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June Callwood writes to her daughter in 1973

Today I spent 50 minutes talking to a wise older woman – my shrink – about being a parent. She’s the mother of 4 and grandmother of 7 or 9, I forget, but a lot, anyway, and she knows a lot about parenting. As I do, when I’m talking to others – but not so much when dealing with my own kids, who, though they are adults, self-supporting and living the other side of town, are still my kids, still pushing my buttons as I push theirs. And because their father lives in the States and is very busy with work and his second family, I’m the primary parent, as I have been for nearly 25 years. Many buttons to push, she sang, paraphrasing Jimmy Cliff’s haunting “Many rivers to cross…”

“And I can’t seem to find/my way over …”

It’s hard, not to lay your own expectations on your children. My parents had huge expectations for me and my brother, and they made those very clear. As their parents had for them. Whereas we know that children, of whatever age, must be free to become who they are, to follow their own paths no matter how unlike their parents’ paths they may be.

So I was thinking about all this tonight as I sorted out the mass of paper on my desk, and found an article I’d clipped out of a magazine – Chatelaine, probably – and sent to my mother in Ottawa in about 1973, when I was 23 and living in Toronto. June Callwood is writing an open letter to her daughter who has just quit university after four months. For readers who don’t know, June Callwood is a Canadian icon and hero who died in 2007, a journalist and writer who worked tirelessly to better the world and particularly our city, leaving behind a legacy of books and social justice. But in her letter, she is a mother, afraid for a daughter who’s making what seems like an irresponsible choice. She struggles, oh so hard, to be cheery and positive. But she’s delivering a stern lecture to a soft-hearted young woman. Toughen up, she’s saying. Get real. Get a spine. Go back to school. But in as positive a way as possible.

I’m not sure any more what a career is. In my day, it implied continuity, adhesiveness to one target, hand-over-hand progress to prestige. You, on the other hand, plan to drift, picking up odd jobs but putting relationships ahead of everything else. Maybe that’s the finest career I ever heard of. 

I was saying something not unlike that today, to my shrink, about one of my kids.

I don’t think marriage is a good idea unless you find someone who can take the weight of the nearly overwhelming amount of love you have to give, someone very strong and unafraid, someone who won’t sink in that warm ocean that is you. Keep an eye out for a cork man.

Can you imagine hearing this kind of honesty from your mother – in the pages of a national magazine? That can’t have been easy. Anyway, I just Googled – her younger daughter Jesse married and had four children, so she must have found that man of cork.

But though I wrote often about my kids in the “Globe,” I will not imitate June and deliver life lectures that way. I go instead to a wise woman in a small room, whom I pay to listen to and care about me and mine. Today after giving me a gentle nudge about something, she laughed, “Now I’m getting too maternal.”
“Oh no,” I said. “You can never get too maternal.”

I’ll take all the maternal I can get. While trying not to be too maternal to the people I cannot help but mother. You think life gets simpler as you age. But it does not. Hooray!  

Also: went with a dear friend last night to TIFF. First we had dinner at her house, and I am forbidden to mention her name or location because she feeds a mother and four baby raccoons in her yard. “My neighbours,” she said, as she tossed out the food to the little masked faces, waiting, “would kill me.”

After a great dinner which we did not share with her raccoons, we went to see “Stay,” a Canadian film set in Ireland and Montreal, a May-September love story directed by a talented young woman. “Charming,” said my friend. “Ultimately unsatisfying,” I could not help but say. “The female character was poorly written and poorly acted, and lots just didn’t hang together.”

Maybe my last invitation. When will I learn to keep my mouth shut? But at least I did not tell you where she lives.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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