I took my son to the airport last night. He’ll be travelling to Africa to do work with an NGO over the winter break and for the first time in our lives, our family of six won’t be together for Christmas. I never realized how strong my mom was until the moment I watched him turn to head down that escalator.
I used to be a wanderer, now my son is.
I was always the wanderer. I was the one leaving and exploring, doing crazy things in crazy places and sometimes making it home for celebrations like Christmas and birthdays and sometimes not. Even as I was driving to the airport I thought of all the times my family took me to and from an airport for an international flight. They never complained even though the flights were always at odd times.
When I was 19 I was putting my backpack into the trunk of my family car. Dad was driving me and a girlfriend to the airport so we could catch our flight to Europe. We were going to a foreign country for a month and would be out of phone contact, no mail, no way to verify our safety. As my dad pulled away from the house my mom stood on the porch waving, and crying. She knew she had to let me go. She knew that for whatever reason I had wanderlust and if she tried to keep me in one place she would lose me.
I finally understand how hard it was for my mom to let go.
I understand now, like right now; how hard it was for her to let me go. She had no idea what sorts of places I’d be travelling or where I’d be lying my head at night. Over the course of the years I travelled a lot and often to rather dangerous places. I could only reach back using the now archaic means we had in the 80s. Phone calls were very expensive. There was no WhatsApp or FaceTime calls.
When she did hear my voice I could hear hers cracking on the other side of the phone as she tried to maintain her composure. She worked hard to sound light and happy for me but I imagine she was digging her fingernails into her leg to keep herself focused during our call.
She was happy for me. She was thrilled that I was seeing the sights of the world, but last night I realized how much of a toll it took on her.
“Stay safe, Sam.” I said as I hugged him.
This is his third trip to Africa. One was with our family and that’s when I think he caught the bug. Or was it when he was little and we watched TV and I’d say, as scenes flashed up: “I’ve been there.” The boys would moan and say “We know, mom.”
He caught the bug and I am so envious of his future. My mom knew what I was doing was right for me but I don’t think she had quite the same passion. She was pretty old school; didn’t even have a driver’s license. Of course she was excited for me and afraid for me but she didn’t really understand what I was doing.
I understand what Sam is doing. I understand all the amazing experiences awaiting him; and I understand the dangers. We focus on both in our conversations and he is quite conscious that there is a right and wrong way to do things when you travel. But every “stay safe” embrace, or travel caution and safety tip doesn’t make him invincible. We both know that.
What’s the alternative? What do you do when your children grow into adulthood and they want to explore the world on their own terms. You pray, you read travel warnings, you download WhatsApp and you send extra money to purchase time on phone cards so you can talk and FaceTime.
You drop your college student at the airport and wave goodbye, straighten yourself up and walk to your car. You go home and exchange texts with one of your other children. This one is heading to Madrid for a semester abroad. While he’s travelled to Honduras twice, this is his first time without a sponsored program in support. Again you talk about travel tips and safety zones, consulate protections and visas. You hang up the phone and say a prayer; pour yourself a glass of wine, grab a scoop of peanut butter and you put your feet up.
Then you realize you’re still digging your fingernails into your leg and you hope they couldn’t tell.
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