waiting for parenthood in the wild

It wasn't by the usual way of conception, morning sickness, and birth that a child was suddenly about to join our household, nor by adoption.

It wasn’t by the usual way of conception, morning sickness, and birth that a child was suddenly about to join our household, nor by adoption. But considering that children are often unplanned for, it’s perhaps not too surprising that out of the blue, we found ourselves to be the potential interim parents of a teenager.

“Marie is wondering if she could come and stay with you and Sam for a while,” read the brief e-mail from my old friend Stephanie. “She would like to get out of France, away from us parents. What do you think?”

I wasn’t too sure what I thought, this being Stephanie’s first communication in about a year and a half with me. No questions about how we were doing, no small talk, just the question if we would take in her barely 16-year old daughter. Then again – of course, Marie could come if she wanted to. Stephanie and her husband had split up this summer, as I had heard from another friend.

“Sure,” I replied immediately. “Just have to talk with Sam. When and for how long and are you guys sure you can afford the flights?” Stephanie, who’s never been to visit us here in the woods, has a romantic notion of wilderness living: harmonious, quiet, close to nature. The logistics of an off-grid, fly-in homestead, the extent to which the weather dictates life, have remained mercifully foggy for her. This would have to change.

While the e-mail hurtled through space in the incomprehensible manner of all modern things, I pondered bush life with a French teenager. I hadn’t seen or spoken with Marie in a couple of years – at least she was (or used to be) an outdoorsy girl with a passion for horses and other four-footed creatures. Where would we put her? If she wanted to come now, the only option was the couch. Wilderness cabins tend to be small and ours is no exception. No privacy, no door to close behind yourself and be alone. In the summer, we could at least rig up a wall tent for her.

When Sam came in, I informed him of our child in waiting: “What do you think?”

“Well sure,” he said, “if you’re OK with it. That could be fun. But what about school?”

We called Stephanie after not hearing back for a few days. Marie, she said, wanted to come pretty much right away – anything to get away from her parents for a while. I cautioned that Marie would only trade in one set of demented adults for another and that there was no escape from us and our oddities here. No other young people to hang out with, nowhere to go except into the woods, and entertainment was limited to us, the radio, board games, and books.

That apparently didn’t daunt Marie. She pictures us as fake adults, people whose lifestyle is more akin to camping than actual living as understood by the French, with messiness and silliness entrenched in our daily routines. OK, point taken.

How about her school work, was home-schooling accepted by the French school system? Stephanie had no idea but felt sure that this would all work over the internet somehow. Sam cautioned that our satellite connection is finicky, especially in the winter when our solar panel can’t supply enough power for the modem and computer. The generator quits around the -15C mark. A problematic issue.

But in the end, our brief flirt with parenthood failed because of money. There was the flight from France to Whitehorse, not cheap in itself, especially at short notice – and then the flights to our place and eventually back to town again would clock in at close to the same price as the international tickets. In the summer, we explained, it would all be easier and cheaper because we could boat her in and out. But during freeze-up, not a chance.

Disappointment reigned all around until we decided that while our backwoods home won’t be able to provide an immediate change of circumstance and scenery for Marie, a stay in the summer would be a real option. Much better timing: now that we’ve found out we’re expecting, an eight-month delay until the arrival of the child is only fitting.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.