If you're a regular reader here you know my girls attended high school in England. An international school comprised of students from over 50 countries. A melting pot of cultures, religions, traditions, customs, beliefs, and nationalities.
As I discovered pretty quickly after moving to Europe with a just turned 15 year old and an almost 13 year old, 'kids' are viewed as adults at a much earlier age than they are here in America. They ride public transport alone in the elementary years, take gap years to work and travel around the globe before heading off to university, and in many countries must commit to a career path before they can even be admitted to a university program. In America many, if not most, kids go off to college and eventually come to a decision about a career. Some graduate still not knowing what they want to do.
One of the things (there's quite a list actually) that caught me off guard in those first few months in England was the notion of chaperones. In the US we don't send high school kids on so much as two hour field trip without an army of chaperones and an FBI check. Less than one week after arriving in England my then 8th grader went on a three day pony trekking trip to Wales with her entire grade (60 kids). Their teachers went along too but no parents. No one- adult-for-every-four-kids sort of plan. They kinda looked at me funny in the Middle School office when in my jet lagged stupor I asked the school secretary about chaperones. "Oh sure" she said, 'The four subject teachers are going." Alrighty then.
Flash forward three years and umpteen school trips later. Daughter1 had been to Poland with a theatre group, lived with a complete stranger in Provence for a week, stayed in a hostel in Berlin with her fellow art students, explored Barcelona with a few classmates on another art trip, spent a weekend in Terazin, the former Concentration camp an hour outside of Prague, again with her theatre group, not to mention two trips to Romania with Young Life, both involving 14+hour bus rides thru the mountains of Transylvania. Parents did not attend any of the school trips.
A week before her high school graduation Daughter1 and her classmates took their Senior Trip. They spent a week beachside at an all inclusive resort in Side, Turkey. There were no adults present. Well, other than the kids most of whom were 18.
Did I like this?
Even after three years of world travel a part of me hated the very idea of it. This was my little girl we were talking about. But another part of me was so excited for my daughter. And I suppose a small part of me wished I were 18 years old and on my way to a beach in Turkey with friends.
Did I worry?
Some. It comes quite naturally to me but God in His infinite wisdom used those years in England to teach me a few things in this department.
Did I pray fervently each and every day?
Did they all come back in one piece.
Could something have happened?
Here's the thing-something can always happen. I'm not implying we don't do our very best to protect our children but somewhere along the way they need to develop independence. Travel, especially foreign travel, is huge in this regard. Three short months after this trip I would be kissing my little girl goodbye as she settled into her dorm room on one side of the ocean while I winged my way back to our home on the other side of the ocean. It was in large part her high school experience that elevated her confidence to a level that allowed her to embrace and enjoy this new and exciting, but slightly scary, experience called college. Me too.
Two years later and daughter2's turn rolled around.
Aiya Napa Cyprus this time.
I still have never been to Cyprus.
Or Turkey for that matter.
Five years of travel under our belts now but still, it's my baby.
Daughter2 entered this world with an independent streak but swim meets in Cairo and Paris and Volleyball matches in Antwerp and Frankfut and a week spent living with a stranger in Santiago de Compostela Spain, and two trips to Romania and two more to Bulgaria with Young Life all helped boost and cement her natural confidence.
Three short months after her week in Cyprus there I was again, kissing my baby goodbye on one continent and flying back across the ocean to a newly empty nest. As kids enter the young adult years we are not ever present in the physical sense but I suspect (and hope) that I am ever present in their head. That I have passed along wisdom and good judgement and most importantly a desire to know God's will for their lives and to follow Him.
They took those senior trips and made memories. They also made decisions, some excellent and some that were maybe something less than excellent, but then that's how we learn and grow and become adults. We parents go merrily along our way, raising our children and then BAM, what feels like all of a sudden, we're there...at the crossroad where childhood and adulthood intersect. I think successful parenting means there will come a point when we have to extract ourselves from some aspects of our children's lives and trust that we've given them what they need to meet the challenges of adulthood.
I know there will be people reading this who will think -No way! People who will say 'never! ever! ever! would I allow my 'kids' to traipse around the globe like you did.' All I can say is once upon a time I was that parent. But that was before I was standing smack dab in the middle of opportunities that I never imagined would cross our radar. Would I hold on ever so tightly to children who over time had become more adult than child? Would I keep trying to make an imperfect world a perfect place or would I begin gently releasing them into a world that is less than perfect but which is held in place by One who is perfect? Would I move from the spot I'd held since their births, front and center, to a place beside and behind? No less important a role, still an encourager, sounding board, voice of reason and experience, and their biggest fan?
My girls will tell you that one of the phrases uttered most often around our house during their teen years was this-'perception matters'. Whether you're alone in a crowd of friends on a beach in Cyprus or on a college campus an ocean away from all that you call home, it matters. Perception matters. I'm sure as they are reading that sentence they hear my voice saying it. I like that.
I've never been a parent who goes along with everything under the sun because its the latest thing. I pray long and hard about things large and small in this adventure we call parenting. And it is an adventure. I'm thankful every day for the many life lessons we all learned while living abroad. As it turned out God had more than a few things to say to me.
I had no idea.