Why I Drove My 16-Year-Old Halfway Across Canada

When I was 15, my parents took me "back home" to Scotland.

The quotes are for emphasis. I was not born there, my brother was. But I grew up hearing Scotland referred to as "back home," and often (and still, sometimes) forget that I am the family's one and only Maple Leaf baby.

As 15-year-olds are wont to do with new and exciting locations, I promptly fell in love. I wanted to leave behind my boring life and boring school and create myself anew. My parents, of course, were having none of that. I would return home, resume school and continue the life they had imagined for me.

I went back two years later sans parents, and there was no mistaking that I was absolutely, completely, 100 per cent certain, that even though my life began in Canada, I would never truly begin living until I moved to Scotland. And so, I began trying to figure out how I could attend university there, without essentially bankrupting my parents.

All of this, of course, predates the Internet. It was the early 80s, a time when high school guidance counsellors told smart kids they should only go to university; preferably the one closest to home, but at least an Ontario one, for those -- like me -- who insisted on being adventurous.

In the end, the dream died. I went to Ryerson, got my journalism degree and began working as a reporter in a whole bunch of different ways. But I could hear the call of the pipes from across the Atlantic and half of Canada, so, when the opportunity (read: being unemployed and suddenly single) presented itself, I booked a trip, claimed my U.K. citizenship and set off for adventures anew.

Well, for eight weeks, anyway. My parents were heartbroken. They couldn't understand my need to spread my wings in a different way than my brother had, and so, I packed up my suitcase and returned home on the flight I had booked, but fully intended to skip.

Fast-forward about a quarter century. I have a great husband, daughter, marriage, home, family, friends and career. There is no malice felt toward parents who pined for me so much I felt obligated to come home. They are wonderful, caring people who simply couldn't understand anyone not wanting the life they lived. Nor is there animosity felt toward those high school guidance counsellors, who probably spent more time hiding from me and my constant badgering about whether they had contacted St. Andrew's University than they did trying to reach the school. But sometimes, in the back of my mind I wonder "What If?"

Which brings me to why I drove our daughter halfway across Canada last week.

Last summer, Maddie visited Prince Edward Island. And, as 15-year-olds are wont to do with new and exciting locations, she promptly fell in love. Last fall, she announced she has no interest in attending university in Ontario. She wants to leave her familiar surroundings behind and create herself anew.

I admit it stung to hear her say she can't wait to get away from the place she calls home. But we discussed it as a family and came to the realization that it would cost about the same for her to go away to school at Dalhousie or the University of New Brunswick or UPEI as it would for her to go away to Queens or Wilfred Laurier or even McMaster, only an hour or so down the road.

She would get a quality education in any of these places, to be sure. And she would learn about navigating life independent of her parents, whether she is in residence in Hamilton or Kingston or Fredericton. But would she experience a new culture in Kitchener-Waterloo? Would life be so much different in Eastern Ontario than it is here in Niagara? That's doubtful, and, to us, that type of experience is a big part of the whole journey.

And so, with two suitcases and a bag of snacks, we hit the road on what essentially became a journey of self-discovery for both of us. My parents, now elderly, were aghast at our decision. "Why can't she just go to school here and live at home?" my mother demanded, pointing out Maddie is only starting Grade 11 in the fall. "When will we see her?"my father, who is unfamiliar with Skype and FaceTime, pleaded.

Their words were similar to the ones asked years before. I explained to my parents that they had chosen their lives for themselves, including leaving behind families in Scotland to start a new life as a wee family of their own in Canada. And now it's Maddie's turn. My husband and I believe it's our job as her parents, and our collective job as a family, to support her as she learns to make these important choices. Yes, a lot can change in the time between August 2014 and the time university applications go in 14 months from now. Or they might not. She may change her mind completely and decide to stay at home. She may go away for a year, find it's not for her and come back to Ontario for school. Or, she may find she's found the place where she feels she belongs. She will never know if she doesn't go.


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