Month: August 2012 (page 1 of 7)

Welcome to Wankdorf

Dear Karen,

After three fantastic days in the Swiss Alps, visiting our son at school, hiking through the mountain meadows and getting attacked by killer cows, we packed up the car and drove to France, for the final leg of our homeward journey to London.

Little did we know that there were so many amusing (when pronounced in English) place names along the way. Lars was driving too fast for me to take photos of the road signs, so sometimes I had to resort to finding the name in my map book. I only wish we’d been able to stop at each place so I could provide you with an photo of me, standing by the sign, pointing an amused and ironic finger at it, while smirking at the camera. Yes, fingers can be amused and they can also be ironic. This is France, after all.

I didn’t get a photo of Wankdorf, but next time I’m here, it will be Priority Number One for me to get it.

But I did immortalize a few others:

Hello, and welcome to Bitche! Please feel free to complain about…well, anything you like, really.

Boucheporn: Pretty much what it sounds like. A tiny bit of naughtiness for your mouth. You can thank us later.

Walygator: A new cartoon series, coming soon to a screen near you. “Beware the Walygator, my son!”

And finally, last but not in any way least, I leave you with…

Yutz: Home to the Worldwide Nincompoop Society.

We have one more day on the road and then it’s back to London, Lyra, and Laundry, not necessarily in that order. Talk to you soon!

Toodles, à bientot, auf wiedersehen, and à bientot again (we accidentally drove into Belgium. Oops.),


A beginning, a middle, and an end: Parenting, change, and the empty nest

Dear Wendy,

Well, it sure is mighty quiet in these parts!


Ralph and Stella make an excellent winter lap-warmer.

Seriously, it’s kind of weird. The house looks pretty much the same as always, except that the bathroom shelves now look like the place is inhabited by more-or-less sane adults, not a crazed band of hair-product hoarders, and the fridge is no longer stuffed with mystery items that are vitally essential for whatever cookery project our girl had on the go, but otherwise completely inedible. But the feel is different. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Maybe it’s not the house, so much as me—I’m aware that we’ve moved out of the “active” phase of parenthood, into something that I can only describe as “distance parenting.” And on a daily level, this means that things are very, very quiet…punctuated by occasional text messages informing us that Rachel’s roommate changes her clothes four times before she leaves their suite, or asking for Mitchell’s Skype address.

Last night, Mitchell and I were unpacking a (strangely small) load of groceries, and he raised an eyebrow at the single loaf of bread I’d purchased.

“Will that be enough?” he asked.

“Enough for what? Neither of us eats that much bread in a week.”

“Oh. Right.”

He’d lapsed back into old-think for a second there—not that Rachel ever ate that much bread, but like most teenagers, she travelled in a pack, and a herd of them could clean out a kitchen faster than a school of piranhas could strip down a cow carcass. (Actually, this is one of the things we’ll really miss about having Rachel here: she has amazing friends, who seem to believe that adults are real live human beings. According to other parents of my acquaintance, this is unusual, and we have always considered ourselves pretty lucky on that score.)

Other differences I’ve noticed, minute in and of themselves:

  • We bought a lot of fish last night. Salmon, halibut, cod. Mitchell and I both love fish, but Rachel isn’t fussy about it (in most forms—fish and chips are A-okay with her), so we generally kept it to a minimum while she was living here. Now, it’s a fish free for all. I may go nuts and indulge in one of my all-time favourites, kippers for breakfast. Oh, and pickled herring. Om nom nom.
  • And we stocked up on Ryvita crackers, which she has always derisively referred to as “hamster crackers.” Yes. Fish and Ryvita. Breakfast of champions.
  • We’ve had to cut our weekly delivery of organic vegetables, since there’s no way in hell that the two of us will be able to plow through that much kale, lettuce, beets, green beans, Swiss chard, corn, carrots, etc. in a single week. We’re veggie lovers, but let’s be realistic here.

It’s all small stuff, really, but it adds up to a sense of strangeness: we have the house to ourselves, to mold and shape and stock as we see fit; but we’re always aware of what’s missing. Don’t get me wrong—we’re not in mourning, we’re just…adjusting to the new reality. And times of adjustment are always a bit trying, even when you know that what you’re adjusting to is a good and right thing.

When Rachel was really little—about six years old—we moved from the house we’d lived in since she was a baby. She was NOT HAPPY about this, and let us know in no uncertain terms. When I tried to explain to her how much bigger and better the new house would be, about how she’d have a bigger yard, with a swing hanging from the maple tree branch next to the back porch, and a garage where she could keep her bike, and triplets who were almost her age for neighbours, she was unimpressed. The more I tried to convince her, the less happy she got.

Finally, her eyes full of tears, she wailed, “But Mummy, it’s going to be too different! And you know I don’t do well with change!”

I sat down with her, and laid it out: “Rachel, here’ s the thing. Everything in the world—everything—has three parts. It has a beginning, and a middle, and an end. And the end of one thing is always the beginning of something new. Maybe that new thing will be something we’ll really like, or maybe it’ll be something we don’t like so much, but no matter what happens, it will eventually end too, and be replaced. And that’s how life goes on, in circles of beginnings, middles, and ends.”

“A whole is that which has a beginning, middle, and end.” Yeah, right. As if you made that up, Aristotle. That was totally mine.

(It turns out that I wasn’t just pulling this out of thin air: apparently Aristotle thought of it too. Whatever. Great minds think alike.)

That day, Rachel and I talked for a long time about beginnings, middles, and ends: how we’d moved into our house when she was a baby, and we’d lived there until she was finished with senior kindergarten, and now our time in that house was coming to an end. But the end of living in that house wasn’t the end of everything—in fact, it was the beginning of something new. I won’t say she was thrilled about the move, but understanding it seemed to help her get a handle on it.

Over the years, we talked about many changes—moving from one school to another, losing pets, beginning and ending relationships, the deaths of my parents and Mitchell’s mother—and when necessary, I’d trot out the old mantra: Everything has a beginning, a middle…”and an end,” Rachel would finish for me.

While every change hasn’t been easy, somehow it has helped us to remember this fundamental truth. Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And almost always, between the end of one thing and the beginning of another, there’s a space where we have to adjust and figure out the new thing.

That’s where we all are right now: Rachel is at the end of her childhood, and Mitchell and I are at the end of the active parenting phase. The new reality, of our child’s adulthood and our new role as distance parents, of our house as an adult space, is just beginning. It’s different, and difference is always a bit uncomfortable, until you have a chance to wear it a few times and break it in. And then a time arrives when you realize that what used to be different is now just daily reality; and that’s when you understand that you’ve moved past the end, past the new beginning, and into the middle.

I don’t know what that will look like, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be good. For now, I’m content just to experience this transition, and see what evolves.

But boy oh boy, it sure is quiet!

Lots of love,


Greetings from Switzerland!

Dear Karen,

Greetings from Switzerland!  Yup, while you’ve been holding down the fort and dealing with Rachel leaving home, I’ve been on holiday, living it up in France, Italy, and now Switzerland. Sorry about that, but if someone is going to have to take a vacation this summer, I figure it might as well be me.

When I get home with my camera full of photos, I’ll tell you more about our holiday but for today, I’m going to focus on Crans-Montana, where Lars and I will stay for the next three days.

We decided to come here solely because our youngest is at school about a 10-minute drive away and we haven’t yet, in the year he’s been here, once visited him. Not once. To be honest, I’m not sure how that happened. One day, while visiting us in Hong Kong, he said he’d like to go to hotel management school in Switzerland. He had just completed his first year of university at Carleton, and wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about returning, so we jumped at this idea. We sent him off last July, with two suits, ties, dress shoes and shirts (strict dress code at this place), money for the mandatory haircuts he’d be having through the year, and that was that.  We assumed he was big enough and smart enough to find his own way up into the mountains of Switzerland, and we were right.

One year on, it turns out to be the best thing for him as he’s really doing well, making good friends and learning (this is the part I especially like) how to wash dishes and tidy up after himself.

Michael cleaning up like a pro…unasked.

I really like that. Actually, this place reminds me of military school:  all the training and self-discipline, with none of the shooting and killing.

Lars and I are very proud of the job he’s done and this year, we decided we would like to see this school of his for ourselves.

We arrived this morning and although we haven’t seen him yet, what we have seen of the area is just stunning. We’re staying at LeCrans Hotel & Spa, which looks like a traditional Swiss farm house but boy oh boy, it’s so much more. I feel like i should be seeing Heidi, George the St. Bernard, and David Niven passing by my window any minute. I love being in the mountains—it’s so much cooler than yesterday when we were in (oops, did I forget to mention?) Monaco. Almost 20 degrees cooler, which for our American friends means…okay, I’m not sure, but it’s a lot.

Photo-LeCrans Inn and Spa-Switzerland

Heidi does not live here. But she could.

Lars and I going for a hike now, so it’s over-and-out for me. Despite my smart-assedness, you know I’m thinking of you and hoping all is going well, both in Ottawa and at Humber.

Love, au revoir, arrivaderci, and au revoir again,

PS This year I hope they teach him how to clean rooms and make beds.

How it all went down: The big day

Dear Wendy,

So yes, Rachel is now officially ensconced in her dorm at Humber College; and Mitchell and I (and the dog) are back in Ottawa.

The move-in went pretty smoothly, if you don’t count the dog-juggling act we had to do—somehow, the fact that dogs aren’t allowed in the residence buildings was not conveyed to us in a timely manner; and since the temperatures on Sunday were in the mid-30s (90s to our American friends), leaving poor Maydeleh in the car was really not an option. (Anyone who doubts this should try sitting in a locked car in the summer sun for a few minutes. Wearing a fur coat. Trust me, it’s not a good idea.) So we had to take turns with the dog: one of us sat with her in the Rez parking lot, while the other two carted books, clothing, etc. up to Rachel’s room.

Although it seemed to us that we’d packed everything but the kitchen sink into our Jetta, it turns out that we were actually taking a minimalist approach to the whole Rez furnishings thing: I saw families with U-Haul trailers, and others carting gigantic flat-screen TVs; and that doesn’t even count the wagon-loads full of flats of bottled water.

A large pile of half-pint Poland Spring bottles

Bottles, bottles everywhere.

This puzzles me. I’ve never been a fan of bottled water, as I have a hard time believing that water from the tap is in any way defective in most communities in North America; but even if you do accept the need for such a massive waste of plastic, would you not assume that college-age kids might be capable of purchasing it on their own? Do they all have pianos tied to their asses, as our esteemed father used to say?

Sorry. Digression.

We unpacked the car, and it took us a good 10 minutes to haul everything up to Rachel’s surprisingly spacious suite, which she shares with another girl. Then we made a quick Ikea run (okay, quick in Toronto terms: it was actually about half an hour each way) to get some last minute kitchen odds and ends, and another to the local Fortinos to pick up some essential groceries, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and so on. Mitch and I retired to our hotel room for the evening, leaving Rachel to unpack. She went to her first floor meeting, followed by some ice breaking activities, and apparently met a couple of fellow inmates with interests similar to hers. A good start!

In the morning, we did one last shopping trip for a couple of things we’d overlooked; and then suddenly we were standing outside her building in the drizzling rain, all hugging and issuing last minute instructions such as “Don’t drink the Toilet Duck” and “Don’t forget your iPhone!”

We watched her walk away into her new home, and then we set off for Ottawa. There were no tears, and not much drama. While Mitchell and I were both pretty subdued on the drive home, we didn’t freak out; I’d shown some foresight and packed extra Kleenex for the trip, but the box is still sitting in the car, unused. To be honest, I’m surprised by this, and half-expecting the other shoe to drop in the next few days. If it does, I’ll let you know.

But I have a couple of ideas about why we haven’t melted down so far. First, for the past few months we’ve been thinking about little else besides Rachel’s departure. We’ve talked it over, prepared for it, written about it…so we were really super-prepared when it finally happened. I do think that emotional rehearsal is a good way to prepare for difficult situations; the goal isn’t necessarily to avoid tears and upset, so much as to feel better able to cope with whatever does happen.

Plus, as the day grew nearer, it became clearer and clearer that Rachel was ready for this, in every possible way. We tried to encourage her to take a leadership role in the preparation process, and she really did step up. By yesterday, she was instructing me not to put any of her things away in her new room, as she had her own ideas about where things should go. She built her own Ikea shelving unit, put up her own pictures, and just generally managed all the little details of moving, confidently and competently. By the time we left this morning, I knew she’d be just fine.

I know I’ll miss her daily presence in the house, but I think that knowing she’s happy and comfortable in her new surroundings is helping me feel okay about it.

And so, the next phase begins.

Lots of love, and thanks for all the caring thoughts,


P.s. Rachel’s new room totally rocks. And the picture only fell on her head once during the night.

Just outside her window…


…the Humber Arboretum. A lovely green sanctuary, so calm and quiet.

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