Do you ever wish you were 10 again? I did last weekend driving my daughter to a sleepover. All I wanted to do was eat pizza, go swimming and have a pajama party with my elementary school friends. This isn’t a persistent wish of mine–only something I thought of when I was particularly tired last Friday night–but I noticed it because lately I’ve been feeling more mom-ish than girl-ish. More parent than kid. This is probably good, since I happen to be an adult, but it takes me by surprise sometimes.
A few weeks ago, for example, I was helping Belén pack for our trip east. She took one sweater out of her drawer, swirled it around her head, dropped it on the floor in a heap, and decided to do a yoga pose instead of swiftly folding it into the suitcase. It was painful. I kept thinking of everything that had to be done before our flight the next day and could feel my blood pressure elevate while watching my daughter’s body bend like a piece of licorice. But instead of giving in to the rush and frustration, in a rare moment of patience (or was it a wave of resignation?) I decided to follow her lead. So what if we stay up packing til midnight? So what if I’m 37 and have never practised yoga before? I lifted my right leg behind me as high as I as could and bent my upper body towards the carpet. I felt like the never-nagging, super-flexible, figure skater/yogi I was meant to be. Then I saw Belén looking at me. She had the same expression I know I’ve worn before. The one you use when your mom is doing something a little off or acting slightly weird.
“You’re not doing it right, Mom” she said. “It’s like this.”
She stretched and folded herself up. I tried again. I got the same look.
A couple days later the five of us climb up Mount Royal, in the heart of Montreal. Belén and Susanna are running ahead chasing squirrels, climbing dead-fall, stopping and starting unpredictably, and generally impeding all other pedestrians in their path.
“You have to stay on the right side of the trail,” we instruct them while twenty-somethings jog past us in spandex. Again, I feel old. But not as old as when we see the rooftops of McGill University hugging the foot of the hill and realize Belén could be a student here in eight years time. My child, who still watches Strawberry Shortcake and likes to play puppy/pet owner might be one of these pony-tailed runners in a few short years. And how is that possible since I still feel like a university student myself?
We criss-cross the city, mostly by foot, for the next two days. After our hike, the famous Fairmount bagel bakery is next. The girls order in French, squeezing up to the counter between great towers of bagged bagels. We walk some more, counting cyclists and looking for BIXI racks (an urban bike-share program). We dine at Juliette et Chocolat where we have chocolate, of course, for dinner. The fare is dark, and strong tasting–not at all like the chocolate we’re used to–and makes us feel very sophisticated. None of us over-eat. We explore cobblestone streets, peer inside boutique restaurants set with wine glasses, chase after horse-drawn carriages with our camera, stare bent-necked at the Notre Dame cathedral, spend too much time selecting souvenirs (the coconut ring will later get lost three times before it finally breaks), imagine les filles du roi climbing out of their canoes after surviving the Atlantic and St. Lawrence many years ago, and attend a strings concert at Redpath Hall. The following day we hang out in the hostel more and take it slower, but by the time we get in the rental car for the next leg of our journey we feel we’ve had a mini-vacation in a foreign country.
Vivi complains all the way through the Adirondacks, howls at missing New York City, and apparently abhors eastern Pennsylvania. After ten harrowing hours we arrive at our destination. Cousins run out to meet us in the dark, grandparents hold the door open, great aunties take their turn with Vivian, uncles tell stories, soup is served and nerves are calmed. Relief. Warmth. Family.
The reason we’ve come so far is to celebrate Stan’s paternal grandma. At her memorial I picture Phebe walking through the woods with her daughter, Sally, driving a buggy with her sisters, and trying Clayton’s motorcycle. I see pictures of her as a school girl, a young bride, and a mother, then others of the elderly woman I knew. It occurs to me there, in the foyer of the church, that the photos are all of the same person. Intellectually, I already knew this of course, but for some reason the revelation stirs me. That the 92-year-old, wrinkled body I knew could house the child and young woman I never met becomes more plausible as I get older myself. As a child old people seem, well, old; like one-dimensional characters. Now, as I see my own daughters grow and how quickly time passes, it’s comforting to realize the years don’t erase personality and spirit. In fact, all those “old” people around us carry bits of their ten, twenty and thirty-year-old selves inside them.
We make the long, hard trip back to Montreal and stay the night at Kathleen’s before flying home. When we arrive, I reminisce with her about the parties our families would have together when we were growing up. I mostly remember the snacks waiting in every room at their house… a bowl of chips by the ping-pong table, cookies by the couch, appetizers in the kitchen… She smiles and points down the hall to the guestroom. I peek in and see a tray of popcorn, almonds, fruit and drinks by our bed. I almost feel 10 again.