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