An admission to start with. We have been cheating the last two months; our nest has not been empty. Instead the youngest has been home for the summer from Alabama. Today, however, we engaged in what has become a rite of passage for American college students–the study abroad. In particular, we put Kendall on the plane for Copenhagen, Denmark where she will allegedly engage in some form of academic pursuit. The academic part she was vague on, I do know, however, that she will be celebrating July 4th at the Carlsberg Brewery. Culture indeed.
I recall no thought entering my mind while I was in college that I might study in a locale that exotic. I did get to go to Lackland Air Force Base the summer between my sophomore and junior years for R.O.T.C. training, but having grown up in San Antonio that excursion was just a trip across town. Also, there was not much time for sight-seeing; the emphasis was on bed making, shoe polishing and other skills vital to the defense of the nation.
We have survived this type of departure before. Kelsey, the older one, did a summer in Spain. But I was no less nervous this morning than I was six years ago when Kelsey left. Logically, this nervousness makes no sense. First of all, Kendall will spend a month away from the most dangerous place for any young person to be–a car. Every Dane speaks English, so she has no communication barrier unless the Danes do not understand her Texan. If you could pick the most tranquil place and people in the world, Denmark might be it. Communication devices and forms are ubiquitous and inexpensive; she can text, tweet, email, message or even call me whenever she wants. We go longer stretches without seeing her when she is at school in the states.
And those things just tell me how benign the environment is. Kendall is a smart kid. If she needs to figure something out, she will.
Still, Copenhagen is 5,142 air miles from DFW airport. A friend once told me that having a child is like wearing your heart outside your body for the rest of your life. This seems to be a bit far to stretch one’s aorta. More than anything, though, the study abroad hammers home the lack of control I now have over my children’s lives, which is ironic. We over-parent them for 20 years to mold them into super beings, then find ourselves scared to death they cannot handle an extended sleepover with their European friends.
Truth be told, I am not worried that Kendall’s trip will end in some disaster. Disasters are both statistically rare and geographically diverse; for all I know the sharknado will hit Dallas while she is out of town. She should be worried about me. Instead, I wonder whether she will enjoy it enough, make the right connections, see the right things. Because if she does all that, surely she will be happy. And when our kids are happy, we are happy.
That may be a sea change in American middle-class thinking. The generations before us had the same goal, a better life for the children. The method was different, though. They worked to build a world in which their kids could flourish. We have turned that concept on its head. Our mantra is to build people who can flourish in the world. Maybe that is possible. If we give the offspring enough advantages, surely they will “win.” My experience tells me something different. The greatest joy comes from things done on my own, the sweetest victories are those that are the hardest won. Transferring that knowledge into a parenting ethic is not so easy.
So this is my compromise tonight. Kendall is lucky enough to have a boarding pass to Denmark. How she uses it is up to her. I am not going to worry about the perfect trip or what she is accomplishing. I have enough to deal with in that sharknado.