Growing up

By Theresa Wells

Recently I wrote a column about single parenting, and about the experience of being a single mom. It came from the heart, and I was deeply touched by the number of people who contacted me to thank me for the thoughts I expressed as they too had experienced single parenthood and the challenges and triumphs it brings. I write this column in a hotel room in Toronto, as this weekend my daughter and I embarked on another single parenting “first” – our first vacation together as mother and daughter.

This weekend, you see, was a much-needed vacation for us both, and a trial run for this summer when she and I embark on a two-week odyssey to Florida which will see us on a Caribbean cruise and a few days in Orlando. I thought a test trip would be a good idea, and I knew that we both would need a brief getaway around this time (me after some intense months at work coupled with some personal obligations, her for a break before she heads into Grade Nine Provincial Achievement Tests), so I booked a long weekend holiday in “the big smoke”.

Toronto is well known to me, as I lived here for many years in my twenties. I moved here, in fact, when I was not much older than my daughter is now, leaving behind my family and the life I knew and exchanging it for one that both terrified and excited me. I learned so much in those years about things like rent and income tax and groceries and laundry and roommates and jobs that while I consider Saskatoon my hometown, the place where I spent my childhood and youth, I think of Toronto as the place where I truly grew up. Toronto is where I became an adult, the place that has always held my heart and never truly let it go, the place I have always felt most at home…

So what a disappointment it has been to my daughter, then, that I continued on this trip to get lost regularly. We have learned that my memory of the city streets is not what it once was, and that my sense of direction cannot be trusted, and so on this trip she has become the one who guides us, often shaking her head at me wearily when I insist we should go a different route (and invariably I am wrong, and she is right).

We have learned a few other things, too, like how her night owl hours conflict with my tendency to rise early, but we have developed a coping mechanism which involves me sleeping with a pillow over my head while she taps away on the internet into the wee hours. I rise early and leave the hotel room while she sleeps, off to find coffee and breakfast and take advantage of quiet stores, returning when she awakes around noon to start our adventures together.

We have found a rhythm that involves simply working together to explore this city, and while we have spent far more time in shoe stores than she might like and far more time feeding pigeons than I might like we have come to a sort of equilibrium that allows us to indulge our interests, be they shoes or pigeons.

And we have laughed. We have laughed more on this trip than we have in a very long time. We laughed when I got lost. We laughed when we saw male pigeons trying to puff themselves up to impress the females, commenting that it was a lot like a school dance as the females ran away from the males with a look of pure disgust, leaving the poor male pigeons just looking puzzled. We laughed when we explored the neighbourhood I once worked in as I told her stories of those days, and we laughed as we took a streetcar and got off far too soon but conveniently right in front of a Starbucks (she claims that was my plan all along).

One night during this trip as I lay in my bed, close to sleep, I am almost certain someone kissed my forehead. When I asked my daughter the next day (you know, when she finally got out of bed at 1 pm) she denied having done any such thing, suggesting perhaps it was either a dream or that the room cleaner had snuck in and pressed their lips to my forehead during the night. Her grin, of course, told a different story entirely.

Being a single parent is hard. It is the biggest challenge I have ever faced, and there are days I am convinced I am doing it entirely wrong and that I am completely hopeless at the whole thing. But on this trip to the city where I grew up I learned something new, too. I learned that I am growing into my new role as a single parent just as I grew into an adult many years ago. And maybe, just maybe, that kiss on the forehead tells me one thing. Maybe I am doing it right after all.