Mr. Tambourine Man

Why was I always surprised by what it was like being the mother of this boy, Hudson – this almost man?  I was driving him home from his second year at university.  The term was finally over and I knew it had its up and downs, and that Hudson’s attention and focus had sometimes ebbed.  But I saw first hand when I arrived to help him pack, that amongst his clothes, CDs and school texts, there were stacks of philosophy books, not required course material but books he’d picked up second-hand for pleasure reading because despite all resistance otherwise, he will always be a philosophical and reflective thinker who enjoys titles like Our Inner Ape, The Essence of Sufism, or On Being Free.

I was there staying with the relatives he boarded with during those last days and saw that he studied hard for his final two exams between the pull to visit a pub to say goodbye to friends he described as good guys, guys that he would miss.  He was more mysterious about the girl he needed to see one more time.

Hudson had said he was looking forward to our road trip home.  He even joked about it being a time to bond.  Yet the mood was sober when we set out. He’d written his last exam that morning and I heard relieve and satisfaction in his voice immediately after, as he embraced the relatives he’d lived with, and together we left to meet one of his friends from high school and her young husband for a goodbye lunch. At age nineteen and twenty-three respectively, they were expecting a baby in a month, and were both excited and scared about the unplanned path their lives were about to take.  Hugging his high school friend goodbye, her belly and the baby inside pressed against his own stomach, might have put the final touch of melancholy onto the mood he was in as we headed for the ferry.

We boarded a vessel two hours after reaching the terminal and consciously or not, spend most of the voyage apart, reading and watching the ocean waves on opposite ends of the ship.  We spend that night in Vancouver with Hudson’s big sister, Zoë, and her boyfriend, in a house full of boxes and spilled belongings, because they were also packing up and switching residences as they were both starting Masters programs in the fall.   They were thrilled to be making changes, but on that night they were weary and conversation was soft and slow in the dim, cluttered house.  Hudson and I left Vancouver for Calgary the next morning, under a steady spring rain and a dull sky. Driving through the dampness along the long, straight highway to Hope, listening to my son’s choice of music, I actually wondered if his mood had changed so much so that he had given up the idea of enjoying the trip.  A song came on that I particularly liked, Bowl of Oranges, “I like your music more these days,” I ventured.  “I liked what you were playing yesterday at the ferry terminal, too.”

Sounding exasperated, and only slightly amused at my musical ignorance, he told me, “That was the same song, Mom. It’s by Bright Eyes.  You always say you like Bright Eyes.”  We gassed up the Durango and wound our way to a coffee shop in Hope.  He ordered a yogurt, spinach salad and a water, while I justified my sugar and caffeinated choices of a brownie and cappuccino, as necessary for the road.

It was exiting from Hope where I took the wrong highway.  I realized it in time to go back and still could have made better time by returning to the road leading to the Coquihalla Pass over the mountains.  The wide, four lane surface would have taken us over the mountains in far less time.  So what made me stay on the longer, winding two lane highway that curled through the towns of Spuzzum, Boston Bar, and Spences Bridge?  My tired son wasn’t aware of my mistake and I took my time before I told him what I’d accidentally done.  He didn’t react except to ask if I wanted to listen to a Bob Dylan documentary on the car’s DVD player.  Sure, I said.  Hudson had discovered Bob Dylan in his first semester of university. He had been away from home for the first time, experiencing residence life which he disliked, and his first west coast dark and rainy winter.

I must have discovered Bob Dylan spiritually for the first time in my youth, too. Via cell phone conversations our absent son had turned his sixteen-year-old sister Lily, who was of course, at home with us, onto Bob Dylan at the same time he made his discovery, and she had been downloading and buying all his works so that our house had recently filled up with – “ if I don’t get the girl I’m loving I won’t go down Highway fifty-one no more”.  Lily set her CD alarm clock to wake her to Spanish Harlem Incident.  After school it was House of the Risin’ Sun,  It Ain’t Me Babe, and Like A Rolling Stone, and after she fell asleep at night I crept into her room to turn his crooning off.

A dappled sunlight broke through the clouds and the car crested the mountain top.  I saw a small sign beside the road that said, ‘Jackass Mountain summit.’  Hudson was singing along with Dylan. My kids don’t mind telling me that I can’t sing, but this time there was no comment when I joined him, “Look out the saints are comin’ through  And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.” The commentary continued, reviewers talking again about how Dylan resisted being pigeon holed, he didn’t like his songs to be considered protest songs.  Listening, I noticed as we sped down the road, how even that high up in the mountains the trees were in spring bud.

“Hey Hud, isn’t it something,” I said, thinking back to the night before listening to Zoë talk about applying for a teaching position while she did her Masters, “ Can you imagine walking into university class and having someone as young as Zoë for your teacher?”

“Yeah, I can.  I’ve always thought of Zoë as older.  She’s my big sister.”

It wasn’t the response I’d anticipated.  I’d hope to lead into a discussion about teaching being an option for Hudson.  He always saw through me, and blocked my thinly veiled suggestions as if he was still playing defense on his high school football team. “Look Mom, I can’t think about going back to school.  I know I’m not doing it this September.”  He was clearly a frustrated philosopher and I felt I ruined whatever easy mood the music had brought us toward.

We stopped to stretch, and buy chips, water, and a pack of gum at a gas station in Spences Bridge. As we were walking out Hudson nudged me,  “Weird, eh?  Listen.”  The gas station attendants were an old man and a teenage girl, and somewhere under the desk they had a radio on playing Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall.  We stepped outside with an easiness between us again, talking about feeling goose bumps and what Dylan might think of the  synchronistic occurrence.

Leaving town one of my favourite songs was being sung now on the DVD, or maybe just the one most imbedded in my memory.  I sung out loud, though some of the words were guessed at or murmured.   The road ahead of us looked like it was heading off the globe, the pavement met the horizon, and it seemed the car could lift off there and glide into the blue sky.  “Isn’t it inspiring?” I asked over Dylan’s voice crooning, “I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade  Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it. Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
. I was worried about Hudson who wasn’t responding to my comment, unaware that he was  considering the surrounding steel, gray cliffs and deep valleys and a wide river way below us before he said, “Yeah Mom, it is beautiful, isn’t it?”

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 Place to Cry Outloud

Having our daughter Lily leave, at the age of sixteen, to live with an unknown family in Italy, as part of a foreign language immersion program was one of the biggest nest-departing challenges I’ve faced.  Lily had never minded checking in with me and sharing what was going on.  What I found hard to set boundries around was that when she told me details other kids would never divulge. I had a hard time not opening my mouth and attempting to guide her through her often impulsive, sovereign exploits.

Almost all of her contacts with home during her Italian Immersion program were through email.  What she discovered about her peers in Calgary at that age was that out of sight was almost out of mind.  As a result of that, I’d like to say I was treated to an almost daily email, but they were definitely not always a treat. At just barely sixteen, in such a unfamiliar situation, Lily needed guidance from me and her dad.  My headstrong daughter didn’t always agree.  Parenting loses a lot of its punch when you are a continent away from your child.  When you say, “hang out with your host instead of that stranger you met on the bridge,” and your honest daughter tells you she isn’t going to comply with your rules, it is hard to enforce consequences.

So we bickered via email, I was forced to make great strides in the art of the consoling email, and we gave each other a sense of the life we were separated from, zapping our words across countries and oceans.  Lily did tell me that she found a place to go to cry out loud – her preferred style of crying- and during those months she had reason to go there.  Her older sister, Zoë, and I had a friendly wager about whether or not our sensitive, finicky Lily would last the full five months without sobbing that we had to bring her home.  It was hard to determine the odds.

The Last Ungainly Swing Dance

When , Lily, the baby of our family, asked if she might take part in a foreign immersion program in grade eleven, my heart stopped beating.  If the youngest of our four kids left at only 16 years old – her Dad and I would be sitting smack in the middle of a shockingly empty nest.  Our friends and family couldn’t shut up about the EMPTY NEST prospect, constantly reminding us that it loomed around the corner.  What was with that?  Were they all watching to see how we would replace the noise, and chaos, comings and goings, organizing and meal planning, and endless discussing that goes on when you have kids at home?  Were they waiting to see how we would manage when too many of our evenings and weekends became unfathomably quiet.  Their curiosity was well founded.  I pondered that uncertain future along with them.

After two decades of kids, kids, kids swarming around us – what the hec would we do?  I might have suggested we take up ballroom dancing – seeing as we are so often hanging out in ballrooms, but I had already played that card.  Apparently, around ten years into a marriage it was what wives got husbands to do.  It felt like such a coup when Will agreed.  His not wanting to do it previously, didn’t translate into him not being able to do it. Will fox trotted and two stepped, and cha cha cha –ed across the gym floor with the rhythm and musical ease he was born with, sometimes with the wiry male instructor, after he’d given up on clumsy, impossible to teach, tone deaf me.  I sympathized with our kids who always had to beg me to let them quit any activity –  music lessons, karate, choir, baseball – whatever.  Will made me stick out that ballroom gig right up to the last ungainly swing dance.

One of Will’s younger work colleagues suggested we get a puppy.  Her parents had fostered puppies when she and her siblings all left home.  She couldn’t know that Will and I are considered by some of our nearest and dearest to be anti-pet.  These friends have been known to get all misty-eyed and accusatory and say, well, I know you hate my dog.  Hate is a strong word, and hey, if I lived in the country I might even acquire a dog to protect me from all the things in the country that make a doggie bark at night.  Most of my reluctance to the city dog, has to do with the poo (and maybe the hair on the couch, slobber on my leg, and kibbles everywhere.)  So no ballroom dancing or puppies to fill the emptiness we might feel sans kids at home.

The year I turned forty-eight, I took lessons in both knitting and outdoor in-line skating.  In-line skating was okay, but I’ve yet to find an in-line skating partner. Knitting passes the time on planes and long drives.  That same year Will bought his dream machine – a midnight blue sports car.  Will confessed that while he was aware that young people did knit, watching me knit made him feel old.  He failed to understand that driving in the low slung car made me feel old, too.  I had to concentrate to gracefully get in and out of it, but also, I tried to explain to my oh-so proud husband, that when we drive down the street, radar detector on, seventies music blasting, I am on to the meaning of that visual double-take pedestrians give us.  It says – was that an old guy, who can finally afford a cool sports car, playing old guy Led Zeplin tunes, and if  it was, I don’t have to be envious because I’m not old yet (glance again) yes, it was, old indeed, oh and look, his wife is knitting. So I suppose we will be diverted from our emptynest-ness by planning two-seater driving trips to places old people go – Waterton Park, Yellowstone Park, and Mount Rushmore, while I knit loose lope-sided teeny sweaters for Zoë’s friend’s new babies.

My approach to Lily’s request to do the immersion program had been completely hands off, not wanting the blame in any way should she call from a far away place to say she was so, so sad and lonely.  Maybe the whole foreign immersion idea would fade away, as teenage ideas often do, before being replaced with the next half-baked scheme.  But Lily was a take charge kinda girl and had the whole application process rolling neatly along on her own, right up to the day we received a phone call to say that the Cultural Immersion people needed to send a staff person to our home to interview Lily, Will, and I as part of the in-depth study of the prospective applicant.   My brain whirled – could this be our out?  Could the wrong answers spare Will and I the possibility of more badly chosen classes or fostered pets and keep little Lily home with us?   Tune in to Thursday’s post to find out….

Assignment Mom


The flight of our eldest three children from the nest left Lily, the baby of our family,  holding together the mother lode of mother.  She’s was a good kid – quite mature for only almost sixteen.  But then she had the luxury of being witness to half a decade of adolescent angst, first loves, soul crushing rejections, minor criminal activity and mood swings in our lively home.  As a result, at sixteen she was a fairly responsible girl.  Her siblings recognized that, and in their absence they handed her a hefty assignment:  take time out from hang’n with your friends, and allow mommy to mommy-you.  It might keep a check on her email-stalking.  (I hadn’t discovered texting yet.)

Lily would call at the end of a chilly school day and ask me for a lift home.  My deal always was that I would help them get to school – I was at home with a car in a household struck with early morning tardiness – but they had to find their way home from classes on their own.  When Lily called for a ride I’d perform the obligatory hemming and hawing, especially if she’d caught me half way across the city, and then I’d easily give in.  Or after she’d headed downtown with friends to hunt for the newest must-have alternative rock CD, or to peruse the vintage clothing shops, she would phone and ask if I was hungry.  Did I want her to grab us a table at that Latin place on Fourth Street we like, or maybe the coffee shop on Thirty-third with the nachos and good lattés, so that she could tell me how her day went?

There was a time back when three or four of them were still living at home, when I would have been too busy racing between after school activities to indulge one of them with a slow meal in a nice setting.  I suppose no one was inviting me to do that back then either, though.  No one was on Assignment Mom.

I’ve been known to direct the rest of the family to be cautious of how we treat the baby of our clan, “Don’t pamper her.  You’re not doing her any favours,” I’d say.  But the tables had turned on me.  One afternoon Lily overheard me joking with a good friend, none of whose kids had flown the coop yet.  “This is what I suspect happened,” I conjured, “when Lily’s siblings made their whirlwind visits home at Thanksgiving, they took their baby sister aside, and to keep the swarms of my emails to the away kids at bay, they’d whispered to her, “Do us a favour, Lily.  Indulge Mom once in a while.  Let her buy you lunch.  Tell her all your troubles.   Pamper her.  Really, it’s good for her – and us.”  In response to my friend’s laughter Lily stuck her head into the kitchen and categorically told me that our mid-week dates were always her idea, and that nobody had to make her hang out with her mom.

And in fact, those dates on Fourth St. or Thirty-third with my dramatic youngest detailing her day, while we sipped virgin Margaritas or steaming lattes, were occasions I wouldn’t have forsaken for all the world.  The truth was that Assignment Mom, voluntary or not, worked for both of us.

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?