To my mother: ‘It’s still strange that home, for both of us, is now a different place’

Zachary Delaney considers his mom after moving across the country to build a life for himself
Zachary Delaney
Delaney and his mother. (Courtesy of Zachary Delaney)

The pandemic was at its peak a year ago when I moved from Edmonton to Ottawa to pursue my master of journalism. You and I readied my little red Volkswagen GTI, and I was off. You didn’t get to help me unpack; I know that troubled you.

“I’m so proud of you for going,” you said. “But it makes me sad to think about how far away you’ll be.”

The moment I set foot into my new apartment, I could see from one side of the unit to the other. The ceiling was tall, but that made the walls feel especially bare. I also wasn’t greeted by the three-dog welcoming party that I was accustomed to at home.

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That’s where Pepper, my new bernedoodle, came in. Training, walking and caring for “the Pup” helped fill the hole in my heart that had plagued me since I left Edmonton, where we lived with my two brothers and, before the divorce, my dad. Pepper helped me understand the beautiful pain in watching someone you love grow. Every pound, inch and year gained is a step away from you.

The feeling of home was hard to build at first, so I tried building furniture instead. I assembled it, piece by painstaking piece: every dowel, screw and nail were my own. Shortly before you visited me in November, I put up a new painting: a young, blond boy sitting on a barrel of gunpowder, with Coca-Cola, Campbell’s soup and Double Bubble gum strewn around him. It reminded me of my childhood.

I remember you greeting me with a warm “Good morning, sweetie” that first day you were here. The breeze from the TV-room window slipped in, chilling my nose and ears. Pepper was laying up by my head on the couch. That and the bed I’d temporarily given up for you had both been put together by me. The handiwork was no Herculean task, but it made me proud to know I got to support you for once. “Good morning,” I replied.

I found myself surprised that our time together was going so well. Not because we had trouble getting along—it was just the first time you’d ever visited one of your sons in their own home. The dog happily followed you into the kitchen as you switched on the kettle: a ritual I remembered. Though we text, call and FaceTime—including a few accidental early-morning ones after I forgot the time change—it’s still strange that home, for both of us, is now a different place. That morning, little moments helped bring the feeling of togetherness rushing back.

I had two minutes to kill before my coffee was ready, so I started folding my bedsheets.

“You know, sometimes I feel like the only thing standing between me and adulthood is being able to properly fold these damn things,” I said. You set down your tea.

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“Tuck the corners inside one another, then bring them together,” you said, wrangling the mess of fabric in my hands.

What was once a disorganized mess had taken on a loose rectangular shape, then a tightly packed square. In a similar way, I took shape because of your love and guidance.

“Does this mean I’m an adult now?” I asked, jokingly.

“I think you’re finally ready,” you said.

This article appears in print in the May 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Dear Mom.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

The piece is part of Maclean’s Before You Go series, which collects unique, heartfelt letters from Canadians taking the time to say “Thanks, I love you” to special people in their lives—because we shouldn’t have to wait until it’s too late to tell our loved ones how we really feel. Read more essays here.