I lie on my back and stare at the splotches of rain falling on the roof of the tent. I am snuggled in my sleeping bag, wearing long underwear under a sweatshirt and fleece pjs, with my still warm hot water bottle at my feet and a duvet over everything. Only my face is cold. I am loath to leave my cocoon, even to make a hot coffee which I am craving. My son is beside me, playing on the iPad, fully under the covers in a fleece sleeper, happy as a clam.
I watch the tent ceiling for so long that I get to witness the transition from cold to damn cold as the clear rain droplets falling on the roof change to darker splotches of snow. This development serves to justify my decision to stay in my sleeping bag. As curiosity takes precedence over comfort, I risk sticking an arm out to unzip the window. The fluffy white flakes falling outside are beautiful while at the same time slightly depressing.
It is mid-September in Edmonton. My husband and I have moved from Whitehorse with our 4-year old son and our golden retriever so he can attend the university of Alberta for a month and complete a practicum in Red Deer from October until December. My husband, Richard, is a certified teacher in the UK but must re-certify in order to teach in Canada. We have meagre savings and will not have any income over the four months so we have forgone hotels in favour of campsites. So far, we have been camping for 24 days while we wait to move into the one pet-friendly, inexpensive, short term rental apartment we could find.
Richard is at university right now. As I think of him, warm and dry, perhaps finger painting in art class or contemplating scholarly things I can't help but feel a little envy. He has had his own struggles though, as the lone older man in a class of 20-somethings in their fourth year of university. Last month he even died his gorgeous silver hair darker so he would fit in more. After his last haircut he now has silver hair at his temples which only makes him look more distinguished.
During Richard's studies we are staying at the Rainbow Valley campground beside a ski hill (yes, what must be the world’s smallest ski hill exists in Edmonton.) It a short trip public transport for him and I get to have the car, which is handy on cold days like today. To be honest, once I’m outside the tent and moving around, it doesn’t actually feel that cold, but the idea of cooking lunch and entertaining a four year old outside in the wet snow does not appeal. I'd gotten a few books at Chapters the other day and remembered they had a children's section so I decided to take Ozzie there after lunch.
Chapters was actually better than I thought it would be. There was a place for kids to draw, a train table, and some sample toys to play with. Other than hearing "mummy can I have this?" every few minutes it seemed like nice way to kill a few hours.
Several children came and during the time we were there. I started chatting to a mother of two girls. She commented that it is a nice place to come during bad weather. She having some renovations done on her house. I agreed, mentioning that we were staying in a tent at a campground, so this was great. She looked at me sideways and gave her kids a two minute warning that they were leaving.
After Oscar and I did a puzzle that was missing a third of the pieces it became more difficult to ignore the stares of the saleswoman. I had the distinct impression that we'd stayed too long, and I didn't have an armful of expensive purchases to justify it. One time when Oscar asked why he couldn’t have something, I said "no" because it wasn't on sale. This prompted him is examine each item in the store yelling "is this on SALE mummy?" I eventually picked up a half price item for Ozzie and decided to look for another place to stay warm and dry. I opted to give the GPS a chance to find us a library.
I have a love/hate relationship with my GPS. I know I couldn't navigate the city without it, but at the same time I suspect she thinks I wronged it in a past life and it's getting revenge. The first day Richard was at university I tried to get to the grocery store. She led me right past it and to a one way street headed the other direction. On my way back to the campsite she gave me about 20 left turn instructions, one after the other. Yes, that's right, I drove in a circle 5 times. When I drove in another direction to break the cycle, parked, and redid the route, she led me right back to the never ending left hand turn nightmare again.
Since then we've reached a bit of a truce. Also, I’ve gotten to I know the area a bit better and occasionally ignore her instructions when I know they are wrong. But the library was in uncharted territory. I decided to risk it.
"What's the rule in the car when mummy's driving?" I asked Oscar once he was strapped in. He didn't answer. "Exactly," I said. Silence. This rule was created during the unending loop nightmare, made more difficult when my angel started throwing his boots at the back of my head and shouting "where are we going?"
I've learned to drive slow and not worry about impatient drivers behind me. I'm very happy for all the drivers in Edmonton who know exactly where they are going and want to get there as quickly as possible, but you are all just going to have to work around me. This time a police car tailed me for a few blocks and then drove beside me and behind me. There are distracted driving laws in Alberta, and I was driving slowly so I'm pretty sure they were checking if I was on my phone or drinking a coffee. What they would have seen is me, hunched over the wheel, a sceptical look on my face, a child in the back and Yukon plates navigating a right turn over a bike lane while checking my blind spot four times. They drove off and left me alone.
The sceptical look was because the GPS was saying "you’re destination is on the right,” and of course there was no library in sight. I decided to find a parking lot and calmly try not to throw my GPS on the floor and smash her to a million pieces. Since my GPS is also my phone, this would not have been good. I maneuvered my car to a spot in a nearby shopping plaza and let out a heavy sigh. I briefly contemplated banging my head on the steering wheel like they do in the movies but thought better of it. I looked up. EPL, the sign in front of me said. Edmonton Public Library.
The EPL was great. They had some toys and learning computer games for kids. I read and Oscar played, Oscar and I played together, we were warm and dry.
Tonight will be an early night, with new cold-avoidance adventures for tomorrow. Tonight, I dream of a roof over my head, a shower that doesn’t need loonies, wifi and Netflix, printing documents without paying 25 cents a sheet and being able to drink liquids in the evening because if I have to pee in the night it's no big deal. Oh, the luxury.