My children are Canadian. They are also American and British, though they do not necessarily identify in that order. Once, British might have come first; later, American. But now the Canadian part is on the rise.
Not because it’s Canada’s 150th birthday on Saturday, or because of anything specific we (my husband, David, and I) did, but because for them, the geopolitical has become personal. Whither the world, so, too, our household. Now adorned with poutine shack T-shirts, Gretzky jersey numbers and canoe paddles.
Until they were 8, 5 and 3, we lived in London. For the last nine years, we have lived in Brooklyn. And for as long as the children can remember, they have spent one to three months every year in Ontario.
My husband and I always believed that their having three passports was a gift, one that David (who is Canadian, with Scottish ancestry) and I (American) were lucky to give. (British citizenship came because by the time they were born, we had permanent leave to remain in the country.) They were born into the blessings of bilateralism. When they were little, we plotted ways to create ties for them to their various countries of origin. We wanted them to feel equally invested and at home in all three.
Still, the Olympic Games were always a bone of contention in our house. Ditto the Stanley Cup. Someone was usually upset about the team someone else was rooting for. (Ofttimes it was the New York Rangers who were the issue.)
In fact, one of the reasons we moved from London back to the United States in 2008 was because my husband became increasingly irritated by our elder daughter cheering for the British rowers and the American swimmers. It seemed to suggest she had absorbed the Canadians’ mythic inferiority complex, the one in which they define themselves by what they are not, and are generally ignored to go about their healthy business.
Even though the kids spent pretty much every summer and Christmas in Canada, visiting relatives and canoeing in the wilderness or doing other activities that required tractors and involved antler treasure hunts, the country was to them almost an abstract concept representing nature, escape, space and good manners, rather than an electoral identity. Of all their passports, the Canadian one was the one they looked at the least.
Then came 2016.
Then came “Brexit,” and then came Trump, and then the 16-, 14- and 12-year-olds began to regard their passports in a whole different light. The burgundy of the European Union book seemed like a relic of another time.
“Will we have to get a new passport?” one asked. “What if I don’t want to be English?” another said. Their fondest memories, it turned out, were of the free flow across borders — of the speed of belonging rightfully in the E.U. line at Heathrow Airport, and being able to move from culture to culture without being labeled an “alien.”
The bedtime story of the American dream and the European Union that had held such an enlightened allure suddenly seemed like perhaps a pipe dream, and the Canadian dream — of what Justin Trudeau called a “postnational state” — took on the halo of recognition. As did Mr. Trudeau himself, with his “because it’s 2015” answer when asked why half of his cabinet appointments were women (a Duh! phrase that had the same magnetic appeal to BuzzFeed-addicted didactic preteenagers as it did the rest of the internet). The promise of a better future had emigrated north.
Remember when everyone was muttering about moving to Canada if Trump won? David and I could literally see our kids’ ears prick up when it came out of Lena Dunham’s mouth. Because while they understood such statement-making was mostly a metaphor for dismay, they also realized that for them it could be an actual possibility. They pretended to joke about it. Kind of./
We didn’t move. But Canada has become a point of pride for our children.
Over the summer, the Olympic swimmer Penny Oleksiak practically became a meme in our conversation. During the recent Stanley Cup playoffs, our 14-year-old daughter watched every evening with my husband, and reeled off stats for Sidney Crosby (the Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain, who comes from Nova Scotia) and Connor McDavid (the Edmonton Oilers’ captain, from Ontario). Her favorite team in the league is the Montreal Canadiens, and her second-favorite team is the Toronto Maple Leafs. When she was given an Islanders jersey after watching a game with a friend, she picked Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99 for the back. When her middle school class was competing in a “grade Olympics” that included a floor hockey competition, she put “O Canada” on the sound system. She later said she thought credit should go where credit was due. She is about to spend three weeks in British Columbia.
Our 16-year-old has just gone off on a 52-day canoe trip through Quebec to Hudson Bay that she has been dreaming about since last summer. (She had a countdown clock as the screen saver on her laptop.) At a recent high school rowing championship, where all sorts of souvenir T-shirts are sold, she expressed a desire for a Canadian national team tank. In a discussion of what colleges she might apply to, she dismissed the idea of British universities entirely, but American and Canadian schools are still on the list.
Her little brother is canoeing eight hours north of Toronto. Not long ago, he acquired two T-shirts advertising the local highway poutine shack by his grandmother’s weekend cabin near Alliston, Ontario, which he proudly wears around school. He took a picture of himself on the Brooklyn Bridge wearing his Just Judy’s Chip Wagon shirt and an enormous grin, sent it to the woman who runs the stand, and she posted it on her Facebook page. The image shows a little bit of Canada in Brooklyn.
Though he might think Brooklyn in Canada was more like it.