Cinder, 13 (too grown up, not adult enough, don’t hurry, my love, stay a little boy longer, longer), wakes me up at 4:30 in the morning on a day on which I’ve set the alarm for 5:08 a.m. in anticipation of an eight-hour road trip. He has a sore throat, is sniffly, hasn’t slept all night, and it’s almost time to wake up, and he’s upset.
“I’m sick, is this going to ruin our trip to Kelowna?”
he asks, on the verge of tears (too grown up to dare to cry, not grown up enough to know that you never stop needing to). He’s been looking forward to this trip, counting down the days, for nine months—since the last one.
“Nothing is going to ruin our trip to Kelowna,”
I promise boldly.
“I’m going to dope you up and give you a bag of lozenges to suck on through the car ride. You will snooze and rest. And by the time you are on a beach with your friends, you will be fine.”
(Hey, sore throat and runny nose: We reject your reality and substitute our own.*)
603.2 kilometres, eight hours through the winding Rocky Mountain roads, three over-excited children, one under-slept driver.
“Jesus, Mom, are you stopping for coffee again? We’re never going to get there!”
“Do you want to live? If I don’t drink more coffee, we will really never get there.”
But we get there, we get there in record time, by 1 p.m., we are eating cake for lunch. The Posse is reunited, and my best girl and I are crying all over each other’s shoulders, and an hour later, seven kids are in Lake Okanagan, and two women are trying to say EVERYTHING to each other.
“How can you guys have so much to say to each other? You text every day!”
—that, from Flora, to me and Marie.
“How can you guys have missed each other so much? You Skype for hours every day!”
—that, from me to the Posse.
^^^And there, in an oversimplification that isn’t, you’ve got everything that’s wrong with cyber-tribes. They’re contact, connection… but they’re not enough.
I can’t remember when I first met Marie. “Isn’t that funny?” I tell her. I do remember a handful of awkward first contacts, coffees, “playdates” (I fucking hate that phrase). I can’t quite remember, though, either what it was that drew me to her—nor the moment at which I realized we were friends, and life-long friends at that. (Neither one of us is particularly fond of strangers.) Maybe it was that her house, like mine, had a solidly “lived in,” messy look. That her kids were barefoot and always moving and even louder than mine (to be fair, there were more of them). Or that we could go together to the river for six, seven hours—and either talk for all six of those hours or be silent for most of the seven, and it was all good.
She taught me more about vulnerability and courage than any other human I’ve encountered on my journey so far.
Stretched out in the hot sun while the kids play in the cold water, Marie and I talk about boys, girls, husbands, exes, currents, potentials, children, shoes, books, art, writing, work, the red dress or the blue dress, the meaning of life, ticks, fleas, “what do bed bug bites look like anyway?” (don’t ask) and how to get caterpillar gut stains out of white cotton (you can’t).
“Mooom! I’m hungry!”
“Mom! He called me a…”
“They’re picking on me!”
“Mom, where’s my life jacket?”
“Mooooom, I need…”
We feed them. Water them. Re-apply sunscreen. Deliver a lecture on big people taking care of little people, and on not being asses to each other, and then tell them to go the hell away. We have more talking to do.
She leaves me in charge of supper when she goes to work. I go all out:
Then, I work too:
When she comes back, half the children are gaming, and the other half unconscious:**
(I mean sleeping. Really.)
(Half of seven is… well, I can’t chop one of them in half. You know what I mean. Fractions are not poetic.)
I pour wine. We talk some more. When the gamers interrupt us, looking for more snacks (“For goddsakke, do you guys NEVER stop eating?” “Never!” “Not true—we were just gaming for two hours with not a single snack break!”), we’re crying. Or laughing.
It’s hard to tell the difference.
Both are necessary.
We’re still, by the way, texting. While she’s at work:
“Hey, the twins and Ender are riding skateboards in the house. Is that cool? What are your house rules around that?”
While she’s making sure the kids don’t drown and I’m getting coffee:
“If it’s not too late, honey in my cappuccino, k, babe? Oh, and remind me to tell ya what happened on Tuesday when…”
While I’m at the grocery store:
“For Chrissake, this is fucking British Columbia, why is there no local produce in this store?”
“Where are you?”
“Your local IGA.”
“Yeah, it sucks. You need to go to…”
We watch our kids love each other and love being with each other, and it makes us love them more—and each other more. “Do you think they will be friends, when they are 20? When they are 40?” she asks. We don’t know, of course.
But we do know we, Marie and I, are going to be friends when we’re 60. 78.*** I’m gonna give her rides on my Vespa scooter. She’s going to buy me costume jewelry at Value Village. We’re going to wear age-inappropriate bikinis on Okanagan beaches and talk about boys, girls, husbands, exes, currents, potentials, children, grandchildren, orthopedic shoes (can they be sexy? Or do we just need to stop trying?) and support stockings (oh, those varicose veins!), books, art, writing, work, the red dress or the blue dress, the meaning of life, people who look like their pets, dentures, people who piss us off (“maybe it’s her, maybe it’s too much Botox”), and whether lime green toe nail polish on your 76-year-old feet is a strike against ageism or a cry for help (“Independence, baby! Don’t you fucking dare tell me what I can or cannot do to my toes!”).
And when I’m too blind, to old to ride that Vespa, I’m gonna make my kids drive me that 603.2 kilometres… and they’re not going to ask why.
FOOTNOTES (cause that’s how I roll)
**Aunt Augusta—you know Aunt Augusta, right? If you don’t, let me introduce you here: On yelling, authenticity, aspiration, and the usefulness of judgemental relatives-and-strangers—looks at this photo and pursues her lips.
“And you drove 603.2 km so they could play video games in the same room instead of via Skype why, exactly?” she says.
“I drove 603.2 km so that they could play video games in the same room instead of via Skype, exactly,” I smile. “Are you going to your bridge night tonight, Auntie? Yeah? Why, exactly?”
***I had my major life crisis at 38.5-39.2, from which I infer that I will shed this mortal coil at 77-78. I’m good with that. Right now, anyway.
And on that uplifting note, please enjoy this fabulous Proclaimers song: