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 hug that lasts until Thanksgiving –

It’s the strangest thing, having written this book over too many years of my kids coming of age. (What does that mean ‘coming of age’, really?) And odd to have made it through another ‘stage of parenting’ and to have detailed it all – the first big good-bye that had to last until Thanksgiving, and with the next kid – the debate over the ‘gap’ year, which wasn’t really a debate at all – at almost eighteen he’d made his decision – he was going to be a liftie, then counseling  another one, who’d never even gone to summer camp, through hating residence life while considering an ashram instead, and finally, giving up managing the fussy youngest, who defied management, on an Italian exchange.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Somehow the four of them guided each other, and I learned to lose my hold on them all, eating grilled cheese with their dad in a too calm house.  Now Text Me, Love Mom – Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest (the book) is out there and I hope it will ease parent’s apprehension about sending their progeny into the wide, wide world. Love to hear your thoughts.  Did it make you hold on tight to the child you also have to say the first long goodbye to?  Are you going to buy it for your mom so that she can see what sketchy situations other people’s kids get in and out of? True, I’ve hovered and helicoptered but there are days when their journeys have lifted my spirits and I’m optimistic that the book will lift yours, too.  It’s available from Iguanna Books and all your favorite online book sellers. IMG_1561-1

Chill Out, Mommy. Chill Out.

Gatwick South Terminal international arrivals ...

Image via Wikipedia

March 31st, 200_

Our youngest daughter was once again about to leave home, city, country, continent.  Continent!!! To go traveling around Europe for two months.  (It gets scarier.)  She was just eighteen and had never even considered going with someone.  In less than twenty-four hours she would fly to London, England and then to meet Canadian friends already in Barcelona.  She was trying to calm the parental unit.  Rest assured, was her message, as we pictured her enveloped by a group of large Canadian seasoned travelers whose sole purpose was to take care of her.  We tried not to think that they might be a bunch of scrawny yahoos, who may or may not give a rat’s ass about her safety.

She would be traveling on her own from Calgary to London, Heathrow, then to Gatwick, from there to Reus airport at which point she would take a bus into Barcelona – a foreign city of more than a million and a half people.  And then, she said, as if this was the easiest part of the equation, I just have to get to Café Zurich and my friend, Teddy, will be there waiting.

So we are supposed to find some comfort in this guy being there, in the dark (she arrives late at night) in the café in Spain.  I wish he had a different picture on Facebook.  He is two years older than her, but the only image I’d seen of him was the one he used for his facebook photo from when he was a gapped-toothed five-year-old.

While I contemplated my anxieties around this – she should have been in the house finalizing her packing, making sure her papers were in order – passport and medical insurance forms, maps and directions, youth hostel and Eurail pass.  But she wasn’t.  She was`out with friends, saying her good-byes before her two month adventure.

Her dad and I both confessed to each other of being jealous of how much freedom she’d have in the next little while, but right then we didn’t want to think about that freedom or her being able to follow the whim of the day.  We wanted to know where she would go and exactly when – maybe even why.  Of course, our need to track her movements was part of what she was supposed to be getting away from by traveling around Europe.

She had attempted to comfort us by saying that after Barcelona she would go meet a cousin and his girlfriend in Amsterdam, who were already off on their own backpacking experience.

I’ve been to Amsterdam myself on the backpacking trip I took with a girlfriend after we graduated high school thirty some years ago.  I rememberhow after we left the train my girlfriend and I were offered coke, LSD and pot from various guys sitting on the station steps in the Netherland sunshine.  When I had left my parents at the Calgary airport I understood them to be happy, even excited, to see me off. They had informed me years later that they were scared out of their minds.  I know I sent them a few letters but that was all they heard from me for the ninety days that I was away from home.

I expected to get fairly frequent emails from Lily, but still on the afternoon before her trip, I was incredibly anxious, because any way you cut it –with all the technological advances and far reaching communication, it was still a big wide world, with millions of people who would be blocking the path between us.  I managed to take her out for a few last minute purchases and afterward we shared a quick meal together in a pub, where I delivered a few more safety lectures in between bites of quesadilla before I brought her home to pack.  I had barely time to say, oh yeah watch out for blah, blah, blah when she was out the door again.

Her final laundry and packing, and my putting a dozen items in teeny zip lock bags happened well past midnight.  What was driving me crazy was that I simply couldn’t figure out why, instead of preparing for this huge trip, my usually organized daughter was devoting way too much time to hanging out with friends and staying out late somewhere else – downloading music for her trip onto her ipod.  I think if I were to ever see my children pack ahead of time I might feel confident that they were preparing like adults.  I would take some comfort in their setting priorities and putting details in order.   Maybe I would even decide that in their time away from me they would continue to behave maturely, taking care of what needed to be done, not fall to the evils of wild and impulsive poorly planned acts.

April 1, 200_

So it was April.  The first.  No April fools jokes had been played.  My baby was flying to London, England alone.  It wasn’t until I woke her to get up and head to the airport that she said, “Oh my God Mom, I’m leaving for two months and I don’t know if I have what I need.”  I swallowed all the lectures, assured her that she had, and if not, the last time I checked there were stores in Europe, and then her dad and I looked on while she tried to get her top heavy pack on her thin frame.  She thought about taking out the heels a girlfriend had advised her to bring the night before.  No, no, I said.  You’re a heels girl.  You’ll get to Europe, look around at all those beautiful women in their beautiful heels, and want yours.

In no time we were rushing out the door, her cell phone purposefully left behind on the kitchen counter, a link broken.  Her first task after customs in London would be to find her way to a shuttle to take her to Gatwick, where her second flight would depart to Barcelona.  Landing in Barcelona at ten o’clock at night (after dark, in my world – early evening, in hers) she would have to make her way to Barcelona where she would meet a friend at the Café Zurich in Cataluna Plaza.  She had been online to figure out the shuttle times between the two British airports and I trusted her friend, this guy with the impish photo, had given her directions to the Café Zurich.  Suddenly, on route to the airport, I was certain that I would have assisted my three older kids at the same stage, in finding the correct information before they left home.  Now, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.  What kind of a mother was I?

The one she had made me, I guess.  Nature vs. nurture is a bit of a circular argument.  I may have nurtured my kids to become one sort of person, but nature has created them to be oddly distinct individuals who in turn require an individual type of mothering.

Lily’s older brother, Hudson, came to the airport to keep the mood light and the lectures down to a minimum, though I couldn’t stop myself from pointing out how many times a pickpocket might have grabbed Lily’s possessions as she sat her small open bag here and there, while she checked in and grabbed a Tim Horton‘s chili (at ten am.)

Her brother told her, Don’t let anyone rob you, hurt you or steal you.  I nervously concurred and kissed her seven times and then two more while the young security guard looked impatiently away.  I let her go – my baby, slipping out of my grasp again.  Bon Voyage Lily.  Bon Voyage.

Lost Down Under

At times I think about those families that have nine or ten kids – or that television family with nineteen –and I wonder about the mothers.  Some people would surmise that they would worry less, because you just can’t worry that much, but worry, like love, multiplies, it doesn’t max out.  There are mornings when I wake up and take the tally of my four.  I’ll settle my mind on each of them and decide where they are on my crazy worry meter.

I think mothers of ten kids do a similar tally – it just keeps them in bed longer in the morning or awake further into the night.  Our second child, Cole, has been on my worry list often enough, but moved up to the numero uno spot when he decided to travel alone, circling half way around the globe to New Zealand.

When Cole first left home at age eighteen, to have his bohemian snowboarder experience working as a lift operator in Whistler, B.C., he told us that staff meetings were held during which the kids were, according to my son, reminded to eat fruit or take vitamin C.  It was a true comfort that his employers were being mommy substitutes and taking some responsibility for the hundreds of young people, like Cole, working for the hill.  The resort also had a web site that I discovered  that listed rules and regulations for the resort staff as well as upcoming staff meetings.  When Cole first proposed his six month trip to New Zealand I wanted just such a web site.  Not quite twenty-year-olds traveling alone in New Zealand, it would say, must abide by these safety rules, and while on the job (of being a young traveler) should remember to eat their kiwi. Of course, in this fantasy of mine staff housing would be provided and someone would be in charge of my son’s experience.

Late one rainy afternoon, just as dusk was settling, Cole called home all the way from Down Under amazed that he had cell service because, he said, he was in the middle of nowhere trying to hitch a ride.  I could hear the echo of his heavy footsteps along the road.  Feeling the great distance between us with a heavy heart,  I begged him to please stop hitching, telling him  I’d lend him money to cover the bus fare.  He told me again that EVERYONE hitch hikes there.  It wasn’t like at home, he said.  There just weren’t buses.  He was chatty, which was unusual because despite his talkative nature in person, like so many guys, he just isn’t a phone talker, so I felt he was lonely for me, or family, or just company the way I was that dreary day.  I could hear the wind in his cell phone as he told me about the ridiculous distance he was trying to cover in an attempt to get to a job interview at a resort miles and miles and miles away.  I don’t know if it was dark where he was, but I imagined a gray sky as he asked, in a voice rising above the wind, how everyone was?  He started to tell me about the group of travelers he’d lived with and how New Zealanders eat pie, every type of pie; meat pie, fruit pie, vegetable pie, and right then we lost the connection.  Cole, I called into the phone, Cole… and I imagined him doing the same, Mom?  Mom?

I quickly called two friends to go for a therapeutic walk, but neither was home.  I called my husband and our daughter, Lily, but got both of their voicemail.  I tried hard to think of all the amazing things Cole had told me about New Zealand, how beautiful it was, how the people are as friendly as everyone has always said they were, how the place was full of Canadians like him traveling and boarding and eating pie.  I tried to imagine one of those pie eating, stupendously friendly people picking him up and fulfilling his need to chat.  But all I could think of, of course, was Cole standing on the highway having lost the connection to home.

That made me think of the time we lost him when he was just a little boy.  It had been a spring night, and not dreary at all, but rather clear and full of the promise of summer.  When I told six-year-old Cole that he could go meet his friends a few houses up the street on his bike, I was under the impression that it was far earlier then it actually was.

Suddenly the light coming into the house shifted from a reflection of dusk to nightfall, and I was alarmed to realize it was past eight and Cole hadn’t come in.  After shouting his name from the stoop and calling our neighbor’s homes, I became frantic screaming at my other three to help me, and then racing to the car and circling the nearest blocks, before phoning my sister and asking her if she thought I should call the police.

I dialed 911.  The operator wanted me to describe his clothing.  Panic was changing to hysteria and the 911 operator began to treat me like a woman on the edge.  She told me to stay in the house until the police arrived and in a strained voice I refused.  “I have to find my kid,” I said.  “I have to go find him.”   Rushing outside to meet the patrol cars I was shocked to see the street filled with people and cars and bicycles.  Without being asked the neighbors had organized a search.  People were knocking on doors, motorists and bicyclists were being sent to further points.  The description of a six-year-old blond boy in a jean jacket was being given to all who passed by.

The officers turned on their flashlights and sent me back into the house, “Look everywhere, places you’d think he’d never go, in every nook and cranny.”  The streets were ringing with Cole’s name.  I never stopped yelling it inside the house.

I don’t know what world he was in.  Why he was oblivious to all this? Obeying directions I took one more look in his room and found him, curled up tight, hidden under a pillow and a blanket, in a far, dark corner beneath his bed.  My insides stopped rattling, tears flowed down my cheeks, I reached for his sleeping body and tried to imagine how many people were now outside hunting for him.

Aside from deep gratitude I felt incredibly  embarrassed for several days, sticking close to home and assuming that despite people’s assurances otherwise, they really were all talking about that woman with four kids, and her husband always gone, and how she couldn’t even keep track of them.  Cole and I had a few important talks and more rules were laid down.

I vowed to keep better track of them, to pay more attention to what was going on around me.  I believe I  decided that for my own mental health what I needed to do was take them all into bed with me, eight-year old Zoë could bring her books and Hudson, just four then, could amuse us with his belly laugh giggles.  At two-years-old Lily’s favourite place was our bed anyway. The important idea was to keep my kids close for as long as I possibly could.  Their dad could bring us food and drink, like a protective bird bringing food to the nest.  So how did it happen, not so much later that I was in Calgary, same house, newer bed, and my second kid, the one who had caused me to want to keep them within hands reach, had left the bed, room, house, city, country and gone all the way down under to call me and lose our connection from a stretch of highway in New Zealand?  Where, oh where, did that put him on my worry meter?

A Cacophony of Communication

At eighteen I embarked on a three month backpacking trip around Europe.  I made the brief echo-y phone call to my parents upon my arrival in France, to indicate that I had not disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean.  There were letters and postcard but no other spoken words for those ninety days. Perhaps those were the golden days of parent/child relationships and we’ve fallen back into a cacophony of communication.

Neither of my boys are overly communicative, still I like to think that they are within the normal range of same-age males when it comes to co-operating with their mother’s need for information and dialogue.  At age nineteen when Cole set off on his own trekking trip through parts of the United States, I would have lost less sleep and kept my blond hair blond, rather then tipping to gray, if we could have magically returned to those pre-cell days of my youth.

After a successful but uninspired term at university, Cole had taken another gap, that worrisome break in continuity. The afternoon he left for the U.S of A, his fourteen-year-old sister, Lily, and I were sitting outside in the warm autumn sun, commiserating on how great it seemed to be Cole just then.  He had just finished packing up his friend’s Chevy van.  His traveling companion, George, advised him to empty his suitcase’s contents into the drawers in his organized van, and leave the luggage behind.  The two boys posed while Lilly took photos of their departure, then they shooed her off and turned the van south towards the United States – the land they thought they knew through a thousand movies and every episode of The Simpsons.  They would take the number two south, entering the U.S at the Butes, Montana crossing and wind their way to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Cole wanted to purchase a real tight video camera.

Cole called on Halloween night, music blasting in the background.  He was getting sweet video footage on his new camera of a huge parade, though he confessed that earlier they had slipped down the wrong road in that unfamiliar city and things had looked sketchy.  I warned him to be careful about whose face he stuck that camera in.  And please do nothing sketchy, I didn’t want to hear about sketchy.

Hudson, only seventeen, but away at university, was even less inclined to ever call just to chat, but on that night he called to ask if we would be okay with him dropping two full term classes as he really didn’t like anything about them. Of course, we weren’t okay with it.  Also, he told us, his friend M from Calgary had moved out there unexpectedly, and the two of them were thinking of getting an apartment off campus.

On November first I received another call from Cole.  He told me that unfortunately things had got sketchy. George was not happy, wasn’t sleeping or feeling well, and just wanted to return home.  The boys, friends since forever, were trying to work out a solution. George agreed to drop Cole at whatever mountain destination he wanted to go to.

I was beginning to dread the phone calls.  Hudson called to ask me to send him his resume off our home computer as he was applying for a job, in case he dropped half his courses.  Replace the courses you don’t like with something you’re passionate about learning, I said.  I suspect my kids hate it when I start talking passion.

In the meantime George had dropped Cole off in Mammoth, California.   Cole loved it there – it reminded him of Whistler.  He’d met people from New Zealand and had gone skateboarding with some Americans.  And he said he met a nice Navajo guy who told him he got peyote for free because he was Navajo.  (These phone calls had me wondering just what kind of an out-of-body trip I might sink into with a little peyote myself.) And he met a woman on the street who said maybe he could live with her.  (What?)  He described her as old, and said he thought she was lonely.  I told him that seemed weird, and he should be suspicious.  He quoted me something about riding two horses at one time – you can’t ride Faith and Worry both – you have to ride Aware.  (Fine, I will ride Worry for him.)  He had been offered a job busing at a hotel restaurant and another job at a gym, as well as one at a skate shop, but all of them said he needed a visa.

Now I was making the phone calls.  Twenty-four hours later he had moved in with this older woman. Her house was pretty messy but they were cleaning it – he said it was his idea. (How messy, I asked?  Eccentric scary messy?) He said she had never discussed rent.  And she isn’t a cougar? Or pedophile? I asked.  No, he told me, I needed to chill out. She was just really, really nice.

The next day, jolted by early morning worries I called Cole to tell him he needed to tell me exactly where he was, what was this woman’s name?  He said her name was Annie and she lived near the Harry’s Donut Shop in Mammoth Lakes and drove a delivery truck.  Look Mom, I’m just trying to decide what to do here, he said. If he couldn’t get a job without a visa maybe he would go back to Whistler, in British Columbia, where he had heard there was already snow.

November seventh and Cole called to say he was in a car driven by a new buddy named Mosses (with Cole there is always a new buddy).  Cole had agreed to pay the gas to and from Whistler if Mosses would drive him there.  They were in a car which belonged to the sister of Cole’s Navajo friend.  He (the Navajo guy), not the sister, lent it to them.  They were close to Seattle.

An hour later – Cole called to say they had a problem – the police had stopped them – just to harass them he said, but they believed that when that happened Mosses put his wallet in his lap and then it fell out of the car six hundred miles back where they had stopped for gas.  Not having ID Mosses was now going to drop Cole at the border crossing closest to Vancouver.  Cole wanted his sister Zoë’s number to see if one of her friends in Vancouver could pick him up at the border (he had a lot of gear and his belongings in large plastic bags).

Another hour went by and Cole called to say they had reached the border but things weren’t good.  Mosses drove too far forward in his attempt to drop him off and had entered Canada accidentally.  Cole admitted to low balling the price of the video camera he bought in the States – just for a minute, he emphasized, before he saw they were going to be questioned thoroughly, but then both he and Mosses, the car and their bags, were being searched.  (Is this what I signed up for nineteen years ago?  To help my kid, looking like a bag person, lying (for only a minute, of course) get back into the country?)   Be polite and honest, I said.  Didn’t we tell you to be careful at the damn border?  They’re talking to me again, Mom.  Gotta go, Mom.  Gotta go.

An hour later Cole called again suggesting that maybe he better speak to dad.    They were trying to trip him up – they’d asked why he wasn’t with the person he drove into the States with (maybe George saw all of this coming). The horse shoe up Cole’s ass, as they say, and his people skills, were clearly not working for him.

I tried unsuccessfully to get Cole’s dad at work.  Cole informed me that his friend Brian’s dad, who lived in Vancouver, was driving to the border to pick him up. I was so, so grateful for Brian’s dad, whoever the hec he was, and glad Cole had the people skills he had, or this could have gotten far sketchier.

Another call from the other son – Hudson wanted to tell us he now had a job at a pizza place and that he wouldn’t be able to come home for reading break the following day as planned.  I assured him he could get another such job and told him that in case he decided he needed a break, I didn’t say – a break from  being seventeen-years-old and away for the first time, and overwhelmed by school work that should have been easy for you, and uncomfortable in residence –  in case he needed a break from all that, I wouldn’t cancel his plane ticket until the noon deadline the next day.

With all of the kids away but Lily, she got to be the target of my frustration.  In the time it took me to drive her to school while she ate her Cheerios and brushed her teeth in the car, (aiming I believe for yesterday’s spit spot out the window) I lectured her on how she would have no choice but to start university and finish it or not to bother going. As I let her out of the car, Hudson called to say the pizza place said he could start after reading break and yes, he would like to come home.  Cole called from Vancouver, where he had already been to the American Embassy to apply for a visa to work in Mammoth, California.  (Do they give visas to nineteen-year-olds when the job offer they want the visa for is in a skate shop?)

We picked Hudson up at 9:35 pm and talked about how he didn’t have to decide about what he would do in January just yet.  I cooked up a batch of sticky chicken wings for Lily and Hudson and he talked about his desire to maybe go to India or Tibet after he made some money in Calgary.  It had been a sketchy two weeks of connecting with the boys. Would it be easier if we weren’t linked by cell phones with updates on Californian cougars and borrowed cars entering the country illegally?  What sort of distressing phone call might I get from a kid in Tibet?

Gathering Twigs and Sticks and Bits of String

Emptying the nest.  I  fought that concept tooth and nail. My strategy was to refuse to empty mine without building others.  When our eldest daughter, Zoë, left home I masked my fear and insecurity around letting her go by setting her up in her little apartment with every single necessity I could get my hands on.

It was all so psychological – the building of that satellite nest, Zoë had never considered a gap year, but she was our first born, and a daughter – and I do buy into all that birth order pseudo science. But the gap had been just the ticket for Cole, son number one – so why did I hesitate to bring it up with Hudson, our second son?  What unprecedented fear makes us crazy parents so darn relieved to get them back into school after one short summer between high school and post-secondary?

Hudson is a philosopher, was born a philosopher, in fact.  When his kindergarten teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, he wanted to go inside of people.  “Like a doctor?” she asked.  “No,” Hudson said, staring at her through the lenses of his tiny wire rimmed glasses, “no, I want to be really small and see what it’s like inside there.”  Cole once commented that when other kids got heavily into drugs in high school as an escape or dive into alternate reality, his brother Hudson, got heavy into philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Taoism, existentialism – all the isms.   So there is no question that he was a deep thinker but, he was just seventeen, I tell others now.  What was I doing encouraging a seventeen-year-old boy to move away from our boisterous house to go off on his own to study?  The poor kid couldn’t say, “I’m too young to do this.”  Boys don’t say things like that.  I should have clued in to Hudson’s reluctance by how impossibly uninterested he had been in packing for his new life style until the day before his departure.

The ‘launch’ wasn’t getting one bit easier for me.    Delivering him to his tiny dorm room in Victoria, B.C.  – a province, a mountain range, and a bit of ocean away from home, I was coming to grips with the idea that I was going to let another one of my kids go and was in full let-me-replace-myself-with-fuzzy-blankets-and the-right-supplies mode again. Only damn it, there wasn’t a blanket fuzzy enough.

My boy was patient with my hanging around town for a couple of days taking trips to the mall for various new nest necessities. On my last night in Victoria, after an Italian dinner downtown, I took the scenic drive along the ocean on the way back to the university, prolonging the moment that I had to leave him and overwhelmed with an urge to review all parental lessons at break neck speed.  I covered; responsible drinking, meaningful relationships, and even safe sex in a couple of blocks.  “They handed out condoms at orientation,” he said, cause me to shift gears, searching for a big life motto, something you would tell Oprah was the truism your mother taught you.

“Don’t be surprised if you get a low mark on your first paper,” I said instead. That happened to me a zillion years ago.  I was shocked but I talked to the prof.  You have to talk to the prof.”

“I don’t intend to get low marks, but I’ll do something about it if I do.”  Bless him for his confidence.

I pulled up to his building and he hopped out.  “I have to get my kettle from the trunk,” he said. He had recently started drinking tea.

“I have a few other things for you,” I told him.  “Laundry detergent, computer paper, an extra pillow, and mugs.” … and all my needy love that was going to explode when he popped opened the trunk.

I stepped out to hug him and whispered my goodbye against his cheek, surprised again by the bristle of blonde whiskers there.

“I’ll miss you,” I said, “but I’m okay.  Really I am.”

“I know,” he reassured me, walking away, with his kettle and tea, my son, the soon to be overwhelmed philosopher.

 

 

Gap or Gorge?

Two weeks shy of his eighteenth birthday our eldest son landed his dream job. Whistler Blackcomb resort had held their hiring fair in November, but warned potential staff that they wouldn’t actually be working until there was sufficient snow. After spending his meager savings on the flight west and accommodation while waiting desperately for snow, Cole found himself with the highly sought after position of liftie, or as he stated in subsequent resumes he was responsible for the safety and operation of the fastest upload capacity lift in North America. Our ecstatic boy was able to snowboard from the small apartment in staff housing that he shared with two strangers from Quebec, to his position at the chair lift, stationed at the top of the mountain.   He was so high up that he actually had cell service, nothing else was interfering with the signal up there, and he would occasionally call me before the first skiers showed up.  “Mom it’s sweet up here.  The sky is pink, seriously pink, and I can see over half a dozen mountains.  It’s cool.”

“Should you be on your phone?”

“No, but who would know?  When there’s no one coming up the lift it’s, I dunno know…lonely.  I mean, it’s just me.”

Cole called often in the beginning, justifying his need to make contact with some request, could I send Cd’s he left behind,  or he’d make an appeal for super warm gloves from a camping store.  Other times he would call and ask to speak to his brother, and eavesdropping I realized he was sharing the wilder aspects of being a liftie that I wasn’t privy too.   At the same time that he gained a few dozen new friends his cell service became less reliable.  I’d interrupt him trying seven-twenties in the snowboard park, his friends shouting in the background, or at a party any night of the week, a rapper rhyming nearby.  “Sorry Mom, I think I’m losing you,” he’d shout.

“Everything’s cool, Mom.  You’re breaking up,” he’d say and I was supposed to believe he was out of cell range when he lost me.

Yet as the winter carried on, working alone at the top of the mountain got lonelier, and the nights, in contrast, were perhaps too chaotic, if that were possible.  Cole came home in the early spring determined to save up for one more adventure.  His job, bussing tables at a popular bar on Calgary’s now famous Red Mile, was cut short by an Easter snowboard accident that left him with a cast on his arm and time to contemplate his new fascination with Buddhism.    Despite his Buddhist teachings he was distraught.  His year hadn’t gone as planned.  He had the itch to further his travels.  He wanted to be able to work despite the broken limb.  He suddenly ached to return to the freedom he’d known on the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb, which while not Belize, or remote Chili, represented a Mecca of sorts for him. It was there he’d first lived on his own, amongst a community of his peers, and there that he’d escaped the confines of his parents rules and learned to make a bean and rice wrap.

Never-the-less, with his one good hand he typed up the application to university in our hometown of Calgary.  We held our breath.  He talked more of Whistler, of the power of the sunrises over the peaks, of the new friendships forged.  Forward, we had whispered into his ear.  “Talk to your big sister Zoë.  Zoë loves being a student again.” (Of course, Zoë always liked being a student.)    “Try university.  Study whatever you think you’d like.  The boy/girl ratio is two to three.”  (We were desperate.)  “You did Whistler. You worked.  You broke your arm.”  Of course, all the while we wanted him to believe he was coming to the decision himself.

He sat in the sun on a summer’s day and chose courses – an eclectic array of mind expanding areas of study.  Still he wondered whether he shouldn’t take more time off, make the gap larger – let it turn into not a gap but a chasm, an abyss, a gorge … 

He thought the three day university orientation would be lame, but instead it was cool.  The way he went on to Hudson, who was beginning grade eleven, about the kids he knew and the tight barbeque and how he, Cole, (the guy who would switch from general studies to film production) got on an outdoor stage at some point and addressed his peers, you’d have thought I’d slipped him twenty bucks to influence Hudson to earn the marks to get there.

I drove Cole to his first day of university (how could I refuse?).  On the way up I told him I was proud of him for reaching this milestone.  “I guess,” he’d said, adjusting his hat.  He’d picked out his first day ensemble the night before. The look was casual with a hint of mystic – a 1940’s style gangster hat and 1970’s aviator classes, his dad’s  plaid shirt from some other decade, his brother’s jeans from this decade, and his very own new running shoes.

We pulled into the campus behind a line of cars driven by this generation of hovering parents.  I tried not to say too much.  Cole gave me a big grin before skateboarding away from me, asking directions from the first friendly looking girl he spotted on the fly by.  For a few minutes after he disappeared from view I let the car idle before driving off.  We’d done it.  We had made it through Cole’s gap year.  So why then couldn’t we trust our instincts when it was Hudson’s turn to have a gap, instead of leading him down the path to a trying experience?