We moved to Canada in August as we wanted to give our children at least some time to familiarize themselves with the new country before being thrown into a new school. Leaving behind old friends can be pretty hard on kids and getting used to how things are done in a new school can be stressful.
“Come with enough time to shop for stuff for the kids,” advised a friend who had moved to Canada a few years before us. “Kids don’t wear school uniforms here and having the ‘right’ clothes will help them fit in better.”
So it’s not just our accents and cultural behaviour that marks us, I thought, while thanking her for the tip, it’s our clothes, too!
Thus our first few weeks went by fast, learning our way around Toronto, getting the kids ready for school, finding accommodation. Then when school began, a whole different routine began. My husband was working long hours in his first job and I was the one wondering how on earth the kids would learn anything if they hardly ever got any homework – memories of backpacks weighed down with books that had to be studied for tests and loads of assignments that had to be completed by the next day were still fresh.
We settled in well, I soon made friends with a group of moms that dropped off and picked up their kids to and from school. Soon it was October and we were enchanted with the fall colours. We went out and purchased rakes – including smaller, lighter ones for the kids – who knew raking leaves could be so much fun!
We felt like old hands, bagging leaves for yard waste collection.
And then, one day, we realized how little we knew about our new country.
Up early to get the kids to school in time, we rushed through our morning routines, only to reach the school and find the grounds deserted. Not a soul in sight. Where had everyone gone? Where were the smiling teachers, welcoming the kids to school? Where was the jolly lollipop lady (how happily I had described the lovely idea of having someone help the kids cross the streets in letters back home!) that morning? Really, where was everybody? This was before everyone had cell phones and I couldn’t call anyone to check what was going on. We stood around for a bit, and I even tried the main door.
The kids were beginning to look a little anxious, so I made a joke about it being a holiday that we had forgotten about. We went home and I called one of the moms I met every morning in the school yard. I caught her at the door – they were just leaving for school. Things were getting curiouser and curiouser.
Janet apologized profusely for having forgotten to tell me to set our clocks back.
“Set the clocks back?” I asked, feeling completely lost.
I guess it was clear to her I had no idea what she was talking about and she told me to hurry back to school or we’d be late. “I’ll explain later.”
Over coffee, she explained the whole concept of Daylight Savings Time. “It’s just something we do,” she said. “A part of normal routine, and it didn’t occur to me to tell you.”
Of course, I wrote home about ‘falling back’ an hour on the last Sunday of October and ‘Springing forward’ on the first Sunday of April.
A few years ago, when Canada changed the days to fall in step with the US, and we began falling back in November and springing forward in March, I was prepared – it didn’t feel like we were in a time warp!
– ULABHA JOSHI
• What’s your story? Every newcomer, no matter how savvy or where he or she comes from, has a Fresh Off the Plane (FOP) story to share about their early days in Canada.Do you want to share your story? E-mail it to us at email@example.com.