Like a kid with a chocolate advent calendar, I’m counting the days. December has always been filled with anticipation for me, but this time it’s different. Except for my shaggy dog and sweet cat, I’ve been rambling around this big old house on my own for months now, seeing the world through a wobbly new lens. It’s not one I’m fond of. Not yet anyway. But I’m determined to get the focus right eventually so I can feel truly happy about this business of living alone in a city my girls have abandoned. Bekky and her hubby are thriving in Montreal, savouring la vie Boheme, and because my business takes me there often, I get to hang with them fairly regularly. But I miss Joey like crazy: My baby bravely spread her wings in August and flew the coop all the way to Dawson City, Yukon, intent on attending art school there. Judging from her exotic Instagram pics, what she’s really learning about is the art of life.
I drink in the imagery she posts of the great, white north: glorious sunsets and frozen tundras; candlelit quinzees and broken down snowmobiles; a place inhabited by sled dogs and lumberjacks. There she is, in 40 degree below weather, wearing not the cool new Canada Goose coat I sent her (which she sent back!), but the old, dusty rose wool Inuit parka she bought at a Kensington Market vintage store last year—authentic, romantic, nowhere near warm enough. Still, she soldiers on, bundled up in a handknit toque and scarf, staring at me through long frozen eyelashes, as she witnesses a world light years away from the Rosedale neighourhood where she was raised. A series of her pictures reveal “art school” hands—fingers stained with ink and paint, sometimes covered in clay. And then there are her beloved culinary projects, reviving her grandmother’s recipe for banana bread, baking challah and gingerbread cookies shaped like moustaches.
Every once in a while, Joey reminds me of the music that’s such an important part of her life. I gaze at her photo of a country jam session in the wee local watering hole dubbed “The Pit”, complete with bearded man on slide guitar and moose antlers on the wall. I envision Joey performing at the open mikes there, and speculate how her own musical style may have changed. She’s also taken up archery, learned to play crib, and made a varied assortment of friends of all ages. “Mum—age is irrelevant here. I hang out with 17-year-olds and 40-year-olds,” she explains. Evidently, in a small community like Dawson City, it’s all about a mindset. Joey tells me she loves her cozy existence there. Perhaps it’s a way of thumbing her nose at that urban jungle I inhabit. Her newfound contentment fills me at once with joy and despair. How can’t a mother be elated to hear her child is happy? Then again, what if she stays there for good? Whatever her motives, Joey’s proving to both of us that she’s embraced the business of growing up with aplomb. “You may be on the greatest adventure of all time,” one of her friends writes on Instagram. “Sure feels like it,” responds Joey.
Most people might assume I’d raised girls who live for labels and designer fare—perfectly coiffed and manicured young ladies who aspire to follow in my footsteps, and cruise through high fashion climes. As much as it sometimes scares me, I’m proud to say, “Not at all.” My daughters are adamant about blazing their own trails. And as freaked as I am about the far-flung reaches their passions may eventually lead them to, I admit their disparate paths inspire the hell out of me. So here I sit at my computer on yet another lonely night, having just assembled my new living room furniture. I figure giving the house a minor facelift will not only lift my spirits, but show my kids that I, too, am forging ahead, taking full ownership of my life as they get on with theirs. I also bought a jolly wreath for the front door, instructed my gardener to put up the lights, and met with the caterer about my impending holiday party. I’m gathering up every ounce of my enthusiasm and dutifully keeping the homefires burning, imagining the song and laughter, great food, good friends, and warm vibes that are bound to fill our house in the coming weeks. But most of all, I’m wondering what the old Toronto homestead will really feel like to my exotic Yukon adventurer when she returns. I know her visit will be temporary, but I’m anticipating the joy of sharing my nest once again, wanting the holidays to be so picture perfect, I can almost taste them. In the meantime, I’m counting the days.