September Takes My Breath Away

The leaves start to drop. The air is fresh. A school playground fills with shouting kids, and pick-up soccer games – and I feel melancholy, but on the edge of excitement, too. More than January, isn’t September the time of new beginnings? New grade school? College and university? Parents and kids fill backpacks with crisp notebooks and coloured pencils, then head to the malls looking for squeaky new runners? There are anticipatory trips to Ikea to deck out tiny dorm rooms or studio apartments full of furniture with funny Swedish names.
But there’s boo hooing all across the country too, for all those kids heading out the door with hockey duffles converted to super suitcases, and back packs hiding that favourite worn out stuffie, or that last  pair of sandals hopeful for another month of warm weather?

I have four young adult children who are just now getting used to my having written a book about this next stage of parenting, about all those Septembers – those goodbyes until Thanksgiving.  When Zoë, the eldest, left home, her copies of Love In the Time of CholeraHarry Potter, and Dragonquest gone from the shelves, her colorful collection of shoes gathered from the closets, and her vanilla-scented products stripped from the bathroom, I searched the self-help sections for a manual on how to let go. Now that I’m a true empty nest-er, it seems a bit odd. After all, I still had three hyped-up teens in the house. One of them leaving home should have given me a little more room to breathe. But it didn’t. It took my breath away. photo

I was able to relive it all, writing Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two boys, One Empty Nest.  (Hey kids – I gave you pseudonyms – relax.  Nobody knows who this Zoë, Cole, Hudson and Lily that I write about are.) If you’ve been following my erratic blog, I’d love it if you check out my book.  It’s been one hec of a ride. And if one of yours has packed up and will be spending winter and spring in another part of the country, or maybe another country – it’ll be okay.  Really.

 

Our Dreamy Souls – Travels With My Young Adult Daughter

Staring out my office window a week ago, the last sweet peas still arched towards the sun, a late yellow rose had put out a new bloom, but now that is behind us for months to come.  The snow has arrived.

I tend to do more fall cleaning then spring cleaning – getting ready for time spent inside during the cold, and so came across a little journal I kept while my youngest daughter and I travelled together for a few weeks.  As much as parents like me, who managed busy households, dreaded all the kids moving out, this little journal reminds me of some of the best times with those young adult children.

My daughter Lily, was just eighteen and almost a year out of highschool.  It was her ‘gap year’. Lily had travelled solo back to Italy where she had done a language immersion program in high school. Her dad was nervous about her traveling on her own, so when she suggested maybe Mom could meet her over there for ten days or so, it was an easy sell. We both thought we should meet in Paris and then travel to the South of France.  Just the phrase, ‘the south of France’ stirred our dreamy souls. After a few exotic lazy days on the beaches near Antibes we took a train to see Milan, after which I was to return home and she was resuming her trip by meeting friends in Barcelona.

This was the journal entry I came across on the chilly November day, written on a warmer day several years ago in May –

“We’d arranged a taxi to pick Lily up at the hotel at 5:30 am this morning and bring her to the bus station. From there she will shuttle to the airport for her flight to rejoin her young friends in Barcelona. If she was anxious to get back to the freedom of being on her own, she never let on.

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It made me happy to buy her a pretty summer dress and she wore it in the street of Grasse and Antibes, but she put on her black jeans and a t-shirt to travel.  I watched her gather her things from the hotel room and thought about what a sweet time we had together, sitting above Paris on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre – Lily describing the type of man she might like to marry, or lying on the beach in Côte d’Azar, trying to pretend we belonged there.  We had joked that perhaps we would have a spiritual experience when we went to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and then afterwards whispered in the sunny square of the basilica that of course, we had been moved by the majesty of the work.  That was just before a priest clucked his tongue at the hem of Lily’s dress, indicating it exposed too much of her legs – after we agreed that he had taken a long look at their God created beauty.”IMG_0865

I finished that journal entry by saying, “Lily and I have made memories to share to keep me happier when she goes off to university in September, and for other times, years from now. Lily knew she was running late this morning but let me go back for three more hugs and French ‘cheek kisses’.  I didn’t think I’d go back to sleep after climbing the stairs back to our small room but slid in between the sheets of the bed she’d occupied, where the balcony door was open to the breeze, and I fell into dreaming. When I have trouble sleeping with all of them gone off, I’ll try to remember the meals I shared with my youngest daughter, the sunsets that fell over our evenings, the fashions we clamored about in Milan, the late night conversations we whispered across our pillows – so that when the house is empty, with her and her siblings all living away, I’ll be able to bring it all back to mind.”

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Summer Blogs – Short and Sweet – like the season

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My summer blogs are going to be short and sweet – like summer itself. Summer passes by all too swiftly – it’s only fifty-five or so days until a new generation of moms and dads will be giving their eighteen-year-old kids a hug good-bye that is supposed to last until Thanksgiving. Maybe that’s a kid that’s been trying your patience staying out all night because of a melancholy summer romance, or just hanging out with friends they’ve had since grade school.  A kid who is supposed to be a ‘young adult’ but perhaps needs to be reminded to shower sometimes, or find their bedroom floor, or hasn’t exactly floored you with their organizational skills – due of course, to that still developing frontal lobe excuse.

I’ve been there. Dreading a September that won’t involve getting back to the usual routine but instead will leave an emptiness in an otherwise busy house. A September that will involve wondering how often is the ‘okay’ amount to check in, instead of seeing my daughter come in the back gate after school still reading a book while she walked along.

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They left in other ways, too. My son went of to be a lift operator on a ski hill six hundred miles away. He had cell service at the tip top of the mountain and would call in the early morning – probably the time of day he felt loneliest. But that same son went to film school years later and helped me direct my very own short, short video about that crazy, early time of learning a new way of being a family.  The video goes along with the story that those changing times led me to tell with my book, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest.(available on Amazon). Share the video with those moms and dads, sisters or aunts that you know that are going to have a different sort of September. It’ll make them smile.

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KIDS COME HOME – HONEST THEY DO

There are people who love their empty nest.  I’m just not one of them.photo 9 I had my kids in a cluster. When our youngest daughter was born, my oldest daughter was five and a half, and she had a two-year-old and four-year-old brother – I’ve done the math and it doesn’t make much sense to me either.  So we had babies, and toddlers, and the easier years of grade school-ers it seems now (only now) and then Holy Cow Batman, a house brimming with teenagers – loud (or disturbingly quiet), emotional, angst-y, experimental, lovelorn, sneaky, wonderful adolescences – followed by, because they left in a cluster, too – quiet.  Just me and their dad, with all the varied interests we always had and time to pursue them, inside that quiet.  I didn’t like it one bit, and he wasn’t so crazy about it either.  We’re people-people and our people were gone.  We didn’t necessarily miss driving them places, or their taking our cars, I couldn’t honestly say I missed cooking for them and grocery shopping for them – I mean, seriously, that was a ton of work and my cooking got less creative, not more, over the two decades, while the kids all swung towards that annoying health conscious fare.

No, I just liked them moving around the house, someone to shout out to from my office to the kitchen table. When their dad worked long hours there was always someone to meet me on a patio (free food – why wouldn’t they?). Their dad actually was happy when they’d come in late and tell him the movie he was watching sucked and they’d find something together to stay up to.

So maybe I’m making some of you sad, those that aren’t too excited about the empty nest either. But don’t be too sad because they come back.  Honestly, they do.  I remember being so forlorn when our youngest left us to all that quiet.  I mean, who’d know I’d miss being jarred awake to cars pulling up outside, and shouts of good-bye over even louder music. I was expressing my dislike of our uncomfortable new quiet to a neighbor woman, about fifteen years my senior, and she told me, You should enjoy the break, they’ll return for this or that reason.  Believe me, she said, they do that.

Well, she didn’t know my kids, I told her. My eldest was living with her boyfriend in another city. The second eldest was determined to be part of the film industry and there wasn’t enough of that work here, third child would be most determined to not move back home and the baby, who’d just left for university had been exploring new cities since a high school exchange to Italy. That ship had sailed – it was their dad and I, and grilled cheese sandwiches from there on in.  That wise neighbor gave me this little half smile that said, who cares about all that, kids come back.cropped-cropped-cropped-better-nest.jpg

Some days I feel like that Million Little Pieces guy.  I published this book, Text Me, Love Mom, Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest and guess what? The nest was empty, and (be still my beating heart) it will be empty again tomorrow morning, but it’s not empty now and over the last few years they’ve ALL had cause to return.  In the book, I was writing about the chaos of it all, the challenges of iparenting from far away, and the turmoil of our family getting its bearings again.  But over the years all our kids have needed a short term place to perch between; a job, a relationship, a school program or a decision. Usually just one of them at a time, never more than two.   Thank goodness the place to land – was home.

Both boys have made separate sojourns home for a few months to refuel, work, or wait for the next film project to pick up.  I’d go to the gym with them after having let that lapse, and we’d work out in our own corners. My oldest son would cook me the best eggs, eating his standing at the counter – I don’t know why.  The youngest son loves breakfast out.  Breakfast isn’t really my thing, but he’s a funny guy (when he’s not a serious guy) and the conversation was worth it.

The daughter that is all of their big sister, married her boyfriend and moved back to our city with their two small daughters and while house hunting they ALL moved in for three fun months of early mornings, an amusing messy toddler, a baby to snuggle, and all the glorious chaos of that.  Finally, a  year ago, when the house was too quiet again after all of that commotion,  our youngest returned from living in Montreal and then LA for a short time, to work and establish a photography business here,  but tomorrow morning she will drive off again with a packed car and an adventurous spirit and that chapter will close, too.

She humored her dad and I with a long walk on Sunday, though so tired from a late night with friends. This past week I’ve anxiously treated her to lunch out, and a bit of shopping.  But really new summer blouses and lunches on patios in the late spring sunshine are only ways of lingering with this person I will miss.  We will text and talk.  We always do.  But I’ll miss waking in the night to her coming in, I’ll miss  that she liked to buy the groceries for me –  it was like having a mom here instead of being the mom, I’ll miss her newly blossoming green thumb, I’ll miss her telling me, Mom, you look pretty.

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The neighbor was right.  They do come back and now she’s off again.  More than anything I will miss a ‘kid’ in the house to call out to from this little room where I write.

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

Seventeen Year Olds Do Stupid Shit

Mid-January and I’d be so happy to steal away to my favourite latte shop, bring a hot one home to my little office, stare out at the winter white and brown back yard and get back to that novel I started way (seriously way) too long ago.  But this wise guy that I’m married to insists that, having taken a good chunk of the last seven years writing and publishing Text Me, Love Mom – I should put some of my restless energy into sharing it (okay, promoting it) to all those folks out in the wide, wide world that I was writing it for.  Readers are telling me that Text Me, love Mom is funny – funnier than I thought, as I was caught up in the drama of those four darn kids freaking me out with the insanity of ‘twenty-four being the new eighteen’ as they made their way in the world. Read Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest and you’ll find the funny bits, but I decided this January morning to offer up a more dramatic ‘teaser’.  The chapter is called ‘Teenage Runaway’ and begins with this great quote from my sassy youngest kid –

“You and dad are really the wrecking ball of all of our outlaw, runaway fantasies. Why couldn’t you jerks go and be crack addicts or religious fanatics so we could have excuses to live on the wide open road?”

– Lily

 

This is a story of all the ways and times my kids left home, but there is a chapter I thought best to leave out until Lily granted me her permission to put it in. “It’s okay, Mom,” she said. “It will add drama. I’m happy to supply some drama. Just as long as you remember in the telling of it, that was then. This is now.”

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This is the story of Lily running away — only she, of course, never calls it that. Much to her chagrin, the rest of the family does. I try not to think about it too often, the way you do with times in your life when you are so terribly off balance. In fact, those sixty odd, uneasy days when Lily ran away were the first time we had a completely empty nest.

For twenty-three years, one month and twenty-nine days, I was a mom with children living at home. In the early autumn of her seventeenth year, Lily was going to be the last kid still residing with her dad and me. After a summer of living with us and doing lucrative summer jobs in Calgary, both Cole and Hudson had returned to the coast. Hudson had moved in with a bunch of guys in Victoria, and Cole, elated to be starting a film production program in Vancouver, was renting a room in the house Zoë and her boyfriend lived in. As I look back on it all, there had been some foreshadowing of Lily’s departure before she left home in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.

To be fair, Lily would tell it differently. She woke me up at two a.m., putting her face up close to mine to whisper that she couldn’t find her social security card and needed it for a new job she was applying for early the next morning. She went on to explain to me in my groggy haze that she was going to stay over at a girlfriend’s near the job’s location. I stumbled out of bed, despite her telling me not to. Standing in the light of the hallway, Lily told me she loved me and gave me a long hug, apologizing for disturbing my sleep. You are not a mother for twenty-three years, one month and twenty-nine days (Zoë’s age) without knowing something is bloody well up when that sequence of events takes place, but somehow I fell back into bed and had the last restful sleep I would have for weeks…

– poster by Shea Proulx and Creativision.

 

Because Really – Who Travels Home For Halloween?

door pumpkinOur kids all come home at Christmas – except that one time when our eldest son, Cole, had a job at a ski resort which set us all to crying at the perfectly fine early Christmas he attended, just thinking about the real Christmas without him.  And we usually have most of them for Easter, and even Thanksgiving – but no one arranges for the kids to come home for Halloween.  That would be crazy – nuts even.  So October 31st approaches and I stock up on the bitty chocolate bars that I like to eat too many of, and sometime that week I string a few orange lights around the deck, and I always buy a pumpkin or two to set on the front stoop. halloween lights I’m okay with all that.  Then the ghoulish day arrives.  Store clerks and service station attendants are decked out like Batman and sexy witches and of course, zombies. I deal with all that okay, and come home and fill a big bowl at the door with more candy then the neighbourhood kids could possibly come calling for.  Mid-afternoon I start reminiscing over the Halloween’s of the past; the overwrought kids already hyped from school parties and anticipatory anxiety, the phone calls arranging whose trick or treating with whom, and in what direction, even the camaraderie on those flipping freezing cold ones with snow and lost mittens, and neighbors offering a bit of something to warm the parents who are following the masquerading pint-sized troops.

Up till then I believe that I can just have that big old pumpkin sitting there, because who wants to carve it alone, but around about dusk it just won’t do.  That’s when I miss my kids – the whole lot of them.  We were a pretty well oiled jack o’lantern  team. The eldest, Zoey, was the artist who drew the creepy face, but patiently let Lily, the youngest, add some freaky details. Hudson, our youngest son, liked to carve the gourd along with me or his dad. Zoey, the tactile one, loved to dig into that soggy, seedy mess to scoop out the pulp. pumplin muckCole, our eldest son, the one that left that Christmas, was part of the ritual, but more because he liked to see it all going on, but didn’t care if he took part.  Last December I decorated the tree before his arrival in town, because of his assumed indifference, and had to apologize for my haste.  I guess he is like one of those United Nations observers – he likes to see it all happen.

lame pumpkinDarn it, I miss my kids at Halloween.  I miss the October 31st chaos, the rushed dinner and costume meltdowns, the sugar highs and neighbourhood solidarity. But I really miss the pumpkin carving ritual. So once again I can’t leave that faceless pumpkin on the stoop –  I haul it in, do a quick scoop out, and carve out a lame hardly-scary expression – cause it’s just begging me to do it for old-time sake.  It’s quiet in here, with me and their dad offering up handfuls of goodies to the next generation of neighbourhood trick or treaters, because really – who travels home for Halloween?

A hug that lasts until Thanksgiving –

It’s the strangest thing, having written this book over too many years of my kids coming of age. (What does that mean ‘coming of age’, really?) And odd to have made it through another ‘stage of parenting’ and to have detailed it all – the first big good-bye that had to last until Thanksgiving, and with the next kid – the debate over the ‘gap’ year, which wasn’t really a debate at all – at almost eighteen he’d made his decision – he was going to be a liftie, then counseling  another one, who’d never even gone to summer camp, through hating residence life while considering an ashram instead, and finally, giving up managing the fussy youngest, who defied management, on an Italian exchange.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Somehow the four of them guided each other, and I learned to lose my hold on them all, eating grilled cheese with their dad in a too calm house.  Now Text Me, Love Mom – Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest (the book) is out there and I hope it will ease parent’s apprehension about sending their progeny into the wide, wide world. Love to hear your thoughts.  Did it make you hold on tight to the child you also have to say the first long goodbye to?  Are you going to buy it for your mom so that she can see what sketchy situations other people’s kids get in and out of? True, I’ve hovered and helicoptered but there are days when their journeys have lifted my spirits and I’m optimistic that the book will lift yours, too.  It’s available from Iguanna Books and all your favorite online book sellers. IMG_1561-1