Big, Big Text-Me-Day

For a number of years, I’ve been following a website which is especially for parents with kids leaving home called, Grown and Flown.  It’s been fun and informative to find the moms (some dads) talking about all the feelings surrounding kids jumping ship to paddle off to the wide, wide world. Of course, I was a captive audience  – I mean really, I wrote a book about that very topic – Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest. My kids matured while I wrote, and then published, my family’s experiences of our four young adults moving away from the nest through various winding paths of education, travel, and simply growing up.  Yet, at this time of year I’m still able to relate to the Grown and Flown parents talk of young adults coming home for the holidays and turning the house upside down with the chaotic energy my husband and I loved and (usually) miss.  Still, I told myself, I’m well passed that now.  I’ve adapted to the house filling with noise and hungry people and shoes and friends and laughter and shouting – for a busy week, and then going quiet again.

IMG_8920 (1)

But our youngest, Lily, recently came home for a much longer time – almost six months.  Lily house-sat for us in the summer while working here, and then stayed on, establishing roots again and managing contracts with her photography business. Lily has based herself from home now and again, but she is a traveler and not ready to stay put, yet every time that she returns – a little bit older and wiser – our sharing this house gets better and better.  (Lily is an organized and tidy offspring – she keeps me in-check when things get messy.) She does a great deal of photo editing in the quiet of an upstairs office, and being a twenty-something still keeps the midnight oil burning into the wee hours – so her presence has been charmingly easy, far past teenage parties and silly spats.

2016-01-05 16.09.57

Two days ago our Lily left again. I knew it was coming – another departure of a ‘kid’ from home.  I haven’t shed tears, but I have sought out friends, and talked aloud to myself, and sat alone in the living room for too long missing … just missing her. Her dad agrees that it’s funny how you get used to sharing the house, and being part of their life in a bigger way for a while. Lily drove to her Vancouver destination – six hundred miles away – on winter roads, and after her first nervous report of road conditions far worse than she was used to, I had her text me as she made her way through the mountains. She called the first evening feeling shattered by traveling through sleet, snow and speeding drivers on a moonless night.  She promised to complete the journey in daylight and the next day I went about my business slower than usual, in a bit of a distracted way, listening for the ding ding of her text as she traveled in and out of cell zones and even more miserable weather. I texted her instructions that she already knew, “Keep your wipers clear of ice, replenish the washer fluid, remember there’s no gas station or anything much from Merritt to Hope.” She wasn’t bothered by my nagging, rather seemed to need to keep connecting.  As for myself, I couldn’t concentrate on anything until finally she text to say, “It’s okay now, Mom, I’m here.”IMG_8927I sat again in the quiet living room, slowly let my breath out and sent the other three a message, “Just Text Me, Love Mom”.

 

To read Text Me, Love Mom – the book – go to:    http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712/

 

 

 

 

 

The Sparrow Perched and Flew Off Down the Lane.

It was a bit of a panic helping my youngest daughter, Lily, leave home again.  Her big sister, Zoë, came by to do a necessary last minute repacking of an overstuffed suitcase hours before the flight was to depart.  Lily was exhausted, and wired – finishing a work project while simultaneously debating her travel outfit and fixing a turkey sandwich in an effort to avoid plane food on the eight hour flight. She hadn’t packed her toiletries, had to call her cell phone provider for overseas coverage, and was still debating over which photography equipment to bring.girls packing

When you don’t know what to write, but feel compelled to say something the tried and true advice is to always write from your heart .  I’ve been dealing with confused emotions by writing stories since Miss Simon’s grade four class, but once I had kids – four of them – taking care of them, mothering, and managing a home was the other thing I did – along with the story writing.  Some of my most intense, pleasurable days occurred when the words and ideas poured out of me while I was working amidst a buzzing household of six people.  As a young mom I formulated a plan to adhere to a schedule of a three hour block of writing time that could happen between two school bells – the morning bell and the noon time bell, even when I still had little Lily at home busy at my knees with a box of toys.   That schedule might have been do-able, but when I was really in the zone, I’d whip my kids up some lunch, push them back out the door (ours were neighborhood schools) and let Lilly sit on my lap when she got bored with Mommy’s insisting she was going to stop typing soon …very soon.IMG_1801

IMG_1558

We’d rush to piano lessons or a baseball diamond with me still rewriting the story in my head.  And I know more than once I told myself I’d stop once the rice pot came to a boil, but instead the rice would burn and finally I would say, “Okay, okay, Mommy’s back”, and I would return to all that family and household management. And so the years went by until the kids started to leave.  Zoë, the oldest, went off to university when I was just forty-three, the age some women have babies at now.  Cole and Hudson soon followed their big sister with ambitious travel and school plans.  Lily was just seventeen when she finished high school so we naturally assumed that we’d have a kid in the house for a while.

Our kids are close, tight knit, a little band of connected individuals.  That makes me happy.  Proud even.  But Lily felt so close to her siblings that when three of them wound up on the west coast, Cole and Zoë sharing a house while attending two different universities, and Hudson a ferry ride away, Lily decided she belonged on the coast too… and so the nest emptied just like that.  It wasn’t exactly a smooth transition and more than one of those kids had us all on high alert from time to time making their way in the wide, wide world.  Still most of the interruptions and interferences to writing became of my own making . Yet at times like these, with school bells part of the distant past, and kids on work paths and in their own homes and apartments, I miss working amongst the chaos of their noisy lives.

fountain

Staring out at the autumn colours in my back yard, I’m amazed at the deep pink and violet sweetpeas still clinging to the tall vines.  I think again of the wise older neighbor two doors down, who told me when I was blue about my kids leaving that they would come back.  I doubted her words,  but in fact they have all four returned to perch here now and again.  Lily, the most travelled, spend this summer, caring for the house and yard while I was away at our cottage.  Turns out she has quite a green thumb and was more diligent about watering and weeding then I ever was.  I returned in September to share time with her and a garden that was still showy with the blossoms from her organized efforts. During the weeks when we were all here Lily would often come home after we went to bed, and leave for work before we were up, but on some level, through our slumber her dad and I were aware of those sounds of a young adult with us again.

With the wonders of technology I already know that Lily’s walking through a neighborhood in London, England today.  She’s carrying on with her life and I’m carrying on with mine.  I watch a little sparrow land in the golden leaves of the apple tree and fly off down the lane and feel just a little melancholy.  It will be their dad and I again, passing the winter evenings together, eating our late night popcorn alone. Before we fall asleep we’ll imagine each kid in their place, including our Lily, home for a while and now far away.  I am now the neighbor woman that tells you – don’t be too blue – they do come home to perch. xo

To read further tales of Candace Allan’s go to http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

rose airport

Teenage Sympathizer

Hey, I have so many mom friends and relatives who have a son or daughter graduating high school this June.  I love all that buzz of buying ‘that dress’ or do you rent or buy the son a suit? – and banquet tickets, famous commencement speeches, and then the after party and after, after party … It makes me think about the chapter I wrote in Text Me, Love Mom about the first time our family spun our way through all that…

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.

– Hesiod, Eighth Century BC

One Wednesday late in June, my husband,Will, arrived home and politely inquired as to why so many of our daughter Zoë’s friends were gathered in our backyard again. He had yet to notice that the boys were in their boxers. Forever a teenage sympathizer, 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. Let them be.”

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

“Seriously, Dad, this isn’t a party,” Zoë told him, wrapping a towel around her bikini-clad body. “It’s just a few of my friends celebrating a bit.”

Zoë’s a good kid. If it were a party, she would certainly have let us know. Eight kids having a water fight, with the boys in boxers and the ones of age knocking back a few beers, followed by a session of whipping up nachos in the oven accompanied by rap music, was definitely not a party.

Just then, two of the more manly looking boys skidded by the kitchen window in their boxers and socks. As Zoë’s dad leapt out the deck door to grab them — not that there was much to grab them by — I became a full blown supporter of their… youthful charm. “Come on. Come on. They just finished high school. Twelve years. Of course, they’re giddy.” Zoe’s much younger sister, Lily, and her friend, Heidi, waved at Will from their post in our dilapidated tree house. The younger girls looked entertained, as if they had balcony seats to a reality TV show.

Will waved back at Lily and Heidi but yelled at the others to get dressed or all thunder would break loose. They might have been unfamiliar with that expression, but the guys rushed back into their jeans. Will stepped back inside to demand further explanation. “Wasn’t there a party for this already?” he asked Zoë. He turned to me. “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 then change back into her street clothes in a washroom cubicle like a superhero, before vanishing for the real celebration out of our sight? Furthermore, wasn’t there a party here three days later, after we watched five hundred of them march across the stage?” His excitement was elevating to match theirs. “And what the heck was last Friday? Wasn’t there a whole lot of teens in a celebratory mood here then, too?”

DSC_0039

“Oh, Dad, that was the last day of classes. Cole’s friends were here, too.”

Will pointed to a tall boy from four doors up the road. “Cole’s friends are here now, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Dad, you can’t count Jacob,” Zoë said. Jacob, our son Cole’s closest friend, was now helping to distribute the nachos. He was almost a member of our family, but then that was true of our younger son, Hudson’s pals, Robin and Mark, from around the block, and Lily’s entourage of blonde twelve-year-olds — Heidi and Charlotte, who were Jacob and Robin’s sisters, and Mattie from across the street. This was a popular strategy with our four kids — pointing out that the number of friends that each of them has over isn’t that out of line — say two or three a piece — resulting in Friday nights with a dozen or more kids sprawling about the house.

“That was the last day of classes,” Zoë explained again to her clueless father. “This is the last day of exams…” She lowered her voice and stuffed a nacho into her mouth, mumbling, “… at least for some people.” Zoë and a few 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 universe’s plan to help us let her go away to university in Vancouver. If they drive us insane over the summer, it will be easier to separate.” I choked on the s-word. I really did need to grow up. I needed to be a Shirley Partridge type of mom, hip but mature enough to set some rules, take back the stereo and put on some Fleetwood Mac instead of Bowling For Soup, and take her shopping for school supplies and a sensible raincoat. As a responsible mom, I would study tourist guides of Vancouver with her and teach her how to grocery shop for ripe melons and reasonable cuts of meat.

photo

But I wasn’t ready for all that. There was something magical about the summer after high school. I felt more like Lorelai Gilmore, the mother-as-friend from television’s Gilmore Girls, than my generation’s sensible Shirley Partridge (though she was a singer in a pop band). The moods of the kids around us were contagious. At that point, we still had Zoë’s eighteenth birthday party to plan, as well as some sort of big family gathering before she officially went away. Forget the grocery shopping lessons, bring on the nachos, I thought, kicking off my Clarks so I could take a run through the sprinkler.

photo (2)

KIDS COME HOME – HONEST THEY DO

There are people who love their empty nest.  I’m just not one of them.photo 9 I had my kids in a cluster. When our youngest daughter was born, my oldest daughter was five and a half, and she had a two-year-old and four-year-old brother – I’ve done the math and it doesn’t make much sense to me either.  So we had babies, and toddlers, and the easier years of grade school-ers it seems now (only now) and then Holy Cow Batman, a house brimming with teenagers – loud (or disturbingly quiet), emotional, angst-y, experimental, lovelorn, sneaky, wonderful adolescences – followed by, because they left in a cluster, too – quiet.  Just me and their dad, with all the varied interests we always had and time to pursue them, inside that quiet.  I didn’t like it one bit, and he wasn’t so crazy about it either.  We’re people-people and our people were gone.  We didn’t necessarily miss driving them places, or their taking our cars, I couldn’t honestly say I missed cooking for them and grocery shopping for them – I mean, seriously, that was a ton of work and my cooking got less creative, not more, over the two decades, while the kids all swung towards that annoying health conscious fare.

No, I just liked them moving around the house, someone to shout out to from my office to the kitchen table. When their dad worked long hours there was always someone to meet me on a patio (free food – why wouldn’t they?). Their dad actually was happy when they’d come in late and tell him the movie he was watching sucked and they’d find something together to stay up to.

So maybe I’m making some of you sad, those that aren’t too excited about the empty nest either. But don’t be too sad because they come back.  Honestly, they do.  I remember being so forlorn when our youngest left us to all that quiet.  I mean, who’d know I’d miss being jarred awake to cars pulling up outside, and shouts of good-bye over even louder music. I was expressing my dislike of our uncomfortable new quiet to a neighbor woman, about fifteen years my senior, and she told me, You should enjoy the break, they’ll return for this or that reason.  Believe me, she said, they do that.

Well, she didn’t know my kids, I told her. My eldest was living with her boyfriend in another city. The second eldest was determined to be part of the film industry and there wasn’t enough of that work here, third child would be most determined to not move back home and the baby, who’d just left for university had been exploring new cities since a high school exchange to Italy. That ship had sailed – it was their dad and I, and grilled cheese sandwiches from there on in.  That wise neighbor gave me this little half smile that said, who cares about all that, kids come back.cropped-cropped-cropped-better-nest.jpg

Some days I feel like that Million Little Pieces guy.  I published this book, Text Me, Love Mom, Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest and guess what? The nest was empty, and (be still my beating heart) it will be empty again tomorrow morning, but it’s not empty now and over the last few years they’ve ALL had cause to return.  In the book, I was writing about the chaos of it all, the challenges of iparenting from far away, and the turmoil of our family getting its bearings again.  But over the years all our kids have needed a short term place to perch between; a job, a relationship, a school program or a decision. Usually just one of them at a time, never more than two.   Thank goodness the place to land – was home.

Both boys have made separate sojourns home for a few months to refuel, work, or wait for the next film project to pick up.  I’d go to the gym with them after having let that lapse, and we’d work out in our own corners. My oldest son would cook me the best eggs, eating his standing at the counter – I don’t know why.  The youngest son loves breakfast out.  Breakfast isn’t really my thing, but he’s a funny guy (when he’s not a serious guy) and the conversation was worth it.

The daughter that is all of their big sister, married her boyfriend and moved back to our city with their two small daughters and while house hunting they ALL moved in for three fun months of early mornings, an amusing messy toddler, a baby to snuggle, and all the glorious chaos of that.  Finally, a  year ago, when the house was too quiet again after all of that commotion,  our youngest returned from living in Montreal and then LA for a short time, to work and establish a photography business here,  but tomorrow morning she will drive off again with a packed car and an adventurous spirit and that chapter will close, too.

She humored her dad and I with a long walk on Sunday, though so tired from a late night with friends. This past week I’ve anxiously treated her to lunch out, and a bit of shopping.  But really new summer blouses and lunches on patios in the late spring sunshine are only ways of lingering with this person I will miss.  We will text and talk.  We always do.  But I’ll miss waking in the night to her coming in, I’ll miss  that she liked to buy the groceries for me –  it was like having a mom here instead of being the mom, I’ll miss her newly blossoming green thumb, I’ll miss her telling me, Mom, you look pretty.

photo (1)

The neighbor was right.  They do come back and now she’s off again.  More than anything I will miss a ‘kid’ in the house to call out to from this little room where I write.

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

Seventeen Year Olds Do Stupid Shit

Mid-January and I’d be so happy to steal away to my favourite latte shop, bring a hot one home to my little office, stare out at the winter white and brown back yard and get back to that novel I started way (seriously way) too long ago.  But this wise guy that I’m married to insists that, having taken a good chunk of the last seven years writing and publishing Text Me, Love Mom – I should put some of my restless energy into sharing it (okay, promoting it) to all those folks out in the wide, wide world that I was writing it for.  Readers are telling me that Text Me, love Mom is funny – funnier than I thought, as I was caught up in the drama of those four darn kids freaking me out with the insanity of ‘twenty-four being the new eighteen’ as they made their way in the world. Read Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest and you’ll find the funny bits, but I decided this January morning to offer up a more dramatic ‘teaser’.  The chapter is called ‘Teenage Runaway’ and begins with this great quote from my sassy youngest kid –

“You and dad are really the wrecking ball of all of our outlaw, runaway fantasies. Why couldn’t you jerks go and be crack addicts or religious fanatics so we could have excuses to live on the wide open road?”

– Lily

 

This is a story of all the ways and times my kids left home, but there is a chapter I thought best to leave out until Lily granted me her permission to put it in. “It’s okay, Mom,” she said. “It will add drama. I’m happy to supply some drama. Just as long as you remember in the telling of it, that was then. This is now.”

lily poster seventeen year olds

This is the story of Lily running away — only she, of course, never calls it that. Much to her chagrin, the rest of the family does. I try not to think about it too often, the way you do with times in your life when you are so terribly off balance. In fact, those sixty odd, uneasy days when Lily ran away were the first time we had a completely empty nest.

For twenty-three years, one month and twenty-nine days, I was a mom with children living at home. In the early autumn of her seventeenth year, Lily was going to be the last kid still residing with her dad and me. After a summer of living with us and doing lucrative summer jobs in Calgary, both Cole and Hudson had returned to the coast. Hudson had moved in with a bunch of guys in Victoria, and Cole, elated to be starting a film production program in Vancouver, was renting a room in the house Zoë and her boyfriend lived in. As I look back on it all, there had been some foreshadowing of Lily’s departure before she left home in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.

To be fair, Lily would tell it differently. She woke me up at two a.m., putting her face up close to mine to whisper that she couldn’t find her social security card and needed it for a new job she was applying for early the next morning. She went on to explain to me in my groggy haze that she was going to stay over at a girlfriend’s near the job’s location. I stumbled out of bed, despite her telling me not to. Standing in the light of the hallway, Lily told me she loved me and gave me a long hug, apologizing for disturbing my sleep. You are not a mother for twenty-three years, one month and twenty-nine days (Zoë’s age) without knowing something is bloody well up when that sequence of events takes place, but somehow I fell back into bed and had the last restful sleep I would have for weeks…

– poster by Shea Proulx and Creativision.

 

May Your Hearts Be Merry and Light

Two of our four children were born at Christmas time.  Despite the deep fatigue and life changing chaos, those were extra special holidays – with sweet teeny babes in floppy elf sleepers, snuggled in a grandparent’s eager arms while tree lights twinkled in the background. Eighteen years after those births, when our first ‘child’ had been away for the first time to university for three long months of not-enough-communication, those holidays times were extra special again.

elf baby

I remember so clearly the anticipation of Zoë coming home to sleep in her bed again at the close of first term and how giddy that made the rest of the household as we searched for the tree stand and the rice krispee roll recipe. I wrote about that in my book Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest – and I’d like to share a snippet of that here in a holiday blog.

“Zoë was different after being at university.  I noticed that the first evening she was back as we lingered around the table after dinner, bombarding her with questions. It was a look on her face, a quality it was hard to put my finger on, except to say that she had drifted away a little bit.  I had gazed around the room at her siblings, her brothers Cole and Hudson, and her little sister Lily, and imagined us all reuniting after future ventures.  Zoë swore that she would travel to the far north someday, being captivated by the notion of a trip to Yellowknife or even Inuvik.  Cole insisted he was going to snowboard in the southern hemisphere.  Hudson was harder to pin down –I think he aspired to travel back and forth in time, and back then I wrongly viewed our youngest,  Lily, as a home body.

paper angel

During the holiday season I would be happy to imagine them all simply staying put.  I was going to pretend for the three weeks that Zoë would be home that she had never left.  We would decorate a too tall, slightly lope-sided tree together and my husband would insist once more on putting up the goofy looking angel Zoë made in kindergarten.  I wanted it to be a holiday season full of my kids dog piling on top of one another, and watching Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, all of us singing aloud to the Sisters’ song –

All kinds of weather

We stick together 

The same in the rain or sun 

Two diff’rent faces

 But in tight places

 We think and we act as one[1]

I intended to encourage Zoë to humor Lily and I, and come skating with us on the lake near their grandparent’s property, after which we three would go for lattés, before coming home to whip up a batch of butter tarts for Christmas Eve.  I knew Zoë would be impatient to go hang with her friends, but I hoped to convince her to indulge us with a skate around the lake first.  I’d ask, but I promised to be a grown-up about it myself and not harass her to join us – just to ask.

shea skating

She needed time to reconnect with her same-age peers.  At ages eighteen and thirteen my daughters couldn’t really act as one, but I knew that on Christmas Eve they would raise their voices with Bing Crosby’s and happily sing about it.”

New babies and growing up children – both added loveliness to the holidays.  May this season bring tranquility to you and yours.

christmas bird-1

[1] Berlin, Irving. “Sisters.” Lyrics. White Christmas. The Movie. 1954

Because Really – Who Travels Home For Halloween?

door pumpkinOur kids all come home at Christmas – except that one time when our eldest son, Cole, had a job at a ski resort which set us all to crying at the perfectly fine early Christmas he attended, just thinking about the real Christmas without him.  And we usually have most of them for Easter, and even Thanksgiving – but no one arranges for the kids to come home for Halloween.  That would be crazy – nuts even.  So October 31st approaches and I stock up on the bitty chocolate bars that I like to eat too many of, and sometime that week I string a few orange lights around the deck, and I always buy a pumpkin or two to set on the front stoop. halloween lights I’m okay with all that.  Then the ghoulish day arrives.  Store clerks and service station attendants are decked out like Batman and sexy witches and of course, zombies. I deal with all that okay, and come home and fill a big bowl at the door with more candy then the neighbourhood kids could possibly come calling for.  Mid-afternoon I start reminiscing over the Halloween’s of the past; the overwrought kids already hyped from school parties and anticipatory anxiety, the phone calls arranging whose trick or treating with whom, and in what direction, even the camaraderie on those flipping freezing cold ones with snow and lost mittens, and neighbors offering a bit of something to warm the parents who are following the masquerading pint-sized troops.

Up till then I believe that I can just have that big old pumpkin sitting there, because who wants to carve it alone, but around about dusk it just won’t do.  That’s when I miss my kids – the whole lot of them.  We were a pretty well oiled jack o’lantern  team. The eldest, Zoey, was the artist who drew the creepy face, but patiently let Lily, the youngest, add some freaky details. Hudson, our youngest son, liked to carve the gourd along with me or his dad. Zoey, the tactile one, loved to dig into that soggy, seedy mess to scoop out the pulp. pumplin muckCole, our eldest son, the one that left that Christmas, was part of the ritual, but more because he liked to see it all going on, but didn’t care if he took part.  Last December I decorated the tree before his arrival in town, because of his assumed indifference, and had to apologize for my haste.  I guess he is like one of those United Nations observers – he likes to see it all happen.

lame pumpkinDarn it, I miss my kids at Halloween.  I miss the October 31st chaos, the rushed dinner and costume meltdowns, the sugar highs and neighbourhood solidarity. But I really miss the pumpkin carving ritual. So once again I can’t leave that faceless pumpkin on the stoop –  I haul it in, do a quick scoop out, and carve out a lame hardly-scary expression – cause it’s just begging me to do it for old-time sake.  It’s quiet in here, with me and their dad offering up handfuls of goodies to the next generation of neighbourhood trick or treaters, because really – who travels home for Halloween?