September Takes My Breath Away

The leaves start to drop. The air is fresh. A school playground fills with shouting kids, and pick-up soccer games – and I feel melancholy, but on the edge of excitement, too. More than January, isn’t September the time of new beginnings? New grade school? College and university? Parents and kids fill backpacks with crisp notebooks and coloured pencils, then head to the malls looking for squeaky new runners? There are anticipatory trips to Ikea to deck out tiny dorm rooms or studio apartments full of furniture with funny Swedish names.
But there’s boo hooing all across the country too, for all those kids heading out the door with hockey duffles converted to super suitcases, and back packs hiding that favourite worn out stuffie, or that last  pair of sandals hopeful for another month of warm weather?

I have four young adult children who are just now getting used to my having written a book about this next stage of parenting, about all those Septembers – those goodbyes until Thanksgiving.  When Zoë, the eldest, left home, her copies of Love In the Time of CholeraHarry Potter, and Dragonquest gone from the shelves, her colorful collection of shoes gathered from the closets, and her vanilla-scented products stripped from the bathroom, I searched the self-help sections for a manual on how to let go. Now that I’m a true empty nest-er, it seems a bit odd. After all, I still had three hyped-up teens in the house. One of them leaving home should have given me a little more room to breathe. But it didn’t. It took my breath away. photo

I was able to relive it all, writing Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two boys, One Empty Nest.  (Hey kids – I gave you pseudonyms – relax.  Nobody knows who this Zoë, Cole, Hudson and Lily that I write about are.) If you’ve been following my erratic blog, I’d love it if you check out my book.  It’s been one hec of a ride. And if one of yours has packed up and will be spending winter and spring in another part of the country, or maybe another country – it’ll be okay.  Really.

 

This Mom – my daughter.

This Mom.

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Mother’s Day is supposed to honour our moms but I also want to thank my eldest daughter – the mom that has brought so much delight to my life and filled my arms with first sweet babies, and now little girls.

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I have so much respect for my daughter’s calm, quiet way with her children. Sometimes I can’t keep my grandmother/mother mouth shut about “do this or try that”, but really and truly my first child to have children is such a graceful, smart, giving mother, evidenced by her two adventurous, creative, caring small daughters. And I thank her for sharing them with me, always the best part of my week.

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So the last Text Me, Love Mom Mother’s Day quiz question – what message does the mother in the book text to her children at the close of the final chapter?  Thanks to all those who have had fun with my quiz, I’ll send a signed copy to the reader with the most correct answers in the comments section.  And to you all – Happy Mother’s Day.

Gardening in the Dark

You know how it goes, you’re making a nice place in the soil for the Sweet Pea seeds you’re going to pick up tomorrow, while your husband plays the banjo on the deck (mine anyway), from there you decide to clean up the delphiniums shoots, imagining their bright blue flowers as you go, and then it’s on to placing the metal rings into the ground that will soon support the fancy big peonies.  A little bug has slipped into your tall glass of water where you left it beside a yellow tulip, and when you step into the house for your pruners to clear the old wood from the raspberries you glance out and see that dusk has fallen over this spring night. And now you are gardening in the dark just for the love of gardening.

It was Nanny, my Grandmother, who graced us with these gardening genes. Her offspring feel her presence with our desire to slip our hands into warm soil, and arrange fresh new shoots, to imagine the future of lacy blossoms, letting go of our worries and losing pieces of time creating green spaces and bright bursts of colour.  So it is that in this Mother’s Day week I’ll dedicate the second quiz about my book, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys; One Empty Nest, to Nanny.

For you smarties that answered yesterday’s question so quickly I’m making this one a wee bit trickier.  The reader who gets the most questions correct this week gets a signed copy of Text Me, Love Mom sent to them.  So – can you tell me where teenage Lily was when her mom sent her this message, “I do it as much for the brief (in this country) results, as for the relaxing pleasure I get from the work.  It’s hard to explain …but playing in the garden does feel, in the same way that writing does, like a time away from time.”

If you haven’t read Text Me, Love Mom – it’s a great Mother’s Day read about that stage of life when kids leave home and families get their balance again – available from Amazon and other online booksellers. Happy Day. thumbnail_IMG_1227

For My Mom: She Said, He Said Mother’s Day Quote Quiz

Text Me, Love Mom – Mother’s Day Week:

This blog is dedicated to my mom, aka Gramma or GG. In her honour it’s high time for some fun, some merriment, some exuberance even. My wonderful 86-year-old Mom just settled back into her home after 4 weeks of rehabilitation from knee replacement surgery.  Along with all sorts of health care professionals my four siblings, my daughters, and I have been mothering the mother, and even more than that we’ve had all hands on deck taking care of our dad (Grandpa) whose whole world was rocked not having Mom in the house they still abide in.

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But hey, it’s the first week of May – Mother’s Day approaches and I’ve decided to have some fun with my book Text Me, Love Mom in celebration of Mama’s everywhere.  Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest is about that time in a family when the kids are leaving home and the folks are striking a new balance with them. But kids do come back, like my fifty-something siblings and I are doing, and the mom is always and forever the mom.  So let’s have some fun ….

If you answer all five quiz questions correctly (there will be one a day until Saturday) I’ll send you a signed copy of Text Me, Love Mom. So drumroll for Tuesday’s question:

Which of the book’s eccentric characters is the narrator referring to in this line in the opening chapter:

“He didn’t even like it when we got rid of an old couch, let alone his sister?”

And this one’s for GG, an avid gardener- Anyone know what type of pink blossoms Text Me, Love Mom is nestled up against in this photo?

You can answer both questions in the comments section.  Happy Mother’s Day Week!!

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Text Me, Love Mom is available at all your favourite on-line book sellers and right here print or on-line:

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

A toast to American Thanksgiving and Kids Coming Home

In honour of American Thanksgiving and the tradition of young adults coming home for the first long weekend from college, I wanted to share a glimpse into our household during the Canadian November reading break and the first time my eldest returned to the noisy house of siblings she’d left behind.  So I give you this from Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest – only the nest wasn’t empty yet – just reeling from the departure of the eldest…

And so we had Zoë with us for her short fall reading break.  On the Friday and Saturday nights the house filled up with family and three or four of her best friends.  But Sunday, close to dusk, each of my four kids trickled back home from separate outings.   From upstairs I could hear them talking softly in the living room.  Coming down I found them in the dark – the boys showing their affection for their sisters in their odd boy way.  They had dog piled on Zoë and Lily.  It was reassuring to witness them that way, like a big pile of puppies heaped on top of each other.

One of my few friends with children older than mine had warned me that Zoë would have changed.  “I know it hasn’t been long,” she said, “but trust me, she’ll be different, more grown-up.  You’ll see.”  I had been nervous.  I didn’t want her to change, or even grow up particularly.  I would still rather spend a small part of my evenings driving her to piano lessons or to her girlfriends’ houses instead of e-mailing her in Vancouver or fighting for phone time with her long distance boyfriend.  But my friend was right.  My eldest daughter was different.  Oh, she didn’t have a total epiphany or anything.  She didn’t say, “Mommy I’ve realized how burdened you’ve been looking after us four kids.  Put your feet up and let me vacuum up the nacho crumbs before I massage your tired shoulders.”

But she was different.  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 the others, Cole and Hudson and 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 of even Inuvik, whereas Cole insisted he was going to snowboard in the southern hemisphere in Queenstown, New Zealand.  Hudson was harder to pin down –I think he aspired to travel back and forth in time, and back then I wrongly viewed Lily as a home body.

christmas bird-1In the upcoming Christmas season I would be happy to imagine them all 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 Will would insist once more on putting up the pissed-off 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 weatherWe stick togetherThe same in the rain or sunTwo diff’rent facesBut in tight placesWe 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 steamers, before coming home to whip up a batch of date-filled butter tarts for Christmas Eve.  She’d be impatient to go hang with her friends, (who would happily devour the butter tarts), but I hoped I could convince her to indulge us with a skate around the lake first.  I’d ask, but I promised myself to be a grown-up about it and not harass her to join us – just to ask.  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 together and happily sing about it.wooden santa

You hear it both ways.  Some people say girls are easier than boys.  “Oh, no, no, no,” others will tell you, “boys are easier”.  I’m not sure what exactly easier encompasses.  Easier to get along with?  Easier to discipline?  Easier to lose your mind worrying over? I do know that when Zoë went off to study art at Emily Carr – I thought a mother must only feel this out of sorts once.  But a year later I had to launch, as they say in those swishy mother circles, her exuberant brother, Cole.  Kids being kids, no two alike, and all that, there was hardly an ounce of knowledge I could borrow from Zoë leaving our nest when Cole decided to follow suit…

Happy Thanksgiving from your Canadian friends and if you want to read more of Text Me, Love Mom and the rest of all that …please check out http://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

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

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

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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.

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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 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

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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.

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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