Angie Abdou's memoir This One Wild Life celebrates the power of parent-child bonding
This interview originally aired on April 10, 2021.
Angie Abdou is a teacher, writer and frequent columnist for The Next Chapter. Her first novel, The Bone Cage, was championed by Georges Laraque on Canada Reads 2011. Her other books include the novels The Canterbury Trail, Between and In Case I Go and the nonfiction book Home Ice.
Her latest is This One Wild Life, her personal story of a mother and daughter bonding over hiking. When Abdou sees her daughter becoming more introverted, she decides to give them a challenge one summer: to hike a different peak near their Fernie, B.C., home each week. This One Wild Life is the story of this summer, and how this goal changed their relationship and helped her daughter become more confident and more comfortable with who she is.
Abdou spoke to Shelagh Rogers about writing This One Wild Life.
"I had been busy chasing my son around with his hockey and being a hockey mom. Somehow I had missed that my daughter had gotten so shy and so timid that it was causing problems at school. When I first heard that from the principal, I felt like this girl that they were describing couldn't possibly be my daughter. There was a total disconnect.
"We had switched schools and she was having trouble making friends. But she was also scared to do things like go to the library on her own, talk to the secretary or be in front of the school alone. When she spoke in class, you couldn't hear her.
Somehow I had missed that my daughter had gotten so shy and so timid that it was causing problems at school.
"This is not the girl I know at home at all. It was so hard for me to imagine not being true, at first. My husband said, 'Oh, of course it's true. She's far different when she's around other people.' But I hadn't seen it."
The question of shyness
"The way that shyness manifested in my daughter was that she wasn't herself around other people. She didn't let people in, and didn't let people see her. She shut down — her shoulders slumped in, she looked toward the ground, she didn't make eye contact. It's a backing away from other people and backing away from social interaction stemming from a lack of confidence.
The way that shyness manifested in my daughter was that she wasn't herself around other people.
"When it comes to the word 'shy,' I'm told we should avoid using the word to children and instead focus on behaviours and ways to help them be more confident. I find words useful as a writer, and I think we all know what we mean when we mean shy.
"So I try, when I'm talking to my daughter, to not overuse it, because I've read that I shouldn't. But I'm OK with the word shy."
Creating lasting bonds
"We started to spend more time together. I was concerned that I had missed it as a mother — she had always seemed like a very independent, self-reliant, confident and full of energy type of child. I had, in my head, the idea that she didn't need me as much as my son — which, of course, is absurd as all children need their mother. We just needed to spend a lot more time together.
We started going on nature walks. We really enjoyed that. I saw how lively and confident she was out in the wilderness.
"We started going on nature walks. We enjoyed that. I saw how lively and confident she was out in the wilderness. I'm relentlessly goal oriented; I like projects. I told her that, next summer, we would aim to hike a peak a week. She had recently made it to the top of Mount Fernie and was very proud of herself. And so we set up that idea. We were going to have this goal together and we'll try to hike a peak a week.
"I had a feeling that that's where we could find herself and her confidence — and find our connection to each other."
Angie Abdou's comments have been edited for length and clarity.