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

Hearts Meshed Together

lucy napYou’ve told your daughter, and yourself how this time her new little daughter should be happy in her comfy crib, unlike her older sister who never, ever was. You’ve bought a portable crib for your home and you’ve outfitted it with soft blankets and a stuffie for cuddling. You promise your daughter that you’ll assist with this crib-sleeping project and both of you – well all three of you are successful, and there is proud back patting – until one of you – the tiniest – starts to object. We have to use our resolve, you tell your grown daughter. And really it will be good for her to self-settle and grow to love her nice warm crib. Be strong you tell your daughter, who you know is a good mama.
So one afternoon your daughter is out with the three year-old, who does still have some wee problems with that darn self-settling at bedtime, and you are caring for the ten month-old sister and she’s fussy and nodding over her lunch . Instinctively your grandma/mother sensibilities tell you that she needs to be held tight and shush shush shushed with soft comforting little pats on the back, that universal baby-soothing rhythmic comfort motion, with her head tucked against your heart. In no time you feel her troubles fade and she’s asleep warm and safe against your chest.
       That’s when you could lay her in that new crib, but you know of late she wakes and looks at you with shock and sorrow and her eyes fill with dread, and her body contours with the first desperate wails, and the self- soothing idea becomes ridiculous. You decide there in your own soft chair, that your daughter can and should deal with all that, but really you could also use a tiny nap, and how special these moments of peace are, how comforting it is for both of you to have your hearts meshed together this way.

Blog, by Blog, by Blog – Until There Was A Book

Both of my daughters have struggled through long distance relationships with boyfriends.  Our eldest daughter, Zoe, was away starting university in Vancouver in her lonely (with roommate but no big family) apartment and she and the guy she’d left behind pined for each other through long distance phone calls – until it just didn’t seem like the right mix.  My youngest daughter, Lily, was later off on the opposite side of the country discovery Quebec and Montreal and devotion to studies in a little studio while working her way into, and out of, a relationship that started long distance – and ended that way.  Both girls tell me long distance is hard.  Their dad and I did it too, decades ago, so I know that’s true, but sometimes  you get lucky.

It is fall, the trees are golden, the sun is warm and all my four kids live away now.  I miss them the most Sunday afternoons when their dad and I consider a bike ride or a drive in the country with not much thought to Sunday dinner.  I come from the tradition of Sunday dinner and if any of them are home I try to do it up right.   I’m okay now – after their long and gradual departure from our too big, too quiet nest.  And now we’re the ones engaged in long distance relationships.  I have friends who are melancholy because their kids have just recently left home for places in the city.  And I’ve been reading September blogs from women – strangers to me, who are pining for their recently departed kids.  For both types of parents, who I know reminisce for a September of  grumbling about buying kids new gym shoes or calculators, and the morning chaos of getting a family out the door, I’ve decided to re-post my first few ‘letting go’ blogs.

I set up my wordpress blog two years ago while I worked at writing a book about all the crazy ways my kids left home – four kids – four different pursuits – one stunned mom.  I was still pining over the firstborn’s swift departure, and only starting to see the humor in the second’s being held at the Canada/U.S border with all his belongings in a plastic garbage bag, at the same time confused about whether it would be a positive or negative for our third child to enter an ashram, when our youngest, a sensitive homebody, left to spend five months in Italy.   It is about how during all that our family of six, learned to disconnect, discovered independence,  (sometimes scaring the crape out of both parents) and how we all found new ways of being close.  Text Me, Love Mom – Sending Your Kids Into The Wide, Wide World – the book is finished.  To go with this ‘kids leaving home’ season I’ve decided to look back at the days when Zoë, our eldest of four was first living away from us – over the mountains, beside the ocean – far from our home, and I was afraid she would fall in with west coast nudist, vegans, (which she did) and never look back….

IS THERE A PATCH FOR THAT?

So we had our babies young by today’s standards.  While mini-SUV’s stuffed with our peers offspring were trucking between Sunday music recitals and vogue over-the-top children’s birthday parties – my husband, Will, and I had already survived hip hop concerts in our basement and read the riot act at a host of eighteenth birthdays for young-adults-gone-wild.  Of course, I didn’t feel that young.  While my same-age friends were doing espressos to make it through the day, after getting up in the night with the little one’s bad dreams and winter colds, I needed a daily fix of latte and chocolate cake because one of my kids hadn’t returned a phone call in two days and another one would be calling incessantly because the road trip he was on had gotten a little sketchy.

Life is a journey and all that.  But during what part of the journey was it easiest to deal with colic and a latent thumb sucker, and when have we learned all the skills necessary to convince a sixteen-year-old that they have to take pure math and that all the kids who say they’ve had sex really haven’t?  I was only forty-two when my oldest daughter left our chaotic home in Calgary.  I can see now that I was guilty of stalking Zoë with emails and phone calls, though it’s hard to believe I had time for stalking while still immersed in patrolling two teenage boys’ covert activities, and being a choir-mom for my youngest.

I had all these cooing babies that became boisterous teens – to fill our home and hearts and consume my time, patience and energy.  For years and years, I had never thought much about them moving out and how my heart would deal with that.  It was what was supposed to happen – the launch from the nest.

Zoë found her way to leave home with her copies of Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter, and Dragon Quest gone from the shelves, her colourful collection of shoes gathered up from the closets, and the vanilla scented products stripped from the bathroom.   Were my parents just as stunned and confused to have a child slipping out of their grasp and away from their influence?  The media would have us believe that we have overindulged, overprotected and generally, now that parent is a verb, over-parented.  Could this explain why I suffered from the jitters when one by one, all too quickly, my children dispersed and I desperately wished I could visit my local pharmacists and buy a patch to help ease me off them.   What, I wondered, would be released for not NRT (nicotine replacement therapy), but rather CAHRT (children at home replacement therapy)?   A chemical that could create the sound of their cell phones chirping incessantly, or of the front door creaking and them downloading a movie at two a.m., or produce the irritation caused by the sight of their chaotic rooms, or imitate the sensation of pleasure when one of them slowed down long enough to wrap their arms around me in a hug?

An astute observer would recognize that, though I was attempting to pull myself together, I was unable to concentrate on a task and was lumbering back and forth from one activity to the next.  Bewildered, I felt like a mother bear I had seen in a film whose cub had been taken away too early.  She had rolled her head from side to side, and clumped through the forest in a distressed fashion.  Learning to deal with my first strayed cub my heart pounded, my sleep was uneven and I couldn’t concentrate to complete a task.

My kids say I could start my own lending library with my vast collection of parenting tomes, yet there was a void of information to guide me through these turbulent times, starting with the spring day that I scrunched up the envelope so I could see through its window that my daughter had been accepted at a university across an entire mountain range from home, until I realized I had worked myself out of a position with which I was damn comfortable.

They left home in the order they were born.  Not enough time passed between Zoë, the oldest, moving out and Lily, the baby, phoning from a crowded European city to tell me how hard it was to find a place to cry out loud, the way she preferred to cry.  Back up you kids, I thought.  I want to run through that all again.

Peas, Ice Cream, Smarties and a Little Blue Potty

Hey, while Grandma’s trying to catch her breath – I’m writing this on her iPhone to let you know what’s going on here, Mommy, but first I have to shout at Grandma, “No, No!” because there is a tiny piece of blueberry stem in my breakfast and she will come remove it from my presence.  You know how I hate anything nasty like that cluttering up my highchair tray.  I’ll digress, Mommy, to tell you I have Grandpa trained, too.  Yesterday he found out some other grandfather has his grandson call him ‘Bronco’, so decided he wanted to be called ‘Cool Guy’.  I say it and he’ll watch the ‘puppy’ movie with me another fantastic time. Image
So the morning I found you’d left me, your two-year-old sweet baby girl, to go reclaim your misspent youth at that music festival for what?  Five sleeps? –  I was fine, really.  I had my cousin to hang with and the other Nana and Papa before I got plopped in the car with this Grandma and caught up with some zzz’s all the way to the city.  Grandma’s first stop was Toy R Us – what’s with you never taking me there?  I think she was nervous when she saw my eyes bug out – she bought another potty and had me packed out of there in no time and over to Great Grandma’s (GG’s) and Great Grandpa’s so I could amaze them with my dexterity and climbing abilities and they could say over and over, “I’m just afraid she’s going to fall,” and encourage me to eat my dinner.   Grandma didn’t want to let on that when I started to squawk the last twenty minutes of the three hour car ride (I mean really) she had passed me back a big old bag of potato chips and ruined my dinner.

The first night was hell going to bed without you folks.  I started to cry – like seriously wail, and you won’t believe this Mommy, but somehow Grandma had left ‘Baby’ behind.  Her and Grandpa started dragging other ratty old dolls up from their basement but Mom, Baby is Baby, no substitute was filling that void.  But then ‘Cool Guy’ offered a movie and Grandma remembered you’d pulled the plug on my viewing ‘Bolt’ for the summer – the flick that I cleverly refer to as ‘puppy movie’ to help you all forget that the action packed animation is scary and that amazing puppy, Bolt, demolishes a ton of bad dudes.   Well, that was the old folks solution to my frantic tears.  Grandpa found it on his big screen TV.  It was bliss Mommy, cuddling with them and watching puppy movie.  Grandpa was such a fan of it that the next morning while Grandma ran out to buy me a big bucket of fat baby Lego and stock the fridge with my favourite healthy fruits and juices (like that lasted) Cool Guy and I watched puppy movie again.
Grandma’s been showing me off to her friends.  It’s a pretty easy gig – she get’s me to say a few words that come out clearly, and you know, I show them that I know where my nose is (duh)  and they are down on the blanket doing baby Lego with me or asking Grandma in a challenging way if she’s spoiling me with ice cream – and then she does. She had invited two grandma wanna-be’s-but-not-too-soon over passed my erratic bedtime and I know they were looking at us like the whole situation was out of control.  But really, Mommy, it was late and I was bored with the fat Lego.  She didn’t want me to watch puppy movie again (Cool Guy wasn’t home yet), they’d kiboshed my attempt at grabbing that glass ball dangling over the window seat (who makes a ball out of glass anyway), and I was so over toys.  Someone came up with the ice cream idea and yeah, yeah, I know I’m supposed to say “all done” instead of mucking in it and pushing the dish off the tray, but honestly I was spent, and Grandma was frazzled.  I knew if she’d just put me in the bath I could amuse her again.
Speaking of amusing people – the other great-grandparents came to see moi and were spellbound by my using Cool Guy’s iPad – iPad, iphone – it’s not rocket science – you scroll, you push, you tap – a baby could do it.  Even more exciting – as time goes by Grandma lets me get into the cupboards she’s said no to earlier – so why wouldn’t I give that a go?  Isn’t that what they’ll want from me when I’m older – persistence – going the extra mile?  So finally I got to play with the glass candle holders and the fragile Easter decorations tucked away behind them.

Did I mention that people bring me presents – a new doll – so cute, but not Baby.  Speaking of Baby – what’s this I keep hearing, something along the lines of, “do I understand about the new baby?”  Seriously folks?  Word here is that I’m too little to stress about a new sibling yet.  Oh, and speaking of stress…  Grandma gave up on the potty thing.  Hey, don’t get me wrong.  I like this new potty.  She thought the other one wasn’t comfy. This one is so comfy and supposedly my using it for my business instead of perfectly acceptable diapers could have something to do with eating Smarties.Image  Hey, I can’t believe you’ve kept those from me too.  I guess we’re even – you’re having a wild time at the music festival with Daddy and I’m kicking it up here with those chocolate bits of loveliness.  It seems Grandma thought she could train me, but she handed over the Smarties when I whimpered at bedtime and she sort of whimpered herself about how she trained her four kids – you can train me, and good luck to you.  I think it was a weak moment.

Today she took me out to visit another sweet grandma wanna-be… for more presents and you know it – ice cream.  Grandma was super late getting there and I have to tell you, Grandma told this friend that she can’t believe she suggested to you, Mommy, that maybe you could do some of your art while I sleep.  “As if!” she said to her ice cream serving friend.  “I totally get that when this toddling ball of energy stops spinning circles all you want to do is catch your breath, or clean up the mess, or maybe for fun throw in the laundry and watch it go around,” Grandma said gulping back a glass of vino.
ImageShe brought me home and for dinner she let me pick and eat a zillion peas from what she calls her slug invested garden.   After that I tried once more to stand at the top of the stairs to the lower level and shout what Daddy shouts at you when we’re all here together, “Zoe, are you coming?”  Just hoping that you might be down there.  That really got to the old folks – Grandma hugged me and told me “just two more sleeps” and Cool Guy said he’d watch puppy movie. They were both asleep before Bolt returned from his exile.

You two have fun – we are. But it will be blissful to snuggle with you and see ‘Baby’ again and get off this ice cream diet.  Love you guys.  XO Tessa (Grandma says I need an alias in case this is all too embarrassing later.

Taking Care of ‘Baby’ – a Memory Shake Down

Okay, call me a slow learner or a good forget-ter.  During the five days of caring for my granddaughter, while her parents enjoyed their baby-free honeymoon I found myself too often collapsing in a heap (usually with fussy baby in my arms –or with her just tucked into her car seat) with me gripping the steering wheel up front and reaching for my survival coffee, and later saying to whoever would listen – how did I do this back in the day?  I have four adult kids.  When the oldest was the mature age of five the youngest was a newborn.  So yeah, I was raising a new baby, a two-year-old, a four-year-old and my right hand person back then, the girl that had my back, fetching diapers and entertaining her brothers  (during all those long hours that their dad was at work) was my then five-and-a-half-year-old eldest daughter.  She’s twenty-seven now – and deserved the holiday with her baby’s daddy.

My honeymoon babysitting stint took place immediately following their ‘destination’ wedding on a little west coast island.  After all those months of helping plan the lovely affair I was a little frazzled leaving our home to fly out for the wedding, so when I returned here with Baby the house wasn’t exactly ready for infant care.  The first morning rather than packing usurped Baby into a cold car seat  I was borrowing milk and Cheerio’s from the neighbours.  That’s standard baby fare right?  Milk and cheerio’s?  I could best describe the five days as a memory shake down

Day One went swimmingly – fifteen-month-old grandbaby was just taking it all in, visiting her great-grandparents and traversing their stairs like she was a mountain guide in the Swiss Alps, and gobbling up fresh blueberries so fast I swear they thought I was starving her, then merrily spreading her funny grins around.  Even bedtime wasn’t too bad even though her mom still nurses her then and all grandma was offering was an unfamiliar bottle of cow’s milk. Day Two we kept action-packed, visiting another set of great-grandparents where Baby  put three little stuffed dolls under placemats and discovered them there seconds later as pleased with herself as if she were Houdini performing an escape act.

Every time she visits our place I babyproof for a different level of trickster Baby.  This time I wound fat elastic bands tightly around the cupboard handles of the cupboard I most-want-her-to-stay-out-of and she most-wants-to-get-in and she expertly unwound them.  I distracted her with some time in the yard.  She distracted me by considering putting pebbles and twigs in her mouth.  Still we were having fun, Baby and I, until bedtime.  At bedtime the jig was up.  Though Baby gurgles and chatters and exclaims all day, accept for pointing, her language is mostly indecipherable.  But we didn’t need a translator to tell us what the long hour of crying, little shouts and sobs meant.  Her message was clear, “Where the hell are my parents?  I’ve put up with you pathetic stand-ins long enough.”  Grandpa couldn’t console her, a favourite uncle felt he’d lost his place of esteem, and I finally resorted to pulling a big quilt over the two of us and letting the sweet (noisy) pet sob it out.

By Day Three any bit of fatigue brought a similar break down.  “Imposters”, she cried at nap time, “I beg you to return me to my people.”

I’ve got to do better, I told myself. Think. Think hard.  I brought out her buggy to attempt to stroll her to sleep.  Just then a heavy rain poured down outside.  But forlorn Baby had climbed into the buggy on her own.  I fell into Plan B, circling the stroller through the kitchen, dining and living room, shush, shush, shushing her and, voila – she was fast asleep and dreaming.

And on that night there were no tears at bed time either.  It was the motion theory at work. We dropped in on great-grandparents again, who can never get enough of Baby, and cleverly (finally) left at a time that my tucking Baby into the car seat with her bunny was the last image she had that night, staying soundly asleep until Day Four. 

Now I’ve never spilled the beans to my daughter about how sad her daughter was those first few nights.  I don’t want to lose any opportunity for her to let me bond with Baby for a few wonderful (sometimes loud) days again.  Darn it, why did it take me four days to rediscovered the benefits of the stroller and every mom (and grandma) should know that the car ride always works.  We finally had a rhythm going for Day Four and Day Five – with trips to Starbucks before nap time – Grandma needed a caffeine boost early in the day, and it was a little slice of heaven showing off my beloved granddaughter in my favourite coffee shop.  And after we planned for an after dinner stroll or car ride (duh) and I whispered to  smart Baby that she’d get her people back the next day, the last bedtime was calmer, too.  

So please let me do it again, good daughter of mine.  I’ve got the hang of it again, I swear.

‘THE’ Wedding

So we’ve called it ‘the’ wedding for some time, as in I’ll have to do that before ‘the’ wedding, or let me get back to you after ‘the’ wedding.  As so we did it – we had the much anticipated, highly celebrated, first wedding in our family of four kids and it went off swimmingly – with a few crazy watery challenges.   Water was definitely a factor.  My daughter and her good husband wanted to have a small-ish wedding at the Seabreeze resort, on a west coast destination called Hornby Island, amongst magnificent rock bluffs, grassy meadows and wide sandy beaches. Coming from Vancouver you take the BIG ferry, drive forty minutes and then board first one small ten minute ferry to Denman Island, cross Denman and then board your second small ten minute ferry to arrive on Hornby.  Easy Peasy!

photos by Chris Ross

We all docked  in a deluge of west coast rain.  We tried like hec to get a ‘rain plan’ worked out with the resort. The normally hugely accommodating owners wanted us to display faith in the idea of sunshine.    They told us it really  “didn’t rain on their weddings” and put me off begging for some idea of an alternate course of action in case the beach we intended to hold the ceremony on was being accosted with waves.   And guess what?  It really doesn’t  rain on their weddings.  

Slow autumn wasps came out in the golden sunshine and buzzed quietly among the guests, stinging a few people, including the poor, but brave little flower girl.  Lovely candles were lit on the long tables, including a generously tall one on the speaker’s podium which the bride brushed by catching  a ruffle on the shoulder of her dress with a small flame that two heroic aunties quickly doused with a bit of water.  I assured my daughter  that it was really very good luck to have your dress catch fire ever so briefly on your wedding day, and she believed me.

When you choose to get married at least two ferry rides away for most guests, and three for some, you take the risks that some important people might miss the ferry – like the young women we bribed to come be the bridal party hairdresser.  Thank goodness she performed her hair- do magic quickly, and another aunt agreed to help out with some hair- do magic herself.

We had the bride, bridesmaids, flower girl and her mom, and the tiny ring bearer (the happy couple’s daughter) all tucked up in the car after an off-site  photo session  and while shooing a wasp from the car, realized we had misplaced the car keys (that’s us)  – meanwhile back at the resort all the guests were waiting, as was the ridiculously delicious dinner – when suddenly voila – they were discovered on the floor of our rented cottage – right where the baby ring bearer had left them.

Loads of guests, including the bride and groom (honeymoon bound), after the magical weekend celebration were attempting to  get off the island and return to where they’d come from, but were kept stranded on Hornby when a storm rocked the region and kept the little ferry from leaving until four in the afternoon – just of course, adding to the sense of watery adventure.    

That weekend it rained, it poured, it stormed – but from day break until the last song played on the day of  ‘the’ wedding the sun shone brilliantly, in fact I saw the clouds part.  The grasses blew ever so gently, and the blackberries glistened.  The bride was stunning (hair done) and happy, the bridesmaids were delightful, as were the groomsmen.  The groom was indeed handsome, happy and as fine as a prince.  The flower girls and ring bearer were sweet as pie.   The guests cheered, clapped and blew bubbles when the minister (another aunt) introduced the newlyweds.  The resort treated us like royalty with fine food and service.  The DJ’s were incredible with their musical selections – reading us like a book (a sultry romance novel).  We dined, we drank, we danced.  And danced and danced and danced. So we’ve had ‘the’ wedding.  And what a wedding it was. Chris Ross photos