Monthly Archives: March 2015

Wasn’t it Just Yesterday?

I recently took a tour of a university campus. Not because I’m planning to go back to school but because my son, somehow, is heading off on his post-secondary adventure in the fall.

How is it possible the scrawny baby who arrived three-and-a-half weeks too early and refused to nurse is about to embark on this journey?

Wasn’t it just yesterday when I headed off down highway 401 from Peterborough to Kingston in the backseat of my parents’ sedan, driving beneath overpasses that had banners hung from them, which  said things like, “No More Milk and Cookies” and “Say Goodbye to Mom and Dad.” I was terrified.

Wasn’t it just last week when I went out to a campus pub with friends from my university residence and met a skinny blond guy in a striped rugby shirt with a rip in the front? I was in love.

Wasn’t it just last month when that blond guy slipped a ring on my finger and we exited a church with bells chiming into a muggy August afternoon? I was married.

Wasn’t it just last year when someone handed me a squirming bundle of boy and we took him home and I cried, overwhelmed with the impossible responsibility? I was a mother.

My son is taller than I am and a better young man than I could have hoped for when I was pregnant and first wrote out how I felt about this child of mine. The teen years have not been without their share of difficulty. At first, I expected to escape the traumas of raising teens. I thought my sweet children would somehow not be typical, they would circumvent the cliché and be studious, forthright and lasting companions, who would not use “like” every other word, would not lie or deceive, and would not hate me. I have been disabused of these notions over the past eight years as we all struggled to navigate hormones, relationships, peer pressure, and exam and deadline angst. To find ourselves coming out the other end, blinking into the brightness of life after high school is a palpable relief. One down, one to go.

The campus we toured last weekend was not the campus of my youth but so much about it feels the same. The buildings have their lecture halls, study nooks and common areas where students gather to discuss their professors and assignments, or their weekend plans. The campus bookstore is full of textbooks and clothing proudly emblazoned with the university logo.

The spring open house was held during a snowstorm and as we trailed behind our guide we were soon soaked with melting flakes. I recalled my own long ago walk from one class to the next, trying to be on time while slipping on the snow-covered sidewalks, books gripped against my chest, shaking out my wet hair as I found a seat in the back of the classroom. The scents of paper, pencils and melting snow. The sounds of backpack zippers, books opening to page 216, coughs and sniffs as we settled into our seats.

However, I find it even easier to remember the friends and the fun. The perfect marriage of freedom and lack of responsibility. You decided your own fate for the first time in your life. You went to class or didn’t. Passed the assignment or failed it, or something in between. People came and went, in and out of your dorm room. Some you’d met, and some you hadn’t. You met more people in your first week of classes than attended your whole high school but you weren’t as overwhelmed as you thought you’d be.

I’m overjoyed that my son has decided to go to university. The hard work will be worth every formative experience. When I send him off to school in the fall, I won’t hold his hand until he joins the Kindergarten lineup. I won’t let go to watch him disappear into the school and know that I’ll be back in the same spot in a few hours to collect him and hear about his day over a grilled cheese sandwich and glass of milk.

I don’t know exactly how it will be, leaving him for the first time, but I know it’ll be right. He’s ready, even if I am not. And all I can hope is that when I next see him, he will tell me about his first semester, his ups and downs, friends and classes, over another grilled cheese sandwich and glass of milk.

Fiddler on the Roof, Sunrise, Sunset

Is this the little girl I carried,

Is this the little boy at play?

I don’t remember growing older,

When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty,

When did he grow to be so tall?

Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?

Sunrise, sunset (x2),

Swiftly flow the days.

Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers,

Blossoming even as we gaze.

Sunrise, sunset (x2),

Swiftly fly the years,

One season following another,

Laiden with happiness and tears.

How Life is Like Sudoku, But Not Really

SudokuI recently took a month off from caring for my 81-year-old mother. Granted, the month was February, the shortest month of the year, but it was the longest respite period I’d taken since she moved in with us two years ago. My brother and sister-in-law have always been available to look after her during our short and sporadic family vacations, but that has never left me alone in my own house for more than a day or two at a stretch.

A month felt dream-like and I could barely visualize it. A month. When I told a friend about Mum’s vacation, she said, “Only a month?” My friend is in a rotation with her siblings for caring for her own elderly mother. And she’s a good friend.

One of the reasons I requested my brother’s help was because it’s ski season. When a child competes in a competitive sport, in this case downhill ski racing, it consumes a parent’s life. It’s about getting up before the crack of dawn, commuting, volunteering, preparing equipment, paying fees and drinking a lot of wine. There are races at hills that are two hours away by car, and spending a few nights in a nearby hotel makes sense when the team is skiing there several days in a row.

With my mother at home, however, I don’t have the flexibility to spend the night away or not be at home to prepare dinner. Mum can manage alone during the day or evening, but is unable to prepare meals for herself (aside from breakfast). In fact, this photo shows how I make sure she gets lunch when I have to make the twice-weekly trek into the office.Mum_Lunch

What would I do for a whole month (aside from the ski obligations, my full-time job, and looking after the rest of the family whom I couldn’t farm out to relatives)? I would write, read, exercise, go for long walks, snowshoe, eat ramen noodles for dinner in front of the TV, learn a foreign language. What did I do? Not nearly enough of the things I’d hoped to do. Instead, I played a lot of Sudoku.

Sudoku is a simple distraction when your mind is otherwise occupied. Reading and writing are difficult with only half of your brain because you really need to concentrate. Solving a Sudoku puzzle takes just enough brain power to challenge your intellect but leaves just enough brain power to let you still think about other things, like where my seventeen-year-old is with my car, the deadline I have at work, or how to find time in an evening to bake a banana loaf for the volunteer lunch and watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead on the DVR.

But all this Sudoku playing taught me something. Solving the puzzle grid, with its nine little boxes that each contain nine little boxes, depends on recognizing patterns. If you can see the pattern, you can solve the puzzle. I began to notice that when I got stuck, when I just couldn’t see what the solution might be, I could take a break from it, look away, clean a bathroom, bake a loaf. When I returned to the puzzle with fresh eyes, the solution magically presented itself.

Taking a break = Fresh eyes + Magical solution.

Now, math is not my strong suit, but given this rudimentary equation for solving Sudoku puzzles, could life be like that as well?

My conclusion is: sort of. We all know what they say about absence and what grows within in one’s heart. A month without my mother gave me enough moments of solitude to reflect on my life and hers. She has spent 81 years living on this earth, and even though I know plenty of seniors who are still spry and full of wit and conversation, she is not one of them. But, however frail, Mum’s still here with us. She’s still able to give a hug, hold a hand, offer a kind word.

The other day, my father-in-law, who I love with all my heart, asked, “When do you think you’d need to move your mother into a home?” He recently lost his wife after years of caring for her while she slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s. Less than a year since my mother-in-law’s death, I can still hear the grief in his words and sense the sadness in his gestures. I thought for a moment and considered.

“When she’s no longer able to look after her personal needs,” I said, suddenly sad at the prospect of this horrible loss, should it ever happen. And I realized that some problems don’t need to be solved. Making the best of a bad situation is more about acceptance and tolerance, and then being ready to face the next challenge. Because you know there’ll be one, it’s inevitable.

One day, this phase of my life will be over and I will be devastated when my mother is gone. I will be heartbroken. I will be an orphan.

Life can be a puzzle but sometimes it’s one that you simply cannot solve. And all you can hope to do is approach it with fresh eyes and a new perspective, and accept the vagaries of its changing landscape.