Come Back, You Summer Revelers

Tell me, how can it be that my husband wants to go back to the cottage this weekend and take the motorboat out of the water.  As usual, as is my role, I protest.  “No, no, no, it can’t be time to take the boat out.  Summer is hardly over.”

It was only a month ago that we had sixteen people at the cottage, some bedding down on air mattresses or couches, others wondering if they could sleep in the boat, rocking on the water through the night.  And a few weeks after that we had loads of folks again, and in exasperation of emptying the dishwasher another time from meals of fresh buttery corn and juicy burgers and failed popsicles – I declared – “When will this end?”

And then it did.

Come back, you summer revellers.  I don’t want to put the floaties away and stack the outside chairs and tie up the canoe against the rising water of next spring.

Let’s squeeze our eyes shut from the smoky fire and then squint into the night sky at the mid- summer comets.  Let me get mildly upset that someone’s used my beach towel in their impatience to dry off from a swim so that they could slice the last peach in the box, before dribbling it with cream.

I want to not be able to decide between reading my book on the dock (yes, that silly book), and chatting with my visiting kids and their gregarious friends, or trying again to make those popsicles.

Even more so I want to take another solo early morning kayak ride on the lapping lake, watching in awe as the osprey flies over.

And so I wish now, that with each swim I had stayed in the lake even longer, floating on my back, adrift in water that was ever so, never so warm.

Hey Granny, You Better Buy an Easy-Peasy Umbrella Stroller

So I bought the bright red  stroller for wonderful grand-baby – and was shocked at what a buggy cost!  That said, I do remember saving hard for a double buggy when two of my own darlings were eighteen months apart, and in fact this stroller is built with the future in mind.  When you have baby number two you can purchase another contraption for the teeny new one to lie above this one (or something convoluted like that) and IF number two is followed by number three, everyone shoves over and you buy a little step to attach to the back so number one’s little feet still don’t have to do the walking!

So one-year-old granddaughter was in my charge while we visited Windermere B.C. and I took her to ‘town’ to have a little stroll around and pretend people were whispering, “Mom, or grandmom?”  Of course, the gig (in my dreams) was up when baby woke from napping and I needed to adjust the stroller back to let her sit up, and had to ask a youthful shop owner (of childbearing age) to assist me.  Baby and I wandered off down the sidewalk window shopping, with me picking up her flowery sun hat as she threw it down (“good game, silly grandma”) until I noticed that now the fancy buggy straps were so loose grand-baby could haul up and run off if she so desired.   I was struggling to tighten them – baby bouncing on my lap and stroller sliding all over the walkway when a kind couple came by – my peers, I might add and the silver haired gentleman, introducing himself as a experienced grandfather, offered to assist.Okay, we were all – the other couple and I, the grandparent type you see on the vitamin bottles in my bathroom – the just barely 50, might need a boost of vitamin type, you know that fit, but slightly graying sort from the freedom 55 comercials frolicking on the beach?

But could any of us fit-frolickers understand that millennium baby stroller? Nope – for full comprehension we needed a buggy from the eighties.  I finally had to tell this guy thanks for his trouble but obviously the darn, modern, high tech stroller had outwitted us all.  I slid baby back in and had the forethought to ask my would-be helper to demonstrate the four-way clip that held the whole harness together.  He obliged, but I guess, given the circumstances, my short attention span was timed-out.

After I fed my dolly a cup of strawberry ice cream for her lunch, I figured we should make our way back to the car.  There I was in front of  my ride trying like mad to undo that child-proof four-point clip and thankful that grandpappy and I had  never tightened the darn harness, as it was becoming clear that if we would have succeeded I’d have had to abandon my vehicle and stroller stuck-baby many miles back ‘home’ – instead I was taking off her shoes and preparing to lift and slide her out of the bottom harness when who should rescue us?  Kindly grandfather-man, probably wondering why I hadn’t paid closer attention last time.  Okay, I’m definitely the grandma – the universe was making that loud and clear – baby’s mom was at a music festival calling up her mis-spent youth and dancing her little heart out, and I was considering how badly I needed a teeny little afternoon nap.

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.)

Chill Out, Mommy. Chill Out.

Gatwick South Terminal international arrivals ...

Image via Wikipedia

March 31st, 200_

Our youngest daughter was once again about to leave home, city, country, continent.  Continent!!! To go traveling around Europe for two months.  (It gets scarier.)  She was just eighteen and had never even considered going with someone.  In less than twenty-four hours she would fly to London, England and then to meet Canadian friends already in Barcelona.  She was trying to calm the parental unit.  Rest assured, was her message, as we pictured her enveloped by a group of large Canadian seasoned travelers whose sole purpose was to take care of her.  We tried not to think that they might be a bunch of scrawny yahoos, who may or may not give a rat’s ass about her safety.

She would be traveling on her own from Calgary to London, Heathrow, then to Gatwick, from there to Reus airport at which point she would take a bus into Barcelona – a foreign city of more than a million and a half people.  And then, she said, as if this was the easiest part of the equation, I just have to get to Café Zurich and my friend, Teddy, will be there waiting.

So we are supposed to find some comfort in this guy being there, in the dark (she arrives late at night) in the café in Spain.  I wish he had a different picture on Facebook.  He is two years older than her, but the only image I’d seen of him was the one he used for his facebook photo from when he was a gapped-toothed five-year-old.

While I contemplated my anxieties around this – she should have been in the house finalizing her packing, making sure her papers were in order – passport and medical insurance forms, maps and directions, youth hostel and Eurail pass.  But she wasn’t.  She was`out with friends, saying her good-byes before her two month adventure.

Her dad and I both confessed to each other of being jealous of how much freedom she’d have in the next little while, but right then we didn’t want to think about that freedom or her being able to follow the whim of the day.  We wanted to know where she would go and exactly when – maybe even why.  Of course, our need to track her movements was part of what she was supposed to be getting away from by traveling around Europe.

She had attempted to comfort us by saying that after Barcelona she would go meet a cousin and his girlfriend in Amsterdam, who were already off on their own backpacking experience.

I’ve been to Amsterdam myself on the backpacking trip I took with a girlfriend after we graduated high school thirty some years ago.  I rememberhow after we left the train my girlfriend and I were offered coke, LSD and pot from various guys sitting on the station steps in the Netherland sunshine.  When I had left my parents at the Calgary airport I understood them to be happy, even excited, to see me off. They had informed me years later that they were scared out of their minds.  I know I sent them a few letters but that was all they heard from me for the ninety days that I was away from home.

I expected to get fairly frequent emails from Lily, but still on the afternoon before her trip, I was incredibly anxious, because any way you cut it –with all the technological advances and far reaching communication, it was still a big wide world, with millions of people who would be blocking the path between us.  I managed to take her out for a few last minute purchases and afterward we shared a quick meal together in a pub, where I delivered a few more safety lectures in between bites of quesadilla before I brought her home to pack.  I had barely time to say, oh yeah watch out for blah, blah, blah when she was out the door again.

Her final laundry and packing, and my putting a dozen items in teeny zip lock bags happened well past midnight.  What was driving me crazy was that I simply couldn’t figure out why, instead of preparing for this huge trip, my usually organized daughter was devoting way too much time to hanging out with friends and staying out late somewhere else – downloading music for her trip onto her ipod.  I think if I were to ever see my children pack ahead of time I might feel confident that they were preparing like adults.  I would take some comfort in their setting priorities and putting details in order.   Maybe I would even decide that in their time away from me they would continue to behave maturely, taking care of what needed to be done, not fall to the evils of wild and impulsive poorly planned acts.

April 1, 200_

So it was April.  The first.  No April fools jokes had been played.  My baby was flying to London, England alone.  It wasn’t until I woke her to get up and head to the airport that she said, “Oh my God Mom, I’m leaving for two months and I don’t know if I have what I need.”  I swallowed all the lectures, assured her that she had, and if not, the last time I checked there were stores in Europe, and then her dad and I looked on while she tried to get her top heavy pack on her thin frame.  She thought about taking out the heels a girlfriend had advised her to bring the night before.  No, no, I said.  You’re a heels girl.  You’ll get to Europe, look around at all those beautiful women in their beautiful heels, and want yours.

In no time we were rushing out the door, her cell phone purposefully left behind on the kitchen counter, a link broken.  Her first task after customs in London would be to find her way to a shuttle to take her to Gatwick, where her second flight would depart to Barcelona.  Landing in Barcelona at ten o’clock at night (after dark, in my world – early evening, in hers) she would have to make her way to Barcelona where she would meet a friend at the Café Zurich in Cataluna Plaza.  She had been online to figure out the shuttle times between the two British airports and I trusted her friend, this guy with the impish photo, had given her directions to the Café Zurich.  Suddenly, on route to the airport, I was certain that I would have assisted my three older kids at the same stage, in finding the correct information before they left home.  Now, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.  What kind of a mother was I?

The one she had made me, I guess.  Nature vs. nurture is a bit of a circular argument.  I may have nurtured my kids to become one sort of person, but nature has created them to be oddly distinct individuals who in turn require an individual type of mothering.

Lily’s older brother, Hudson, came to the airport to keep the mood light and the lectures down to a minimum, though I couldn’t stop myself from pointing out how many times a pickpocket might have grabbed Lily’s possessions as she sat her small open bag here and there, while she checked in and grabbed a Tim Horton‘s chili (at ten am.)

Her brother told her, Don’t let anyone rob you, hurt you or steal you.  I nervously concurred and kissed her seven times and then two more while the young security guard looked impatiently away.  I let her go – my baby, slipping out of my grasp again.  Bon Voyage Lily.  Bon Voyage.

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?”

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?