November 17, 2019


I took the pregnancy test at my mother-in-law’s apartment. My period was late. I was bone-achingly tired. This was exactly how I’d felt when I was pregnant with Max. I already knew what the result would be, and the two pink lines confirmed it.

My heart sank.

Max was an active toddler who drained my energy. My husband was in school. I was working as a substitute teacher. We’d been talking about whether or not to have more children, and I was leaning definitively in the direction of no.

It’s not that I didn’t want the baby. I simply wasn’t expecting this. On top of that, Max had been difficult the first few months of his life. For many weeks, he cried almost all the time, and for months, he had to be kept in constant motion or else he’d screech. I didn’t want to relive that.

My pregnancy was uneventful. I was sick but by six months, the nausea had stopped, and I ate all the time. As with my first pregnancy, I didn’t gain a lot of weight, and I didn’t get exceedingly large. Labour and delivery was relatively easy, and voilà, there was my new daughter.

Thankfully, Hannah was much easier to deal with than Max. With the exception of a fussy period in the early evening, she was a quiet baby. Unlike her brother, she slept. The biggest stress I faced with Hannah had nothing to do with her. It had to do with Max who was exceedingly jealous of his baby sister and was hell bent on hurting her whenever he saw an opportunity.

As a little girl, Hannah was pleasant. She adored her brother even though he often treated her badly. More than once, I had to step in to keep him from biting, kicking, punching or strangling her. At that stage, I often wished someone would come along and offer to adopt him while I raised poor Hannah in peace.

Hannah was six when her father and I separated. I remember the day I brought her to the Charlottetown Mall to meet Raymond, the man who would later become her stepfather. We sat in the food court. Raymond had brought her a white teddy bear with a red ribbon tied around its neck. She looked at him warily and reluctantly took the bear. We had some ice cream and Raymond attempted to engage her in conversation. Hannah wasn’t rude. It wasn’t in her nature. But she didn’t give either of us the satisfaction of saying much.

Hannah loved money, and by the time she was thirteen, she wanted a part-time job like Max. I told her she had to be fourteen to work at places like Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s but she insisted.

“I’ll be fourteen in a few months,” she reasoned. I relented and let her apply. Soon after, she was hired to work at McDonald’s.

During this time, Hannah and Max were living through the breakdown of their dad’s second marriage. It wasn’t easy for either of them. On top of that, both were shuttling back and forth between my place and their dad’s, living a strained relationship with their stepdad, and coping with being teenagers.

That’s when Hannah’s anxiety started. It began as chest pains and difficulty catching her breath. She told me about it, and I tried to reassure her that everything was going to be okay.

I remember the day she came upstairs from her bedroom in the basement wearing her McDonald’s uniform, pale and out of sorts. “I can’t go to work,” she cried.

“Why not?” I asked.

“I have pains in my chest and I can’t breathe.” Then she sunk to the floor, her back sliding against the kitchen wall.

“It’s ok, Hannah,” I said. “Get up and I’ll get you something to drink. You’ll feel better and then I’ll take you to work.”

“Don’t make me go, Mom. I can’t.”

I called McDonald’s to say that Hannah was sick and wouldn’t be at work that day.

After a period of time working at McDonald’s, Hannah decided to apply at Tim Horton’s. She was hired. One day my phone rang. It was the manager. Hannah had fainted at work. I raced to the store. When I arrived, the manager took me into the back where Hannah was lying down. She was crying.

I gathered her up and headed for the hospital. We didn’t have to wait long before she was seen.

“Tell me what happened,” the doctor said.

Hannah said that she was taking someone’s order at the drive-thru when all of a sudden, she saw stars. The next thing she knew, she was on the floor.

At that point, the doctor turned to me and said she wanted to speak with Hannah alone for a few minutes. I was surprised but didn’t argue. The doctor came out a few minutes later and said she was going to run some urine and blood tests. I knew what that meant. She was testing Hannah for drugs.

I went back into the room.

“Mom!” Hannah cried. “She asked me if I did drugs!”

“Did you?” I asked.

“Mom! No!” The blood and urine tests confirmed that. The doctor said there was no real explanation for what happened and that teenage girls sometimes have the tendency to faint. She said if it happened again, we could come back.

Hannah’s anxiety was rarely debilitating, but every now and then it flared up. I felt guilty. She had inherited this from me. The fact that her dad and I had divorced, that she lived in two homes, that she had to deal with step-parents and yet another marriage breakdown was my fault. Had I not left her father, she wouldn’t be going through this.

I felt incredible sadness as I watched Hannah struggle. It was like watching myself. It looked like she was following in my footsteps, and that was the last thing I wanted. I wondered how long it would be before she’d start using alcohol to numb herself. How long before she would end up being one of the regulars at the doctor’s office. How long before she would end up in the psychiatric unit.

Hannah coasted through high school and stayed out of serious trouble. As her grade twelve graduation approached, she announced that she didn’t want to go to university or college. She didn’t know what she wanted to do or what she wanted to be, so she was going to get a job and buy a car.

As someone who always believed that kids shouldn’t go to university or college unless they knew why they were there or wanted to be there, I didn’t try to dissuade her. She ended up with a full-time job after graduation and bought a car like she said she would.

As her eighteenth birthday approached, Hannah told me that she was going skydiving in Moncton.

“No way,” I said.

“Mom, I’m going to be eighteen. I don’t need your permission.”

She was right. I was mad.

Hannah planned the jump for her birthday on October 12.

“I’m not taking you,” I snapped.

“You don’t have to,” she shot back. “Dad’s taking me.”

“Typical,” I thought to myself. I was ticked that he was not only allowing Hannah to do this, he was actually taking her there.

Not long after her successful skydiving experience, Hannah said she was moving to Calgary in January with her friend Julie.

“Why would you do that?” I exclaimed. “You’ve got a job here. And your friends are here.”

“I want to, Mom. I don’t like it here. We can live at Julie’s cousin’s place. I can make more money in Calgary.”

Hannah wasn’t in Calgary long before she announced that she and a girl she’d met online were going to back pack around eastern and western Europe for a few months.

“No way” I said. “I forbid you.”

“Mom, you can’t forbid me. I’m eighteen.”

She was right but it was worth a try.

So off she went. Every time there was an issue, she got in touch with me. She was independent, yes, but not completely. “I have a sore throat. There’s a problem with my bank card.” Other times, it was her friend driving her nuts.

After her European tour, Hannah returned to Calgary. However, her recent experience had opened up a taste for adventure. Soon, she was filling me in on her next plan. She was going abroad for at least a year.

“No way,” I said.

One year stretched to almost two as Hannah travelled through Southeast Asia, Australia and India. Upon her return to Calgary, she resumed work for a while before packing up yet again and heading to Hawaii for a winter.

Along the way, there were adventures and problems: a hospital stay, minor surgery to treat an infection that advanced to the point of septicemia, stolen money, an attempted assault, and several other incidents of a more minor nature. I did the best I could, from a distance, to guide her through all of this.

Right now, Hannah and her boyfriend Philippe are living in New Zealand. They have work visas and could be there for up to a year. They bought a van, and using tools borrowed from a guy they were couchsurfing with, refurbished the interior using repurposed materials. They’re living in the van while they work and travel around the country.

Hannah is now twenty-four, and I admit that I watch her comings and goings with awe, motherly concern, and a profound amount of respect. Whereas at one time I feared for what life had in store for her, I now celebrate what her life has become.

At eighteen, she made a decision. She decided that she wouldn’t give in to anxiety. She would face her fears and live. Instead of turning to destructive behaviours, she met the situation head on. She looked anxiety square in the face and said, “F*** you.”

Hannah has chosen a non-traditional path. To date, she hasn’t availed herself of higher education. Instead, she got out into the real world. She started working. She visited over thirty countries, and she’s still out there travelling, exploring, and following her calling.

She’s jumped out of planes, hiked mountains, become a certified scuba diver, and a certified yoga instructor. She’s worked in retail stores, restaurants and bars, a blueberry farm, a kiwi farm, a yoga retreat and more. She’s educated herself and keeps on doing so. Maybe one day she’ll pursue formal education. Maybe not. But right now, she can tell you a lot about how to refurbish a van, travel the world, make money, and amass some serious financial investments.

I wish I had had one-tenth of Hannah’s courage at that age.

To see her blossom into the adventurous, capable, and free-spirited young woman she is today fills me with a tremendous amount of pride. I know that she will continue to do wonderful things and make a significant contribution in her areas of passion: health and the environment. Hannah still deals with anxious thoughts and feelings from time to time. But she pushes on, daring anxiety to stop her from living her best life.

As I live the last half of my own life, Hannah has become a role model for me. She’s made me realize it’s important to follow your calling and pursue your dreams. I don’t plan to jump out of planes or live in the back of a van in New Zealand, but Hannah has shown me that I can push myself to be stronger – physically and mentally – that I can write my memoir, and that I can offer something more to the world.

At a young age, Hannah was wise enough to claim her freedom. As her mother, I hope that in some small way, I helped her do that. While we don’t see each other often, I feel a connection to Hannah that transcends physical boundaries. No matter how far apart we are, we’re together. I’m a part of her. She’s a part of me. I took her as far as I could. Now she has ventured onward to live her dreams and is showing me that I can do the same.

Thank you, Hannah. I love you.