The Bathroom Garbage Can
It’s 7:26 in the morning. When I open my eyes, I feel something move beside me. It’s a boy, and beside him, another. My young sons Maddox, 5, and Briggs, 3, have crept – as they commonly do – into the half of the bed left vacant by my early-to-work wife.
Waking at 7:26 a.m. means a slumber only dreamt of two, short years ago. Long gone are the days of 5 a.m. breakfast with Ryder and the Pups.
Realizing the need to void my bladder, I quietly make my way to the bathroom. As I stand there dishevelled before the latrine, “IT” catches my eye. Small, round, grey – nestled away in the corner, its bounty overflowing – The Bathroom Garbage Can.
That garbage can both frustrate and infuriate me. It’s a cornucopia of Kleenex, toilet paper rolls, toy cars with rusted wheels, Q-tips, hair, and for some reason, the large shampoo bottle I thought it could contain. It did not.
I will admit that it holds a special power over me. Haphazardly placed beside the toilet in the deflection zone, this small, bothersome receptacle has become somewhat symbolic for me. It is symbolic of the ever-mounting custodial duties that often swallow the day whole.
It symbolizes the reality that my wife and I live out of necessity like opposing parts of a functioning machine. That little bathroom garbage can represent the challenges that we, and many others, face trying to balance family life in a town that never seems to stop working.
Like many people up here in Wood Buffalo, my wife Tia and I are a shift work couple, doing our best to raise a family while navigating through a chaotic schedule. Neglected housework is a mere microcosm of some of the more substantial sacrifices we make.
Special occasions are often missed by one or both. Social gatherings are a rarity. Intimacy is frequently replaced by exhaustion and avoiding the live-in nanny situation means that we keep a house calendar that is as confusing as it is comical.
We book sitters months in advance and often forget who is going to show up at our door until the bell rings. Vacations usually include out-of-town oil changes, doctors’ appointments and bulk shopping for the basics. Even sleeping after a night shift is allocated and discussed as we plot our days to come.
We have become great planners and even better time managers but still manage to forget. Right now, as I pen this article, I have realized we have forgotten about the boys’ basketball for the past two weeks. Oops!
They say stress builds character and while this all sounds very stressful, we love life in Fort McMurray. There are benefits to an unconventional work schedule.
While we may not always get to spend as much time as we’d like together, Tia and I spend more time with our children than we would be able to if we lived the nine-to-five grind. Most days are full of bike rides, batting practice, tickle fights, and Slip N’ Slide fun.
I often remind myself that most parents only get to do these types of things over the weekend. If there is anything more important than the boutique shops, picturesque landscapes, or other desirable amenities of cities like Calgary or Vancouver; it would be time spent with your kids.
While the opportunity for a good working wage brought us to Wood Buffalo, it is the family we have built and the challenges we continually work to overcome that kept us here.
Friends and family from elsewhere commonly ask the same question when we visit: “Would you ever move back here?” Each time the answer remains the same – “No.”
We try our best to explain the hidden gem that we call Fort Mac by painting the picture of a place that’s more than an oil town. We explain the amazing opportunities available for kids to play sports. We reveal that no matter where in town you live you are minutes away from some of the best hiking you could imagine.
We explain the excellent schools and community events that serve to bring people together on a regular basis. We speak of a certain sense of fellowship that comes from living in a place often vilified by outsiders, who don’t grasp our contribution to the well-being of Canada.
And we speak of a community that has learned to rely on one another, surviving the worst natural disaster in Canadian history. No, we will not take our children from a place that offers all of this.
Today, I will struggle to function as my half of the machine keeps our family intact. Having just come off a shift, I’m tired and haven’t seen Tia in four days.
The house needs a great deal of attention, and our boys will require more than that. It’s 10 a.m. Already the house has been reduced to a state of total disorder.
The morning collection of rocks and twigs are scattered in the front entranceway by the boys. There is underwear in the kitchen. Nerf bullets and dinky cars take up residence beneath dining room chairs. And there’s a yogurt-covered spoon drying onto the couch.
Maddox’s bedroom floor shows an orange hue as Doritos have been ground into the carpet by tiny feet.
I have a custom To-Do list with cleaning tasks like emptying the symbolic small, grey garbage can in the master bathroom but I fear accomplishing this list can be likened to delusional thinking.
Where not being able to complete a set of janitorial objectives may have once caused undue stress and anxiety, life as a shift working parent in Fort McMurray has taught me one important thing: Don’t stress the small stuff.
Success today will be measured in the time spent with my sons and anything additional will be considered playing with house money. I ask myself: Is it more important to have cleaned the fridge or taken the boys skiing?
Am I more apt to remember the time I cleaned beneath the car seats or the time we spent throwing rocks in the river at Lions Park? Aside all of the detractors of shift work, there’s an incredible upside to living here (should people choose to realize and capitalize on).
I’m excited as my wife is due home any minute. I have accomplished what one could describe as a cosmetic cleaning of the house and dinner is on the table. Maddox and Briggs have been put through their paces and are now relaxing in front of the latest Avengers Movie.
I haven’t made it through even half of my list and I’m ok with that.
Tia comes home to the delight of us all and makes her way into the bedroom to change out of her work clothes before joining us for dinner. Before sitting down to eat, my wife – the other half of the now well-oiled machine – empties the little grey garbage can.
Saskatoon-born Stephen Morari is an industrial firefighter in Fort McMurray and has called the city home for the past decade. Music is his passion as he’s played the drums his entire life and enjoys hanging out in his home recording studio. Most important, he is husband to Tia (who works as a municipal firefighter) and father to his two sons; five-year-old Maddox and three-year-old Briggs.