by Christie Mellor
My son flew to Paris a few days ago, courtesy of his grandfather and college savings. The program where he was signed up to study French sounded professional and organized, but suddenly, in the days leading up to the fourth of July— his departure date—we couldn’t reach anyone to get any information about his host family. Information he was supposed to have received at least a week before his departure. At first I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing; it was just one final detail in the planning of the trip. But as we inched toward his departure, there was still no word. No phone call. No messages. No replies to my increasingly worried-sounding e-mails to the language school. No one answering the phone in Stockholm when I called at 1 a.m. assuming someone would be in the office by 10 a.m. Sweden-time. My son had no idea where he was going to stay. I was beginning to think awful thoughts about the whole thing being some kind of scam; perhaps there was no school at all, and the whole website—the nice people in the Seattle office, the forms I filled out, the brochures showing happy international students tramping about Beijing, Japan, and France…everything—had been a big set-up to part unsuspecting Francophiles from their money.
We had been assured that someone would be at the Paris airport, holding up a big sign with my son’s name on it. And we did, after all, have a pretty solid back-up system; he was not only traveling on the same flight as our good friends, he’s got cousins, aunts and uncles who live in and around Paris. If worse came to worse and no one was actually there to meet him at the airport, he could stay the night with our friends, or call his cousin. So, fingers crossed, we sent him off to catch his plane, having no idea where he was going to be sleeping after a long transatlantic flight. It sounded like just the kind of adventure a 17 year-old should be having.
So. He arrived in Paris. Apparently no one from the school was there holding a big sign with his name on it and ready to whisk him away to his happy host family. Apparently he ended up spending the night with our good friends on their barge. On the Seine. In Paris. Not exactly a tragic turn of events. And apparently everything got sorted out the next morning when he went to his first day of French school. We didn’t know any of this until a full 24-hours after he left, and my husband and I spent the time worrying, oh, just a little: but honestly, in the big picture? A minor glitch. It’s good practice for all of us, seeing as how I’m not planning on getting an apartment near my son’s dorm when he goes away to college in a year. So, he’s six thousand miles away and we have no idea how where he is most of the time and we can’t reach for most of the day? Deep breath. Isn’t this what we’ve supposedly been preparing for? His eventual adulthood?
Here I am, with a teenager, trying to put my money where my mouth is. Before he left, I told him to remember that when you’re traveling, you have to be flexible. It’s all part of the adventure. Handling adversity with aplomb will serve you well, whether you’re in a foreign country or away at college for the first time. I told him to remember, when you’re lost in Paris, you’re never really lost. Thank your lucky stars to be lost in Paris. There’s food, architecture, art, little cafés, museums, shops, and pretty soon you’ll stumble upon a Metro station, and you’ll find your way back to wherever you’re supposed to be.
There’s this new book out, called Free Range Kids . Wow, isn't it great that finally someone has written a book that tells us to quit supervising our children’s every waking moment? Oh, there I go, sounding horrible and bitter. I'm sure it's a fantastic book; the writer looks like a very nice person and of course I agree with her a hundred million percent, having written about the exact same thing, er, quite a few times myself. It’s a subject that I’m sure we cannot write enough about. But sometimes it feels as if the wheel keeps getting reinvented. I read something on the “Free Range Kids” website that made me laugh – when the author told her father about the whole “Free Range Kids” concept, he said, “Oh for god’s sake! Now they’ve got a name for everything.” And it’s true. It bothers me that there’s now a catch-phrase for this so-called Movement. I’m raising a Free-Range Kid, are you? Oh for god’s sake, I’m with Dad. Raise your kids, do your best, give them the tools to be independent people, get on with it.
For any of you keeping track, my eleven-year-old had a very nice time at music camp (first cello chair!) and as I suspected, I’ve been spending the last few days chasing him off the computer and telling him to get on his bike and go somewhere, or read a book, or get a hobby. Maybe take up carpentry, so he can start fixing some stuff around the house. I’m catching up on work, and in between being grumpy about authors who are starting brave new common-sense-parenting movements that sound eerily reminiscent of my first two books, I’m just trying to hustle enough work to keep our heads afloat through this awful economic time. Someone just e-mailed me asking if I would write a blurb for her new book that's coming out, called The Drinking Mom's Guide to whatever. I politely declined. But not at all in a bitter way. Happy Summer!