My mission – if I chose to take it – was to leave my eighteen-year-old daughter in Montreal. Her dad and brother had just left to return to Calgary and now it was my job to finish, as they say, setting Lily up. I made lists of what I’d accomplish – getting an account for her to pay her utility bills, a few simple cooking lessons (that I had some how neglected during the past eighteen years), arranging for an internet connection which hasn’t got any less complicated or expedient since I did the same for her older sister six years previous. Lily is an organized detail person and could have managed all that on her own. I didn’t need seven days to help her with it. No, the real reason for my prolonged stay was that I couldn’t bear to think of leaving Lily alone in that small hot apartment before she had made a few contacts with potential friends. The night before her first day of classes, against my boring motherly advice about getting sleep, she had me drop her at the apartment of friends of friends from home. She came in at one a.m. and told me that they were good guys who had given her tight advice about the city – so therefore potential friends.
The universities I was familiar with in the west all have distinct campuses. The locations of McGill and Concordia right in the centre of Montreal make the down town community indistinguishable from the university community. While Lily put on her little black French dress and was taken out by the Calgary connected friends I left the apartment in search of a breeze, and soon felt that the student age population owned the streets. I was feeling rather alone in my dotage.
Lily and I had one more sweltering weekend together. It was almost too freaking hot in the apartment to conduct cooking lessons over the gas stove so we sought out air-conditioned restaurants. Our server in the Mexican restaurant around the corner was a classmate who invited Lily to go cliff jumping in the Eastern townships. Lily had photography homework that night and rushed off to shoot a roll of film with another classmate (and another potential friend) and I saw Mama Mia – the movie, alone.
I’d never been to many movies on my own, but it had been a relief to sit in the air-conditioned theatre and wonder how many of the mother/daughter sets we’d seen in Ikea earlier had made it to Mama Mia to hear Merle Streep sing ABBA songs and drool over Pierce Brosnan. Or maybe there were other daughter’s like mine who were engaged in tentative bonds with new acquaintances, while their mom’s escaped the oppressive heat to listen somewhere nearby in the dark to Streep’s character croon to her twenty-year-old daughter,
The places I had planned for us to go?
Well, some of that we did but most we didn’t
And why I just don’t know
All the time I try to capture
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time.
The afternoon before I was to leave the weather broke, skies turned a steel blue and the rains came. Back in Calgary Lily’s brother, Hudson, would be packing to make his move to the west coast with his band. I would get home in time to see them off. I made Lily and I supper of roast chicken, too sticky risotto, and grilled zucchini cakes and gave her verbal directions on washing dishes sans dishwasher. I had imagined us working together in the teeny kitchen but she was reading homework on the history of photography. I could see her nodding off and so suggested she read out loud to me, and together we learned about camera obscura and deguerrotype and Henry Fox Talbot. She finished up and fell asleep stretched across the bed in her clothes.
Since high school Lily would lie on the back of our living room couch in the afternoon sun to share what was on her mind, or we would go out to our favourite coffee/nacho shop. Her brother, Hudson, liked to go out for breakfast with me after a late night with friends and do the same, talking more with me than at other times, letting me in on what his latest plans were and, being Hudson, his philosophical stance on them. I couldn’t solve all of their young adult angst, (sometimes it just reminded me of my own), but I learned to be less afraid of their troubles and just listen, trying not to yap back too much, guiding them instead with careful assurances that they would find their path, just be careful to leave doors open, it was all about those open doors.
Watching Lily sleep, her blond hair spread across the new Ikea pillows, I thought of all the photos she would take and print over the semester and of all the images I will have pictured on long afternoons, as fall turned to winter. I hung my head out the window and listened to the students up late, calling out to each other, as they passed by, excited by their new independence. It was time to go home.
To read more about Lily and I – along with the chaos of four kids being launched into the wide, wide world – during that next stage of parenting, click on the following links:
Link to Amazon.ca http://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712
Link to Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712