Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost myself in motherhood; sometimes being a mother gives me a chance to find myself again.
When I was a child, one of my favourite places to be was my grandmother’s cottage. From her house, we’d drive about an hour to a ferry. It held twelve cars. If you were lucky you were in the front row or on the sides. Waves often splashed up onto the windshield, boats danced in the waves, you paid with a shiny purple token for your passage. On the other side of the ferry is where the magic started. One road ran the length of the small island, where people had summer cottages.
Reeds lined both sides of the road, marshses beyond it. Water was everywhere, long grasses, birds, the smell of freedom and sunshine and possibility. After a few minutes drive, we’d park behind my aunt’s cottage and run round to the front to wave madly at my grandparents – for their cottage was on a tiny island within the bigger one. My grandpa would acknowledge us with one wave, you’d hear his tiny boat – nothing more than a platform of wood over a few flotation barrels, an engine on the back – puttting towards us. Out came luggage, out came smiles.
As a young child, I was often dropped off to spend weeks with my grandmother on this island-within-an-island, this otherworldy place where I was cherished and neglected in equal portions. My grandfather would leave my grandmother Annie and I alone on the island, which had two houses – my grandmother’s and my aunt’s, a sunny yellow boathouse, and a collapsed storefront. From her island you could see into the huge, deep channel that ran between America and Canada, a channel of freight ships, waves, the feelings of flying fast on those waves, sitting in impossibly dangerous parts of their motorboat.
In the evenings I’d go inside to watch tv on Annie’s tiny tv screen. It felt like such an honour, there in that small room, the sunset floating around us. Sometimes she’d tell me stories of what it was like to be there with my mother. Sometimes we’d have popcorn. Sometimes we’d watch a show or two, and then off to bed.
But the days?
I ran wild and free. Inside that yellow boathouse was a yellow canoe. I’d climb in it soon after sunrise, no lifejacket, no plan. And then I’d disappear for hours. My grandmother couldn’t swim, and she sure couldn’t yell far enough to reach the wilds I found. I knew every watery canal between houses, the bridges I’d have to lay on the bottom of the canoe to get underneath, and sometimes I knew the power of being alone in that canoe on the Channel.
I went and went. Hours were spent paddling along, further and further, with no idea of destination or specific activity required. I’d go back to her cottage if I was hungry, but sometimes I’d be out till almost sunset. I was so alone, so free, and so safe. Being on those watery passages is one of the best places I’ve been in my life, and just being in a canoe again brings that back to me.
My kids loved it. I loved it. I wanted hours to sit and float and explore and feel. I laughed with friends, I missed my grandmother, I imagined a life where we canoed every day.
In these moments, in the times when my children try something new to them but as old to me as the fibres of my being, I find myself again and again, the young me and the older-but-possibly-not-wiser me, floating along the waters but not alone anymore.