On Edge is a series about stress in 2017.
My husband Mitchell and I live in downtown Toronto, on the upstairs floor of a semi-detached house. Our place has a backyard with a vegetable garden, and a garage that Mitchell, who is an artist, uses as studio space. Our daughter Dory just turned 3, and we have a cat, Boots. Overall, we’re very lucky: Affordable housing in Toronto, like many major cities, is at a premium.
But Dory is getting bigger, and space is getting tight. More and more, we talk about whether it’s time to leave Toronto—whether we’d be less stressed, less busy, with more space and more time to spend together if we lived in the country. Housing would be cheaper. The pace, we think, might be different. I’ve spent all my life in cities, whereas Mitchell grew up in a small Ontario town called Pembroke. We come at it from different perspectives.
Generally speaking, many rural communities are emptying out and people are moving to denser, more urban areas. But in the past few years, we’ve witnessed friends leaving the city’s downtown for its outskirts, or in some cases, for small towns. They went looking more space, whether it was for their kids, or for themselves, or for their work (studios are cheaper outside of downtown, too). The high cost of living is almost always a major factor. When Mitchell and I leave Toronto to visit family, we often return to the topic of whether it’s time to move.
Mitchell recently returned from visiting friends in rural Ohio. When he got back, we sat down while Dory took a nap to rehash this conversation. This time, I recorded it.
Kate: Was it nice to be out of Toronto for a little while?
Mitchell: Yes, it was really nice. I was staying with some friends who are artists, and they have a small cabin [in the woods] with a large studio. It’s on about five acres of land. It’s rough—they were telling me that when they moved there, they had no running water, they had no toilet, they had to dig out their own septic tank. But it’s quite beautiful.
That sounds great.
It’s hard to talk about having envy for a country lifestyle without sounding sort of patronizing, or like you’re glorifying it a bit. There were some real stresses involved in living out there. They dug out their own septic tank. There’s a lot of work that goes into living there.
So I don’t want to pretend like it’s easy, but I know there’s a calming effect to looking out your window and seeing acres of trees. I do think that there’s a type of community building that’s possible in more rural settings that’s, I don’t want to say better, but different.
In a city like Toronto, you can hide in the crowd. I can get all the way to my office without talking to anyone. I kind of like that. I mean, you can have community here too, and we’re really lucky that we have a lot of friends and family here.
Yeah, but I would say, really having privacy is being able to walk around your backyard naked, which you can’t do in the city. You can’t blast music as loud as your speaker will go while you’re making eggs in the morning. Those are things we could do out in the country.
When we talk about Dory, I know you’ve said before you’re worried about raising her in a city and what life will be like for a city kid.
I just have no idea what a childhood in the city looks like. I didn’t grow up in the city.
Do you think her use of technology would be any different if we were in the country? Like maybe she’d be less reliant on a phone to find her way home...
I want her to use technology as much possible. Technology is an equalizer—it doesn't matter if you're in the city or the country, as long as you have access to it. Whether you grow up in the city or the country, you’re looking at the same internet.
What did you do when you were a kid growing up in the country?
Essentially, I guess a different type of exploring. I don’t want to romanticize it too much because I think there were drawbacks too. Overall I feel great about the ideas and people she’ll have exposure to here, and the way she might imagine the kind of jobs she could have [when she grows up], or the life she could have. But I worry that when confronted with some pressures that happen in a big city, I won’t know how to guide or mentor her. I grew up in what was essentially a pretty safe place—you couldn’t get into that much trouble.
The thing I worry about, living in the city, is the pressure on us. It’s hugely expensive, and we’re battling with the cost of living all the time. An advantage to being here is [career opportunities]. But we’re very busy. When I think about leaving for a smaller town, I think maybe I could be home [for her] after school, I could make her a sandwich, and I wouldn’t have to commute on the bus and get home after six. Maybe it’d just be simpler.
Yeah, maybe it would. It does come down to money. When we talk about moving out to the country, that conversation usually is triggered by talking about money.
In the city, I also think there’s more pressure to be a good parent, and you probably feel this more as a woman and a mom. I think there is a certain sort of health awareness and lifestyle awareness that also translate to a ubiquitous, pervasive parent shaming that’s stressful.
That didn’t happen where you grew up?
No, no! Maybe it was a product of the times but people were a lot more lax.
I think kids in the country run around a lot more. Anecdotally, all the parents we know in my hometown or outside the city, we know they have longer leashes and we seem like uptight city parents when we go visit them. You know this. We’re uptight for good reasons. Our kids are perpetually surrounded by certain types of danger, like cars. We’re boxed in to a much greater degree than you are in the country.
Do you think if Dory was growing up in the country, she’d be more…
I don’t know what she’d be like. I know we’d be way more chill.
Do you think living in the city is more stressful, other than parenting?
No, I don’t. If we moved to the country and decided we could subsist on one income and have a comfortable living, and I could be a stay-at-home dad, I would find a way to drive myself crazy. It’s what people do. I think I feel a general sense of wellness and calmness when surrounded by trees and water. But I also feel a profound level of excitement when I’m surrounded by art, and people. I don’t want to be relaxed all the time.
Do you think we’ll ever leave the city?
Nah, I don’t think we would. I think we both depend on stimulation. I depend on my community here for a lot of self-fulfillment. And honestly, we’re like 11 years away from our kid hating our guts and then what are we going to do, take a candle-making course?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.