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Wenting Li

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I am moving to Europe in January for four months. Italy for two months, and then France, and then one extra as-yet-to-be-chosen location that I’ve decided to call “dealer’s choice” because I’m trying to be spontaneous here. I am not going to Italy to get over a breakup or a death in the family (knocks vigorously on wood) or to find love. When I think of leaving in just a few weeks after years of planning, I try to focus on all of the ways I’ll be living some sort of Eat, Pray, Love dream. I try not to think about being alone, unable to make someone laugh because I’m only funny in English. I try not to think about the life I’m leaving behind.

I’m going away for four months because I’ve been raising four sons on my own for the past 16 years and my youngest is moving out, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life. A month for each loss. Earlier this year, I could not think beyond September. My mind went blank. It was the first September in almost 20 years when I did not have to consult a school-supply list at Staples, or check flyers for all the BOGO shoe sales and hope the styles available are deemed acceptable. I even started to rummage through backpacks at Winners then realized I don’t need to buy any this year.

The moment left me mute with shock. Later I stood in the parking lot, stunned silent, clutching my key fob. Looking off into a vacant future I had no way of predicting.

All of my adult life I have been growing boys. I’m not someone who enjoys doing math, but lately all I can think of are the numbers of my life. First son at 21, second at 23, third at 27, fourth at 28. Single mom by 30. Two or more jobs at a time since 30. One dog bought in the first grip of divorce guilt who is now 15 and will most likely live forever. One cat who ran away when he realized we were never going to be a good fit. Thousands upon thousands of dollars spent on renting at least seven homes in the past 16 years. Probably more. Hundreds of hours of volunteering at my children’s schools so the teachers wouldn’t hold our poverty or persistent lack of a positive male influence against them.

And now, it’s all pretty much over. All of the decisions based on We Five, decisions I thought I was making based on my own preferences but I’m just now realizing that I haven’t the slightest idea what I prefer. Small town or big city? It depends on what the kids want. Economical car or gas-guzzling SUV? The boys are so tall now … best go with the SUV. Single or dating? Good luck to any man who enters the realm of We Five. As a group, we all know what we want because we are basically a Borg collective, for those of you who are Star Trek fans. We employ a hive mentality, and any man who enters the hive will obviously be doing everything wrong and so, cannot survive.

Therefore, I’m moving to Europe. Not to date. Not to become someone else. But to wander around and uncoil the parts of my insides that have been coiled around my boys for my entire adult life. To see things and figure out what I enjoy as me and me only. Will I enjoy living in a little village outside of Rome? From my home in small town Ontario, it seems to be a good fit. Thirty minutes by train to the centre of one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, but my sleeping quarters will be tucked safely away in a tiny village that circles an old, ruined castle. My only plan while I’m there is to take cooking lessons and hopefully get a life-affirming compliment from one handsome Italian man. Also, I want to drive a Vespa and wear mid-calf skirts and ballet flats. But I would settle for just the one compliment.

Or will I prefer the walled city of Avignon? My French is already passable, so that might help. And the city boasts a population of just under 100,000 people; perhaps I’ll develop a taste of city-ish life. A studio, a bicycle with a basket, strangers to befriend and learn from. I plan to take a baking class there, which means the bicycle will hopefully keep me from becoming 350 pounds.

Maybe I will find the part of me I’ve never met in a different place. In Croatia, on a beach in Spain, in Ireland, on an island in Greece where I can sing the entire soundtrack to Mamma Mia … who knows?

All I know at this moment is my journey has been coming for a long time. Ever since I gave birth to my first golden boy and looked at him and thought, “What will I be when you go? How will I survive? Who will I be?”

I have never been a grown-up without my boys. But it’s time to let them be grown-ups without me.

Jennifer McGuire lives in Annan, Ont., (for now).

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