Family circles: A girl, her many parents and the ring road that binds them

This First Person article is from Jules Taylor, an Edmontonian who makes regular trips along Anthony Henday Drive to keep daughter Emily connected with all her parents. Her story about her is part of The Henday Project, a CBC Edmonton initiative focused on the suburbs. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

Growing up in densely populated cities in England and Germany, I never imagined pointing to a stretch of road and sentimentally musing, “There used to be a field there.”

Yet there I was, in the car with my then-eight-year-old daughter, explaining that this road — not to mention the adjacent houses, box-stores and fast-food joints — were as unconceived as she was when I first moved to Sherwood Park on Edmonton’s eastern city limits.

Pre-daughter, I’d never heard of the Anthony Henday Drive. Back then, I was a queer woman with a same-sex partner hoping to start a family but realizing we’d have to be creative with family planning. That creativity (and some intense online sleuthing) led us to a gay male couple in Spruce Grove, hardly a stone’s throw from Sherwood Park.

And that’s where our road trip to parenthood really began.

Getting to know the prospective potatoes required a long and arduous drive through Edmonton on the Yellowhead Trail of Doom to get to the small Alberta municipality well to the west.

It wasn’t much easier when we only had to get into the city for ob-gyn appointments or to shop for baby things. Couldn’t Edmonton just be folded in half? Was that too much to ask?

One road to bind them

In 2013, our daughter was born. Friends and family descended from all over Edmonton, winding through the city to visit us, complaining about the traffic, naturally.

Then in 2016, it finally happened: the final leg of the Henday was completed. One ring road to bring them all.

The Henday loop takes 50 minutes and, according to everyone, knocks 20 minutes off to anywhere. (Unless you go in the other direction. More on that later.)

The poor Whitemud, with its 80-km/h speed limit and two-lane loveliness, was now like a Sunday drive in the country. Meanwhile, parts of the dreaded Yellowhead got sexy with fancy flyovers, suspicious merging lanes and heady speeds of 100 km/h. Who are we? THE? I would mutter as three lanes of traffic hugged me in my beloved slow lane.

But with the Henday, we could now go to far-flung places like St. Albert and not even glance at 137th Avenue. Everyone could come to us — and 20 minutes faster! It was witchcraft and magic and we all loved it.

north, south, east, west

But as the city evolved, so did our lives.

My daughter’s dads moved to the newly developed neighborhood of Griesbach in north Edmonton. Then when our daughter was two, my wife and I parted ways. She also moved to Griesbach to be closer to our daughter’s dads while I relocated to south Edmonton, in the Greenfield neighbourhood, to be with my new partner.

Our recalibrated family, which had started off east and west pre-Henday, was now north and south. Once again, it made sense to cut across the city to get to one another, but that meant using 75th Street and the dreaded Yellowhead.

No, thank you!

So we kept using the Henday — albeit in the other direction — which took a little longer but at least we were calm when we arrived. It all felt so seamless, especially as our conversations were now: “Is that new?” or “When did these get built?”

Now, my former wife is back in Sherwood Park while our daughter’s fathers remain in Griesbach. I use the Henday weekly, taking my daughter to and from school, to her other mother de ella, or when I take the long way to her fathers’ house de ella.

My daughter’s fathers and mother live in neighborhoods that were built after she was born. In an echo of how our family’s growth was facilitated by Edmonton’s suburban thoroughfares, the city’s growth was also helped along by the Henday highway.

I love the part that the Henday has played, and still does play, in the big circle of our family. Our lives revolve around a little girl who’s just along for the ride. After all, we all live somewhere just off the Henday — give or take that infamous 20 minutes.

You know, where that field used to be.

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