Resting heartbeat

It started one evening when James was closing the door to the car. He leaned out and, with a pained look on his face, said, “Mom, I don’t want to go Concordia.” Then he drove away.

Well, goodnight then.

For months, James had been weighing his university basketball options. Coaches were coming up to Deb and me at games, flattering James, flattering us. I’m not going to lie: I kind of liked it. I kind of liked saying things like, “But what kind of academic support do you offer?” and “What about scholarships?” Considering at one point we were a little worried about James ever finishing CEGEP, you can forgive me for feeling a little giddy.

Finally, James opted for Concordia University in Montreal. It was close to home, the team was solid, and Quebec tuition is cheap, cheap, cheap. Good decision.

The thing is, the only program he could get into was Political Science. And he did get in. Then he went to orientation and realized he would probably hate Political Science.

By then, he had signed an athletic contract, meaning that if he went to another school, he would be ineligible to play basketball for a year.

But James decided that his basketball goal was less important than his life goal – study and teach Phys Ed. It was a mature decision, and we were proud of him for making it, even if it did come a little late. So late, in fact, that Deb and I were on our planned vacation when James rode the 8-hour bus from Montreal to Nippising University in North Bay, Ont. No tearful goodbye, no wise words, not even bus fare. Just James making his own way, figuring things out.

Meanwhile, Katie, our middle girl, found herself back home this spring after a couple of false starts at university. If only there were a career in being enthusiastic about mealtime, Katie would have it made. But as it stood, she was somewhat adrift. Then this summer, she decided to set anchor in a one-year bookkeeping program at Algonquin College in Ottawa – practical, intensive, a smart decision. It was also four hours away.

Four hours and eight hours. Half our children are now out of province.

Children move out. That’s normal. In fact, both children have been studying away from home these past four years. But they were just a grocery load away, fetchable in a crisis. There’s no speedy food or people delivery when you’re in a whole other province.

There’s also the bigger socio-political picture here that only anglo Quebecers understand. It’s normal for young people to move out of province. But for anglos, every such move becomes another statistic, and not for the better. But you can’t mention that. You can’t saddle your children with guilt, especially Poli-Sci guilt. Instead, we deal with it. Ils partent, nous restons.

We moved Katie up to Ottawa last weekend. James got a drive down from North Bay and met us there. He was happy to see us but I suspect even happier to get the rest of his stuff. We got Katie settled, visited Parliament Hill together, had a final breakfast, said our proper goodbyes and left. Ils restent, nous partons.

Distance is relative, of course. There are phone calls, emails, Instagram, Snapchat. We text (“Just checking in…”) and master the art of emojis.

In the end, Concordia released James, and he is able to play ball at Nippising. He reports in by text, such as news that someone broke his nose on the first day of training camp and on day two someone whacked it back into place. Or this text: “I had an echocardiogram today and my heart rate is 43 beats per minute which is apparently rare but it’s a good thing.”

I wrote back: “Should we poke you on occasion to make sure you’re alive?”

Despite the contact, it’s not the same. With Katie gone, for example, who’s going to laugh at my jokes? When she didn’t like the goat cheese brie she sampled, and I said, “So I guess it’s not going to be your goat-to cheese?” I could count on her to laugh. “Ha-ha! Goat one!” she said.

It’s quiet, and even though the pair have been away for school before, this feels more permanent, like it’s the start of something we’ll need to get used to, as factual as a statistic.

While we were in the pharmacy in Ottawa, I decided to stick my arm in one of those health monitoring machines. Blood pressure: normal. Resting heart beat: 79, nearly double my son’s, but normal for a man my age whose children keep doing what children are supposed to do.

Normal, normal, normal.

James, Katie, us and friend Myriam on Parliament Hill

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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18 Responses to Resting heartbeat

  1. Lisa Neumann says:

    Refreshing as always! Love watching you navigate the adulting teens. In some ways, you are my mentor. Wow, did I just write that?! Thanks for the reminder that all is “normal.”

  2. Oh, Lord. Is this what’s in store for me? I’m not sure I want it. One just started her second year of high school. The other, her first year of middle school. It all seems so far away to me. And please don’t tell me how quickly it’ll go by. Spare me. Instead, tell me this thing–this separation–can be survived.

    You know, I wasn’t supposed to be a dad. I honestly had no interest. It turns out I’m pretty good at it. What a shame.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I admit there’s a disconnect between the you we read in your old journals and the glimpses of you you reveal of your current life. But I can tell that your kids are a great satisfaction to you (unlike the dog). And what is life if not to find that small oasis of bliss?

  3. List of X says:

    Your heart may beat twice as fast as your son’s, but at least in that photo you look about the same age.

  4. pinklightsabre says:

    Aw shucks that’s a gem. Particularly the photo, though loved the writing of course. Maybe because it’s in the style I like to do myself, ha! But what a treat. Quiet, eh? Ils rest, nous partons. Ever heard Fairport Convention do that Bob Dylan song en Francais, “If you must leave, leave now?”

  5. Who’s going to laugh? It’s not the same but will we do?

  6. Liz Hott says:

    This is so lovely – the start of a new phase of life. I hope it brings good things. And that SOMEONE steps in to laugh at those golden food puns!

  7. Wait until he tumbles into his first college romance. That heart rate will shoot straight up and nothing will be normal, normal, normal ever again.

    Oh, and congratulations on being 50% closer to being able to have Parents Daytime Sex any old moment the mood strikes. It’s the little things.

  8. ksbeth says:

    here’s to all of you surviving and somewhat thriving. none of my daughters (or i), ever took any sort of smooth path toward our futures, we instead each took a ‘switchback’ approach. not planned, but nonetheless the way it fell out. we are all alive and well, i am happy to report. as for the manatees….

  9. Pingback: Nouveau old-school nostalgia | Drinking Tips for Teens

  10. Pingback: Part of something bigger | Drinking Tips for Teens

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