Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Holidays Past: Meet the Parents (Guest Post)

Meeting the parents has never been so painful! This guest post from Shayla recounts the Christmas she met her now-husband's family — and joined them on a precarious trip through northern Canada. Go check out her blog, Northern Exposure

I have always spent my Christmases with family, whether at huge multi-generational gatherings or small get-togethers with a handful of relatives (or that horrible year I spent flying and driving across Ontario, trying to visit every single person I knew).

So, it was with feelings of sadness and homesickness that Christmas 2009 approached. I had just moved to Sioux Lookout, a small town in Northwestern Ontario. Most Ontarians don’t know where Sioux is because they haven’t flipped over the provincial map to see that there is, in fact, life beyond the Muskokas -- but there I was, 2,000 kilometres away from the lights, laughter, and familiarity of Christmases past.

I moved up north at the end of October, so there was no way to pull off a trip home for the holidays. I didn’t have the money nor the vacation time accrued. A few weeks before Christmas, after the community’s Santa Claus Parade, I was explaining exactly this to my then-boyfriend of two weeks, Matt. That led to him awkwardly asking his parents, over the phone, if I could come to the family Christmas celebrations, while I listened to his side of the conversation. That was the first they had heard tell of this new girlfriend in his life.

You might be wondering why it would be awkward to ask such a thing — after all, lots of people bring their significant others, however new they may be, over to Christmas dinner, right? Well, to fully understand this situation, you have to know that Christmas 2009 was scheduled to be up at camp.

And now you might be wondering what, exactly, “camp” is, and how that has any effect on Christmas.

See, the family owns property, even further up north. As in, to get there, you have to drive three hours north of here, to what is literally the very end of the all-season highway system in Ontario. Then you have to pay a zillion dollars for gas... and keep going. Camp is about 400 kilometres north of us, and Christmas was to be an event spanning several days.

This was going to be my first time meeting the parents — and one of the brothers, and the dog. Our arrival date was exactly one month after Matt and I started dating. If things didn’t go well, we’d be trapped together in remote, isolated Northwestern Ontario, with no way out — and no internet, TV, or anything of the sort to distract from the situation.

It was with anxiety, then, that I helped pack my Saturn station wagon — with countless kilometres logged and no plug-in block heater — full of presents and groceries and four fully-grown adults, during the first blizzard of the year. We started heading north, as the skies and road filled with snow. I was nervous.


That nervousness increased as we passed through Pickle Lake. When you get onto the road to camp, which also leads to the starting points for the winter road system that services northern First Nations communities during ice-up, there is a huge sign on the highway that reads, essentially, THIS ROAD IS NOT SERVICED — THERE IS NO GAS OR LODGING; TRAVEL AT YOUR OWN RISK. Reassuring, right?

Still, we pushed north, as Matt regaled us with stories of “this is where Dad and I slid off the road” and “this is where we pulled that guy out of a ditch ... this is where we saw him in the ditch again ten minutes later.” The last half hour consisted of him slowing down and saying, “Here’s the entrance ... oh, wait. No, here it is. Nope. Okay ... this is it up here.”


We, eventually, found the driveway. Luckily for me, we all got along. There was karaoke, there was limbo, there was a whole lot of food, and there was tree decorating.


There was Nerf-gunning, there was ice fishing, there was present opening, there was fun. And on the very last day of our holiday, right before we left to go home, there was one last snowmobile ride.

We had been snowmobiling a bit, earlier in the holiday, and while it wasn’t my favourite thing to do, I still had fun. Brother Jesse hopped on one machine. Brother Andrew started up another, with Jesse’s girlfriend Ashley on the back. I climbed on to the back of the third, holding on tight to my brand-new boyfriend.

I don’t know if it was because this was the last chance to snowmobile for a long time, or what it was, but the guys were trying to maximize their fun. We had a private lake on which to enjoy to ourselves, and they were hitting jumps, cracking the throttle, and whooping it up. My helmet was starting to fog up and I couldn’t see very well -- and I wasn’t really enjoying the jumps, but I didn’t know what to do. No need to ruin the fun, right?

We landed on the ice after another small jump, and my visor became totally opaque with fog. I had just relaxed my death grip on Matt when I heard a very loud, very panicked, “OH SHIT!” come flying out of his mouth.

And then, I was flying. All I could think was “... WHAT?”

What goes up must come down, and down I came, face-first onto the ice. Inside my head I was screaming, “OW OW OW OW” but outwardly I could barely breathe, let alone talk. I was still trying to process the fact that I went from machine to ice in a matter of seconds when Matt broke most conventional First Aid standards and flipped me right over onto my back. There were four very worried faces looming over me, all tripping over themselves asking if I was okay.

Finally, finally I made my mouth move and eked out a few words.

“... get ... out ... of ... my face ... PLEASE.”

As I got up off the ice, I reassured Matt that I didn’t think anything was broken, that I just had the wind knocked out of me, that it really sucked but I was okay and just shaken up. Then I reassured him, all of that, again, because he didn’t believe me. He gingerly loaded me up onto the back of the machine and slowwwwwly drove back to camp, where he, equally gingerly, told his parents what happened.

As Jesse tells the story, he was driving on a straight stretch and looked off to the side to see Andrew and Ashley’s machine, and our machine, on a collision course. Right as he was wondering why the hell we were all driving toward each other, we crashed. The tracks on the ice, apparently, made a perfect X over a fault line. I have no idea what it looked like because I stayed inside drinking whiskey from that point onward. The next day, we were all back at work and I could barely move. I took muscle relaxants for at least a week, and I know Ashley was in some pain, too.

Matt is now my husband. We got married in September and my mother-in-law, during her speech at the wedding, referred to it as “the best Christmas ever.” I laughed pretty hard. But, even though it’s the only Christmas where I incurred actual bodily harm, it was pretty damn good. And really, what better introduction to your boyfriend’s family than getting thrown off a snowmobile in front of them? It’s one of our favourite tales to recount, now.

I will say, however, that last year was also a camp Christmas, and I made Matt drive so slowly on the snowmobile that we kept getting stuck. I think I’m an indoor wife, now.


  1. That sounds like a deadly combination of painful and mortifying, but now it's such a great story!

  2. It was pretty awful at the time! I'm looking forward to regaling our kids with the story, though. :)

    1. Ha, isn't that true! Our kids are never going to believe some of my stories. :) It's going to be just like How I Met Your Mother.

  3. This is such an adorable story! (Well maybe adorable now, in hindsight!)

  4. Haha. Oh Shayla. How brave of you to meet the parents after a month and get on the back of a snowmobile (those things terrify me!). What a story. I love it.

    1. I only got on it last year for utility purposes (getting the tree)! I'm hoping we eventually get to a point where people outnumber seats and then I don't have to go. ;)