My husband and I have a total of five children in our blended (blender) family. Two from his first marriage, two from my first marriage, and our love child who we had together. Only one of these children is female. That would be my daughter Ella, now 19. Over the years, there was a need for a regular chick trip to get away from the testosterone fuelled chaos that lived in our house.
One of the (few?) things I have done right as a mother is that I have spent time individually with each of my kids. These have taken the shape of date nights, lunches out and trips away. I captured my eldest son, now 22, only once, when we went to DC together when he was 16 so he could go to a suspiciously-named event called the Maryland Death Fest. More regularly, my youngest son and I often nip out for movie and sushi dates.
There are so many advantages to this: alone, you see your children with an individual lens. It is no longer ‘the children’ and ‘the parents’ – your relationship grows a touch of the more personal – and you can get to know each other as people, not as family-defined roles. There’s that old adage that all children want from their parents is time, and I believe that’s true, no matter how old they get.
And then there’s the lovely Ella. Born two weeks early of round head and big brown eyes, she’s transformed into a confident and gentle young woman. When she was 11, she wanted to visit her birthplace of Winnipeg, so off to Winnipeg we went for our premiere chick trip. We got our our toenails painted for the first time together and drove past the hospital where she was born.
In 2010 we ventured to Seattle to start our new tradition of travelling for food. We went to the Blue Ribbon Cooking School for a class, experienced the (worth it) line-ups at Salumi (best sandwich ever, Ella proclaimed), toured the Pike Place Market, and ate fresh banana cream pie from Dahlia Bakery while watching chick flicks in our hotel room beds. At Christmas in November in Jasper later that year, we indulged in two days of food demonstrations and eating with gaggles of other moms and daughters on their own chick trips. We met in Chicago four years ago when she was 15, where we had a particularly strange trip which included stumbling upon hundreds of nude bicyclists (twice, which was extremely traumatizing to both of us) and sitting in the front wet row at Blue Man Group. We ate a lot in Chicago too, at the Girl & the Goat, and requisite food tour eating of deep dish pizza and hot dogs the Chicago way.
But then life got busy. Ella entered her last year of high school, and took her gap year off and worked as a baker’s assistant. This year she began her nursing program at university. She acquired a beloved boyfriend and it became harder to tear her away for lots of good reasons. Time passed. A few months ago, we managed to nail down a date and location. I booked our tickets quickly, before life interfered, and two weeks ago we met in San Francisco, the City by the Bay.
In true chick trip fashion, we ate. A lot. Crumble cake at Mama’s, fancy dinner at Foreign Cinema, Italian fare on our food tour, egg sandwiches everywhere, and an important In-n-Out Burger. We walked. A lot. For two girls from the prairies, we walked until our legs were shaking, up and down the famous hills of San Francisco. We went on a silly double decker bus tour, where our faces almost got blown off on the Golden Gate Bridge. We visited Alcatraz in the rain, which was particularly delightful because Ella chose this activity and it was an experience I would have never picked myself.
Basically, we thoroughly enjoyed each other for three days. I tried my best not to chatter incessantly nor repeat myself – both bad habits of mine. Then we reluctantly boarded separate airplanes and went back to our regular lives.
But when I’m trying to fall asleep at night, thinking about work or worrying about money, I remember my time with Ella. I think about us hopping on the cable car at twilight, and the driver taking a run at the infamous hills on Mason Street, and ooohing at the snippets of views of pastel Victorians and twinkly bridges as we rumbled past, me nestled beside my favourite girl in the whole entire world.
Ella is brave and kind. She is beautiful inside and out, and I feel as if the world is lucky to have her. I feel gratitude wash over me for the time I shared with her and for being granted the gift of being her mom.
My prescription for you is to spend time with each of your children. Get to know them as people, not just as your offspring. It doesn’t have to be as epic as a cross-country jaunt – this can be done by simple things, like walking home slowly from school, arranging anticipated dates to the burger joint, or cooking dinner together in the kitchen.
I know I’m going to sound like a grandma here…but they do grow up. My time with my adult children is now a rare and precious thing. Slow down, and remember to like your children too…not just love them. As Ella wisely told me: it is hard when you think it is going to be one way, and then it changes. Such as life – it feels like they are going to be little forever – with small pieces of Lego underfoot and the banging of little fists on your bathroom door…and then one day they are suddenly gone.