Slow, Simmering Panic

(note to readers: on Monday, I was compelled to post about, “How DOES a Grandma Dress”  – and I know I’ll stray again, but I am back to the book project – memoirs from this empty nest.)

It’s not like I’m a cry baby or anything.  I’d say on a scale with females of a certain age, I’m an average crier – not the final scene in the park in You’ve Got Mail, but when Tom Hanks gives Meg Ryan that daisy in her bedroom – oh boy.  Or in Juno, when Juno and her dorky boyfriend make-up with a kiss in the school field, I could hold back the tears, but oh my God – when those two kids are in the maternity ward bed together after the baby is born, who wouldn’t be overcome?

So normal crying, right?  Yet, for months prior to my eldest leaving home I would try to imagine her moving about in her own place and just thinking about it could bring me to tears.    I don’t know what it was that upset me – the vision of her alone in a quiet apartment, or our noisy house without my oldest daughter’s quiet presence in it?  Once she was living in Vancouver without me I seldom sniveled about it, instead the emotion I experienced from time to time when I got to pondering what Zoë might be up to on any given day was a slow, simmering panic.

The supper table had always been the best place to get – at least the feigned attention – of my teenagers as they gulped down their food.  The year Zoë left home I’d discovered a book called 365 Manners Kids Should Know.*  The book followed a calendar.  On January first – teach this manner, January second this one, all the way through 365 manners.  The author had never studied the attention span of my children.  We needed to fly through ten or twenty manners in a sitting.  I summarized for them. “Okay, it says here you can actually eat asparagus with your fingers.”  Unfortunately three of my four children wouldn’t swallow a piece of asparagus no matter what appendage they could handle it with.  “And it says it’s rude to blow on your food.”   The author had never been late for piano lessons.

My youngest son, Hudson, always looking for an angle, grabbed the book.  “Are you sure you want her to be our manner guru Mom?  She says right here that it’s rude to be late for anything.”  I gave up, which was why Zoë left home with only enough manners to get her into late March.  She was in effect missing nine months of manners.

Zoë went off to study art at Emily Carr university before SKYPE-ing was possible, but when two friends, both seasoned mothers, heard that Zoë was off to her own apartment they recommended a video cam – one on my computer and one on Zoë’s.  Why in the world would I want to spy into the privacy of my daughter’s place, I thought?

Why not indeed? …

I didn’t care to see if she was eating her asparagus with her fingers or not.  But there was a whole lot of other information I wanted to gather.  Did she eat a green vegetable ever?  A pea or chunk of broccoli, a bit of lettuce squished into her sandwich.  Or was salsa her veggie of choice?

Would I see her emptying her pockets of seashells from stress relieving beach combing, or would she pull out one of those art school roll your own cigarettes.  At what late hour would the camera see her come in?   Would she look tired and weary?  Zoë has always needed her sleep.  Would the video cam have let me in on any of this mysterious information?    And in fact, was this what I really longed to know?  If we had invested in the video cam could I have told her, “Put your face up close to the camera.  Closer Zoë. I want to see if you’re happy or sad or homesick.  Come on, Zoe. I want to see if you need me.”

 

[1]365 Manners Kids Should Know – Games, Activities and Other Fun Ways to Help Children Learn Etiquette. Sheryl Eberly, (New York, Three Rivers Press, 2001).

So How DOES a Grandma Dress?

When I told one of my twenty-something son a few months back, that he was peppering his sentences with the f-word so much that it was annoying and meaningless (inferring that I use said word only when called for) he told me, I didn’t understand the way today’s youth communicates.  And when I told my twenty-year-old daughter it was weird for her to call her female friend, “Dude”, she informed me that I had no understanding of how her crew rolls. So I’m the one that needs to find a new personal steez.

Flash forward a few months and despite the fact that I’ve heard that fifty is the new forty, (except that your back hurts in the morning and you read all the articles about botox) my journey to be more chillax with said youth has been complicated by my new status as a grandma.  Suddenly it’s not cool for me to be cool.

Take the other morning – my precious, adorable, gifted (how can she not be?) three- month-old granddaughter, who I love to absolute pieces, was bawling her beautiful eyes out.  “Oh baby, baby, what are you bitching for baby?” I crooned, in the presence of above son, the uncle to the screeching infant.

“Mom, don’t talk like that,” said twenty-two-year-old new uncle, “you’re a grandma now.”

“Hey, I was joking,” I said to Mr. F-word.

He wasn’t amused.  “Just imagine my grandma’s talking that way,” he said.  “That would be gross.”

Okay, he’s a sensitive kid.  But this grandparent image doesn’t end with my vocabulary. My poor husband  wore a handsome new cardigan, instead of his usual sports jacket, to work on a casual Friday and not one, but two people joked that just because he was a grandpa, he didn’t need to dress like one.

Which brings me back to my personal steez. Okay, Grandma or not, I like to be in style.  But the height of last season’s fashions, and this, and probably next season’s too, has been skinny little leggings, or stirrups.  I wore both in the eighties, taking me through all four pregnancies in comfort, but these thighs of mine didn’t belong in leggings then and especially don’t now.  Neither do they take well to skinny jeans.  Wondering the mall in another season’s wide leg pants and feeling so not down with fashion, I discovered a look I could do – granted I’d have to give up pants completely until these styles –  suited only for women with peg legs – disappeared, but I could mimic several of the chic shoppers I saw and  wear black tights, and one of the several casual straight black skirts already in my closet.  Top it with a t-shirt, put on a cardigan, (not fearing ageism in cardigans), step into my sensible but stlylin Clarks and presto – I would fit in, a grandma with a little flair, straight off the chain – the kids might say.  (Actually, I imagine the kids are going to text and tell me I should have got them to proof read the slang.)

I zipped home, tore off the baggy jeans, pulled on the new tights, found the right black skirt and tee-shirt, added a black jacket (black is the new black) and stepped up to the mirror.  I’m proud to be a grandma.   But my uniform for this fashion season which is devoted to the peg legged women, looked like that of a f-ing (sorry son) aging flight attendant.  For reals.



I Was A Teenage Sympathizer

 

A plate of Nachos—tortilla chips topped ...

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So our first born daughter, at barely eighteen-years-old was going away to school. It was time for me to grow up.  It was on a Wednesday in June that her dad arrived home and inquired as to why so many of her friends were gathered in our basement again.  This was moments before he noticed that the boys in the gang were in their boxers.  Forever a teenage sympathizer myself, (and I think you can get arrested for that) I handed him the ice for his drink and said calmly, “Some of them just wrote their last exam.  I think they’re feeling celebratory.”

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

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

Will demanded further explanation.  “Wasn’t there a celebration for this already?  Didn’t they call it graduation?  Wasn’t that the night we spent a zillion bucks dressing Zoë up so she could sit at a banquet for two hours, have three dances and change back into her street clothes in a washroom like a super hero, before vanishing for the real celebration out of our sight?  Further more, wasn’t there a party here three days later, after we watched five hundred of them march across the stage – symbolizing once again that they were done?”

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

Zoë explained further to her clueless father – “This is the last day of exams…” she lowered her voice and stuffed a nacho into her mouth,  “… at least for some people.”  Zoë and a few of the others still had four more days before their last exam and then it would be their turn to be giddy and celebratory… and in their underwear.

“You see,” I said, “maybe this is the universal plan to help us let her go.  If they drive us crazy over the summer, it will be easier to separate.”  I choked on the s-word, confirming in my mind that I needed to be some Shirley Partridge type of mom, hip but mature enough to set some rules, take back the stereo – play Fleetwood Mac on it instead of Bowling For Soup, or take her shopping for school supplies and perhaps study street maps of Vancouver with her and teach her how to grocery shop for ripe melons and reasonable cuts of meat.

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

.

Is There A Patch For That?

 

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

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

While mini-SUV’s stuffed with our peers offspring were trucking between Sunday music recitals and vogue over-the-top children’s birthday parties – my husband, Will, and I had already survived hip hop concerts in our basement and read the riot act at a host of eighteenth birthdays for young-adults-gone-wild.  Of course, I didn’t feel that young.  While my same-age friends were doing espressos to make it through the day, after getting up in the night with the little one’s bad dreams and winter colds, I needed a daily fix of latte and chocolate cake because one of my kids hadn’t returned a phone call in two days and another one would be calling incessantly because the road trip he was on had gotten a little sketchy.

Life is a journey and all that.  But during what part of the journey was it easiest to deal with colic and a latent thumb sucker, and when have we learned all the skills necessary to convince a sixteen-year-old that they have to take pure math and that all the kids who say they’ve had sex really haven’t?  I was only forty-two when my oldest daughter left our chaotic home in Calgary.  I can see now that I was guilty of stalking Zoë with emails and phone calls, though it’s hard to believe I had time for stalking while still immersed in patrolling two teenage boys’ covert activities, and being a choir-mom for my youngest.

I had all these cooing babies that became boisterous teens – to fill our home and hearts and consume my time, patience and energy.  For years and years, I had never thought much about them moving out and how my heart would deal with that.  It was what was supposed to happen – the launch from the nest.

Zoë found her way to leave home with her copies of Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter, and Dragon Quest gone from the shelves, her colourful collection of shoes gathered up from the closets, and the vanilla scented products stripped from the bathroom.   Were my parents just as stunned and confused to have a child slipping out of their grasp and away from their influence?  The media would have us believe that we have overindulged, overprotected and generally, now that parent is a verb, over-parented.  Could this explain why I suffered from the jitters when one by one, all too quickly, my children dispersed and I desperately wished I could visit my local pharmacists and buy a patch to help ease me off them.   What, I wondered, would be released for not NRT (nicotine replacement therapy), but rather CAHRT (children at home replacement therapy)?   A chemical that could create the sound of their cell phones chirping incessantly, or of the front door creaking and them downloading a movie at two a.m., or produce the irritation caused by the sight of their chaotic rooms, or imitate the sensation of pleasure when one of them slowed down long enough to wrap their arms around me in a hug?

An astute observer would recognize that, though I was attempting to pull myself together, I was unable to concentrate on a task and was lumbering back and forth from one activity to the next.  Bewildered, I felt like a mother bear I had seen in a film whose cub had been taken away too early.  She had rolled her head from side to side, and clumped through the forest in a distressed fashion.  Learning to deal with my first strayed cub my heart pounded, my sleep was uneven and I couldn’t concentrate to complete a task.

My kids say I could start my own lending library with my vast collection of parenting tomes, yet there was a void of information to guide me through these turbulent times, starting with the spring day that I scrunched up the envelope so I could see through its window that my daughter had been accepted at a university across an entire mountain range from home, until I realized I had worked myself out of a position with which I was damn comfortable.

They left home in the order they were born.  Not enough time passed between Zoë, the oldest, moving out and Lily, the baby, phoning from a crowded European city to tell me how hard it was to find a place to cry out loud, the way she preferred to cry.  Back up you kids, I thought.  I want to run through that all again.

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

If You See Cubs, The Mother Will Be Nearby

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

 

Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) cubs.

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You have babies.  You raise them.  They leave.

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

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

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

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

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

Stick with me – I’ll be back Mondays and Thursdays – with further excerpts from the book project – Text Me, Love Mom – A journey to the day I found myself  still pining over the firstborn’s swift departure, and only starting to see the humour in the second’s being held at the Canada/U.S border with all his belongings in a plastic garbage bag, at the same time confused about whether it would be a positive or negative for our third child to enter an ashram, when our youngest, a sensitive homebody, asked if we’d allow her, at only sixteen to do a high school exchange to spend five months in Travestere, Italy.   (She’d already filled out the papers.)