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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A Different Kind of September with Hugs To Last Until Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year again – when the first cool August night makes us think of  September and autumn plans and all the changes that time of year brings. On December 31st we party long and celebrate a new year, but I’ve always felt that more new beginnings take place in the first crisp days of autumn – vacations end, summer jobs draw to a close, cottages are deserted, pencils sharpened and smart outfits bought for children to greet new teachers and classmates.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When it wasn’t new teachers, but rather professors, and the classrooms were at universities far across the country, and the biggest change was that another of my four kids was flying off with belongings packed and rooms left oddly clean, Septembers brought a pang to my heart.  But there were days heady with adventure, and new cities to find the very best sushi and pizza shops in, and funny stories to be texted and copied and pasted to each other.IMG_4192

When my youngest, Lily, did an exchange in her third year to the University of San Francisco State I flew down with her to help with the move into her apartment and kick around that city for a week.  I was there to calm her on the first day when she had to start classes with red spots over her fresh face.  We were never sure if they were mosquito bites from a broken screen or hives from nerves. The fire station down the road from her place had a drop box for unwanted babies and I told my baby to go there if she needed help.   How could they refuse her?

Lily is a bold girl and was anxious to explore  Haight Ashbury and skateboard through Golden Gate Park on her own.  But on a particular Sunday she called home in tears to say that her  phone was missing and with it the numbers of new contacts and friends.  I told her that her friends would catch up with her.  “No Mom,” she told me through her tears, “I’m the new one here.  I still had to be the one to contact them.  I feel so lonely again.”  Afterward she  had some sad days, but she made it through them. This year’s students new to college will all make it through – not necessarily by finishing a school year – some of my four had false starts.  Still, I understand the September mood that will come over  family homes as kids set off on grand new journeys and moms and dads and younger siblings adjust to not having that one kid there – coming in late, messing up the kitchen, misplacing car keys, drinking the last of the milk – and how, oh how that will be missed.  IMG_3675

Try out Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest  – the story of Zoë, Cole, Hudson and Lily leaving home – it is a feel better book.  Recommend it to a mom you know, or dad, sister, auntie …  It’s at http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712 .

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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Teenage Sympathizer

Hey, I have so many mom friends and relatives who have a son or daughter graduating high school this June.  I love all that buzz of buying ‘that dress’ or do you rent or buy the son a suit? – and banquet tickets, famous commencement speeches, and then the after party and after, after party … It makes me think about the chapter I wrote in Text Me, Love Mom about the first time our family spun our way through all that…

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.

– Hesiod, Eighth Century BC

One Wednesday late in June, my husband,Will, arrived home and politely inquired as to why so many of our daughter Zoë’s friends were gathered in our backyard again. He had yet to notice that the boys were in their boxers. Forever a teenage sympathizer, I handed him the ice for his drink and said calmly, “Some of them just wrote their last exam. I think they’re feeling celebratory. Let them be.”

“Will there be another party when the rest of them write their last exam?”

“Seriously, Dad, this isn’t a party,” Zoë told him, wrapping a towel around her bikini-clad body. “It’s just a few of my friends celebrating a bit.”

Zoë’s a good kid. If it were a party, she would certainly have let us know. Eight kids having a water fight, with the boys in boxers and the ones of age knocking back a few beers, followed by a session of whipping up nachos in the oven accompanied by rap music, was definitely not a party.

Just then, two of the more manly looking boys skidded by the kitchen window in their boxers and socks. As Zoë’s dad leapt out the deck door to grab them — not that there was much to grab them by — I became a full blown supporter of their… youthful charm. “Come on. Come on. They just finished high school. Twelve years. Of course, they’re giddy.” Zoe’s much younger sister, Lily, and her friend, Heidi, waved at Will from their post in our dilapidated tree house. The younger girls looked entertained, as if they had balcony seats to a reality TV show.

Will waved back at Lily and Heidi but yelled at the others to get dressed or all thunder would break loose. They might have been unfamiliar with that expression, but the guys rushed back into their jeans. Will stepped back inside to demand further explanation. “Wasn’t there a party for this already?” he asked Zoë. He turned to me. “Didn’t they call it graduation? Wasn’t that the night we spent a zillion bucks dressing Zoë up so she could sit at a banquet for two hours, have three dances, and then change back into her street clothes in a washroom cubicle like a superhero, before vanishing for the real celebration out of our sight? Furthermore, wasn’t there a party here three days later, after we watched five hundred of them march across the stage?” His excitement was elevating to match theirs. “And what the heck was last Friday? Wasn’t there a whole lot of teens in a celebratory mood here then, too?”

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“Oh, Dad, that was the last day of classes. Cole’s friends were here, too.”

Will pointed to a tall boy from four doors up the road. “Cole’s friends are here now, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Dad, you can’t count Jacob,” Zoë said. Jacob, our son Cole’s closest friend, was now helping to distribute the nachos. He was almost a member of our family, but then that was true of our younger son, Hudson’s pals, Robin and Mark, from around the block, and Lily’s entourage of blonde twelve-year-olds — Heidi and Charlotte, who were Jacob and Robin’s sisters, and Mattie from across the street. This was a popular strategy with our four kids — pointing out that the number of friends that each of them has over isn’t that out of line — say two or three a piece — resulting in Friday nights with a dozen or more kids sprawling about the house.

“That was the last day of classes,” Zoë explained again to her clueless father. “This is the last day of exams…” She lowered her voice and stuffed a nacho into her mouth, mumbling, “… at least for some people.” Zoë and a few others still had four more days before their last exam and then it would be their turn to be giddy and celebratory… and in their underwear.

“You see,” I said, “maybe this is the universe’s plan to help us let her go away to university in Vancouver. If they drive us insane over the summer, it will be easier to separate.” I choked on the s-word. I really did need to grow up. I needed to be a Shirley Partridge type of mom, hip but mature enough to set some rules, take back the stereo and put on some Fleetwood Mac instead of Bowling For Soup, and take her shopping for school supplies and a sensible raincoat. As a responsible mom, I would study tourist guides of Vancouver with her and teach her how to grocery shop for ripe melons and reasonable cuts of meat.

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But I wasn’t ready for all that. There was something magical about the summer after high school. I felt more like Lorelai Gilmore, the mother-as-friend from television’s Gilmore Girls, than my generation’s sensible Shirley Partridge (though she was a singer in a pop band). The moods of the kids around us were contagious. At that point, we still had Zoë’s eighteenth birthday party to plan, as well as some sort of big family gathering before she officially went away. Forget the grocery shopping lessons, bring on the nachos, I thought, kicking off my Clarks so I could take a run through the sprinkler.

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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

Was There More Daydreaming?

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Do you remember that time?  The time before ‘this time’ when we were somehow more free to be alone?  If you are a young reader here – you won’t recall it, as it never really existed for you.  Let’s see – do you recall calmly sitting at a bus stop after school waiting for your ride, and just staring out, maybe thinking about needing to call a friend from home so the two of you could pick a spot to meet at the mall, say the frozen yogurt stand at the food court or the bench beside the phone booths in the middle?  And if your friend wasn’t there when you arrived you would take out that letter to your cousin that you started in math class, and finish telling her about the new guy you liked, but you couldn’t tell her to look up his grinning mug on facebook,  or send her a selfie of you waiting for your bus home – still glowing with your crush on.

I’m not being holier than thou.  I love, love, love my phone and all the way it connects me to the world. I tell myself to leave it behind on occasion, but then I quickly think– “Oh no Self, what if I need to take a photo, something that I immediately have to post to my friends or tweet to strangers?  Come on. Really?  I could send them one of the 628 photos currently in my magical phone?   I wrote my book, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest when I realized with my kids going off into the wide, wide world I was feeling more than a little jittery.  And then ca-pow, I managed, as parents do now, to be connected  to them in a way that I was never connected to my mom. When I flew away to university and was terribly homesick for my big family, she splurged on pricey long distance encouraging phone calls, and we wrote letters that involved pen, and paper and stamps – and hey, if we could have texted each other (for free), I know we would have. So it isn’t that desire for connection that I am being slightly forlorn about today.

No, I’m reading a  captivating book called – The End of Absence – Reclaiming What We’ve Lost In A World Of Constant Connection, by Michael Harris, a writer from Vancouver, Canada.  Harris says, that “the difference that future generations will find hardest to grasp is the end of absence – the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished.”

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He makes me aware that I am part of the last few generations who will remember that other time, a time when it was easier to hang out with yourself, to be alone and okay.  Do you remember those days when if you walked to the corner store or the library it was just you, without a phone in your hand – or maybe you might have run ahead to catch up to a neighbor you spotted to talk to, because that’s how you ‘shared’, not by posting share?  (Though of course, the irony is that I’ll soon finish this post and share it.) Will my four kids, who launched themselves in the world and at times ignored the tether of my cell phone – probably because I was bugging them like crazy, or they were up to deeds I wouldn’t approve of – will they recall the time when there was no little beep, beep and ding, ding in their purse or pocket, and how if they were out with a person, say me or their dad or each other, they were really just with them.  Was there more daydreaming back then?  Do they daydream between texting, and checking facebook posts and watching YouTube videos?  Do I?

To read Text Me, Love Mom – the book – go to http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712 or http://www.amazon.ca/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.