Leaving Lily in Montreal

My mission – if I chose to take it – was to leave my eighteen-year-old daughter in Montreal.  Her dad and brother had just left to return to Calgary and now it was my job to finish, as they say, setting Lily up.  I made lists of what I’d accomplish – getting an account for her to pay her utility bills, a few simple cooking lessons (that I had some how neglected during the past eighteen years), arranging for an internet connection which hasn’t got any less complicated or expedient since I did the same for her older sister six years previous.  Lily is an organized detail person and could have managed all that on her own.  I didn’t need seven days to help her with it.  No, the real reason for my prolonged stay was that I couldn’t bear to think of leaving Lily alone in that small hot apartment before she had made a few contacts with potential friends.  The night before her first day of classes, against my boring motherly advice about getting sleep, she had me drop her at the apartment of friends of friends from home. She came in at one a.m. and told me that they were good guys who had given her tight advice about the city – so therefore potential friends.

The universities I was familiar with in the west all have distinct campuses.  The locations of McGill and Concordia right in the centre of Montreal make the down town community indistinguishable from the university community.  While Lily put on her little black French dress and was taken out by the Calgary connected friends I left the apartment in search of a breeze, and soon felt that the student age population owned the streets.  I was feeling rather alone in my dotage.

Lily and I had one more sweltering weekend together.  It was almost too freaking hot in the apartment to conduct cooking lessons over the gas stove so we sought out air-conditioned restaurants.  Our server in the Mexican restaurant around the corner was a classmate who invited Lily to go cliff jumping in the Eastern townships.  Lily had photography homework that night and rushed off to shoot a roll of film with another classmate (and another potential friend) and I saw Mama Mia – the movie, alone.

I’d never been to many movies on my own, but it had been a relief to sit in the air-conditioned theatre and wonder how many of the mother/daughter sets we’d seen in Ikea earlier had made it to Mama Mia to hear Merle Streep sing ABBA songs and drool over Pierce Brosnan.  Or maybe there were other daughter’s like mine who were engaged in tentative bonds with new acquaintances, while their mom’s escaped the oppressive heat to listen somewhere nearby in the dark to Streep’s character croon to her twenty-year-old daughter,

What happened to the wonderful adventures

The places I had planned for us to go?

Well, some of that we did but most we didn’t

And why I just don’t know

Slipping through my fingers

All the time I try to capture

Every minute

The feeling in it

Slipping through my fingers all the time.

The afternoon before I was to leave the weather broke, skies turned a steel blue and the rains came.  Back in Calgary Lily’s brother, Hudson, would be packing to make his move to the west coast with his band.  I would get home in time to see them off.  I made Lily and I supper of roast chicken, too sticky risotto, and grilled zucchini cakes and gave her verbal directions on washing dishes sans dishwasher. I had imagined us working together in the teeny kitchen but she was reading homework on the history of photography.  I could see her nodding off and so suggested she read out loud to me, and together we learned about camera obscura and deguerrotype and Henry Fox Talbot.  She finished up and fell asleep stretched across the bed in her clothes.

Since high school Lily would lie on the back of our living room couch in the afternoon sun to share what was on her mind, or we would go out to our favourite coffee/nacho shop.  Her brother, Hudson, liked to go out for breakfast with me after a late night with friends and do the same, talking more with me than at other times, letting me in on what his latest plans were and, being Hudson, his philosophical stance on them.  I couldn’t solve all of their young adult angst, (sometimes it just reminded me of my own),  but I learned to be less afraid of their troubles and just listen, trying not to yap back too much,  guiding them instead with careful assurances that they would find their path, just be careful to leave doors open, it was all about those open doors.

Watching Lily sleep, her blond hair spread across the new Ikea pillows,   I thought of all the photos she would take and print over the semester  and of all the images I will have pictured on long afternoons, as fall turned to winter. I hung my head out the window and listened to the students up late, calling out to each other, as they passed by, excited by their new independence.  It was time to go home.

To read more about Lily and I – along with the chaos of four kids being launched into the wide, wide world – during that next stage of parenting, click on the following links:

Link to Amazon.ca  http://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

Link to Amazon.com  http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

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.)

Grandma’s don’t use the f-bomb – searching for the illusive portable crib

Okay, first off – I’m all about the ‘family bed‘.  I loved, loved, loved waking up in the morning with a teeny baby stretching their soft bare feet into my stomach.  And for years we had kids in our bed in the wee hours – because they had wet theirs or got scared in the night.

Now our sweet grand-baby is coming for a weeks visit, and despite my comfort with family bed it has been me that has been encouraging my daughter to try – just try- to get our nine month old granddaughter  to  spend at least some part of the night sleeping in her own little crib.  I didn’t mind my babies in my bed, but at some point in the early evening I put them to sleep in their own cribs and had some hours to myself – well, not always to myself, but with two, then three, then four kids I had some time when I wasn’t taking care of the needs of the tiniest.  My daughter has decided she would like that, as well.  Her and the baby’s daddy have spent the better part of two weeks with that goal in mind – they’ve been frustrated, they’ve been exhausted, they’ve been pleased – as they struggle through this stage that I promise her almost daily will pass so quickly that they will forget what it was like to not have a few blessed hours in the evenings to themselves again.  Which brings me to the search for the illusive, mysterious, just out-of- reach portable crib.

I’ve got four kids and one granddaughter.  I’m a grandma (one of those young-ish, hip grandma’s as I’ve pointed out before).  Grandma’s house should have a crib in it.  My mom’s did for almost a two decades of grandchildren – my grandmother’s had one forever – until she went into a nursing home at age ninety-four.  We’ve recently renovated making bigger spare bedrooms and replaced all the kids’ (now adults living away) single beds with brand new queens – and have NO room for a full size crib.  What to do?  Buy a portable crib – a mini crib – a apartment size crib.  Simple item to find in a city of  a million people and how many grandma’s?  I started off at Ikea.  The Swedes wouldn’t let me down, would they?  You bet they would.

From there I rolled into several large baby needs supply stores.  “I’m looking for your apartment size cribs,” I said, adding that I was the grandma, in case they thought I was one of those fifty year old moms you read about in the papers.  I was met with a whole lot of blank stares and then usually the suggestion of a play pen.  I don’t want sweet baby in the bottom of a playpen all night with their rigid folding pads.  I’m trying to replicate what I’ve encouraged my daughter to do for ten exhausting nights – so she can have some fun with us in the evenings (we’re fun) and not go backwards with baby sleeping with mommy from bedtime to sunup.

I went on-line.  Wow – everyone sells them on-line – Costco and Wal-Mart and Sears, so the next day I rolled out to those stores to learn they don’t stock any such item in Canadian stores.  What’s with that?  Is it something about the great white north having more space – grandparents that spent a stupid amount of money renovating up here in the Colonies would have thought about the extra 70 cm. by 130 cm. (28 by 52 inches)  needed for a crib?  Do they think we have big hulking babies here in the North who need big cribs only?  Granddaughter is lean with delicate fine features.

Finally a saleswomen in a second hand baby store went above and beyond, and told me, given a few minutes on her computer, she would indeed find the illusive portable crib.  And to my dazed amazement she did – through, of course, a company that supplies to local daycares.  Perfect.  Grand-baby can sleep in the sweetest little crib, on wheels that slide through a bedroom door AND it folds up – if she is here in six to eight weeks.   Darn.  (Grandma’s don’t use language stronger than darn – never the f-bomb in absolute frustration over how difficult the search has become.)  Okay, stay calm.  Short term solution –  I would rent.  I quickly discovered three companies run by lovely women that rent out baby equipment only – mostly to grandma’s suppressing the f-bomb after trying to buy the darling little portable crib.

First company is fresh out of cribs – portable and full size.  Second and third company turn out to be one and the same (?).  On-line I learn that from this company I can pick up the perfect folding bright and shiny crib at the airport for $35 extra, or have it delivered to my house for $40 above the rental cost of $82 which is similar to that of buying a very inexpensive full size crib (that doesn’t fit.)  Or I can choose to save the $40 and pick it up from the home office of the company, which is what I opt for in my effort to not spend as much as I have already spent on ordering the crib from the on-line catalog that will arrive after baby goes home.   No where on-line does it tell me that the rental company is located forty minutes outside the opposite end of the city.  Ah well, if was a lovely country drive with a good friend.

My daughter and our grand-baby arrive this evening.  The clean, fresh portable crib will be all set up with just-laundered bedding and a little stuffed lamb tucked inside.  The lamb will likely sleep alone as my soft-hearted well intentioned daughter will decide baby’s routine has been interrupted too much already and she can sit up with us and then go to sleep wrapped up in mommy’s arms in the big queen bed.

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?”

Oh Baby, I Can’t Get Enough

You know how people say, the best part of being a grandparent is that when they cry you can hand them back.  I poo-poo that.  (Well, I might hand her back when the poo-poo happens.)  But the best part of being my granddaughter’s grandma is I never want to hand her back.  I can’t get enough of little baby ‘Tessa’.*

I want to hold her little squirming body, and squeeze her plump cheeks, and pat her tiny back, and make squirty sounds against her belly, and stroke her silky hair, and have her teeny fingers squeeze mine, and smooch that hidden skin under her wobbly neck, and butterfly kiss her round face, and when she cries hold her whole little self firm and shush, shush, shush against her forehead, rocking her tired, or frustrated little being until I can be still with her, watching her breath  softly in my arms until she  sighs  and falls asleep…

Oh, baby  –  I don’t want to hand her back at all.

*  grand-baby’s name has been changed to protect the very, completely, oh so innocent.

So On the Level

“Can you believe I’m doing this and I’m only sixteen?, my daughter, Lily, asked as she helped haul her two giant suitcases out of the trunk at the airport.  She didn’t realize how seriously I was trying to understand why the hell I did go along with this proposal from its inception.  Lily was organized, motivated, and I think, fairly sensible.  She was a kid who, simply put – got things done.  But whole books have been written about that other side of her personality.  By definition she is what you call, a sensitive person.  Sensitive to other people’s moods, to the clothes she wears, the food she eats, and especially to the shades of light in a room.  How could I agree to such an undertaking for her, as five months in the home of stranger’s in a foreign culture –  as part of a language immersion program, and why, oh why would she seek that out?  The most reassuring theory is one that I read years ago when I first began to worry about her adaptability.  The theory was that these kids (sensitive kids) are, in fact, the ones that grow up and seek out adventure and unheard of challenges, because they feel they have been challenged and forced to adapt all their lives.   If you didn’t know someone like Lily (and you probably do), you might say she was just fussy.  It is different than that.  It seems to me that while so many people are willing to just go along, people like Lily strive to seek out the best circumstances for themselves, though it can be distressing when she feels her disappointment in failing to do that so deeply.

Lily has learned that ordering chicken quesadillas in a restaurant almost always works out for her – of course, she checks to make sure the onions are green, not white and has explained to me that that the biggest issue is the chicken – “it has to be the kind of chicken that rips in strips, not that weird white chicken that can be cut into neat little cubes.  Anyone would agree that stuff is gross.”   (Really, she had a point with the square chicken bits.)  If the onions are white and the chicken is square she switches to a pepperoni pizza, though she prefers the pepperoni on top of the cheese, please.

This daughter, who went out of her way to seek out well-lit interiors and spoke some French, but very little Italian, and worried too much about who liked her, this daughter had decided to immerse herself in a far away land on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, surrounded by strangers who would speak a foreign tongue and who may or may not like her, and who would likely abide in shadowy, ancient homes.    Still, she spent a season  walking home from school, hugging the last rays of sun on short winter afternoons listening to Italian CD’s.  She had experimented with different pastas, and had agreed to try inner crying, rather than sobbing aloud when circumstances defeated her, and had said she couldn’t wait to see what everyday life in Rome had in store for her.

And hey, it’s true, she has cried in public places, but joy overcomes her too, and she’s been known to merrily skip in public, or burst into song, or make candid observations to others – complementary, but surprising all the same.  “Try not to be a weirdo,” I said as we headed for the airport check-in counter.  “Don’t worry, Mom”, she replied, understanding perfectly what I meant.  “I will be so on the level.”  She made a broad gesture with her hand, slicing straight and even through the air and raised her voice so that other traveler’s eyes were on us.  “So on the level.”

What the Little Brat Was Talking About

The sweet young women handling the interview for the Cultural Immersion organization asked our not-quite sixteen-year-old daughter, Lily, what sort of rules we have in our household.  This woman sitting in our living room with my husband, Lily and I, was here as part of the in-depth study of the prospective applicant, trying to determine if Lily had what it took to live with a host family abroad, immersed in a new language and culture for five months.

Back during the crazy hey-day of Lily’s older sister’s high school musical theatre involvement, when our home first became the place to congregate on a Friday or Saturday night (maybe Thursday and Sunday, too) there had been a time close to the opening night of Joseph and the Amazing Techno-Colored Dream Coat when I had felt the other kids were taking advantage of the largess of my willing to host them.  Better put, our place was turning into party central. One morning I woke up to evidence of underage drinking, along with the sight of two kids, one a girl with an extremely strict mother and the other a guy, who had crashed for the night in the same bed, albeit fully clothed.  Rules for our house were immediately posted on the basement door for the duration of the play.  Of all the rules that currently governed our home ie. inform me before you borrow my car, phone when you’re out super late,  we eat pizza on Friday ….Lily decided to reach back a few years, to one I’d posted on that basement door during the musical and tell the nice lady, “I can’t think of any. ..  Oh, I know a rule we have.  Boys and girls that aren’t related aren’t allowed to sleep together.”

After the crimson left our faces and we stuttered out some explanation for what the little brat was talking about, the interviewer indicated that it was a wrap.  The interview process was a safe guard against families that were really wacked out, she said, and ours was,  of course, fine.

“Hang on,” I wanted to shout, “this kid is too young, fussy, protected, small…” whatever they wanted to hear to stop the whole ridiculous plot.

Prego. They found Lily to be a well-rounded candidate and decided she could go to a little Italian village (little sounding safe).  Lily begged them to let her go to a city, urban girl that she was, and they complied, congratulating her on her being accepted to spend five months in Rome in an Italian language and cultural immersion program.   For five whole months she was to live in one of the loveliest areas, of the loveliest cities in the world – Trastevere –one of the last pockets of medieval Rome, in the home of a family who we had only exchanged a few brief emails with, people referred to by the organization involved as her host mom and dad.  Will and I had been replaced.