“Be safe. I love you sweetheart,” I said, waving as she stepped onto the bus.
I was proud of my daughter. Before my eyes she’d turned herself around by flipping a finger at that devil-in-boy’s-clothing teenage girls unwittingly empower to chip away at their self esteem.
“I’m doing this,” she said and smiled as she disappeared inside.
Just two weeks earlier this would not have happened. A gut-wrenching break-up did the trick. It left her wreck for a week but thanks to some powerful magic from the girl-power fairy, by week two she was ready to reboot…just in time to get a last-minute spot on a school trip to Greece and Turkey. Somehow that single focus on a boyfriend—girlfriends and family be damned—miraculously disappeared as her initial sadness and despair turned into anger then just as quickly somehow developed into confidence.
All in the blink of an eye.
Apparently, the sky did not fall when the door saw his backside and this mamma secretly waved him off with only one of five fingers visible.
I have learned that one of hindsight’s gifts is recognizing the sisterhood, the village that stands by and with you, which most teenage girls quickly toss aside when blinded by the toxic lure of young love’s promise, seceding control too easily, losing self. Why just yesterday I heard on the radio that a whopping 50% of girls surveyed want to be someone else.
Someone else. Christ almighty.
Apparently from that study rose a #beyou campaign to combat the endemic teenage plague of self-loathing.
But back then, I believed it was magic because my constant ‘you are amazing’ and ‘you can do anything’ and ‘nurture your sisterhood’ were more catalysts for rolled eyes or a closed bedroom door than anything else. Still, I was relentless and meant every word, hopeful that one day it would sink in.
As the bus pulled out of the school driveway, I felt the weight of motherhood’s burden ease…you know, that heavy hurt that sticks inside as your child’s heart breaks and you, helpless, can only hold them close, all while knowing it is life. And that it will happen again.
Sunlight snuck through patches of clouds as the wind became stronger and I headed home leaving behind the last few week’s turmoil. My daughter did what I could never have done at her age: she stood tall, dusted herself off and went on an adventure.
“That’s it, Mum,” she said before signing up for the trip. “Never again will I let a boy be that important. NEVER. What an idiot. Thank God my friends are still there. I’m lucky.”
Lucky indeed. And grateful. She had a grandmother willing to help pay for the trip and friends and teachers who welcomed her. In every way, she was heading in a new direction, leaving behind a relieved mother who was grateful for two weeks to recover some of that elusive peace of mind that comes when life feels settled.
It was short lived.
Katie’s bus left for Montreal’s Mirabel airport on the afternoon of Monday March 17, 2003. She would have already boarded her flight when President George W. Bush delivered an unexpected televised address to the nation and rocked the entire world. I watched in horror, sinking lower with each word, my chest pounding too hard, my breathing too fast.
‘All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end. Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing…And all Iraqi military and civilian personnel should listen carefully to this warning: In any conflict, your fate will depend on your actions. Do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people. Do not obey any command to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, including the Iraqi people… Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war and every measure will be taken to win it.’
A forty-eight hour warning and then what? Turkey, an American ally, was an active U.S. military base, nicely positioned for war.
It was also on Katie’s itinerary.
I was a newspaper publisher in the nation’s capital, Canada’s home for most foreign embassies, the Canadian military and countless politicians. The debate about right and wrong, Bush vs. the world, the political ramifications of this act, which were front and centre in my news world, all flew out the window as my mother lion irrationally took over, or perhaps more appropriately, my cowardly lion given I wanted to find and bring my daughter home rather than allow her to see the world’s wonder. But in my catastrophizing mind, she was heading into the hub of what could become the worst confrontation the world had ever seen with me a continent apart and no means of communicating with her and, as fate would have it, no valid passport.
“Judy, she knows what to do. She’s seventeen and with experienced chaperones. She’s safe,” my friends reassured me and believe me, I soaked in every rationalization I could, breaking down my worry into bite-sized pieces I tried to chew off.
Mostly I threw them back up, the bile of my fear more powerful than logic.
9/11 had already changed life as we knew it. Countless round-the-clock days in the newsroom tested the endurance of journalists pumped up on adrenalin, loving such good news days but hating the reasons why. And through the cracks of that fatigue, fear crept in.
My personal breaking point at that time came when, finally home and slumped across my sofa, a television news broadcast discussed something new…the use of chemical and biological weapons. This, two years before Katie’s trip and the now-infamous ’48-hour warning’, was too much for me. I hurriedly turned off the TV, hoped Katie had not been listening and shouted upstairs to see if she’d like to watch a movie. Anything to block out the horror.
“Sure, let’s go to Blockbuster,” she said as she flew down the stairs.
“Let’s get something romantic or funny, maybe even two,” I replied as we got in the car.
We laughed together as we drove the short distance, admittedly mine more forced than hers, and turned into the mall’s entrance.
“Holy smokes,” said Katie.
I was speechless. I guess a few of us had heard that broadcast. The line-up for Blockbuster spilled out onto the sidewalk and lined up along the outside wall of the building. I was not alone in my need to escape and protect.
Two years later, between long hours at work, I watched countless movies for the same reason and counted down fourteen endless days.
The devastation there is still far from over but those two weeks in the midst of an extraordinary global news cycle, with my proud, newly self-loving daughter too far away, challenged me to the core.
“Oh Mum, seriously, we didn’t even know what was going on until we were on the bus coming back from Montreal. Mr. H called home to say we’d landed safe and sound and were on our way and his wife filled him in a bit. You worry way to much.”
She was now navigating life’s path with her own compass. Before my eyes, it seemed, she found herself.
I laughed, relieved. She was cavalier while I had written every worst-case-scenario, apparently for no reason at all. Well, except for that motherhood thing.
Time melts. Now, fifteen years later, she continues to strengthen her village and openly declare girl-power solidarity. Yet she keeps a firm and loving grip on gentle old-world traditionalism. She is the reason for my deep-rooted faith in hope.
Since then, however, my passport has never expired.