One of the first things I realized in moving back to our small hometown is that everything was the same, but different. Earlier this year my husband and I sold our beloved century home in Leslieville and traded it in for a sparkling new home and small-town living in Southampton, Ontario. Our families are both still in the area, so we visited parents frequently on weekends and holidays, but living here at this stage of my life, as a stay-at-home parent to a nearly 4-year-old daughter and 1-year old son, made me feel like a stranger in the place I grew up.
Southampton, a picturesque and popular beach town with a population of 3,678, is full of natural beauty, indoor and outdoor activities for families and children aplenty but different from what we knew in the city. In the city, we kept busy in the east end every day. I enrolled my daughter in city-run gymnastics, ballet, art class, free swimming lessons, and visited multiple Early On drop-in centres within walking distance. Now I was forced to find new ways to keep the kids (and myself) occupied.
I am fortunate to have family and friends living in Southampton, whom I could lean on for support and to tell me about some local kid events or similar programs we enjoyed in Toronto, but truthfully, I learned the most from talking to other caregivers while out at parks or family parties. Introducing myself to others with children of similar age, asking them where they go and play, was the most helpful in learning the new ins-and-outs of living in my hometown with kids.
I remember one dark winter day at the local museum with my daughter, a grandmother sat beside us as we ate our snack with her granddaughter, and I bluntly just blurted out in a somewhat defeated tone, “Where are all the kids?”. To this day I am forever grateful of the drop-in gym she told us of, that a simple Google search would not produce because it’s something locals just know about. It was the warmest, welcome conversation with a stranger and reminded me of the reasons why we moved back.
Another big change as a parent was to adapt to life during the winter months. With the beach only a five-minute walk from our home, it’s our playground during spring, summer and fall. Then there is winter. Southampton is nestled in the snow belt of Ontario with heavy lake-effect snow often seeing the main highway closed for days. Residential sidewalks, even when plowed, were still snow-packed and difficult to navigate with a stroller. I found myself sometimes feeling isolated with my small children during our first winter back.
In the city, there may have only been a few bad snow days where I truly couldn’t manage to get us out of the house with just my stroller to the nearest drop-in play centre. I found myself missing that during the core winter months. I had to embrace the car as a necessity to make it to a play space, or museum/cultural centre, or grocery store; the car was a lot warmer than pushing the stroller around and the traffic is a breeze compared to the city! Still, there was fun to be had that didn’t require a car.
It wasn’t until this winter that I realized I took for granted all the fun, physical outdoor activities like tobogganing, ice skating and winter walks on the beach that my daughter would thrive on that we didn’t do in the city. I loved snow days in town as a kid, and now I’m loving them again through my kids.
Now, nearly a year since we moved, we are slowly but surely finding our place again in my hometown. My daughter loves, not only the beach but the many parks, the local library, and the museum. She feeds the fish at the little lake in town and runs the wooded trails around just like I used to. Her new classes like swimming lessons and gymnastics lessons are highlights of her week, and she has made new friends. We are actually looking forward to winter this year, and the many snowmen we’ll build, sleigh rides together, and pulling the kids on a toboggan to visit family or friends. Maybe we’ll pick up cross-country skiing or another fun outdoor winter activity. It’s nice to feel excited about all the seasons again.
We now look forward to future visits back to Toronto, where we can enjoy old favourites like The Science Centre. Just like any change, even if it’s familiar to you like a place such as your hometown, change is hard and it takes time to adapt. Finally, I can say home is starting to feel like home again.