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March 31st, 200_
Our youngest daughter was once again about to leave home, city, country, continent. Continent!!! To go traveling around Europe for two months. (It gets scarier.) She was just eighteen and had never even considered going with someone. In less than twenty-four hours she would fly to London, England and then to meet Canadian friends already in Barcelona. She was trying to calm the parental unit. Rest assured, was her message, as we pictured her enveloped by a group of large Canadian seasoned travelers whose sole purpose was to take care of her. We tried not to think that they might be a bunch of scrawny yahoos, who may or may not give a rat’s ass about her safety.
She would be traveling on her own from Calgary to London, Heathrow, then to Gatwick, from there to Reus airport at which point she would take a bus into Barcelona – a foreign city of more than a million and a half people. And then, she said, as if this was the easiest part of the equation, I just have to get to Café Zurich and my friend, Teddy, will be there waiting.
So we are supposed to find some comfort in this guy being there, in the dark (she arrives late at night) in the café in Spain. I wish he had a different picture on Facebook. He is two years older than her, but the only image I’d seen of him was the one he used for his facebook photo from when he was a gapped-toothed five-year-old.
While I contemplated my anxieties around this – she should have been in the house finalizing her packing, making sure her papers were in order – passport and medical insurance forms, maps and directions, youth hostel and Eurail pass. But she wasn’t. She was`out with friends, saying her good-byes before her two month adventure.
Her dad and I both confessed to each other of being jealous of how much freedom she’d have in the next little while, but right then we didn’t want to think about that freedom or her being able to follow the whim of the day. We wanted to know where she would go and exactly when – maybe even why. Of course, our need to track her movements was part of what she was supposed to be getting away from by traveling around Europe.
She had attempted to comfort us by saying that after Barcelona she would go meet a cousin and his girlfriend in Amsterdam, who were already off on their own backpacking experience.
I’ve been to Amsterdam myself on the backpacking trip I took with a girlfriend after we graduated high school thirty some years ago. I rememberhow after we left the train my girlfriend and I were offered coke, LSD and pot from various guys sitting on the station steps in the Netherland sunshine. When I had left my parents at the Calgary airport I understood them to be happy, even excited, to see me off. They had informed me years later that they were scared out of their minds. I know I sent them a few letters but that was all they heard from me for the ninety days that I was away from home.
I expected to get fairly frequent emails from Lily, but still on the afternoon before her trip, I was incredibly anxious, because any way you cut it –with all the technological advances and far reaching communication, it was still a big wide world, with millions of people who would be blocking the path between us. I managed to take her out for a few last minute purchases and afterward we shared a quick meal together in a pub, where I delivered a few more safety lectures in between bites of quesadilla before I brought her home to pack. I had barely time to say, oh yeah watch out for blah, blah, blah when she was out the door again.
Her final laundry and packing, and my putting a dozen items in teeny zip lock bags happened well past midnight. What was driving me crazy was that I simply couldn’t figure out why, instead of preparing for this huge trip, my usually organized daughter was devoting way too much time to hanging out with friends and staying out late somewhere else – downloading music for her trip onto her ipod. I think if I were to ever see my children pack ahead of time I might feel confident that they were preparing like adults. I would take some comfort in their setting priorities and putting details in order. Maybe I would even decide that in their time away from me they would continue to behave maturely, taking care of what needed to be done, not fall to the evils of wild and impulsive poorly planned acts.
April 1, 200_
So it was April. The first. No April fools jokes had been played. My baby was flying to London, England alone. It wasn’t until I woke her to get up and head to the airport that she said, “Oh my God Mom, I’m leaving for two months and I don’t know if I have what I need.” I swallowed all the lectures, assured her that she had, and if not, the last time I checked there were stores in Europe, and then her dad and I looked on while she tried to get her top heavy pack on her thin frame. She thought about taking out the heels a girlfriend had advised her to bring the night before. No, no, I said. You’re a heels girl. You’ll get to Europe, look around at all those beautiful women in their beautiful heels, and want yours.
In no time we were rushing out the door, her cell phone purposefully left behind on the kitchen counter, a link broken. Her first task after customs in London would be to find her way to a shuttle to take her to Gatwick, where her second flight would depart to Barcelona. Landing in Barcelona at ten o’clock at night (after dark, in my world – early evening, in hers) she would have to make her way to Barcelona where she would meet a friend at the Café Zurich in Cataluna Plaza. She had been online to figure out the shuttle times between the two British airports and I trusted her friend, this guy with the impish photo, had given her directions to the Café Zurich. Suddenly, on route to the airport, I was certain that I would have assisted my three older kids at the same stage, in finding the correct information before they left home. Now, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. What kind of a mother was I?
The one she had made me, I guess. Nature vs. nurture is a bit of a circular argument. I may have nurtured my kids to become one sort of person, but nature has created them to be oddly distinct individuals who in turn require an individual type of mothering.
Lily’s older brother, Hudson, came to the airport to keep the mood light and the lectures down to a minimum, though I couldn’t stop myself from pointing out how many times a pickpocket might have grabbed Lily’s possessions as she sat her small open bag here and there, while she checked in and grabbed a Tim Horton‘s chili (at ten am.)
Her brother told her, Don’t let anyone rob you, hurt you or steal you. I nervously concurred and kissed her seven times and then two more while the young security guard looked impatiently away. I let her go – my baby, slipping out of my grasp again. Bon Voyage Lily. Bon Voyage.