It’ll Be Okay, Mom – Fingers Crossed

It’s a different sort of summer. For months (years) we’ve been encouraging (harassing) my parents to change their living situation. I sugar coat all the words to make the struggle easier. And I can’t stop myself from thinking about myself and my husband, and our same age peers – what living situation will we choose in our ‘golden years’?

Without doubt we will all want to stay in the houses that we’ve renovated and refitted with carefully chosen granite and then more fashionable quartz , where we’ve taken down walls making great rooms as great rooms became the fashion. But when the time comes, as it has for my mom and dad, when that big yard, the staircases, even the meal preparation and bringing in food, has just become too much – where will we land?

It’s taken a while for my four siblings and I to all be on the same page agreeing that, as proud as we may be that these people that raised us have managed to keep their own household going for all these years, (65 years in fact) but now it’s time for them to have an easier life. My dad has various health issues now and simply put – they need a supported living situation.

I could write a book on the journey involved in searching out the right – what I call – ‘retirement residence’. I call it that because it sounds nice and (fingers crossed) hopefully it will be. My parents will have their own apartment- we are not talking about a nursing home or the dreaded ‘long-term care facility’ that one might need some day. They’ll have a bedroom, living room ‘kitchen area’ and the oversized bathroom these places feature.

It was that tiny kitchen that we all wished was something more. They’ll have room to bring the dining room table we’ve told our stories around, but there are just a very few cupboards. Where to put the platter that’s held the turkey for decades of Christmas’s , or the collection of vases from years of bouquets, what about the big bowl for popcorn with a movie on tv, or the big lemonade pitcher for drinks when family arrive with thirsty little ones?

Because of that tiny kitchen ‘spot’ we took my mom and dad to view a higher end retirement residence this week. No question that it was attractive and, despite it not being necessary – with three meals provided in the first floor dining room- it featured an actual kitchen, complete with full fridge and dishwasher. This brand new building, with residents moving in for the very first time was lovely, but when we returned to the place more comfortably within their budget we saw folks already friendly with each other chatting on a Sunday afternoon outside, and in the dining room an elderly woman was playing the piano loudly and with spirit, for whoever cared to listen.

We went up to take measurements to see if perhaps the china cabinet might fit, to hold special treasures and more practical items (it will) and I stared down the mini fridge.

I know my parents will only need to keep a quart of milk, or a few refreshments for when they don’t want to walk down the hall to the ‘bistro room’ that is always open, but it is the idea, that after a lifetime of taking care of themselves they don’t need their own butter or mayonnaise or a dozen eggs, that is bothering me.

That will be okay, mom, I think. We’ll go out to shop for what makes you happy in that puny fridge. In the next few weeks we’ll get busy choosing how to make this home. We’re putting our trust in the good we see here – the supportive kind staff we’ve met, the opportunities to socialize with your peers around new tables, and that wonderful woman playing the piano.


……To read about another sort of leaving home click here for My book Text Me, Love Mom on Amazon

Being An ‘Adult’ Kid

65964B6E-5AF3-42FC-AD33-9FFECA4E560F.jpegI want to lean into this stretch of time I have here at the lake. Not to think of the days counting down – but instead of the days adding up. Today was as full as a day at any lake day could be.

I had company, my niece and a girlfriend were sleeping when I wound my way down to the beach and slid the kayak into the lake before climbing in. It was the years first kayak ride with the lake still and even, just ripples in the hot sun. I paddled out to watch neighbors following kids out for an early swim or setting out on deck chairs with coffee. 

   Afterwards I  came home to see my niece and her freind off –  hugging and taking last photos into the bright sun. 

Invigorated by the kayaking I  decided to bike but it was already so hot that I turned back at the first hill, and spent my energy instead with a swim. After towelling off and deadheading the geraniums  I read my book with the guilty pleasure of chips and dip, stopping to text with a friend and my sister. img_4375

The deck rocked with the rolling water from all the ski boats enthusiasts yelping as they rode the waves. It was noisy and a bit wild, but I liked that seeing as there is such a short time for us Canadians to be raukus sun-worshippers before winter will drive us inside again. 

  I called my brother and continued the family talk about helping our parents through a move from their home to a seniors residence- such tricky times to be an adult ‘kid’.  I thought about how, if my own four children need to keep their dad and I ‘safe’ someday this will be the first place they try to discourage us from coming to – worried about ‘an elderly version of us’ on the dock, or climbing the rocky slope from the lake, or even making our tired way to our upstairs bedroom. I tried not to think too hard about that while I brought the day to a close watering plants and picking deep purple basil to eat with a plate of tomatoes and soft cheese.  I couldn’t help my mind going there though on this summer’s day, with its mix of summertime action and tranquility. img_4373

(looking for more by Candace Allan – see . Text Me, Love Mom – a summer read. )

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.