Dear Mary Cook & Shirley Jordan,
I remember telling you that I wanted to become a scuba diving instructor. This was not going to be just a small change of career and lifestyle. I wanted to leave one of the most prestigious International Schools in Asia in order to bum around on a beach and potentially spend all of my savings on my passion. I wanted to learn about restoring reefs and marine conservation as well as just generally work on being a better human being. I wanted to challenge myself and exist outside of my comfort zone for a while. I remember that you smiled .. the most sincere smile, and you told me that I had courageous spirit. You told me that you knew I could do anything I set my mind to and that I would accomplish amazing things if I followed my heart. You didn't just support me, you believed in me.
I remember telling you that I had been nominated and won the 'top server in Nova Scotia' award when I was 21 years old. I remember the look on your face and the admiration in your congratulatory words. If I close my eyes I can hear the pride in your voice. I love your expressions of joy.
I remember reading you jokes and stories on the balconies of hotels in Jamaica when I was 8 years old. I remember you filming Christine and me singing Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson into broom handles on the porch of the white house. I remember tractor rides on the farm and you teaching us to play gin rummy. I remember giving you pedicures on the carpet in the greenroom in Burlington, camping, long road trips and folk festivals. I remember all the times you've celebrated my birthday with me and spoiled me rotten.
I don’t really remember telling you that I was moving to Hong Kong. Or the Cayman Islands or Colombia. Or Singapore or Bangkok. I think I don't remember these conversations because you never really made a big deal of it. You never said, “don’t go” You never tried to change my mind or provide reasons for me to stay in Canada.
This Mother's Day, I want to thank you both. Thank you for for all the times you've spent anxiously pacing the Pearson International Airport arrivals hall, for all the Canada Post that you've sorted for me over the years, for all the comments filled with love and encouragement on my Facebook timeline (and many of my friends'), for all the big hugs and the kisses on the lips. For being true and compassionate and honest and incredible women. Thank you for modelling risk-taking, courage and resilience. Thank you both for being a testament to independence, ability and strength.
But a simple 'thank you' doesn't seem to suffice. We often only say thank you for the things that we are aware of. For all the things we've done together. The memories. Thank you is often for the things we see and feel and know.
But then I think about all the things I don't know. What about all the times you've driven away from Pearson International departures with a heavy heart and a lump in your throat? What about the days, and often weeks, which pass without Skype calls and updates from me in my adventures? What about all the times that I've filled your basement or basement locker with camping gear and folk festival junk at the end of an amazing Canadian summer, excited to head back to my country of residence so far away? What about the moments when you needed me? When you were sad or lonely or tired or sick? The truth is that I don’t know what those times are like for you.
But I can imagine. I imagine it feels like your heart is shattering into a million pieces every time one of us leaves. I can imagine it sometimes feels cold and dark and scary to not hear from us for days and not know if we are safe or happy or healthy. I imagine there are times when you long for our closeness and company so badly that your whole body hurts.
When I think about this, I want to apologize to you for creating such sadness and pain. Sometimes I want to apologize for not sending more postcards, for being far away on your birthday and Mother's Day, for not Skyping every week or replying to every wonderful email you send. And then I reconsider apologizing, because the reality is that I don’t have regrets. Ultimately, if I could live two lives, I'd love to be near you both and simultaneously off on this wild global adventure. But since I can’t, I won’t apologize for not being able to accomplish the impossible. Instead, on this Mother's Day I want to simply say, I love you.
I love you because you've never said “don’t go” (even if deep down you really wanted to). I love you for raising your children and grandchildren in a way that fuelled us with the strength and courage to explore the world and explore outside of our comfort zone. I love you for teaching us to work hard, to trust ourselves, to dream big, to invest in opportunity and to love deeply. I love you because you've helped us pass these qualities on to your great-grandchildren.
I love you for being adventurous - for using squat toilets in China and South Korea, ranchero troughs in Colombia, outhouses in National Parks and even just the side of the road, when necessary. I love you for being open and non-judgemental - for eating weird and strange foods, trying magic mushrooms on the beach and pot cookies at the finca. I love you for being brave - for holding your breath on windy bus rides or rocky boat trips, for patiently biting your tongue when you didn't know the local language, for camping in the wilderness and spending money on experiences instead of material things. I love you for being spontaneous - for the Mary Spielberg moments, the backyard parties, that time you both said "sure, we'll fly to Bali for your birthday, all the silly games we make you play, the tacky christmas tradition and for all the last minute changes of plans.
I love you for visiting us in remote and foreign places. For learning about regions and cultures of the world you previously hadn’t paid attention to. For taking the time and spending the money to come and see our lives in these places. To see the lives we lead that are full of culture, art, travel, adventure, nature and joy. I love you for possessing the courage and humility it takes to acknowledge and appreciate all of what we do and not insist that the only good place for us to live is near you. Sometimes people say to me, “Oh, your grandmothers must be so sad having their children and grandchildren so far away.” And sometimes I want to respond that, “It's a product of their own encouragement. They raised us to be life long learners, to fight for what we believe in, and to care about the world more than just ourselves.”
I love you for living this way and for passing it on to everyone in our family. Thank you for making it abundantly clear that no matter where we live, we are loved. I could never have asked for better grandmothers than you. I love you and I miss you. Every day.