To Gap or Not To Gap

Having had to sweet talk Cole, Hudson and Lily into beginning a university education I have come out strongly in favor of the gap year.  I remember reading about Royal Prince William’s gap.  He was taking a year off between completing his high school A levels and beginning his studies at Scotland’s St. Andrews University.  Prince William was going to fill his gap by; working on a UK farm, teaching English in a remote part of Chile, hunting on an African Safari, and trekking in Belize with the Welsh Guards.   Cole’s plans weren’t so lofty.

Of the many definitions for ‘gap’ in the Webster’s dictionary the most appropriate is – a break in continuity.  Cole’s father and I verbalized our support for the gap, desperate for it to lead our energetic son to decide with conviction, “Man, I want to go back to school.  I ‘m so down with getting on with my education.”  It seems there has to be a certain rhythm to the gap.  You want them to work hard at low paying jobs  – like the UK farm perhaps in Prince Williams case, but not spend too much of their earnings or time crowd surfing in mosh pits, drunk with freedom away from math homework and biology tests.

My father had feared the gap for his kids.  I graduated in 1977 from the same high school that Cole attended.  When I should have been studying for my own grade twelve final math exam, I had been stretched across my girlfriend’s bed listening to Elton John belt out Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and daydreaming about climbing the Eiffel Tower, and eating real Italian gelato –  as soon as our summer jobs had earned us enough to purchase; airfare, a youth hostel card, a Eu-rail pass, an awkward and heavy pack back, and the requisite pair of hiking boots.

Flying across the Atlantic Ocean I left the coziness of my parent’s house – where not only was there a meat and potatoes dinner on the table every evening, but my siblings and I had the luxury of cruising around to our friend’s homes in my dad’s Chrysler LeBaron.  Criss-crossing Europe I learned to stretch my food budget by eating a whole lot of bread and jam, and to decipher train schedules in a half dozen languages, all with little communication with any one at home – no texting for us.  Like a kazillion young Canadian (and Australian) kids, Cole’s dream was to spend a winter at a ski resort with a job on the mountain, living like a bohemian.  We were okay with that plan in a shaky parental-milestone way.

A university campus might have been a safer environment for the exploits of a barely eighteen-year-old boy intent on snowboarding through the winter with a pack of other hearty bohemian wannabe’s. (Three of my four kids graduated six months shy of being eighteen.  Warning – when thinking your chatty, obviously smart four-year-old is ready to start school – instead of calculating whether you want your little one to be the youngest one reading in grade one, figure out whether he should be the youngest drinking, smoking and asserting himself as a teenager in grade ten?)

While many of Cole’s friends were saving hard to travel to Thailand or Australia as their gap destination, Cole felt suitably wealthy with $900 in his bank account to set out for the Whistler Blackcomb resort to make his mark on the world.  With his room empty of his boarding gear, CD’s, guitar, and hacky sack collection, Cole was sitting on his duffel bag programming his new phone with a pensive look on his face.

“Do you feel kind of off- balance?” I had asked him.

“Shit Mom, yeah.  But why?  I’m so ready to do this.”  I told him that my dad had explained it to me years ago with an analogy.  We all have dens where we’ve matted down the grass and we’re comfortable in them.  Cole was leaving his den, and he didn’t have a new one yet. I told him Grandpa’s theory was that until he got comfortable in a new den and got the grass matted down there, he’d feel unsettled.  “Word, Mom,” he said.  “That’s good.  Yeah, I get that.”

Who would have guessed that the WestJet agent would be the guy to make me cry?  But here my oldest boy was, having just shaved off those hairs from his chin, that weren’t really whiskers yet.  The agent was explaining in a respectful, but detailed way; the gate location, baggage tags, and boarding time, aware that Cole, attempting to appear so casual wasn’t a seasoned traveler and was having trouble concentrating.  I blinked, and blinked, and blinked back tears.   It’s not that I don’t want them to grow up.  Growing up is okay, but watching my second child heading toward airport security didn’t make me feel at all secure.

I had launched another kid. I was stunned by how fast it had happened.  Cole was a small mammal looking for a den and for a while I would be that mother bear again.  I was going to lumber about in circles for a week or two, bewildered and confused, clinging to my cell phone and to the two younger kids left at home…

Stay tuned for  Thursdays blog – ‘Gap or Chasm?’

Phone-less in San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will you do it now?”

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