Text Me, Love Mom – the book is coming!

better nestI’m so excited to tell you that Text Me, Love Mom – Navigating (Not Stalking) First Flights From the Nest – the book, will be available this summer of 2014 from Iguana Books. I can hardly wait. The painting on the cover will be the art work of my daughter, Shea Proulx.

Our four kids left home in quick succession. Not enough time passed between Zoë, the oldest, moving away to attend art school and Lily, the baby, running off to another city at just seventeen to test her independence.
In this age of bubble wrapping our kids, letting go of them isn’t easy. Text Me, Love Mom – Navigating (Not Stalking) First Flights From The Nest is the story of four artistic characters who queue up to leave the family home at a rapid pace. The media would have us believe that we have overindulged, overprotected and generally, now that parent is a verb, over-parented our kids. I was able to stay connected and endure their flights from home with the aid of satellite communications, during this anxious time of back and forth texting, calling, consoling, and applauding that goes on as everyone in our family got their bearings again. Text Me, Love Mom – Navigating (Not Stalking) First Flights From The Nest offers an opportunity to contemplate and laugh over the perpetual trial and error of another stage of parenting.
So excited to share.

Phone-less in San Francisco

In response to reading melancholy blogs from parents experiencing  withdrawal from kids gone away to college and university, I promised to re-post a couple of those learning curves of my own.   So here is PHONE-LESS IN SAN FRANCISCO

Seven P.M. on a Sunday night my twenty-year-old daughter calls,  obviously near tears.  “Someone stole my phone,” she cries.  “I feel so cut off without it.”

But she is on a phone, one the cell company she’s been dealing with, has given to her.  Born in 1959 myself, it takes me a minute to catch up.  It’s not the phone, it’s the information in the phone.  “I feel like I have to start over meeting people, making contacts.  I feel so alone again, Mom.”

“Honey, honey, I get that you’re upset.  But those people will call you.  You’ll get your numbers again.”

“Mom, it doesn’t work like that.  I’ve done this enough to know lots of those people were never going to call me.”  What she’s done enough, is move around, this daughter of mine.  This is the third time in her young life that she has by choice surrounded herself with absolute strangers – situations where she had to work to have even a single friend.  From our home in Calgary, at age sixteen, she bravely did a high school exchange in Rome, Italy – isolating herself further by having to learn Italian.  Her siblings went to school on the west coast, but she headed east to Concordia University in Montreal.  Now, trading another cold Canadian winter for a foggy one, she was taking part in Concordia’s school abroad program by doing a year at SFSU in San Francisco.  “People here have their own friends.  I’m the new one.  I have to call them,” she explained further.

I was alone in our renovated, too big house, when she’d called.  Her dad had taken two of our nephews to an early hockey game.  The weather outside was shifting, from a Indian summer to light flurries.  Earlier I’d been in the yard pulling down sweet pea vines and raking leaves, and wishing I was cooking a Sunday dinner like some of my friends would be, for kids who stayed in the city for jobs and school.

“What are you doing right now, Mom?” she asked quietly.

“Missing you guys.  Dad’s gone to a hockey game.  I was going to make toast but the breads gone moldy.

“Mine too,” she said.  “My bread’s gone bad, too.”

“I guess we need each other to finish a loaf of bread,” I said, from where I watched the sky turn dark outside the living room.

“Yeah, we do.  I miss you guys so much.”

“You’ll get your numbers back, Lily.  You’ll run into people.  And some friends will call.  It just seems bad now.  I’ll email you Zoe’s and Hudson’s and Cole’s and your cousin’s numbers.”

“Will you do it now?”

Of course, I told her, yes, I’d do it right away.  And I would add a note to her email, about how brave she was, and how I knew the next time we talked she would be okay again, having found her friends.

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.

Challenge – To Buy a Thing (anything) I Must Get Rid of a Thing

It started a few years ago.  I was reading something in my long quest to live a more Zen existence.  (When my four kids were infants I actually, in desperation, attended a class on how to be more organized at home – and nervously laughed at (not with) the anal instructor who only let her kids wear two different colors from the whole rainbow of colors).   Part of organizing was major de-cluttering and gaining space in my space. With that in mind, for the last two years, if I bought an item of clothing (a weakness) I gave one away – buy one, lose one – no breaking the deal. It wasn’t that hard – my closet was dreadfully full but now, on that road to feeling free-er, I just made a new deal with myself – this could be a much bigger challenge.  Now, for every single thing I purchase – I have to rid my home, garage, yard, or car of something.  Yet, buy one, lose one can’t become an excuse for careless consuming, it has to be more of ‘I have too many things surrounding me, and if I believe I need something else – ie. a book for winter reading, a snow shovel that isn’t annoyingly bent, a colourful (hopeful) spring table cloth, a basket for the growing collection of granddaughter toys … I need to give something up. If there is nothing to let go of – there is nothing to gain, sort of thing.

My dear grandmother was a bit of a hoarder – having raised her family through the depression when people darned socks instead of discarding them, and sewed clothes from flour sacks (seriously).  When she passed away we would marvel at what she had kept, and then my mother would say, of course she kept that – she kept everything.  Her saving grace was that she didn’t buy a lot.  She seldom went shopping just to be tantalized, mesmerized even, by a new fancy thing.

I like to have the objects that cheer, inspire or comfort me near by.  But I can’t stand clutter.  When I was raising four kids in this house – kids who might be on a total of six sports teams, working on x number of  ridiculous dioramas for school, building their own collections of fairies, celebrity paper dolls, heart shaped rocks, animal bones (they thought dinosaur carnage – most likely cow’s), or snowboard parts – back then, I was a sucker for every de-cluttering book that came down the pike.

So awhile back as they were all in stages of leaving home I took up a ‘get rid of one hundred item’ challenge.  I kinda have an aversion to throwing things away.  I’ve made solo trips to the well managed local dump but I can never help thinking, as I toss my broken junk into the seagull filled pit, that maybe someone, somehow could use this or that.  So I mostly take it to the Society for Women In Need, even though I’m pretty sure that as I drive away (rip out of their parking lot so as not to be recognized) the staff are cursing my back, demanding to know which women in need could possibly need my junk.

The first twenty-five of the hundred was easy-peasy – clothes that never fit, linens without destinations, other kids lost articles.  The second twenty-five went slower, shoes I wanted to wear but never wore, useless kitchen gadgets, smelly lotions, soaps, and bubble baths that were never opened.  I picked up speed again after a few calls to the kids asking permission to ditch the floppy frayed stuffies – agreeing to keep a certain large teddy, a ratty twisted tail cat, and Bunny Ding Dong (I never would have tossed Bunny Ding Dong).    

I flipped though my library of de-cluttering Zen books and gave myself permission, as instructed, to give away gifts that just never hit the mark.  “If you thanked the gift giver and felt appreciation for the gift – you don’t have to keep it.”  I think I hit my stride at around sixty items packed into boxes and bags or handed to friends.  Two of my neighbours started their own one- hundred item cull as I reached eighty, and then ninety items, and pontificated over how exhilarating  it felt to look around my living room and say – hey, I don’t even like that vase collecting dust on that high shelf, and pull it down along with the stupid angel ornament.

That was two years ago – today I start – You-can’t-bring-anything- in-without – bringing- something-out.  With some zany misplace enthusiasm I got groceries yesterday and thought – does this count?  If I buy two tomatoes, sure I can compost those two potatoes with the long eyes growing out of the bag.  The peanut butter is to replace empty peanut butter, and the dish soap likewise.   Slow down, I told my hyped-up self, looking at the three bags of groceries on the floor.  Clear up the pantry for the food bank – like, hungry people want my unopened anchovy paste – but stick with the original plan.  Groceries don’t count.  Hubby might wonder what’s happening, if you become a crazy extremist de-clutter-er.

But if I really needed a new rug for that spot beside the bed – something has to go.  And if I buy those flower pots at Ikea to put some sunny-wishing-for- spring flowers in, what will they usurp?   The goal is to never own more objects then the ones I have accumulated already.  Luckily, hubby isn’t much of a shopper – except for an occasional foray into Costco to buy a container of juice that won’t fit in the fridge and mustard for one thousand hot dogs. 

 

Ding Ding – You Have A Text

Texting has been a part of the way I communicate for so long I can’t remember doing without it.  The urban dictionary’s sassy and irreverent definition of text is “text messaging is the act of sending a typed message via cell phone; a very efficient and addicting way of communication,”  but their alternate definition is, “The dumbest thing in the world, why would you spend 15 minutes writing something on your phone, when you can call them up and tell them in a minute. F – ing waste of time and money.

I have to say, I agree with both definitions.  But if it is a waste of time, and I could talk instead of text, why did I glum onto to text and never let go?  Because with our boys it was their preferred way of communication – fast, efficient and when they were younger – one of them hanging with his snowboarding crew at Whistler, or the other during his first months at university, I imagined they could hear the little ding ding of a text and swiftly text me back.  I do think they wanted to communicate with home, and in the new world of texting that they were part of, they could whip off a message to me, just to let me know that everything was cool, and none of the guys around them with bent heads and tapping thumbs knew it was mom they were updating, it could just as easily be a girlfriend or someone getting directions to the next party they were off to.

My first feeble attempts to text back when Hudson, our youngest son, first started university away from home had him sending me a mocking text, Mom, lernt to text and spel. My keyboard was tiny, three letters to a key, and my thumbs inexperienced.  Plus I had autocorrect and my messages were constantly being autocorrected to autowrong. When my three youngest let me into their texting world they used abbreviations with me, but after too many texts saying, Hudson, I don’t know what rofl (rolling on the floor laughing), or Cole, I’m stymied. Did you really mean to type PMS?  And him explaining, Mom it’s P.M.S. meaning Pretty Much the Same.   I thought I was catching on to some of the lingo and at the end of a sentence to our youngest daughter, Lily, wrote Peace.  She had to text back, Mom, Peace is like Peace Out, when the conversation is over.  It DOESN’T mean its the other person’s turn to talk. 

I once texted Lily a funny story about her dad and I finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning when we didn’t have to play the parent role in a house empty of kids, and she sent me back this – “Oh Mom MSOOMN”.  I was finally onto the Urban Dictionary and looked that one up –  “An acronym for Milk Shooting Out Of My Nose. An alternative for ROFL or LMAO (laughing my ass off).” Wow, MSOOMN – I’ll use that one, I thought.  But the kids stopped using text abbreviations with their old school mom.  They spell it all out.  I spell it all out.

Our oldest, Zoё, would rather talk then text, maybe because her hands are busy creating art, and she can tuck a phone under her chin.  Cole is a fast efficient texter, and almost always responds to my text queries.  Hudson, like Zoё, is text stingy, but I can get his attention, and if asked a direct question he would sooner text me back then listen to my voice mail message.  In fact, he’s let me in on a youthful secret.  Don’t leave voice mails, Mom.  Nobody does that any more. If I see you’ve called.  I’ll call back.  But if you leave a voice mail, then I know what you want and I’m less curious.  I think I get it – it’s a lesson in technological manipulation.

During our years of texting I have been guilty of many infractions, as defined by my new resource – the often helpful, but occasionally annoying Urban Dictionary.  Cole, Lily and I might be text addicts, but not textaholics, though according to Urban Dictionary definitions during our text volleyball we have of course, engaged in text tiffins (arguing via text messaging), and even text tirades, which has of course, caused text anxiety defined in the Urban dictionary as- “when you are texting someone and they don’t answer creating anxiety of why they aren’t texting, are they mad, are they being arrested, or what is taking them so damn long?

I have been entertained by lively text-versation, have sent countless text-minders (“Grampa’s birthday tomorrow – call him, he doesn’t text”), and on days when I was busy with my own work, or trying to avoid it, I’ve sent all my family different text missives, having learned on my own to only ever ask one question at a time to receive an answer, and then waited for the little ding dings indicating one of them have answered me.  I have sent far too many text pas, usually involving sending a text to the last person that texted me, instead of the intended recipient – yikes!  Hudson has frustrated us all with his many textascapes  – an escape from all texting or other text based communications. Commonly occurring due to losing ones phone, and realizing shortly there after just how relaxing the break from technology is. 

    I’ve witnessed my kid’s blossoming text romances right from the text mackaginga message sent with the purpose of ‘macking’ or ‘hitting’ on a person of desire. Flirtatious in nature, usually cryptic or ambiguous in hope for a response. And then seen them go on to engage in back and forth text flirting.  And let me tell you, any text sex better have taken place behind closed doors.  If I have butt into their text business it was to warn them against ever being so pathetic as to commit the text relationship dump.

Myself, I have tried not to be a text stalking mother, or to suffer text blindnessA person afflicted with text blindness is so absorbed by walking and texting that they have lost the ability to see oncoming danger. I have caused textafusion with unchecked typos.   I know I have used the text stretch or even the text embargo to try to illicit a response (usually to no avail – it was probably in my first enthusiastic days of texting and some quiet from my cell phone was what they wanted)

On the other side of that I have been the recipient of the text that said simply, “Mom, I’m lonelyOr the more practical, “How much milk do you use to scramble two eggs? I’ve gotten a photo with a text that said, Does this raw beef look edible or like it’s gone bad?”  And of course the, “Please help, I’ve got 58 cents in the bank and my phone bill is overdue.”  There has also been the late night text, “Mom, you awake?” before a long conversation in the dark living room. Best of all I have felt the thrill of the text surge on a quiet day at home, missing all the chaos and noise of a house full of our family, when I’ve heard the repeated ding-ding of a new text, and then – oh joy – another and another.

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

‘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 patted it out.  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.  And so we’ve had ‘the’ wedding.  And what a wedding it was. 

Leaving Lily in Montreal

My mission – if I chose to take it – was to leave my eighteen-year-old daughter in Montreal.  Her dad and brother had just left to return to Calgary and now it was my job to finish, as they say, setting Lily up.  I made lists of what I’d accomplish – getting an account for her to pay her utility bills, a few simple cooking lessons (that I had some how neglected during the past eighteen years), arranging for an internet connection which hasn’t got any less complicated or expedient since I did the same for her older sister six years previous.  Lily is an organized detail person and could have managed all that on her own.  I didn’t need seven days to help her with it.  No, the real reason for my prolonged stay was that I couldn’t bear to think of leaving Lily alone in that small hot apartment before she had made a few contacts with potential friends.  The night before her first day of classes, against my boring motherly advice about getting sleep, she had me drop her at the apartment of friends of friends from home. She came in at one a.m. and told me that they were good guys who had given her tight advice about the city – so therefore potential friends.

The universities I was familiar with in the west all have distinct campuses.  The locations of McGill and Concordia right in the centre of Montreal make the down town community indistinguishable from the university community.  While Lily put on her little black French dress and was taken out by the Calgary connected friends I left the apartment in search of a breeze, and soon felt that the student age population owned the streets.  I was feeling rather alone in my dotage.

Lily and I had one more sweltering weekend together.  It was almost too freaking hot in the apartment to conduct cooking lessons over the gas stove so we sought out air-conditioned restaurants.  Our server in the Mexican restaurant around the corner was a classmate who invited Lily to go cliff jumping in the Eastern townships.  Lily had photography homework that night and rushed off to shoot a roll of film with another classmate (and another potential friend) and I saw Mama Mia – the movie, alone.

I’d never been to many movies on my own, but it had been a relief to sit in the air-conditioned theatre and wonder how many of the mother/daughter sets we’d seen in Ikea earlier had made it to Mama Mia to hear Merle Streep sing ABBA songs and drool over Pierce Brosnan.  Or maybe there were other daughter’s like mine who were engaged in tentative bonds with new acquaintances, while their mom’s escaped the oppressive heat to listen somewhere nearby in the dark to Streep’s character croon to her twenty-year-old daughter,

What happened to the wonderful adventures

The places I had planned for us to go?

Well, some of that we did but most we didn’t

And why I just don’t know

Slipping through my fingers

All the time I try to capture

Every minute

The feeling in it

Slipping through my fingers all the time.

The afternoon before I was to leave the weather broke, skies turned a steel blue and the rains came.  Back in Calgary Lily’s brother, Hudson, would be packing to make his move to the west coast with his band.  I would get home in time to see them off.  I made Lily and I supper of roast chicken, too sticky risotto, and grilled zucchini cakes and gave her verbal directions on washing dishes sans dishwasher. I had imagined us working together in the teeny kitchen but she was reading homework on the history of photography.  I could see her nodding off and so suggested she read out loud to me, and together we learned about camera obscura and deguerrotype and Henry Fox Talbot.  She finished up and fell asleep stretched across the bed in her clothes.

Since high school Lily would lie on the back of our living room couch in the afternoon sun to share what was on her mind, or we would go out to our favourite coffee/nacho shop.  Her brother, Hudson, liked to go out for breakfast with me after a late night with friends and do the same, talking more with me than at other times, letting me in on what his latest plans were and, being Hudson, his philosophical stance on them.  I couldn’t solve all of their young adult angst, (sometimes it just reminded me of my own),  but I learned to be less afraid of their troubles and just listen, trying not to yap back too much,  guiding them instead with careful assurances that they would find their path, just be careful to leave doors open, it was all about those open doors.

Watching Lily sleep, her blond hair spread across the new Ikea pillows,   I thought of all the photos she would take and print over the semester  and of all the images I will have pictured on long afternoons, as fall turned to winter. I hung my head out the window and listened to the students up late, calling out to each other, as they passed by, excited by their new independence.  It was time to go home.

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