Always in the background of our experience at Vancouver Film School is the fact that my kids are a thousand miles away. Seems like just yesterday we were all saying goodbye, Christmas feeling like an eternity into the future.
Then, boom: four and a half months have passed, we're on a plane back to Calgary, and I'm wondering where the time went!
It hasn't exactly been a pleasure cruise for any of us, being apart this way. There have been a lot of goofy Skype sessions, long-distance phone updates, emotional texts, and even a few angry Facebook inbox messages. Yet we've managed to collectively keep the communication alive and the relationships tight.
James is paving a brilliant future for himself, both at school (Mr. Sovan's assistant in the kitchen) and in his new job (chef's assistant @ Chopstix).
Jenni is establishing herself as an independent working woman with wicked business sense (@ Amato Gelato).
And Ricky is killing it at school, nailing great grades and carrying himself with a confidence, kind heart, and sense of humour that makes this guy one proud papa.
In our many conversations over the past few months, it's been exciting to hear about their experiences at school, at home, with friends, and now with their first official jobs. Books read, music discovered, friends helped, spelling bees entered, milestones achieved. They call and ask for help on their resumes. Now they're telling me about the people they work with. Now they're telling me about the latest shenanigans with their buds. And underneath it all, the unmistakable sound of them growing up, coming into their own, taking responsibility for their futures, and having fun doing it. What more could a parent want? I don't know if they'll ever realize how proud they make me, but I think they get the idea. Simply put, they frickin' amaze me. Anybody would be lucky to have kids like these!
Day 1 - We land at the Calgary airport on the night of December 15, where Jenni and the ever-hospitable Brandi Flynn meet us. Long, four-month-in-waiting hugs (and a couple of tears) abound. In the back seat I put my arm around Jen and hear all the latest news. She's even more beautiful than the last time I saw her, if that's possible, and I soak up every word. Back at Brandi and Steve's place, James and Ricky are firmly ensconced in a couch playing Modern Warfare 3. I expected nothing less. More hugs and kisses, and this early Christmas weekend has officially begun.
Day 2 - After a busy day of movies, more games, and general tomfoolery, I pick up a rental car and Jenni and I make our way to the Olive Garden, one of our fave spots. She has bruschetta, I have a chicken caesar salad. We top it off with a ridiculously tasty chocolate cheesecake filled with mousse and topped with chocolate chips, et cetera, et cetera. Full of sugar, we make up for lost time, talking about everything from music to love to drugs and other things - you know, typically father/daughter chit chat. It's wonderful. Neither of us wants it to end. So we stretch it out and go mall hopping before heading back home, singing and laughing all the way. A truly magical night! After the kids go to bed, Mel and I disappear for some last minute shopping and are up till three a.m. wrapping presents. Tomorrow morning will be our own personal Christmas.
Day 3 ("Christmas") - As per tradition, the kids are up before we are. Bleary-eyed, we make our way to the living room and the ceremonies begin! It's chocolate! It's a book! It's a movie! It's make-up! It's more chocolate! Grandad arrives just in time and more presents are opened. Guitars come out and are played. It's a ton of laughter and bally-hoo. And then, it's a nap. Z-z-z-z-z-z-z. And then we're off to Aunt Stacey's for Turkey dinner. She goes waaaay out of her way to make sure everyone is warmly welcomed, entertained and summarily stuffed. We cap the night with a two-hour game of charades before slipping into tryptophan- and laughter-induced comas for the night.
Day 4 - From Stacey's, we head off to Indigo Books at the Cross Iron Mills mall where each of the kids has $33.33 to spend, care of Aunty Barb. Six books later, Jenni and Ricky disappear with Mel to visit Tara and Randy in Airdrie, while Grandad, James and I make our way to A&W for burgers, root beer and a deeply political discussion about the future of Western civilization. You know, standard guys-out convo. It's great to get this time with James, and having Grandad is a wicked bonus! Then it's back to Tara's to play some game I've never seen before that tests our ability to dance and willingness to completely embarrass ourselves. (I take enough pictures to implicate everyone.) Grandad says his goodbyes and we wish him a safe trip back to Edmonton. En route back to Calgary, we all stop at Jenni's new place of work (Amato Gelato) before Ricky and I separate for our one-on-one time at Petland. Twenty budgies, one cat and several fish later, we head to Future Shop where Ricky drops some of his Christmas money on the latest "Harry Potter" Blu-Ray. He's a little short (financially, I mean) and I slip him five bucks to complete the sale. He offers a back massage as repayment. And that's why we have kids!
Day 5 - Our plane doesn't leave till three so we pack in as much as we can together. Gathering our wares from Brandi's basement, we travel back to Airdrie where we watch Ricky compete in his school spelling bee, take a tour of the Bert Church High School kitchen where James proudly works, and then jet to Amato Gelato one more time to finally sample the seventy thousand or so flavours they have there. Mmm mmm good! Then, wishing it wasn't so, we drive the kids back home and say our goodbyes. It's been a truly spectacular weekend, more full and fun than we'd even imagined!
I can't wait to be close to them again. But in the meantime, as this Christmas proved, we're never really that far away in our hearts. Turns out, the best cliches are true!