The vacation began, like most transactions with my son, in negotiations.
"Someplace cold," I said. "How about Canada?"
"How about Patagonia?" he countered.
Graham, like most offspring, has always had a talent for raising the ante, and he often wins. But Canada was closer, easier and certainly more affordable. One up for mom.
My son had a week before he went back to college for what everybody fervently hoped would be his final semester. We'd traveled together, sometimes with his older sister, and had some wonderful trips. But lately it felt like the age gap was widening. He's 23, and an enthusiastic outdoorsman. I'm 64, and an ardent bookworm. So I was more than a little apprehensive as we headed off for a week of hiking and kayaking in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
We fell through the generation gap within minutes after arriving in Halifax. The car rental agency informed us that second drivers had to be 25 or older. A 23-year-old could actually rent a car on his own, but only if he had a credit card, an opportunity for financial misadventure that I'd managed to postpone. I saw myself anxiously navigating the hairpin turns of the Cabot Trail while my son, in the passenger seat, seethed at my speed, or lack of it. I signed, took the keys and, behind the agent's back, handed them to Graham. For the duration of our stay in Canada, he drove -- without insurance, probably illegally, but safely.
The truth is, he was the more experienced driver. Three years earlier I'd moved to New York, happily turned my car over to my daughter and took subways everywhere. Meanwhile, he'd driven cross-country twice with friends. Still, he was a bit smug, and that rankled.
"When's the last time you drove, Mom?" he asked.
"Last fall! In Portugal! A stick shift!" I made a point of mentioning that, because my kids drive only automatics.
Technology, predictably, was another cause of the great divide.
"Ask the girl next to you for the menu under her arm," I told him at a lunch counter.
"That's a tablet, Mom."
On the other hand, keeping up physically, which I'd feared the most, was never a problem. Partly that was because I'm in decent shape; partly it was because my son is in much better shape. The hiking trails were easy -- I chose them. When we kayaked in the Bay of Fundy -- famous for the tides that cause water to flow in what the tourism office calls "interesting patterns" -- I asked for a tandem kayak. Sure, I tried to do my share but, just when I thought my arms would give out, the kayak suddenly shot ahead, propelled by my 23-year-old paddling partner. And at places like Hopewell Rocks, where tidal erosion has created extraordinary formations 70 feet high but the beach is strewn with rocks, he offered a hand whenever I needed it, and even when I didn't.
"I couldn't have done this without you," I thought a couple of times. Adding, under my breath, "of course, I wouldn't have tried."
A curious sort of symbiosis develops on a trip like this. I needed Graham, but less than it seemed. In fact, I could have made my way -- cautiously -- across the rocky beach or up and down the boulders on Peggy's Cove. But traveling with my son, I allowed myself to step back and lean on him. I had planned the trip, set the agenda and, of course, paid for everything. While we traveled, however, I was happy to share, even yield, control.
And that, ultimately proved to be the best part of the trip. The Maritimes were beautiful, but what I loved most was discovering the wonderful young man my son had become. He'd matured into a young adult who voluntarily carried my bag up the stairs of a B&B, pulled me out of the kayak when we made landfall, and never put me down. Except, of course, behind the wheel.
And in case he forgot that he wasn't fully grown, the Canadian official who saw us out of Halifax provided the last word. We presented customs forms showing that we lived at the same address -- except, Graham explained, when he was away at college. "Well," said the officer, "you know you're not independent til you pay your own way."