Today, my 21-year-old daughter leaves for two months in Kenya.
While in my head, I’ve known this moment would happen for some time, in my heart, I’m only just reconciling myself with the fact.
I wanted it this way, didn’t I?
After all, we raised our children to be like this. Independent, curious, with ambition to discover the world. Isn’t this what we wanted?
But now, when it is time to say goodbye and reality hits, I start to wonder…. Did we really want them to go to the other side of the planet? Are we ready to have them separated from us like this? Can we bear to have them so far away, out of our orbit…and control?
Seeing Myself Through New Lenses
I reflect and remember a much-younger me.
A me who got on a plane, also as a 21-year-old, heading toward Japan. To a place so strange and foreign to my parents — and even me — I wondered if I was not falling off the face of the earth. Weren’t things over there (and in China) really upside down, as early cartoons pictured them to be?
I start to understand the jumble of emotions my parents must have felt when I said that goodbye for six months, my first time really separated any major distance from them. And so far. Back then, the only way to be in touch was through a very expensive phone call or by regular “snail” mail.
Oh — we have come so far, on so many fronts.
It’s a Different Era…. But Some of the Emotions are The Same
For we now understand people on the other side of the planet are not walking around upside down. How very ethnocentric — if humorous — that perspective was. Revealing of a bygone era.
I think the idea of our world as round and gravity working in the same way around the planet is pretty well-established and accepted. At least humanity can agree on some things….
Communications technology has far outstripped transportation technology over the last 30 years. The reality of communicating with anyone almost anywhere on our planet within seconds is really mind-blowing, if you stop to think about it.
I know this is simply a given for digital natives. But for those of us who have experienced pre-internet life, this change is something we don’t take for granted — for all its positives and negatives.
Fast-forward to Today
Maybe, really, my “little girl” going someplace so far away where I have never been is not really such a big deal.
After all, my daughter has already studied abroad in Florence, Italy and Oxford, England. She has traveled quite extensively on her own or with a friend through several places in Europe.
And, I can’t discount the fact she has actually been to this very spot in Kenya for ten days last year (with a group from her college).
So, what am I worried about?!?
Isn’t this what I wanted? A child who is truly a global citizen? One with a heart, with smarts (and savvy), and with global vision? Isn’t that what her two-month internship teaching creative writing and art at a children’s home outside of Nairobi really is? Her living out her global vision?
Of course! This is precisely what I want. I’m excited for her as she leaves.
Yet…I grapple with my own fear. Will she be okay? That creeping thought I don’t even want to acknowledge, but do so here: What if something — anything — happens?
For the bon voyage is a joyful moment — especially for the one leaving — but also brings with it a twinge of fear. What if, what if? And pain. The struggle of being left behind.
The bon voyage always seems sweeter to the one taking off on the journey. For (s)he anticipates something ahead. Something new, fresh, exciting. Turning a page to reveal a new part of his/her story.
Grappling With My Own Emotions
Then comes that final hug — I want more.
It is a bit perfunctory as she heads out the door with her dad and little brother who will take her to the airport two hours away.
She needs to go, after all. They’re already five minutes late with the plan. And my daughter is a remarkably — sometimes compulsively — time-conscious person.
There is this moment we embrace. And then it’s over. And a part of me walks out that door.
It reminds me of the well-worn words I first read when I had my babies:
“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” (Elizabeth Stone)
The reality of all this sinks down deep into my soul.
As I stand there, I recognize too, a part of me wants to get on that plane with her. I relish the adventure, the challenge. At that moment, I become acutely aware of the part of me that disdains the comfort, the predictability, the sameness of life in my home country, in my hometown, in this corner of the world I’ve come to grow and love.
It is a beautiful place where I live. And our home, though a “mere” 1550 square feet (472 square meters)* — smaller than the average-sized American home at ~2600 square feet (792 square meters) by the way — seems like a castle to me. (*And, compared to how much of the world lives, it is.)
We have created a loving place for our children as they grew up. A refuge and place of safety.
We’ve also made it a welcoming environment for hundreds of guests from all over the world during the two decades we’ve lived here.
Still, I hunger for what she is about to experience.
And, as I reflect on my varied emotions at this moment, I realize we raised a child — and really, all three children — to be people who will impact the world. People who are not afraid to explore, to expand, to push limits, to travel, to create, and to love.
My daughter goes out that door. And I must open the palm of my heart and bless her with my prayers as she does.
These days, she will be just a Facebook or WhatsApp message away.
Postscript: She arrived in Dubai, and then Nairobi, safely.
Image credit: depositphotos
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