Memoir: down the St. Lawrence and back, part 1–1999

Since the estrangement, I have been staying in apartments close to the Elmhurst house where my three kids live. Kyle is 10, Annie 8, and Faith 6.

Summer, 1999: two years since I left the house, two years before our divorce. I’m finally taking the kids and hitting the road: the Canadian railroad. 

The purposes of this trip up the Saint Lawrence and back?

  • to take the kids out of their air-conditioned comfort zone, and let them, if only for a little while, enjoy life in a foreign country; 
  • to show them the beautiful places I discovered in Quebec when I did a home-study there,
  • to expose them to the francophone world I inhabit as a high school French teacher;
  • to experience one of the mainstays of 20th century civilization–long-distance train travel; 
  • and finally, to encourage my son to get over his fear of flying. 

Kyle came into the world ten years ago via a grueling 13-hour labor. What slowed his passage? His right hand held to his head, as if weighing the pros and cons of this whole birth thing. In the years since, he has grown into an ambitious social being. That said, he is very particular about what he will eat, wear, and play. He now also has braces, adding an extra layer of challenge to his already stressful life. He has decided that scary roller coasters and airplanes are not for him. 

But with the tickets for our trip already purchased, and some mild shaming from his mother (“Honestly, you’re ten years old already!” she says), Kyle agrees at last, and we get on the plane to Detroit. With Slim Shady blasting through earphones into his brain, Kyle averts his gaze from the window, comforted by his culture. We fly over Lake Michigan and land in the Motor City less than an hour later.

Our hotel is in the glorious art deco ghost town that is downtown Detroit. The windows of our high rise open on a beautiful prospect across the street: the fluid lines of an enormous, derelict building from the 1920s. Look past its futuristic lines, though, and you see graffitied offices and broken windows.  

So yes, it looks like a dystopian sci-fi, yet we feel safe on Detroit’s streets, and walk carefree among its monuments. On its monorail, we fly over the central neighborhoods. For dinner, we enjoy pop and bready pizza in Greektown. My kids love it.  

I am perfectly comfortable shepherding the kids to bed. I’ve done so since they were born, and even in a hotel room with two queen-sized beds, our routines hold. The  only controversy? Which movie to rent before bed. The Parent Trap starring Lindsay Lohan wins out.

Our Via Rail tickets provide a week’s unlimited travel on Canada’s national railroad across this major east-west artery. We depart before dawn the next morning, catch a taxi across the river, make it through customs and then …voila! We’re at the station boarding the train to our first stop: Ottawa,  the nation’s capital.

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