I have been trying to get my family OHIP cards for god knows how many weeks now. One for me, one for four-year-old Bea, one for the new baby, Anne.
Every time I speak to friends back home in Montreal and they ask me about my day, I need to admit to having been, once again, to Service Ontario with either the wrong paperwork, or the wrong forms, or the wrong information, because actually I shouldn’t be at this Service Ontario location, I should be at that Service Ontario location, and it’s 4:45, and they close at 5, so maybe try again tomorrow.
I told my husband Mike I have begun considering bribery.
“I’ve been thinking of buying an iTunes card, to keep in my back pocket for Service Ontario tomorrow. Just a $20 one.”
“Hold on. I’m answering an email.”
Mike’s email is more demanding than the baby. Anne can be left in her crib. I can leave her in her crib and go into my glassed-in office near the kitchen and write up the latest page of my most recent magnum opus, the saga titled Registration for Ontario Health Insurance Coverage, and when I come back, she might be wanting my attention, but she will not have multiplied into 30 babies because I took my eyes off her for 10 minutes.
“Do you know I got 80 emails in the last hour? Wait, 81, 82, EIGHTY THREE!”
I lived in Toronto in the early naughts, back in those Arcadian years when one could receive an email and answer it a day later – even a week later! — and not be thought of as a loafer. Back then, Toronto was still an under-confident city. In 2002, I felt like I got off the train to a fanfare of apologies. You moved here from Montreal? Sorry. The restaurants aren’t as good, it’s uptight, and everything shuts early.
Now, the city has grown so abundantly world class it doesn’t need to label itself a World Class City anymore. If you want Japanese cheesecake or chlorophyll kombucha or an Innovative Solution for anything, there are a zillion places to get any of that, as many Torontonians will tell you, cheeks flushed with pride. And I am the one apologizing — I am sorry about having left Montreal, a decadent city in a lagging province that better suits my temperament. If I had a slogan, it might be: progress is overrated. Runner up: speed gives me a headache.
Have you noticed the way here, they actually move? In Montreal cranes never moved
But Mike had a job offer here, and nothing in the rubble of Anglo Montreal media could compete. Plus small children tend to concretize future. You look at a baby and ask yourself what the world will be like when she graduates. Back in Montreal, every time we drove to the Dorval airport, we would stare at an overpass hanging half-built near its main exit, unfinished for so many years it could only become metaphoric: over the broken Québécois highway, an actual bridge to nowhere.
Among the first things I noticed about Toronto, this time, were the cranes.
“Mike, have you noticed the cranes?”
“Hold on – I’m answering an e—”
“Have you noticed the way here, they actually move? In Montreal cranes never moved.”
Sometimes, now, in order to know what is going on in Mike’s world, I check his Facebook. In the middle of the night, if I need help with the baby, I email him to come upstairs from his desk in the basement, where he is busy metamorphosing into a Toronto power type with impeccable email habits (answer them all right away, or you will never catch up).
Subject heading: Annie.
Subject heading: I need you.
Last time I was at Service Ontario, two days ago, waiting for my number to be called, I looked up “email widow,” wondering if I had coined a term. I’d just written Mike an email, telling him that I think my problem with OHIP is actually homesickness, a kind of soul issue. My body has been pitched into Toronto, this giant can-do city I have mixed feelings about, but my spirit remains in Quebec, where all the roads might be disintegrating, but my personal pathways are beautifully burnished from a lifetime of use.
Those who have watched me race around this health card-related fishbowl with piece after piece of documentation that the province of Ontario will not accept (“Ma’am, have you even looked at our website?”) have floated the idea of sleep deprivation, of “baby brain.” How many times is Anne waking at night?, they ask.
Quebec is the only province like that. You have to pay, then ask Quebec to pay you back
But I don’t ascribe to those ideas, the ones that put all mothers to babies into some cognitive iso-tank, where all we can do is compare Rainbow Songs and diaper creams and gentle book club reading about other women hanging on by the merest thread.
“I need to see your driver’s licence, ma’am.”
“I don’t drive.”
“Do you have an Ontario ID card?”
“I can’t get that until you believe that I live here. I brought more addressed mail, though … Hey, do you love iTunes?”
I kept my fingers crossed behind my back as the clerk looked over the rest of my application. With this round of form-filling, I had tried not to get too philosophical with questions like “When did you take up permanent residence in Ontario?” and “How long do you plan to live in Ontario?” I had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon and was already told it would cost me $400 without an OHIP card.
Finally, the clerk pushed some paper across the counter stating that OHIP cards were on their way.
“So I can I use this until I get my actual card, right?” I asked, breathlessly waving the paper around.
“Oh no. For medical issues, you are still a Quebecer for three months. You will have to use your Quebec card.”
“But my doctor won’t accept Quebec cards.”
“Yes. Quebec is the only province like that. You have to pay, then ask Quebec to pay you back. I hear it can take a long time. You’ll find, once you’re in our system, here in Ontario, we like to move much quicker.”