Last week my daughter, Michele, left our home in San Diego for jolly ole’ Oxford, England where for the next three and a half months she’ll participate in a semester abroad program. And I was a wreck. I mean, I’m her mom. I’ve known her for 21 years; I’m going to miss having her around! She’s a peach of a daughter and actually likes hanging out with me. I dreaded her move for weeks. When we’d get a manicure together I’d think, “This is the last time we’ll get a manicure.” When we’d go to a yoga class I’d meditate, “This is the last yoga class.” I drove myself crazy with these kinds of thoughts!
Occasionally, tears would surface but I’d push them down. I didn’t want Michele to see me cry. Because then she’d cry. She’s always done that, cry when I cry. Her feelings of empathy are deep. Way deep.
As we did the last bit of rushing around, purchasing a warm coat, digging through my dresser drawer looking for an electronic adapter, driving to the dentist, I couldn’t help but reflect on all that my husband and I have taught her about travel. This is one parenting area that I feel really good about. Michele has experienced the world because of home exchange. Starting when she was just 8 years old, we lived in homes in England, Ireland, Germany, France and Italy. We even did a home exchange in Hong Kong. Michele views the world as a friendly place. A place with an “open” sign in the window.
Home exchange accessibilized the world for our family.
Our home swap in Windsor, England 12 years ago helped prepare Michele for this semester abroad adventure. Before she flew across the pond last week she shared with me of her memories of the London Underground and the voice on the loud speaker that announced, “Mind the gap.” She remembered the rain and how she borrowed rubber Wellington boots from our home exchange partners. She reminisced about seeing Agatha Christie’s who-done-it play “The Mousetrap.”
All good memories. So then why was I uneasy about her departure? Perhaps part of the reason was because when Michele was young she would cling to me. When we’d be jumping onto trains or boarding planes or stepping into boats she would grip my hand with the strength of an arm wrestler. Fearful of being left alone on the train platform or boat dock, she would attach herself to me. She couldn’t relax until the entire family had boarded; only then would her anxious expression melt into its usual smile.
Michele still carries a bit of that anxiety with her. So, you see, it was a big deal for her to take off on that airplane last week. Even if she does see the world as friendly, she had to move outside her comfort zone into that sometimes scary place called the unknown. Her current expedition is one she’s taking without the comfort of her parents and older brother.
This is not only a journey to England, but also a journey to independence.
Jonas Salk said, “Good parents give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them.”
As I move about my day now, I think about Salk’s quote. Michele clearly knows where her home is. She’s flown away and is doing what she’s been taught. She’s an adventurer.
What has home exchange taught you or your children?