Joy and Anguish in a Canadian Village : The old conundrum – The Lost Girls

It was a proud, bittersweet moment when our firstborn decided to fly away to the city of her father’s birth. Saying goodbye when she left for ‘the UK’ was awful, even though we expected she’d return in three years. It was worrying when the fourth year came and went, and sad that she showed no sign of coming home when Year Five came along.

Meanwhile, Daughter Number Two while in Victoria on Vancouver Island suddenly decided to further her education and move to the other end of the country. Off she went to Toronto. She too blew past the five-year mark, leaving my heart bruised and torn.  When a full decade went by with no sign of either returning, I settled into a kind of fatalistic numbness.

There was one daughter left.

You can imagine how I felt when the youngest went to Mexico for a three-week vacation and decided not to come back. That young woman walked through the gates of Guanajuato in the Sierra Madre Mountains and simply could not leave.

She enrolled in language school to learn Spanish. When her savings started to deplete, she resorted to selling baking to hungry university students.  A full year went by. She found a half-dead abandoned puppy and couldn’t give it away.

‘Mum,’ she said, ‘I can’t come back. I’m in university here now, and the puppy isn’t ready.’

Likewise, her sisters were much too busy to come home. One had a day job in a fancy office but was now a busy freelance entertainer on weekends, often flitting over to Italy. The other decided to join the man she loved in earning a PhD. I despaired. The competition was too powerful.

Our runaway daughters didn’t even miss my cooking – it was their father’s cuisine they talked about.

I started whining to my friends. And my sister, my mother, my husband.

We parents got a handful of novelty points from the runaways when we adopted an interesting dog, but it was a minor draw when compared to adventure, glamour and academic achievement.

We visited them in their respective faraway locations, but that wasn’t easy either. Not only had they moved to destinations that required plenty of time and cash to get to, they were so busy we had trouble getting bookings.

My husband and I moved to Gibsons. It was close to the city we’d both loved for many years, and close to both our mothers. We were delighted with our new home, but I continued to miss my daughters severely.

Suddenly, we got a call from the youngest, who’d left Mexico after almost two years to live in Calgary. She’d told her employers she’d like to move to be closer to her family, and was given a posting in Vancouver. I burst into tears.

Next, we got a call from the academic. She’d decided not to renew a contract, and was ready to leave Ontario. She’d come home the previous summer to get married, and the newlyweds had been reminded how enjoyable it could be to live in BC. She and her husband, she said, were packing to come to the Wet Coast. We were thrilled.

I have had a wonderful few months.

It’s not perfect. Along with the family gatherings I’d been craving came a lot of Stuff the young people needed to store while they untangle their lives. They’ve just been through purges of their belongings, expensive interprovincial moves, vehicle switchovers, job changes and hunts for affordable dwellings.  They took some gutsy gambles. Their schedules are hectic.

Most of us well know that even a short-distance move is hard, especially a move you have to pay for entirely yourself.  A long-distance move is something most of us, even the most experienced, take several years to recover from.

I have no idea what the near future has in store for these four intrepid people.  They are all skilled, adaptable and multitalented. They deserve success. I fervently wish there was a magic wand available I could use to make their new lives easier, because somehow it’s harder to watch these much-loved people going through all this than it was to endure it ourselves.

It sometimes feels as though my heart has a limited capacity for angst and hope, yet I can’t help wishing the eldest, the one gone so far for so long, will also find her way back onto North American soil, if not to the land of her birth.

People need both employment and affordable lodgings, she reminds me, and where she is now, she has both. Even though it’s a treat to visit her in London, and she’s had a remarkable series of adventures, there are times I regret encouraging her to spread her wings all those years ago.

This winter, I’m crossing my fingers for the young people I care about so much.  I’m wishing each of them a New Year in which all their dreams come true, and hoping those dreams keep them close.



  1. Great read Deborah. Happy to hear that T is on the west coast! I’ve been trying so hard to get ahold of either T or you. Please do get in touch so I can reconnect with that lovely daughter of yours.

  2. Well written Deborah! Big year for you and Russ having two out of three come closer. I would be ecstatic if just one of mine moved anywhere on the North American west coast. Your kids will find their way…they learned resilience from the best! Enjoy watching their journeys.

    • sorry it took me so long to respond to your kind comments. Funny, you posted this on my mother’s 85th Birthday ! another reason Russ and I returned to the BC coast. I hope your offspring also somehow get geographically closer, too.

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