Always on the Move

Learning to Settle Down After a Life on the Go

Shannon Litt
Feb 15 · 8 min read
Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

I’ve lived in many different homes throughout my twenty-eight years: houses, townhouses, semi-detached houses, low-rise apartments, high-rise condos, you name it. My family didn’t move far, mainly just around the Greater Toronto Area. The farthest east we ever lived was Ottawa (Ontario) and the farthest west was Appleton (Wisconsin).

Before I was ten, we had lived in nine different houses. Almost one per year. My dad was a business consultant, and he followed the work.

You’d think a childhood on the go would make me hate moving, but it was actually the opposite. I came to love moving — not only because I have an A-type personality and actually enjoy pruning and packing, but because every move meant a new phase of life. Interesting, unique, sometimes weird, sometimes exciting, sometimes sour.

I’m told the first place I ever lived was Sammon Avenue, in Toronto. It was a sweet little bungalow, worth millions now.

While my dad was working in the States, my little sister Ron was born! The lucky bug got dual citizenship. My mom was shocked that the first thing they asked her at the hospital was, “Will this be cash or credit?”

When we moved back to Canada, border security gave us a hard time. Ron was blonde with blue eyes, and my dad was tan with a big bushy beard, which only accented his middle Eastern features. The officers thought my parents were stealing a baby.

Back in Toronto! And back on the same street, although not the same house. Our second house on Sammon Avenue felt like a stepping stone — we were only here for a moment before moving on to…

We only stayed at Lana Terrace for few months before heading to…

This high-rise condo was the greatest for several reasons:

1. Ron and I got to share a room.

2. There was a breakfast bar.

3. There was FREE CABLE TELEVISION. Saturday mornings were already fantastic, but they became 100 times better with cable.

This was the biggest house we ever had: three floors, four bedrooms, five bathrooms, and a huge basement repurposed as a playroom. My room was so big I could build an obstacle course in it.

Mom was bored being a stay-at-home mom, so she started a babysitting business. There were always lots of kids coming and going.

Ron and I used to play a game on Otis called “run as fast as you can from end of the hallway to the other and slam into the glass doors on either side.” Unsurprisingly, soon after we invented the game, Ron’s wrist went right through one of the glass doors. A trip to the emergency and a lot of medical glue later, she was patched up.

A year or so later, Ron and I came into the living room to find the couch sitting crooked, away from the wall. Assuming it was a sign we were moving again, we took bets on when moving day would be. Mom came in and denied it, insisting there was a mouse in the wall she was trying to help escape. We pressed our ears against the wall for hours but didn’t hear anything. A week later, the parents sat us down and told us we were moving. Ron and I were excited, but mom cried. I remember trying to comfort her, but not really knowing how — I’d never seen her cry before.

This time when we moved, it meant a new city, a new school, and an entirely new language to learn (French, ugh). I stopped talking at school, and instead used squeaking sounds to communicate. Going to a public school felt weird — there were no morning prayers, no school masses, no church nearby. Ron and I missed an entire month of school because of March Break, the ’98 Ice Storm, and a teacher’s strike.

I had one style of pants, in seven different colors for the seven days of the week. They were cinched at the waist with elastic, and $2 a pair from Zellers. Mom took a job at Giant Tiger as a cashier.

I ran away once, but only got two streets over before I realized it wouldn’t solve my problems.

Our townhouse was considered one of the “nice” ones in the complex because it had a garage.

For a while, Ron and I did a weekly bible class at the landlady’s house (she had a lot of time on her hands because her son was in jail). She got mad when I asked too many questions about Catholicism.

Mom went back to work, so we got a babysitter for a few years. She was… interesting. She had a strict no snacks rule, so I hoarded food in my desk upstairs. If Ron or I spilled something, we had to clean it up on our hands and knees. She would play favorites, choosing one of us to be “the good one” for the hour, or day, or week, then switching as soon as we messed up. Eventually, she sent us to the park in the rain and refused to let us back in. It was getting dark, so I took Ron to a neighbor’s house — a kind woman who took us in, dried us off, and called our mom at work. We never saw the babysitter again.

When we moved out of the townhouse, some friends from the complex stopped talking to us because “we lived in the rich neighborhood now.”

Ron and I both fell in love with the house on Flynn. The fridge in the kitchen had a water and ice dispenser, the rec room downstairs had a big fireplace that let in all sorts of wildlife (squirrels, birds, bats, even an owl once), and the house had a wraparound porch. There was also a room under the stairs, where the kids who had lived there before had written their names. We added ours to the list.

We created a game called ‘ultimate tennis’, which basically just meant whacking tennis balls up and down the street as hard as we could.

We also used to create tableaus on the street corner, posing mid-run or mid-proposal. It was fun seeing the cars slow down, curious.

Flynn was also the house we were living in when my parents got divorced. My last memory of the house was from the moving van, watching as my dad got smaller and smaller before disappearing completely from view. I wish I’d stayed, to be there for him. I wish I’d done a lot of things differently.

If my time on Flynn Crescent was the peak, Bay Street was definitely the pits.

A good friend of mine began a relationship with my ex-boyfriend, someone who had broken up with me only a month or so prior. They moved in together, and I was devastated.

I got angry. REALLY angry.ALL the time. It felt like the world was against me. After one too many brutal fights with my mom, I decided to move in with my dad.

I always joke that the years living with my dad were like real-life “Californication” (the show with David Duchovny). He dated a lot, and I meandered around life like an emo kid. Every evening, we sat on the couch to watch TV together. I can’t speak for my dad, but it was always the best part of my day.

The duplex on Brunswick was where dad and I actually picked ourselves up and brushed ourselves off. The past few years had made us both feel like punching bags, but at Brunswick we started to feel human again.

We both had friends over a lot (which, for two extroverts, is superb). Dad became a professor at a nearby college. I picked up a camera and fell in love with shooting, and landed my first real job as an adult.

When I saved up enough, I moved out on my own, to a nice apartment on Dovercourt. I was a functioning adult — paid my own rent, shopped for my own groceries, even worried about an RRSP. It was awesome.

My mom and I were tentatively starting to reconnect, so I invited her over for a visit. She opened a mystery door in the hall, not knowing it opened directly onto the downstairs neighbor’s bathroom. They were having a bath.

Awkward.

At the end of our visit, she accidentally locked the front door. I had to knock and ask the aforementioned downstairs neighbors to let me in.

REALLY awkward.

Then, the cherry on top: one of them said, “Hey, uh, we have a leak… it seems to be coming from your apartment.”

Turned out my mom had turned the radiator spigot in my room to make it warmer… but had inadvertently broken it. It was Christmas. The apartment had no heat for a week.

After that trifecta of events, I had to get out of there.

It worked out, though, because I wanted to live with Marius anyway. I was back on the move.

When I came to view the place, I couldn’t see the windows because the apartment was so stuffed with clutter… but the price was right and it was right on the subway line. A week of hardcore scrubbing and maggot removal later, I had my own (clean and far more minimal) place.

My best friend (who will go unnamed because she’s a private person) came over for a visit. She was living with her ultra-conservative parents in Mississauga, commuting downtown for work, and asked if she could move in. Obviously I said of course.

They say you shouldn’t become roommates if you value your friendship, but thankfully that wasn’t the case for us. We had many late-night chats, ones that changed my life for the better. My best friend is one of the best people I know. She always has a wise word, or a soft shoulder, or the perfect Jane Austen remedy for when you’re feeling down.

Eventually she moved on to her own apartment, and Marius moved in.


Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

I used to spend a lot of time browsing the rental listings, dreaming of where we’d live next. I sort of assumed that moving was a fact of life for me. “Hi, I’m Shannon. I’m a videographer and I move around a lot.” I dragged poor Marius around the city to countless viewings, trying to find a new place… but I don’t do that anymore. And the reason is pretty straightforward.

Moving doesn’t fix problems. It’s window dressing. It doesn’t fix careers, mend relationships, soften anger, or cure sadness. Sure, you can move a lot and change as you go… but you can also change your life without moving an inch.

It took me a long time to learn that.

I still appreciate moving as I grew up. It taught me how to make new friends, how to be a minimalist, and that change is an inevitable part of life — lessons I value to this day. But I can appreciate those lessons while staying in one place.

Marius and I have lived in our two-bedroom apartment on Bathurst for almost five years. I’m sure we’ll move in the future, but for now, we’re happy where we are.

Shannon Litt

Written by

Videographer at Sore Thumb. Occasional Writer of BookThings.