Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.  – Moshe Dayan

When I was 24, I packed two suitcases, boarded a plane, and flew over the Pacific Ocean alone. Craving fresh air from a stagnant relationship, I wanted to find independence in a city that didn’t know me. In San Francisco, I had no job, no friends, no home, and to top it all off, I made an alarming discovery that Americans can’t understand Australian accents.

But it was so exciting.

The only hard part was leaving my friends, my dad, my five sisters, and my mum behind. Especially my mum …

Mum had always been my confidant. In her rustic bluestone kitchen – my childhood home – I’ve spent countless hours chatting with her, while eating a breakfast of syrupy waffles and bacon. With Mum dressed in her usual morning-to-noon attire (a robe over pajamas), we’d talk about life, people, emotions, dogs, and dog’s emotions. I’d float away on her positive energy, as she indulged all of my whimsical ideas.

In San Francisco, away from Mum for the first time in my life, I combated my homesickness by writing her emails every day. In one-thousand words, I’d fill her in on every daily occurrence. Mum would reply with one-thousand words of her own, and I’d munch on her insights each day, slowly rationing out the sustenance they provided.

I wrote her ecstatically the day I landed a graphic design job in downtown San Francisco. A few days later, my letter bubbled over with joy over having found a house to live in with three cool housemates and an emotional dog named Disco. “I’m so happy. It’s all working out perfectly,” I told her.

“That’s fantastic, honey!” she replied.

Not long after, I blushed as I wrote her about a fling I’d had with a guy from a bar. Why not? I was living it up in a city of uninhibited fun. A week later, my letter recounted a second date with my no-longer-one-night stand. I told Mum how this guy, Ivan, had been saving for years to go and see the world with ‘Gracie,’ his humble 1979 sailboat. “He’s a really interesting person,” I told Mum, “but obviously the relationship won’t go anywhere. He’s nice, though (and Latin!)”

A few months later, I told Mum that Ivan had asked me to come sailing with him. “He’s completely crazy! I hardly even know him! This relationship is going to fizzle out really soon because there’s no way I’ll go with him. I can’t imagine anything worse than being trapped in an old boat in the middle of nowhere!”

“Nope, me either,” Mum said. “I get seasick just thinking about it.”

Several more months passed before my one-thousand word email mentioned that … well … I’d been doing some research and … er … I was kind of thinking about going sailing with Ivan. “I mean, just imagine how incredible it would be: the turquoise water, the tropical islands. I’ve been on Ivan’s boat, Amazing Grace – she’s beautiful. He said he’d take really good care of me. And imagine the friends we’d meet along the way? I mean …  I haven’t decided anything, but I’m just writing to let you know that I’m considering it.”

Now, here are two possible reactions that a mother could have had upon hearing her daughter say that she’s considering a year-long major ocean voyage with a man she hasn’t yet brought home.

The patronising mother: Oh sweetheart, I think we need to talk about this in person. I know you’re in love, but you’re not thinking clearly and, quite frankly, I’m worried about you. I just booked a flight. I’ll be there tomorrow.

The manipulative mother: Don’t be such a selfish brat! Think about your mother’s feelings! I gave birth to you and it HURT. If you even think about doing something like this, you can forget about inheriting the diamond collection I promised you in my will.

But that’s not how my mother rolls. Instead, her words went something like this: “If you decide to go, I’ll be terrified of course. But I’m sure that it will be an amazing adventure!”

I wrote back: “Thank you, Mum. I want you to know that I really appreciate your support and trust.”

And then, she replied with something I’ll never forget: “Well, I’ve always tried to be a mother who sticks feathers on your wings, rather than one who clips them off.”

(I still choke up over those words.)

I did go sailing with my ‘one-night stand,’ and I missed Mum every day for two years. With no email at sea, I was deprived of our daily conversations. Being disconnected was harder than the seasickness, the fear, and the hardships combined. I still wrote her, though, but instead of clicking Send, I saved the letters to my desktop. I used words to collage a picture of my watery world for her. Labouring over each adjective, I described the smell of land after 26 days at sea, and the vision of craggy peaks jutting skyward, while scribbling with every shade of perfect blue in my wordbox. I spent hours dwelling within my universe of words, tapping at my keyboard to transport Mum there with me.

Once the boat reached land, I would load the letters onto a USB drive, row to shore, hike to an internet source, and send the letters to her.

I didn’t know it at the time, but through those letters to Mum, I was learning to be a writer.

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29 Response Comments

  • Chloe  March 18, 2011 at 10:08 am

    What a beautiful story!

    It’s awesome that you took that chance, and even better that your mum was so supportive. We all hope that our parents will support whatever we choose to do in life, especially when it happens to be the less conventional road to take, so it really was great to read that about your experience. That quote is going in my ‘book’ – it’s an inspiration for anyone who’s planning to be a parent (or anyone who currently is). Happy birthday to your Mum, she sounds like an amazing woman.

    • Torre DeRoche  March 18, 2011 at 10:12 am

      Thank you, Chloe. What makes my mum even more amazing is that she has six kids.

  • Lauren  March 18, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Ha ha, I like that, ‘dogs emotions’. Great post.
    Gosh your Mum is gorgeous, still looks the same.

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 10:06 am

      Dogs are very emotional creatures. It’s all in the eyebrows and the whites of the eyes.

  • Christina  March 18, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Words can’t describe how this touched my heart. I’m so proud of ALL your achievements and mine too – for producing such a daughter. With each passing achievement your feathers have grown into a glorious plume of beauty! XXXOOO

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 10:05 am

      XXOO (lots of public displays of parent / child affection going on here!)

  • Verity  March 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    This was such a beautiful post and it got me teary eyed and desperately missing my parents. Especially the feathers on the wings bit. *sniffle*. It’s so hard living away from your loved ones. I’ve spent the last four years living in Sweden (with one particular loved one) and am finally moving home to Australia so I can be close to my parents again (bringing said loved one too so I won’t be torn between places any more).

    My mum wear her pyjamas till noon too… I miss our long cups (or buckets as we call them in our family) of tea. Your mum sounds like a wonderful woman.

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 10:04 am

      Soon you’ll be having your cups of teas with your mum in her pyjamas and all will be normal again.

  • Debbie Beardsley  March 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    What a great mother you have! “Thank you, Mum. I want you to know that I really appreciate your support and trust.” are words every mother longs to hear!

    She raised a good daughter who has turned into a wonderful writer.

    Enjoyed your post very much.

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 10:03 am

      Thanks for your lovely compliment, Debbie.

  • Camels & Chocolate  March 18, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    That is such a beautiful statement from your mom! My mother is very similar. When I took off at 20 to explore Europe on my own, so many of her friends said, “I can’t believe you’re letting Kristin go!” And she said, “I’ve never LET Kristin do anything. She is her own spirit, her own person. Besides, I did the exact same thing when I was her age!” And she’s supported my nonstop traveling ever since!

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 10:02 am

      I love that: “She’s her own spirit.” Of course you were (especially at 20!) Funny how some think they can stop their kids from going on adventures. It must be so hard and sad for the parents, but it’s not right to squash their spirits.

  • Sheryll  March 18, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    This made me tear up! Your mother sounds like a wonderful and beautiful person. Happy Birthday!!!

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 9:59 am

      Thanks, Sheryll.

  • Karen  March 18, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Beautiful mama, beautiful daughter. They say the best things to give your children are roots and wings: your mama did both, and then some, by adding more feathers to your wings. x

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 9:59 am

      Roots and wings sounds like a mixed metaphor. But I like it.

  • Kim  March 18, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    So beautiful, I just cried a little. If I am ever a mother myself I am going to use your mothers motto. I don’t think there is anything more important in the world than putting feathers on your child’s wings.

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 9:58 am

      Aw, sorry to make you cry.

  • Bendos71  March 19, 2011 at 12:54 am

    You sure can write, kiddo.

    Beautiful post.

    More please.

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 9:58 am

      That means so much to me, thank you.

  • jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World  March 21, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Your mother sounds like a very wonderful person… (I almost choked up on her words too). It’s a beautifully written post… love every single sentence on it.

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 9:58 am

      The dog had to console me while I was writing this.

  • Adrienne @ ShenVenture  March 21, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    This is a beautiful post. Your mother sounds amazing and I can see why you have such a close relationship with her. Happy birthday to her!

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 9:57 am

      Thank you.

  • Andrea  March 21, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Kind of reminds me of my mother a little.
    – “Well, I’ve always tried to be a mother who sticks feathers on your wings, rather than one who clips them off.”
    That’s beautiful! I hope I feel that way when I’m a mother. Fantastic post =)

    • Torre DeRoche  March 24, 2011 at 9:57 am

      It’s nice to have supportive parents.

  • Erica  March 31, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Growing up (and even today) I was always at odds with a mother. Fiercely independent, my single mother – without knowing – taught her daughters to be just like her. The thing is, she wasn’t too happy when she had a few independent ladies on her hands.

    I can only wish that I will grow to be a mother just like yours. I wish I had the confidant and friend growing up – I’m sure it makes the adolescent years a bit easier.

  • Amy  March 31, 2011 at 10:50 am

    I have tears in my eyes from your mother’s words. That’s the type of mother I hope someday to be, and that’s luckily the type of mother I have. I love that you wrote about your experience for your mom, too.

  • Jamie  July 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Just found this blog and the quote from your mother was actually very helpful me.
    “Well, I’ve always tried to be a mother who sticks feathers on your wings, rather than one who clips them off.”
    I was wresling with a decision I made and so I was trying to find advise on how to “come to terms and go forth” with my decision…your blog did just the trick! So thanks for pursuing writing and bloggin!


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