I Was A Teenage Sympathizer

 

A plate of Nachos—tortilla chips topped ...

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So our first born daughter, at barely eighteen-years-old was going away to school. It was time for me to grow up.  It was on a Wednesday in June that her dad arrived home and inquired as to why so many of her friends were gathered in our basement again.  This was moments before he noticed that the boys in the gang were in their boxers.  Forever a teenage sympathizer myself, (and I think you can get arrested for that) 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.”

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

“Oh, come on Dad, this isn’t a party,” Zoë told him.  Zoë’s a good kid.  If it were a party she would let us know.  Eight kids having a water fight, with the boys stripping down to boxers, then all of them whipping up a pan of nachos in the oven and testing my teenage sympathizer levels with their rap music, was definitely not a party.

Will demanded further explanation.  “Wasn’t there a celebration for this already?  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 change back into her street clothes in a washroom like a super hero, before vanishing for the real celebration out of our sight?  Further more, wasn’t there a party here three days later, after we watched five hundred of them march across the stage – symbolizing once again that they were done?”

“Oh Dad, that was convocation, not the end of exams.”

Zoë explained further to her clueless father – “This is the last day of exams…” she lowered her voice and stuffed a nacho into her mouth,  “… at least for some people.”  Zoë and a few of the 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 universal plan to help us let her go.  If they drive us crazy over the summer, it will be easier to separate.”  I choked on the s-word, confirming in my mind that I needed to be some Shirley Partridge type of mom, hip but mature enough to set some rules, take back the stereo – play Fleetwood Mac on it instead of Bowling For Soup, or take her shopping for school supplies and perhaps study street maps of Vancouver with her and teach her how to grocery shop for ripe melons and reasonable cuts of meat.

But I wasn’t ready for all that.  There was something magical about the summer after high school. I was feeling more like Lorelai Gilmore, the mother-as-friend from television’s Gilmore Girls, then the more sensible (though pop band singer) Shirley Partridge.  The mood of the young adults was contagious.  At that point we still had the party for Zoë’s eighteenth birthday to plan, and there had to be some sort of event before she officially went away.  Forget the grocery shopping lessons, bring on the nachos, I said, kicking off my shoes and preparing to run through the sprinkler.

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Is There A Patch For That?

 

Complete set of the seven books of the "H...

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See, I wasn’t a mom of the nineties – waiting until well into my thirties to get pregnant so that I could be zooming around in a mini-van in my forties, hauling my grade school darlings to the perfunctory piano and swimming lessons, and then a decade later – freezing my butt off at soccer matches and amateur rocket launches in my fifties to keeps my adolescent rebels from joining gangs and tattooing their foreheads.  And then probably more then ready to let them go, as my sixties loomed.

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.

Zoe … Zoe leaving threw me for a loop.  It’s almost thanksgiving 2010.  Zoe is home for the week, sleeping right now in her renovated bedroom – with the little baby beside her who recently made me a grandma.  Me?!  But when Zoe left home six years ago I was the big crying baby.  I’ll take you there – on Monday’s post…

If You See Cubs, The Mother Will Be Nearby

Ancient writers believed that the mother bear continually licked her little cub until it took shape. This was considered to be the very essence of creation, and as a result the Greeks and Romans referred to the bear only in the feminine gender. In the classical world of 40,000 years ago, the bear appeared as a goddess wearing a bear mask, the very symbol of the great mother of all creation. www.bearden.org The Bear Facts

 

Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) cubs.

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You have babies.  You raise them.  They leave.

“Just one more,” I said in 1985, (and 87, and 89) until I was surrounded by babies and toddlers and a wise little five-year-old.  Their needs took care of my needs.  I wasn’t one of those young girls who said she wanted a big family.  Sure, I wanted kids and I wanted a career, like every other independent thinker in my feminist studies class in first year university in 1979.

I was twenty-four when I had ZoëThey say twenty-four is the new eighteen.  By that standard mine was almost a teenage pregnancy. My husband, Will, was in the last year of an undergraduate degree before three years of law school.   His student loan coffers were being supplemented by my big-bellied waitress gig and a future plan to write the great Canadian novel with the expertise of my Creative Writing degree, while our little one napped. Need-less-to-say I wasn’t writing novels after the arrival of Zoë knocked our collective socks off. It was a heroic feat to keep my eyes open, shower periodically, tend to every last one of her little baby needs and get over any lunatic earth mother intentions, such as homemade baby food (as pretty as it looked in the jars). One afternoon, I watched a couple past down the street holding the hands of their small boy and swinging him happily off the ground between them.  That looked just right – two adults, one child, a nice montage.  A week later I was pregnant with my second baby.  Our family would make a slightly bigger mosaic.

Cole was, and still is, the polar opposite of his sister Zoë.  At nine months he was running figure eights around the three of us.       It sounds flaky, but during a desperately needed weekend escape from two toddlers, looking out at the starry night from inside a spooky Waterton Lakes Park hotel, I told my husband we can discuss whether or not we should have a third but I just know there’s another one waiting to come to us. Hudson, baby number three, was the catalyst for my searching out books on getting organized.  It was clear that I was in over my head when I began pouring cereal into their bowls the night before to save me the trouble during my almost comatose mornings.

At the tender age of only three-and-a-half Zoë was a big help with her two brothers, but I was falling behind the eight ball with some mothering details.  On one of my I-can-only-open-one-eye mornings I found her at the fridge helping out by filling Cole’s bottle with milk and getting another bottle ready for herself.  If I had missed introducing Zoë to the sippy cup in my overwhelmed-by-children state what else had I neglected?

Blam.  It struck me.  I know what I had neglected.  I had neglected to give Zoë a sister.       Will was admitted to the Alberta Bar to begin his career as a lawyer, and I should have been admitted to the loony bin for not being content with our familial montage until it was made up of – me with new baby, Lily, in the snugli, while somehow two-year-old Hudson, the cuddler, still bumped along on my hip as Cole ran circles around us, and Zoë helped push the empty buggy.  There were still moments in the shower for years after where I debated whether or not I could accept that I was finished with babies – the teeny soft heads, and chubby feet and that spot under their wobbly neck that felt so sweet, their gurgles, and sugar breath tucked into our bed with us – could I be done with all of that?  It was telling that these moments of longing for more ‘baby’ occurred in the shower, being that was the only place I had time for reflection.  Four was enough.  Perhaps some Catholics, and certainly Mormons still have more, but I couldn’t say my family size was faith based, though a certain amount of faith was required to maintain my belief that I could manage my foursome.

Stick with me – I’ll be back Mondays and Thursdays – with further excerpts from the book project – Text Me, Love Mom – A journey to the day I found myself  still pining over the firstborn’s swift departure, and only starting to see the humour 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, asked if we’d allow her, at only sixteen to do a high school exchange to spend five months in Travestere, Italy.   (She’d already filled out the papers.)

Text me, love mom

Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich

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Okay – NOW I have an empty nest. We also have four renovated bedrooms, a real cool third bathroom, a big back porch perfect for four ‘kids’ backpacks and their skate board/ runner/flip-flop/high heel/ shoe collections, a window seat that didn’t exist before, which would be just the spot for writing that last last minute essay, or curling up to text a dozen friends.
The renovation started in my denial stage. I insisted that we still needed a house that would accommodate four kids, or three anyway (the eldest had lived away for four years when the bobcat arrived and the deconstruction began). The other three were just away at universities – it doesn’t count as having moved out if we still paid their rent, right?
Now another September has started with no one to drive to school. I always said I didn’t want to taxi them, but despite a lack of conversation during the morning car ride, I liked that time in the car, forced to decipher their hip hop CD while they ate peanut butter toast (the girls) or drank protein powder and milk (the boys). I’d drive them, and then I’d go for a quick workout at the gym. I knew the renovation had ’caused’ a relapse from exercise that didn’t involve sprinting around Home Depot, but was shocked (shocked!) to learn when I returned today, feeling a little thick around the middle, that according to their membership records I dropped out seventeen months ago.
So another September finds me back to pumping iron (well more like sloppy sit-ups) but with no young adults and their peeps hanging out on the front lawn after classes, nobody raiding our fridge, playing pool in our basement, or annoying our neighbours with their rap tunes. Five o’clock to seven o’clock is the worse. It’s too freaking quiet here. I’ve got to do something about that.  (Yesterday I was interviewed to volunteer to cuddle the babies of teenage moms – I’ll blog you about the scariness of that soon.)
We are a family of six. Their dad was rarely home in time to accommodate eating before piano lessons, or musical theater rehersals, football games, or math tutoring. No problem. I cooked for six anyway – on cold nights I’d roast a chicken and vegetables, or perhaps in the afternoon I’d put a beef stew on. When I was less inspired it was spaghetti or butter chicken – cheating on the butter part with a little package to get it going. In a rush there were always wraps or a saucy stir fry. (note to Hudson – second son- there is some literary license involved here – I did cook nice meals sometimes. I’m certain of it.)
When Zoe moved away for university there were still five of us. You cook for five. The winter Cole took off for Whistler there were four of us left here. That would be the average family – a parent or two, and a couple of kids – you still had to cook. The September that Hudson started university in Victoria and it was just Will, Lily and I, I realized my cooking minimum – it was a number we didn’t have anymore. Three people were – well, just three people, sort of like a holiday in my mind. “Hey, there are just the three of us – let’s order a pizza, or hunker down in front of the TV with sushi from that place we like.”
So here it is September 29th and Will and I are eating grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner for the second time in two weeks. We’re two adults. We get hungry (hec, I worked-out for the first time in a year and a half). We require sustenance. But who cooks for two people? I mean, what’s the point? Clearly, I need help. It’s essential that I look at this empty nest ‘ordeal’ more closely. Having had those four kids earlier than the majority of our peers we were the first to navigate those parenting stages. We’re close to a least a dozen families still deep in all of it, coming up behind us. I’m in transition, I say. But clearly, I’ve got some figuring out to do if I’m leading the way here. I’ve got to take a break from text stalking my kids and figure out how this happened and where it is taking me.