Helicoptering and Bubble Wrapping

There has been so much criticism for my generation’s parenting skills – for our hovering and our helicoptering and bubble wrapping our kids. Certainly I have done enough of that.  But somehow my four kids have managed to zigzag through the helicopter blades and pop the bubbles in the wrap with a loud smack.

I thought about my hovering while trying to sleep on my youngest daughter’s couch in Montreal, listening to the chaotic street sounds outside of the stifling hot apartment we’d rented for her first year of university.  When friends had asked how long I intended to stay with Lily to get her set up I squelched the numbers a bit –a little over a week, I’d say, rather then the truth – twelve days.

Lily’s brother, Hudson, had accompanied us to Montreal on our red eye flight from home. After trying to get back his lost sleep in the rental car in the Ikea parking lot, while I was studying other mother/daughter sets shopping together, and Lily was studying the Swedish twenty-nine dollar desks and twelve dollar lamps, he uncomplainingly helped load the goods up two flights of stairs to her tiny apartment and put the Aspvik and the Leirvik together with only two cold showers to stop his Alberta blood from boiling in the late August Quebec heat.   Having passed up the Ikea mattresses out in the suburbs, mattresses now eluded us in downtown Montreal, and while our search continued we slept on pumped up camping mattresses from Canadian Tire.

On the third day after we had arrived my husband, Will, flew in for the September long weekend, promising to whisk me away from my restless sleep near the floor in the stifling apartment to an air-conditioned hotel room.  Will and I wanted to explore the French-ness of Montreal, kick back and enjoy a tête-à-tête and some joie de vivre over aperitifs on the café patios of Rue Crescent, giving Lily an to opportunity to rendezvous on St. Dennis with its je ne sais quoi appeal, while she had her frère, Hudson, to watch out for her.

While Will and I sipped our icy drinks during what was supposed to be a pleasant, if slightly  melancholy soiree, in our carefully chosen Rue Crescent café, he said that he didn’t know if he could do it, he wasn’t sure he could actually leave Lily in Montreal. “I know she lived without us in Rome at sixteen,” he said, his cowboy boot drumming nervously against the patio floor, “but she still had that host family keeping track of her.”

That comment was the coup de grace to our joie de vivre.  We returned to the sanctuary of our cool hotel room away from the mounting noises of the crowded street.  Lily and Hudson phoned us as we entered the lobby, wandering if they could come up for a late movie and to raid the mini-bar.  Will, so relieved to have them there with us, especially his eighteen-year-old baby, who cuddled with him, and called him Daddy when she asked if he could order them up a pepperoni pizza, let them find a space on our crowded bed and choose the flick.

During those few days together we drove to Montreal’s Little Italy where Lily stocked up on olive oil and bought a basil plant. We ate more pepperoni pizza in the Latin quarter and toured most of Old Montreal by attempting to find parking there.

Lily proclaimed that she loved Montreal.  Word, Hudson said in agreement, using one of the kid’s expressions from an era before my time that I am fond of – word, I told them. While Lily’s huge adventure and lifestyle change was to start university in Montreal, Hudson’s upcoming adventure was an immediate plan to move from our home in Calgary to Vancouver, where he’d share a house with his band members.  He and I were leaning against the rental car in another no-parking zone, while Lily and Will went up to the apartment to take measurements for a piece of wood to hold the slide-up window locked on the inside from bad guys on the fire escape, when Hudson got the call he’d been waiting for. His crew had found a place.  It was far from the action of downtown Vancouver and was going to cost more then they hoped (and likely more than they would discover they could afford), but despite that he was elated.  That sounds great, I said.  Wow.

Wow, indeed.  Screw all that talk of hovering and helicopter-ing and bubble wrap.  My kids were leaving me.  Soon, for the first time since the summer of 1984 it would just be Will and I at home.  French women link arms when they walk in the streets of Montreal.  I wondered if Lily would mind if I carried her?

(Final few installments of Text Me, Love Mom coming soon.)

Patience is a Spring Time Virtue, right? Right??

We’ve been fortunate enough to take a holiday from the  hard Canadian winter and escaped to Maui , along with groups of spring break tourists with kids of all ages in tow, tiny children splashing bravely through aqua waves, to pouty teens glued to their cell phones.  I felt blissful in Hawaii.  My Alberta-straight hair curled with the soft humidly.  My skin glowed (or perspired), turning light brown – where it wasn’t glowing red.

We jumped waves, lay on the beach and drank by the pool – and our drinks always had little umbrellas in them beside the chunk of pineapple – it was part of the holiday.  As I walked along the tropical landscape I picked up plumeria blossoms and held them under my nose, trying to hold the  luscious sweet scent in my memory.  I took photos of the red ti leaves and of the even brighter ruby-colored torch ginger. I aimed my camera at the startling orange tulip tree and below it at a brilliant yellow hibiscus, and even at the comical pineapples dropping off a palm tree during a hard gust of wind.  I wore sandals and breezy skirts and bathing suit tops – I had purposely left behind any gray and black summer clothes – those too often being the colours of my winter wardrobe.

I never forgot that I was in vacation land – not my own land. With the time change we arrived back home in Calgary midmorning.  We didn’t say much as the taxi drove us passed what is still, despite my hopeful fantasy otherwise, a gray, white, and beige landscape.  While my husband tried to deal with his jet leg, I slipped my  brown bare feet back into a pair of winter boots, as there were still small heaps of snow outside and I walked the garden – the way gardeners do in the spring.  I forgot the huge Hawaiian leaves and dazzling tropical blossoms and looked so carefully, pushing at the soil with a stick until I found the tiny red-tipped tulip leaves struggling through the firm soil, then further along a clump of round fresh leaves of an early columbine plant reaching for the sun, and finally – spiky deeper green shoots of a chive, as well as a young strawberry plant in the corner of the vegetable garden.

My tropical holiday was like a trip to Atlantis – mystical in its abundance of   showy  displays of blo0ms.  But home again, I have no choice but to wait patiently for colourful floral and fauna.  I can only anticipate the blanket of snowy pink apple blossoms, the  crimson hollyhocks waving on long stems, a scattering of  midnight blue cornflowers, or my magnificent rose-hued double poppies springing up somewhere new.  I promise myself to appreciate them more than ever when they come, to marvel not just at their beauty and grace, but at their hardy fortitude.

Give Me Teeny Green Buds of Hope and Promise

“Autumn arrives in early morning, but spring at the close of a winter day.”
–  Elizabeth Bowen

I’m not looking for something more, or something dramatically better, just please – something else.  I don’t want to see the tip-tip top of a rose bush’s dry crumbled leaves poking out of three feet of banked snow.  Give me teeny green buds of hope and promise.

I’ve had enough of the orange electrical cord stretched across the front yard to the car, whose battery was fine eight months ago, but is as worn away by the freezing weather as we are now.  Give me a line of trickling water running from the eaves to the drainpipe outside our bedroom window and down to the street.  The drip-drip sound will delight me now, rather than annoy me.

I’ve had enough of heating the car for a quick excursion because I can’t bear to sit my butt one more time on flipp’in seats like blocks of ice, and gingerly hold the steering wheel with four fingers less I frost bite my hands gripping it.  Give me sunshine and puddles and I will dance through them walking to the nearest grocery for milk and eggs.

Don’t make me wear my heavy wool coat one more time, or lose another glove, or wipe salt stains from my sturdy winter boots.   Let me don a carefree sweater against a soft spring breeze, a skirt swirling about my winter white legs, bare feet inside a pair of flats that expose the tops of my feet.

I don’t want to shovel the walks anymore.  I don’t want to.  I don’t want to.  I don’t want to.  I will prematurely rake the brown grass.  I will giddily push the lawn mower and drink the scent of cutting the fresh new lawn.  I will plant sweet peas in the wet soil and lovingly dig holes to push glad bulbs into.

Please mother nature.  Please.

Embrace Technology Because I’m Too Young for a Paper Shredder

I’m not old – not some little granny – well, I’m a grandma, but a young grandma – just fifty-one.  That’s just eight years older that Julia Roberts who just finished eating, praying and loving, and it’s ten years younger than Merly Streep.  And I’ll be any age that lets me sing my heart out to Pierce Brosnan ( age fifty-six)) on a mountain top in Greece.

But I breezed into my local office supply store to update my printer because it ‘thinks’ way too long before it will respond to my tapping the print button, and in no time I felt like I was born in ‘the early days’ as my grandmother used to say.   I had to direct myself to listen really, very carefully to the twelve year old sales clerk who was so patiently telling me why it wasn’t the printer that was at fault, but that the printer was too fast for my much older tower computer’s USB port and what I needed was not a printer, but to replace the ancient computer with a small lap top which I could buy for not much more than the high tech printer I wanted (but didn’t need) and if I wanted the teeny tiny laptop that would fit in my purse, all I needed was a exterior hard drive which was the size of a deck of cards or I could even (be patient, I could have this confused in my addled fifty-one-year-old mind, as my  concentrating was further impaired when the baby clerk mentioned something about the system his wife used – did twelve-year-olds have wives – was he possibly twenty-four?) …yeah, I could even sign onto a hard drive warehouse thingy where they (were they robots) could keep my hard drive contents on a shelf somewhere far away.

We have a same age friend who tells my husband and I that we have to “embrace technology”,  and believe me I want to.  I do.  Or I did. But my heart was beating so, so fast in my efforts to embrace what the hec this clerk was talking about and I remembered that I needed a new  fade and water resistant uni-ball bright coloured felt pen to replace the old one that one of my adult kids took off with the last time they were home, so I let the nice ‘man’ help someone else while I went to catch my breath one aisle over.  What caught my eye next was a paper shredder – I refuse to buy a paper shredder.  Now that is a testament to one’s age.  Ask anyone over sixty – they all own paper shredders.  Probably even Merly Streep.

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?”

Best Northern New Year’s Resolution

It took a four-year-old’s birthday party for me to leave behind the malls and rush of Christmas preparations for a few lovely hours of a pass time I am oh-so passionate about.  It’s an activity that I partake in during our long Canadian winter that calms me and makes me glow inside, despite the icy cold, and actually brings some melancholy early in March or April that winter weather is breaking up.   The four-year-old was my daughter’s fiancé’s niece.  Her birthday was a skating party,  and while her uncle and mom assisted her in putting on brand new skates,  I was lacing up my thirty-year- old skates for the gazillith time and already feeling the rush of pleasure my winter sport gives me.

Though neither of my parents skated themselves, on crisp winter days they’d drive us over to the rink  and if the concession wasn’t open, they’d kneel over the snowy parking lot with the youngest of us five kids balanced on the edge of the car’s seat and tie or help tighten five pairs of skates.  The littlest kids would be lifted up high over the heaped up snow around the pleasure rink and then set free to circle round and round the freshly shoveled surface.  Somehow they’d taught my older brother and sister to maneuver over the ice, and then passed on the job of teaching me – to them.   To this day I recall my siblings wool mitts holding mine and the two of them telling me together,” Push, push, glide.  Push, push, glide.”  Who knows which I enjoyed more, being the focus of my sister and brother’s attention, suspended between them on a snowy afternoon, or the exhilaration of a well balanced long glide?

If enough neighborhood kids showed up there might be a game of tag on skates,  or the even riskier Red Rover.  On the best days the concession would be open and music would be playing over crackly speakers so we could skate to Big Girls Don’t Cry, or You Are My Sunshine and warm up our numb toes in a basement room that smelled of sweat, wet rubber mats and watery hot chocolate.  With a nickel we could treat ourselves to a thick sugary square of sponge toffee.

At the recent pre-Christmas birthday party the four-year-old’s uncle and my own daughter gave the little girl lessons with the historic push, push, glide and I took my first strokes of the winter across the even ice.  The morning clouds were lifting, the sun was creeping over the horizon, and our breath puffed out in steamy halos.  I listened to the swish, swish, then ‘tock’ sound of blades hitting against thick ice and thought, for this I will hang onto winter.  Music came on the overhead speakers, Black Eyed Pea’s I Got A Feeling, the sound of 2010, not the sixties or seventies of my youth, but I was okay with that as my grown-up daughter left the others and joined me and together we push, push, glided around and around the rink until we could do just one more circle, and then one more again, before the minus twelve weather was too much for all our fingers and toes.  New Year’s Resolution 2011 – Skate More…push, push, glide…push, push, glide. . .

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?