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.

 

 Honouring the Mother of A Good Man

How in this Mother’s Day week could I not mention the mother of my husband – the woman who raised him and his siblings and taught them to be the good, kind and strong people that they are. My mother-in-law has an ultra-adventurous spirit and unlike me, who has called the same city home for most of my life, she has followed her urges to shake things up and change – if not cities and provinces, at least houses. Yesterday I spoke of the gardening gene passed from soul to soul from my grandmother. My husband’s mom is a brilliant artist and this talent has come to life in my daughter and even my small granddaughters. From the three-year-old to the eighty-year-old you can’t hold them back from their creativity, bent over their canvases  all of them can fill an afternoon creating vibrant and wildly imaginative masterpieces, comfortable to focus completely on their muse. thumbnail_FullSizeRender (1)

 

So the question for the Text Me, Love Mom quiz today is:  Where has Zoë moved to when her nervous mom thinks, “What I feared, of course, is that she would move in with a shoddy bunch of eccentric artists who had gone far beyond body piercing, wouldn’t even have parents, and would hardly let me darken their doorstep.”

Answer in the comments section.  The person with the most correct answers this week will receive a signed copy of Text Me, Love Mom, Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest – available from Amazon and other online book sellers.

 

Gardening in the Dark

You know how it goes, you’re making a nice place in the soil for the Sweet Pea seeds you’re going to pick up tomorrow, while your husband plays the banjo on the deck (mine anyway), from there you decide to clean up the delphiniums shoots, imagining their bright blue flowers as you go, and then it’s on to placing the metal rings into the ground that will soon support the fancy big peonies.  A little bug has slipped into your tall glass of water where you left it beside a yellow tulip, and when you step into the house for your pruners to clear the old wood from the raspberries you glance out and see that dusk has fallen over this spring night. And now you are gardening in the dark just for the love of gardening.

It was Nanny, my Grandmother, who graced us with these gardening genes. Her offspring feel her presence with our desire to slip our hands into warm soil, and arrange fresh new shoots, to imagine the future of lacy blossoms, letting go of our worries and losing pieces of time creating green spaces and bright bursts of colour.  So it is that in this Mother’s Day week I’ll dedicate the second quiz about my book, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys; One Empty Nest, to Nanny.

For you smarties that answered yesterday’s question so quickly I’m making this one a wee bit trickier.  The reader who gets the most questions correct this week gets a signed copy of Text Me, Love Mom sent to them.  So – can you tell me where teenage Lily was when her mom sent her this message, “I do it as much for the brief (in this country) results, as for the relaxing pleasure I get from the work.  It’s hard to explain …but playing in the garden does feel, in the same way that writing does, like a time away from time.”

If you haven’t read Text Me, Love Mom – it’s a great Mother’s Day read about that stage of life when kids leave home and families get their balance again – available from Amazon and other online booksellers. Happy Day. thumbnail_IMG_1227

For My Mom: She Said, He Said Mother’s Day Quote Quiz

Text Me, Love Mom – Mother’s Day Week:

This blog is dedicated to my mom, aka Gramma or GG. In her honour it’s high time for some fun, some merriment, some exuberance even. My wonderful 86-year-old Mom just settled back into her home after 4 weeks of rehabilitation from knee replacement surgery.  Along with all sorts of health care professionals my four siblings, my daughters, and I have been mothering the mother, and even more than that we’ve had all hands on deck taking care of our dad (Grandpa) whose whole world was rocked not having Mom in the house they still abide in.

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But hey, it’s the first week of May – Mother’s Day approaches and I’ve decided to have some fun with my book Text Me, Love Mom in celebration of Mama’s everywhere.  Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest is about that time in a family when the kids are leaving home and the folks are striking a new balance with them. But kids do come back, like my fifty-something siblings and I are doing, and the mom is always and forever the mom.  So let’s have some fun ….

If you answer all five quiz questions correctly (there will be one a day until Saturday) I’ll send you a signed copy of Text Me, Love Mom. So drumroll for Tuesday’s question:

Which of the book’s eccentric characters is the narrator referring to in this line in the opening chapter:

“He didn’t even like it when we got rid of an old couch, let alone his sister?”

And this one’s for GG, an avid gardener- Anyone know what type of pink blossoms Text Me, Love Mom is nestled up against in this photo?

You can answer both questions in the comments section.  Happy Mother’s Day Week!!

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Text Me, Love Mom is available at all your favourite on-line book sellers and right here print or on-line:

http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

Whenever I Want You, All I Have To Do Is Dream

– Everly Brothers, 1958

For years I’ve harbored a dream that I recently imagined I was unbelievably close to executing. Not a word had been posted on my facebook (didn’t want to jinx it) until hours before I was to relish the experience.  When I was a little kid, probably about four years old, my mom, busy with five children, had my older brother and sister take me to the local outdoor rink – back in the good old days when kids could take kids someplace fun. Big Sis got my skates on me, tugged me onto the ice, and directing my brother to take my other hand, they coached me, “One, two, three, glide. One, two, three, glide.” It’s all brilliantly sharp in my memory because I loved it. I mean, I really loved it.

Living in a land where winter snow and cold stretches on and on, I made absolutely certain that my own four kids, Zoë, Cole, Hudson and Lily could skate, so that swishing around a rink with red cheeks and cold toes was a joyful part of the long season. They’ve  left home now, but I’ve continued to lace up and pleasure skate, sometimes with family, sometimes with a good friend, other days just as happily alone, delighting in that push, push, glide across the ice on a crisp winter’s day. And I had a skating dream – the nation’s capital, in Ottawa, Ontario, attempts each winter to maintain the Rideau Canal that runs through the city as ‘the world’s longest skateway’ – how amazing – skating almost eight kilometers through the heart of a metropolitan center.

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It was late in the skating season, but I’d travelled east to assist my sister after she had surgery on her knee, the same sister who had helped teach me to skate. Opting for another traveling ‘first’ I took the train from her home in Toronto, and journeyed four and a half hours north to Ottawa. When I arrived it was cold and dark, but still the weekends possibilities stretched out before me. My husband had flown in to meet me, and sharing a meal in the hotel lounge, where guest’s chatter blended with nostalgic tunes from the piano bar was first on our agenda. I only briefly considered slurping down a bowl of soup, dawning my warm clothes, casting off my sleepiness and hitting my stride with my man – who’d reported seeing hardier skaters gliding over the ice beneath a flurry of new snow.

Waking the next morning so ready to pursue this ice skating dream, I recall feeling sort of jittery. Looking out the window and seeing that snow had turned to rain didn’t squash my anticipation. Even as my husband and I ate our quick breakfast we both imagined that, though it would be less comfortable for us to skate wet, a little water on ‘frozen water’ couldn’t squash our skating trip down the winding canal. We’d been informed that to add to our skating comfort there were warm-up shacks every two kilometers and booths selling hot chocolate and warm Beavertails (squashed cinnamon-y doughnuts).

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It wasn’t until we walked, skates in hand, to the first entrance to this world’s largest skate way and saw the closed black iron gates and signs warning against going onto the canal did it dawn on us that the canal – open to skating the previous evening was now closed up. Below us the canal looked a sorry state with water puddling over the slushy surface, and piped-in music still playing from somewhere near the empty change shack and closed hot chocolate booth.  A helpful citizen directed us to something grandly called, The Rink of Dreams, a small outdoor rink, kept frozen in some mechanical way. We took a few slushy circles around it as a poor consolation along with a half dozen other disheartened skaters. It just wasn’t the same swoosh, swoosh, swoosh over a long distance of discovery that I’d dreamed of. My good husband stayed cheerful buoying my soggy spirits. “Don’t despair,” he said, buying me a warm Beavertail. The temperature is dropping to nineteen below tomorrow. You’ll get your skate in.”

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Let’s face it, you’d have to be in that situation to be holding your breath and hoping for the temperature to drop to freaking nineteen below – I mean, seriously. We shared a meal with charming friends that night and hey, I know what a lucky woman I was to just be so far from home with my supportive man and good people we care about. Still when we came outside again to icy sidewalks and had to tuck our hands deep into pockets I grinned at the cold night. By now we were well acquainted with the City of Ottawa’s website detailing the conditions of their famous canal.  I even got chatty with a staff member that told me, quite honestly, that it was touch and go at that time of the year, though he added, just the previous season the canal had been open a record long sixty consecutive days.

 

We explored the city in the deep chill, following our friends in out of the cold to browse international art collections in Ottawa’s stunning National Gallery. My husband, still eager for me to do this, encouraged me to stay another day while he went home to work obligations.  I kept my chilly fingers crossed, indulged in another sweet crusty Beavertail, thought about dreams and how we feed them, and with enough hours to skate before my flight the next day checked the city web site again – damn. I’d missed the season, the ice conditions had deteriorated too much to rectify it so late in the year.  My canal skating dream was dashed.  Before hailing my cab I texted my four kids with the big lesson I had learned, “When you have a dream that is weather dependent and you arrive in the place to pursue the dream, you should pursue it immediately.”  Such is life, I came home determined not to pout, and immediately bought a basket of bright spring flowers for the kitchen – blue, pink and yellow primulas.  Winter was ending. It was time to herald spring.

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To read Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest – Candace Allan’s book about the crazy and chaotic launching of her four artisticly inclined kids – Zoë, Cole, Hudson and Lily into the wide, wide world – click here  http://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

Big, Big Text-Me-Day

For a number of years, I’ve been following a website which is especially for parents with kids leaving home called, Grown and Flown.  It’s been fun and informative to find the moms (some dads) talking about all the feelings surrounding kids jumping ship to paddle off to the wide, wide world. Of course, I was a captive audience  – I mean really, I wrote a book about that very topic – Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest. My kids matured while I wrote, and then published, my family’s experiences of our four young adults moving away from the nest through various winding paths of education, travel, and simply growing up.  Yet, at this time of year I’m still able to relate to the Grown and Flown parents talk of young adults coming home for the holidays and turning the house upside down with the chaotic energy my husband and I loved and (usually) miss.  Still, I told myself, I’m well passed that now.  I’ve adapted to the house filling with noise and hungry people and shoes and friends and laughter and shouting – for a busy week, and then going quiet again.

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But our youngest, Lily, recently came home for a much longer time – almost six months.  Lily house-sat for us in the summer while working here, and then stayed on, establishing roots again and managing contracts with her photography business. Lily has based herself from home now and again, but she is a traveler and not ready to stay put, yet every time that she returns – a little bit older and wiser – our sharing this house gets better and better.  (Lily is an organized and tidy offspring – she keeps me in-check when things get messy.) She does a great deal of photo editing in the quiet of an upstairs office, and being a twenty-something still keeps the midnight oil burning into the wee hours – so her presence has been charmingly easy, far past teenage parties and silly spats.

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Two days ago our Lily left again. I knew it was coming – another departure of a ‘kid’ from home.  I haven’t shed tears, but I have sought out friends, and talked aloud to myself, and sat alone in the living room for too long missing … just missing her. Her dad agrees that it’s funny how you get used to sharing the house, and being part of their life in a bigger way for a while. Lily drove to her Vancouver destination – six hundred miles away – on winter roads, and after her first nervous report of road conditions far worse than she was used to, I had her text me as she made her way through the mountains. She called the first evening feeling shattered by traveling through sleet, snow and speeding drivers on a moonless night.  She promised to complete the journey in daylight and the next day I went about my business slower than usual, in a bit of a distracted way, listening for the ding ding of her text as she traveled in and out of cell zones and even more miserable weather. I texted her instructions that she already knew, “Keep your wipers clear of ice, replenish the washer fluid, remember there’s no gas station or anything much from Merritt to Hope.” She wasn’t bothered by my nagging, rather seemed to need to keep connecting.  As for myself, I couldn’t concentrate on anything until finally she text to say, “It’s okay now, Mom, I’m here.”IMG_8927I sat again in the quiet living room, slowly let my breath out and sent the other three a message, “Just Text Me, Love Mom”.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

A toast to American Thanksgiving and Kids Coming Home

In honour of American Thanksgiving and the tradition of young adults coming home for the first long weekend from college, I wanted to share a glimpse into our household during the Canadian November reading break and the first time my eldest returned to the noisy house of siblings she’d left behind.  So I give you this from Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest – only the nest wasn’t empty yet – just reeling from the departure of the eldest…

And so we had Zoë with us for her short fall reading break.  On the Friday and Saturday nights the house filled up with family and three or four of her best friends.  But Sunday, close to dusk, each of my four kids trickled back home from separate outings.   From upstairs I could hear them talking softly in the living room.  Coming down I found them in the dark – the boys showing their affection for their sisters in their odd boy way.  They had dog piled on Zoë and Lily.  It was reassuring to witness them that way, like a big pile of puppies heaped on top of each other.

One of my few friends with children older than mine had warned me that Zoë would have changed.  “I know it hasn’t been long,” she said, “but trust me, she’ll be different, more grown-up.  You’ll see.”  I had been nervous.  I didn’t want her to change, or even grow up particularly.  I would still rather spend a small part of my evenings driving her to piano lessons or to her girlfriends’ houses instead of e-mailing her in Vancouver or fighting for phone time with her long distance boyfriend.  But my friend was right.  My eldest daughter was different.  Oh, she didn’t have a total epiphany or anything.  She didn’t say, “Mommy I’ve realized how burdened you’ve been looking after us four kids.  Put your feet up and let me vacuum up the nacho crumbs before I massage your tired shoulders.”

But she was different.  I noticed that the first evening she was back as we lingered around the table after dinner, bombarding her with questions. It was a look on her face, a quality it was hard to put my finger on, except to say that she had drifted away a little bit.  I had gazed around the room at the others, Cole and Hudson and Lily, and imagined us all reuniting after future ventures.  Zoë swore that she would travel to the far north someday, being captivated by the notion of a trip to Yellowknife of even Inuvik, whereas Cole insisted he was going to snowboard in the southern hemisphere in Queenstown, New Zealand.  Hudson was harder to pin down –I think he aspired to travel back and forth in time, and back then I wrongly viewed Lily as a home body.

christmas bird-1In the upcoming Christmas season I would be happy to imagine them all staying put.  I was going to pretend for the three weeks that Zoë would be home that she had never left.  We would decorate a too tall, slightly lope-sided tree together and Will would insist once more on putting up the pissed-off looking angel Zoë made in kindergarten.  I wanted it to be a holiday season full of my kids dog piling on top of one another, and watching Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, all of us singing aloud to the Sisters’ song –

All kinds of weatherWe stick togetherThe same in the rain or sunTwo diff’rent facesBut in tight placesWe think and we act as one[1]

I intended to encourage Zoë to humor Lily and I, and come skating with us on the lake near their grandparent’s property, after which we three would go for steamers, before coming home to whip up a batch of date-filled butter tarts for Christmas Eve.  She’d be impatient to go hang with her friends, (who would happily devour the butter tarts), but I hoped I could convince her to indulge us with a skate around the lake first.  I’d ask, but I promised myself to be a grown-up about it and not harass her to join us – just to ask.  She needed time to reconnect with her same-age peers.  At ages eighteen and thirteen my daughters couldn’t really act as one, but I knew that on Christmas Eve they would raise their voices together and happily sing about it.wooden santa

You hear it both ways.  Some people say girls are easier than boys.  “Oh, no, no, no,” others will tell you, “boys are easier”.  I’m not sure what exactly easier encompasses.  Easier to get along with?  Easier to discipline?  Easier to lose your mind worrying over? I do know that when Zoë went off to study art at Emily Carr – I thought a mother must only feel this out of sorts once.  But a year later I had to launch, as they say in those swishy mother circles, her exuberant brother, Cole.  Kids being kids, no two alike, and all that, there was hardly an ounce of knowledge I could borrow from Zoë leaving our nest when Cole decided to follow suit…

Happy Thanksgiving from your Canadian friends and if you want to read more of Text Me, Love Mom and the rest of all that …please check out http://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

[1] Berlin, Irving. “Sisters.” Lyrics. White Christmas. The Movie. 1954