night, I wanted to sleep or do the next best thing—curl up in bed with Mark who was using me as a human pacifier. I didn’t want to hang out at Timmies with truck drivers on a break or the early morning crowd. I wanted to sleep and I wanted Mark to sleep.
Lesson learned: Never made it to Tim Hortons to chill out in the middle of the night with Mark. Ran to Tim Hortons a few times alone during the day to get away from Mark.
Working full-time and caring for Mark at the same time
We talked about many things when I was pregnant, but looking back, the discussions were fairly superficial. Unlike many couples, we didn’t argue about the names we had picked: Feng came up with “Mark” for a boy and I had a girl’s name. We focused on the little things, the clothes we need to buy, medical appointments, buying new curtains for the baby’s room and maybe a few toys. We had nothing to worry about, we thought. We were both working from home, we would take turns caring for the baby.
I didn’t even consider daycare and I clearly remember thinking that it would be years before he’d go to school, because I could totally homeschool him. Like in make-believe plays, I’d buy a small table, a small chair and one of these boards and he would sit in front of me learning the alphabet, numbers, colours and eventually dissect Victor Hugo’s main works, classical music playing in the background. I love to teach. Finally, I would have a student.
What the hell was I thinking… To be clear, I’m not against homeschooling. It’s just that it’s a bit more complicated than it sound.
First of all, as I discovered taking care of Mark full time for the first couple of years, you don’t get a break with kids. You’re on the job 24/7 and no, you can’t just work while they play quietly beside you because these moments rarely last more than five minutes. Oh, and also, as much as you love your kid, sometime you just need to be alone for a bit.
When kids outgrow the baby stage, they start demanding entertainment. Suddenly, just being strapped to you in a sling isn’t enough and they are tired of chewing on Sophie la Girafe. They want to go places, see other kids, play, and you constantly have to find new activities. This is a bit problematic when you have three documents to translate with short deadlines and one copywriting job due by thefollowing day.
A few months after Mark turned one, I started lobbying for daycare. I needed to find a better balance and I was burned out. I taught Mark many things (and I still do!) but I like the fact that during the day, he is around other kids and he has a schedule of activities I would never be able to offer him at home on a daily basis—arts and crafts, outdoor play, singing, etc.
Lesson learned: Caring for a kid is a full-time job and it doesn’t work if you already have a full-time job, even if you’re freelancing.
So, don’t be shy… what were your “what was I thinking?” moments?