Blog, by Blog, by Blog – Until There Was A Book

Both of my daughters have struggled through long distance relationships with boyfriends.  Our eldest daughter, Zoe, was away starting university in Vancouver in her lonely (with roommate but no big family) apartment and she and the guy she’d left behind pined for each other through long distance phone calls – until it just didn’t seem like the right mix.  My youngest daughter, Lily, was later off on the opposite side of the country discovery Quebec and Montreal and devotion to studies in a little studio while working her way into, and out of, a relationship that started long distance – and ended that way.  Both girls tell me long distance is hard.  Their dad and I did it too, decades ago, so I know that’s true, but sometimes  you get lucky.

It is fall, the trees are golden, the sun is warm and all my four kids live away now.  I miss them the most Sunday afternoons when their dad and I consider a bike ride or a drive in the country with not much thought to Sunday dinner.  I come from the tradition of Sunday dinner and if any of them are home I try to do it up right.   I’m okay now – after their long and gradual departure from our too big, too quiet nest.  And now we’re the ones engaged in long distance relationships.  I have friends who are melancholy because their kids have just recently left home for places in the city.  And I’ve been reading September blogs from women – strangers to me, who are pining for their recently departed kids.  For both types of parents, who I know reminisce for a September of  grumbling about buying kids new gym shoes or calculators, and the morning chaos of getting a family out the door, I’ve decided to re-post my first few ‘letting go’ blogs.

I set up my wordpress blog two years ago while I worked at writing a book about all the crazy ways my kids left home – four kids – four different pursuits – one stunned mom.  I was still pining over the firstborn’s swift departure, and only starting to see the humor in the second’s being held at the Canada/U.S border with all his belongings in a plastic garbage bag, at the same time confused about whether it would be a positive or negative for our third child to enter an ashram, when our youngest, a sensitive homebody, left to spend five months in Italy.   It is about how during all that our family of six, learned to disconnect, discovered independence,  (sometimes scaring the crape out of both parents) and how we all found new ways of being close.  Text Me, Love Mom – Sending Your Kids Into The Wide, Wide World – the book is finished.  To go with this ‘kids leaving home’ season I’ve decided to look back at the days when Zoë, our eldest of four was first living away from us – over the mountains, beside the ocean – far from our home, and I was afraid she would fall in with west coast nudist, vegans, (which she did) and never look back….

IS THERE A PATCH FOR THAT?

So we had our babies young by today’s standards.  While mini-SUV’s stuffed with our peers offspring were trucking between Sunday music recitals and vogue over-the-top children’s birthday parties – my husband, Will, and I had already survived hip hop concerts in our basement and read the riot act at a host of eighteenth birthdays for young-adults-gone-wild.  Of course, I didn’t feel that young.  While my same-age friends were doing espressos to make it through the day, after getting up in the night with the little one’s bad dreams and winter colds, I needed a daily fix of latte and chocolate cake because one of my kids hadn’t returned a phone call in two days and another one would be calling incessantly because the road trip he was on had gotten a little sketchy.

Life is a journey and all that.  But during what part of the journey was it easiest to deal with colic and a latent thumb sucker, and when have we learned all the skills necessary to convince a sixteen-year-old that they have to take pure math and that all the kids who say they’ve had sex really haven’t?  I was only forty-two when my oldest daughter left our chaotic home in Calgary.  I can see now that I was guilty of stalking Zoë with emails and phone calls, though it’s hard to believe I had time for stalking while still immersed in patrolling two teenage boys’ covert activities, and being a choir-mom for my youngest.

I had all these cooing babies that became boisterous teens – to fill our home and hearts and consume my time, patience and energy.  For years and years, I had never thought much about them moving out and how my heart would deal with that.  It was what was supposed to happen – the launch from the nest.

Zoë found her way to leave home with her copies of Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter, and Dragon Quest gone from the shelves, her colourful collection of shoes gathered up from the closets, and the vanilla scented products stripped from the bathroom.   Were my parents just as stunned and confused to have a child slipping out of their grasp and away from their influence?  The media would have us believe that we have overindulged, overprotected and generally, now that parent is a verb, over-parented.  Could this explain why I suffered from the jitters when one by one, all too quickly, my children dispersed and I desperately wished I could visit my local pharmacists and buy a patch to help ease me off them.   What, I wondered, would be released for not NRT (nicotine replacement therapy), but rather CAHRT (children at home replacement therapy)?   A chemical that could create the sound of their cell phones chirping incessantly, or of the front door creaking and them downloading a movie at two a.m., or produce the irritation caused by the sight of their chaotic rooms, or imitate the sensation of pleasure when one of them slowed down long enough to wrap their arms around me in a hug?

An astute observer would recognize that, though I was attempting to pull myself together, I was unable to concentrate on a task and was lumbering back and forth from one activity to the next.  Bewildered, I felt like a mother bear I had seen in a film whose cub had been taken away too early.  She had rolled her head from side to side, and clumped through the forest in a distressed fashion.  Learning to deal with my first strayed cub my heart pounded, my sleep was uneven and I couldn’t concentrate to complete a task.

My kids say I could start my own lending library with my vast collection of parenting tomes, yet there was a void of information to guide me through these turbulent times, starting with the spring day that I scrunched up the envelope so I could see through its window that my daughter had been accepted at a university across an entire mountain range from home, until I realized I had worked myself out of a position with which I was damn comfortable.

They left home in the order they were born.  Not enough time passed between Zoë, the oldest, moving out and Lily, the baby, phoning from a crowded European city to tell me how hard it was to find a place to cry out loud, the way she preferred to cry.  Back up you kids, I thought.  I want to run through that all again.

Love the One You’re With

Okay, we’ve all read those articles that say the younger generation is losing the ability to communicate face to face.  Now, I imagine that those issuing the scary news are from some ‘far older generation’ – the same writers that speak of the perils of Facebook but have never been on it – not even to ‘creep’ on their kids.  But could there be some frightening truth to their suspicious warnings?

If my kids are texting under the table when they are out with their friends, I could be the one their sending their message to, and vice versa (though I try to be more discerning).  I’ll be going about my day, taking care of business and my mind will drift to thoughts of one of them.  It’s no secret that I miss them.  I mean, I write this blog for whoever to read about how – after having  spend twenty-four years in a crazy whirl wind of raising four kids and having all four move out and away – it is now impossibly hard to not be part of all that.  So I am a efficient, speedy text-er.  But a fifty-one-year-old text-er.  I use punctuation and capitals and my iphone spells for me.

My kids and husband came to texting before I did, and back in the day when they did it while at the same time pretending (poorly) to be conversing with me, I would reprimand them and plead, “Love the one your with.”  I imagined it to be what Miss Manners would suggest.  But what would a young Miss Manners with an iphone say in 2011?

I found this gem on an texting etiquette sight – Reading and sending texts when with someone else (while on a date, for example) tells the one you are with they are less important than the one you are texting.  This doesn’t apply when just hanging out with others. WHAT??  I guess my kids and their friends are absolutely always just hanging out.

So having admitted my texting habit I still wonder what all this texting is about?  Could it possibly be that we don’t want to bug our friends and family with a phone call that might demand their time and attention so decide that a text would be preferable – ie. la de da – respond as you can.  Or, worse –  I can’t be bothered with your chat so if I send this text and you send yours we can still occupy ourselves with our more crucial tasks – like texting someone else and waiting for the little ding-ding of them clicking an answer back.

I’ll admit, too, that I’ve wandered around with my hand in my pocket holding my smooth shiny iphone, comforted stupidly that someone I love can send me a little message or a request for some mom advice.  Is it possible then that we are starting to prefer texting to talking?  Am I?

Just last week I was in Vancouver visiting my kids and lovely grandbaby.  My daughter and I decided we were curious to come see the apartment my son had moved into with his girlfriend.  I texted said son our request, along with an offer of a bottle of wine before I took them all out for dinner.

I texted him, “What time works for dinner?”

He texted me, “7:30.  N has a midterm tomorrow.”

I texted him, “Do you have a restaurant in mind?  Chinese?  Indian?”

He texted me, “How about German expressionism?”  (Sassy guy.)  “Or there is a neighbourhood bar called Malones.”

I texted him, “Remember we have the baby.”  And then I thought, this is silly, and picked up the phone.  We chatted.  We sorted out our evening plans – in less time than all our fingers could tap tap tap out the words.  The texting has the satisfying ding ding – here I am responding again – but talking, with more than 140 character answers, involved my son’s voice and eager laugh and did so, so much more to brighten my day.

 

Talk – Don’t Text, Love Mom

Okay, we’ve all read those articles that say the younger generation is losing the ability to communicate face to face.  Now, I imagine that those issuing the scary news are from some ‘far older generation’ – the same writers that speak of the perils of Facebook but have never been on it – not even to ‘creep’ on their kids.  But could there be some frightening truth to their suspicious warnings?

If my kids are texting under the table when they are out with their friends, I could be the one their sending their message to, and vice versa (though I try to be more discerning).  I’ll be going about my day, taking care of business and my mind will drift to thoughts of one of them.  It’s no secret that I miss them.  I mean, I write this blog for whoever to read about how – after having  spend twenty-four years in a crazy whirl wind of raising four kids and having all four move out and away – it is now impossibly hard to not be part of all that.  So I am a efficient, speedy text-er.  But a fifty-one-year-old text-er.  I use punctuation and capitals and my iphone spells for me.

My kids and husband came to texting before I did, and back in the day when they did it while at the same time pretending (poorly) to be conversing with me, I would reprimand them and plead, “Love the one your with.”  I imagined it to be what Miss Manners would suggest.  But what would a young Miss Manners with an iphone say in 2011?

I found this gem on an texting etiquette sight – Reading and sending texts when with someone else (while on a date, for example) tells the one you are with they are less important than the one you are texting.  This doesn’t apply when just hanging out with others. WHAT??  I guess my kids and their friends are absolutely always just hanging out.

So having admitted my texting habit I still wonder what all this texting is about?  Could it possibly be that we don’t want to bug our friends and family with a phone call that might demand their time and attention so decide that a text would be preferable – ie. la de da – respond as you can.  Or, worse –  I can’t be bothered with your chat so if I send this text and you send yours we can still occupy ourselves with our more crucial tasks – like texting someone else and waiting for the little ding-ding of them clicking an answer back.

I’ll admit, too, that I’ve wandered around with my hand in my pocket holding my smooth shiny iphone, comforted stupidly that someone I love can send me a little message or a request for some mom advice.  Is it possible then that we are starting to prefer texting to talking?  Am I?

Just last week I was in Vancouver visiting my kids and lovely grandbaby.  My daughter and I decided we were curious to come see the apartment my son had moved into with his girlfriend.  I texted said son our request, along with an offer of a bottle of wine before I took them all out for dinner.

I texted him, “What time works for dinner?”

He texted me, “7:30.  N has a midterm tomorrow.”

I texted him, “Do you have a restaurant in mind?  Chinese?  Indian?”

He texted me, “How about German expressionism?”  (Sassy guy.)  “Or there is a neighbourhood bar called Malones.”

I texted him, “Remember we have the baby.”  And then I thought, this is silly, and picked up the phone.  We chatted.  We sorted out our evening plans – in less time than all our fingers could tap tap tap out the words.  The texting has the satisfying ding ding – here I am responding again – but talking, with more than 140 character answers, involved my son’s voice and eager laugh and did so, so much more to brighten my day.

A Cacophony of Communication

At eighteen I embarked on a three month backpacking trip around Europe.  I made the brief echo-y phone call to my parents upon my arrival in France, to indicate that I had not disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean.  There were letters and postcard but no other spoken words for those ninety days. Perhaps those were the golden days of parent/child relationships and we’ve fallen back into a cacophony of communication.

Neither of my boys are overly communicative, still I like to think that they are within the normal range of same-age males when it comes to co-operating with their mother’s need for information and dialogue.  At age nineteen when Cole set off on his own trekking trip through parts of the United States, I would have lost less sleep and kept my blond hair blond, rather then tipping to gray, if we could have magically returned to those pre-cell days of my youth.

After a successful but uninspired term at university, Cole had taken another gap, that worrisome break in continuity. The afternoon he left for the U.S of A, his fourteen-year-old sister, Lily, and I were sitting outside in the warm autumn sun, commiserating on how great it seemed to be Cole just then.  He had just finished packing up his friend’s Chevy van.  His traveling companion, George, advised him to empty his suitcase’s contents into the drawers in his organized van, and leave the luggage behind.  The two boys posed while Lilly took photos of their departure, then they shooed her off and turned the van south towards the United States – the land they thought they knew through a thousand movies and every episode of The Simpsons.  They would take the number two south, entering the U.S at the Butes, Montana crossing and wind their way to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Cole wanted to purchase a real tight video camera.

Cole called on Halloween night, music blasting in the background.  He was getting sweet video footage on his new camera of a huge parade, though he confessed that earlier they had slipped down the wrong road in that unfamiliar city and things had looked sketchy.  I warned him to be careful about whose face he stuck that camera in.  And please do nothing sketchy, I didn’t want to hear about sketchy.

Hudson, only seventeen, but away at university, was even less inclined to ever call just to chat, but on that night he called to ask if we would be okay with him dropping two full term classes as he really didn’t like anything about them. Of course, we weren’t okay with it.  Also, he told us, his friend M from Calgary had moved out there unexpectedly, and the two of them were thinking of getting an apartment off campus.

On November first I received another call from Cole.  He told me that unfortunately things had got sketchy. George was not happy, wasn’t sleeping or feeling well, and just wanted to return home.  The boys, friends since forever, were trying to work out a solution. George agreed to drop Cole at whatever mountain destination he wanted to go to.

I was beginning to dread the phone calls.  Hudson called to ask me to send him his resume off our home computer as he was applying for a job, in case he dropped half his courses.  Replace the courses you don’t like with something you’re passionate about learning, I said.  I suspect my kids hate it when I start talking passion.

In the meantime George had dropped Cole off in Mammoth, California.   Cole loved it there – it reminded him of Whistler.  He’d met people from New Zealand and had gone skateboarding with some Americans.  And he said he met a nice Navajo guy who told him he got peyote for free because he was Navajo.  (These phone calls had me wondering just what kind of an out-of-body trip I might sink into with a little peyote myself.) And he met a woman on the street who said maybe he could live with her.  (What?)  He described her as old, and said he thought she was lonely.  I told him that seemed weird, and he should be suspicious.  He quoted me something about riding two horses at one time – you can’t ride Faith and Worry both – you have to ride Aware.  (Fine, I will ride Worry for him.)  He had been offered a job busing at a hotel restaurant and another job at a gym, as well as one at a skate shop, but all of them said he needed a visa.

Now I was making the phone calls.  Twenty-four hours later he had moved in with this older woman. Her house was pretty messy but they were cleaning it – he said it was his idea. (How messy, I asked?  Eccentric scary messy?) He said she had never discussed rent.  And she isn’t a cougar? Or pedophile? I asked.  No, he told me, I needed to chill out. She was just really, really nice.

The next day, jolted by early morning worries I called Cole to tell him he needed to tell me exactly where he was, what was this woman’s name?  He said her name was Annie and she lived near the Harry’s Donut Shop in Mammoth Lakes and drove a delivery truck.  Look Mom, I’m just trying to decide what to do here, he said. If he couldn’t get a job without a visa maybe he would go back to Whistler, in British Columbia, where he had heard there was already snow.

November seventh and Cole called to say he was in a car driven by a new buddy named Mosses (with Cole there is always a new buddy).  Cole had agreed to pay the gas to and from Whistler if Mosses would drive him there.  They were in a car which belonged to the sister of Cole’s Navajo friend.  He (the Navajo guy), not the sister, lent it to them.  They were close to Seattle.

An hour later – Cole called to say they had a problem – the police had stopped them – just to harass them he said, but they believed that when that happened Mosses put his wallet in his lap and then it fell out of the car six hundred miles back where they had stopped for gas.  Not having ID Mosses was now going to drop Cole at the border crossing closest to Vancouver.  Cole wanted his sister Zoë’s number to see if one of her friends in Vancouver could pick him up at the border (he had a lot of gear and his belongings in large plastic bags).

Another hour went by and Cole called to say they had reached the border but things weren’t good.  Mosses drove too far forward in his attempt to drop him off and had entered Canada accidentally.  Cole admitted to low balling the price of the video camera he bought in the States – just for a minute, he emphasized, before he saw they were going to be questioned thoroughly, but then both he and Mosses, the car and their bags, were being searched.  (Is this what I signed up for nineteen years ago?  To help my kid, looking like a bag person, lying (for only a minute, of course) get back into the country?)   Be polite and honest, I said.  Didn’t we tell you to be careful at the damn border?  They’re talking to me again, Mom.  Gotta go, Mom.  Gotta go.

An hour later Cole called again suggesting that maybe he better speak to dad.    They were trying to trip him up – they’d asked why he wasn’t with the person he drove into the States with (maybe George saw all of this coming). The horse shoe up Cole’s ass, as they say, and his people skills, were clearly not working for him.

I tried unsuccessfully to get Cole’s dad at work.  Cole informed me that his friend Brian’s dad, who lived in Vancouver, was driving to the border to pick him up. I was so, so grateful for Brian’s dad, whoever the hec he was, and glad Cole had the people skills he had, or this could have gotten far sketchier.

Another call from the other son – Hudson wanted to tell us he now had a job at a pizza place and that he wouldn’t be able to come home for reading break the following day as planned.  I assured him he could get another such job and told him that in case he decided he needed a break, I didn’t say – a break from  being seventeen-years-old and away for the first time, and overwhelmed by school work that should have been easy for you, and uncomfortable in residence –  in case he needed a break from all that, I wouldn’t cancel his plane ticket until the noon deadline the next day.

With all of the kids away but Lily, she got to be the target of my frustration.  In the time it took me to drive her to school while she ate her Cheerios and brushed her teeth in the car, (aiming I believe for yesterday’s spit spot out the window) I lectured her on how she would have no choice but to start university and finish it or not to bother going. As I let her out of the car, Hudson called to say the pizza place said he could start after reading break and yes, he would like to come home.  Cole called from Vancouver, where he had already been to the American Embassy to apply for a visa to work in Mammoth, California.  (Do they give visas to nineteen-year-olds when the job offer they want the visa for is in a skate shop?)

We picked Hudson up at 9:35 pm and talked about how he didn’t have to decide about what he would do in January just yet.  I cooked up a batch of sticky chicken wings for Lily and Hudson and he talked about his desire to maybe go to India or Tibet after he made some money in Calgary.  It had been a sketchy two weeks of connecting with the boys. Would it be easier if we weren’t linked by cell phones with updates on Californian cougars and borrowed cars entering the country illegally?  What sort of distressing phone call might I get from a kid in Tibet?

To Gap or Not To Gap

Having had to sweet talk Cole, Hudson and Lily into beginning a university education I have come out strongly in favor of the gap year.  I remember reading about Royal Prince William’s gap.  He was taking a year off between completing his high school A levels and beginning his studies at Scotland’s St. Andrews University.  Prince William was going to fill his gap by; working on a UK farm, teaching English in a remote part of Chile, hunting on an African Safari, and trekking in Belize with the Welsh Guards.   Cole’s plans weren’t so lofty.

Of the many definitions for ‘gap’ in the Webster’s dictionary the most appropriate is – a break in continuity.  Cole’s father and I verbalized our support for the gap, desperate for it to lead our energetic son to decide with conviction, “Man, I want to go back to school.  I ‘m so down with getting on with my education.”  It seems there has to be a certain rhythm to the gap.  You want them to work hard at low paying jobs  – like the UK farm perhaps in Prince Williams case, but not spend too much of their earnings or time crowd surfing in mosh pits, drunk with freedom away from math homework and biology tests.

My father had feared the gap for his kids.  I graduated in 1977 from the same high school that Cole attended.  When I should have been studying for my own grade twelve final math exam, I had been stretched across my girlfriend’s bed listening to Elton John belt out Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and daydreaming about climbing the Eiffel Tower, and eating real Italian gelato –  as soon as our summer jobs had earned us enough to purchase; airfare, a youth hostel card, a Eu-rail pass, an awkward and heavy pack back, and the requisite pair of hiking boots.

Flying across the Atlantic Ocean I left the coziness of my parent’s house – where not only was there a meat and potatoes dinner on the table every evening, but my siblings and I had the luxury of cruising around to our friend’s homes in my dad’s Chrysler LeBaron.  Criss-crossing Europe I learned to stretch my food budget by eating a whole lot of bread and jam, and to decipher train schedules in a half dozen languages, all with little communication with any one at home – no texting for us.  Like a kazillion young Canadian (and Australian) kids, Cole’s dream was to spend a winter at a ski resort with a job on the mountain, living like a bohemian.  We were okay with that plan in a shaky parental-milestone way.

A university campus might have been a safer environment for the exploits of a barely eighteen-year-old boy intent on snowboarding through the winter with a pack of other hearty bohemian wannabe’s. (Three of my four kids graduated six months shy of being eighteen.  Warning – when thinking your chatty, obviously smart four-year-old is ready to start school – instead of calculating whether you want your little one to be the youngest one reading in grade one, figure out whether he should be the youngest drinking, smoking and asserting himself as a teenager in grade ten?)

While many of Cole’s friends were saving hard to travel to Thailand or Australia as their gap destination, Cole felt suitably wealthy with $900 in his bank account to set out for the Whistler Blackcomb resort to make his mark on the world.  With his room empty of his boarding gear, CD’s, guitar, and hacky sack collection, Cole was sitting on his duffel bag programming his new phone with a pensive look on his face.

“Do you feel kind of off- balance?” I had asked him.

“Shit Mom, yeah.  But why?  I’m so ready to do this.”  I told him that my dad had explained it to me years ago with an analogy.  We all have dens where we’ve matted down the grass and we’re comfortable in them.  Cole was leaving his den, and he didn’t have a new one yet. I told him Grandpa’s theory was that until he got comfortable in a new den and got the grass matted down there, he’d feel unsettled.  “Word, Mom,” he said.  “That’s good.  Yeah, I get that.”

Who would have guessed that the WestJet agent would be the guy to make me cry?  But here my oldest boy was, having just shaved off those hairs from his chin, that weren’t really whiskers yet.  The agent was explaining in a respectful, but detailed way; the gate location, baggage tags, and boarding time, aware that Cole, attempting to appear so casual wasn’t a seasoned traveler and was having trouble concentrating.  I blinked, and blinked, and blinked back tears.   It’s not that I don’t want them to grow up.  Growing up is okay, but watching my second child heading toward airport security didn’t make me feel at all secure.

I had launched another kid. I was stunned by how fast it had happened.  Cole was a small mammal looking for a den and for a while I would be that mother bear again.  I was going to lumber about in circles for a week or two, bewildered and confused, clinging to my cell phone and to the two younger kids left at home…

Stay tuned for  Thursdays blog – ‘Gap or Chasm?’

Slow, Simmering Panic

(note to readers: on Monday, I was compelled to post about, “How DOES a Grandma Dress”  – and I know I’ll stray again, but I am back to the book project – memoirs from this empty nest.)

It’s not like I’m a cry baby or anything.  I’d say on a scale with females of a certain age, I’m an average crier – not the final scene in the park in You’ve Got Mail, but when Tom Hanks gives Meg Ryan that daisy in her bedroom – oh boy.  Or in Juno, when Juno and her dorky boyfriend make-up with a kiss in the school field, I could hold back the tears, but oh my God – when those two kids are in the maternity ward bed together after the baby is born, who wouldn’t be overcome?

So normal crying, right?  Yet, for months prior to my eldest leaving home I would try to imagine her moving about in her own place and just thinking about it could bring me to tears.    I don’t know what it was that upset me – the vision of her alone in a quiet apartment, or our noisy house without my oldest daughter’s quiet presence in it?  Once she was living in Vancouver without me I seldom sniveled about it, instead the emotion I experienced from time to time when I got to pondering what Zoë might be up to on any given day was a slow, simmering panic.

The supper table had always been the best place to get – at least the feigned attention – of my teenagers as they gulped down their food.  The year Zoë left home I’d discovered a book called 365 Manners Kids Should Know.*  The book followed a calendar.  On January first – teach this manner, January second this one, all the way through 365 manners.  The author had never studied the attention span of my children.  We needed to fly through ten or twenty manners in a sitting.  I summarized for them. “Okay, it says here you can actually eat asparagus with your fingers.”  Unfortunately three of my four children wouldn’t swallow a piece of asparagus no matter what appendage they could handle it with.  “And it says it’s rude to blow on your food.”   The author had never been late for piano lessons.

My youngest son, Hudson, always looking for an angle, grabbed the book.  “Are you sure you want her to be our manner guru Mom?  She says right here that it’s rude to be late for anything.”  I gave up, which was why Zoë left home with only enough manners to get her into late March.  She was in effect missing nine months of manners.

Zoë went off to study art at Emily Carr university before SKYPE-ing was possible, but when two friends, both seasoned mothers, heard that Zoë was off to her own apartment they recommended a video cam – one on my computer and one on Zoë’s.  Why in the world would I want to spy into the privacy of my daughter’s place, I thought?

Why not indeed? …

I didn’t care to see if she was eating her asparagus with her fingers or not.  But there was a whole lot of other information I wanted to gather.  Did she eat a green vegetable ever?  A pea or chunk of broccoli, a bit of lettuce squished into her sandwich.  Or was salsa her veggie of choice?

Would I see her emptying her pockets of seashells from stress relieving beach combing, or would she pull out one of those art school roll your own cigarettes.  At what late hour would the camera see her come in?   Would she look tired and weary?  Zoë has always needed her sleep.  Would the video cam have let me in on any of this mysterious information?    And in fact, was this what I really longed to know?  If we had invested in the video cam could I have told her, “Put your face up close to the camera.  Closer Zoë. I want to see if you’re happy or sad or homesick.  Come on, Zoe. I want to see if you need me.”

 

[1]365 Manners Kids Should Know – Games, Activities and Other Fun Ways to Help Children Learn Etiquette. Sheryl Eberly, (New York, Three Rivers Press, 2001).

If You See Cubs, The Mother Will Be Nearby

Ancient writers believed that the mother bear continually licked her little cub until it took shape. This was considered to be the very essence of creation, and as a result the Greeks and Romans referred to the bear only in the feminine gender. In the classical world of 40,000 years ago, the bear appeared as a goddess wearing a bear mask, the very symbol of the great mother of all creation. www.bearden.org The Bear Facts

 

Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) cubs.

Image via Wikipedia

 

You have babies.  You raise them.  They leave.

“Just one more,” I said in 1985, (and 87, and 89) until I was surrounded by babies and toddlers and a wise little five-year-old.  Their needs took care of my needs.  I wasn’t one of those young girls who said she wanted a big family.  Sure, I wanted kids and I wanted a career, like every other independent thinker in my feminist studies class in first year university in 1979.

I was twenty-four when I had ZoëThey say twenty-four is the new eighteen.  By that standard mine was almost a teenage pregnancy. My husband, Will, was in the last year of an undergraduate degree before three years of law school.   His student loan coffers were being supplemented by my big-bellied waitress gig and a future plan to write the great Canadian novel with the expertise of my Creative Writing degree, while our little one napped. Need-less-to-say I wasn’t writing novels after the arrival of Zoë knocked our collective socks off. It was a heroic feat to keep my eyes open, shower periodically, tend to every last one of her little baby needs and get over any lunatic earth mother intentions, such as homemade baby food (as pretty as it looked in the jars). One afternoon, I watched a couple past down the street holding the hands of their small boy and swinging him happily off the ground between them.  That looked just right – two adults, one child, a nice montage.  A week later I was pregnant with my second baby.  Our family would make a slightly bigger mosaic.

Cole was, and still is, the polar opposite of his sister Zoë.  At nine months he was running figure eights around the three of us.       It sounds flaky, but during a desperately needed weekend escape from two toddlers, looking out at the starry night from inside a spooky Waterton Lakes Park hotel, I told my husband we can discuss whether or not we should have a third but I just know there’s another one waiting to come to us. Hudson, baby number three, was the catalyst for my searching out books on getting organized.  It was clear that I was in over my head when I began pouring cereal into their bowls the night before to save me the trouble during my almost comatose mornings.

At the tender age of only three-and-a-half Zoë was a big help with her two brothers, but I was falling behind the eight ball with some mothering details.  On one of my I-can-only-open-one-eye mornings I found her at the fridge helping out by filling Cole’s bottle with milk and getting another bottle ready for herself.  If I had missed introducing Zoë to the sippy cup in my overwhelmed-by-children state what else had I neglected?

Blam.  It struck me.  I know what I had neglected.  I had neglected to give Zoë a sister.       Will was admitted to the Alberta Bar to begin his career as a lawyer, and I should have been admitted to the loony bin for not being content with our familial montage until it was made up of – me with new baby, Lily, in the snugli, while somehow two-year-old Hudson, the cuddler, still bumped along on my hip as Cole ran circles around us, and Zoë helped push the empty buggy.  There were still moments in the shower for years after where I debated whether or not I could accept that I was finished with babies – the teeny soft heads, and chubby feet and that spot under their wobbly neck that felt so sweet, their gurgles, and sugar breath tucked into our bed with us – could I be done with all of that?  It was telling that these moments of longing for more ‘baby’ occurred in the shower, being that was the only place I had time for reflection.  Four was enough.  Perhaps some Catholics, and certainly Mormons still have more, but I couldn’t say my family size was faith based, though a certain amount of faith was required to maintain my belief that I could manage my foursome.

Stick with me – I’ll be back Mondays and Thursdays – with further excerpts from the book project – Text Me, Love Mom – A journey to the day I found myself  still pining over the firstborn’s swift departure, and only starting to see the humour in the second’s being held at the Canada/U.S border with all his belongings in a plastic garbage bag, at the same time confused about whether it would be a positive or negative for our third child to enter an ashram, when our youngest, a sensitive homebody, asked if we’d allow her, at only sixteen to do a high school exchange to spend five months in Travestere, Italy.   (She’d already filled out the papers.)