Monday, April 28, 2014

April in Paris

There are few things more terrifying than sending your one and only child off to a foreign country you've never visited yourself -- although I'm told handing your child the keys to your car rates right up there on the parents' nightmare list.

EB got the opportunity to visit Paris and Rome this past April school vacation, and her dad and I agreed this was something we couldn't pass up for her. We're not big world travelers ourselves, although he's been to Ireland and I've been to Japan, but we know that from an educational standpoint, this was good for her. So we closed our eyes (and opened the wallets) and took a huge leap of faith.

And we all landed safely, no worse for wear.

When we met the trip coordinator at Earbaby's orientation going into the seventh grade three years ago, we knew this was no ordinary high school Latin teacher. He talked about trips he had taken students on, and the chance was there for these students. We thought we might revisit the idea once she got into the upper grades, but here the chance came in her freshman year. There were few underclassmen going, and at first she had friends saying they were thinking about it, so we had to have her assurance that she would want to go even if none of her friends were able to.

This takes months of careful planning and in the end it was so worth it. EB, in a group of 100, including about 20 chaperones, saw the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican, went to Pompeii and walked probably more during her eight-day trip than she has in a year. They were up early every day, got in fairly late every night, still had free time to travel in small groups to shop and sight-see and realize that the world is bigger than their hometown, home state and home country.

Once her dad and I made the decision to let her go (going with her was not even an option she would entertain), I had to set aside all those fears of plane travel that feed into our daily subconscious, whether we know it or not.

EB's dad suggested we stay home and sit by the phone while she was gone. I decided we could worry just as easily where it was warm as here. And sitting by the phone? Cell phones were made for this.

So he and I took off a day after she left for warmer climes. Granted, it really wasn't as warm as we had hoped, but it was nice to get away and plan on pretty much just eating well, sleeping late, and catching up on reading and television programs.

We realized that except for one night away in December for my birthday, we had never gone away without EB. The last time had been before she was born. We felt like empty-nesters, something I'm afraid won't go well for me. We had a nice relaxing time, despite the disappointing weather, but we waited by our phones for her occasional calls and texts. She was always really tired. They hit the ground running the first day, arriving during the daytime and going to the hotels before the first journeys began.

But she was more affectionate than ever. EB worried she would be homesick and miss us too much. I reminded her that when she first started K1 with every other kid in her class crying while saying goodbye to their parents, she turned and smiled and said "Bye Mommy." Not a tear. She had been a veteran of daycare and preschool since she was 18 months old. This was just a new place and she was more than ready for it.

"Don't worry," I told her this time. "You're not going to miss us at all."

And I'm proud to say, she didn't. When she called or texted, there were plenty of "I love you guys," but no, "I wish you were here" messages. She did discover her inner strength though. Yes, Parisians are rude, although not waitstaff or shopkeepers, they're looking for those tourist dollars. Italians were nicer and both the French and Italians dress up every day. And they're not fat. She said she was looking for all the bigger people and realized that all the big people were Americans. Yet she ate well. But if it's possible, she probably lost weight from all the walking despite the healthy appetite. She sampled all the local cuisine, although she allowed herself a Starbucks in Paris (but of course, it was after Lent).

She also discovered she can be assertive. She learned to say no firmly to street vendors who got too pushy, learned to stand up for herself in the customs line when people tried to push her out of the way. She's no shrinking violet and even though she's thin, she's got a spine of steel.

And while the first thing she said after she got off the plane was "I am so done. I'm ready to sleep in my own bed," she's already looking at next year's journey to France again, with Barcelona as the second city.

If there's one thing I want for EB it's to know that she is a citizen of the world and she should be able to expand her horizons beyond the narrow confines of her community, or even her country.

I'll probably be a little less terrified next year. I'll still worry, and I'll still want to go someplace warm to do it.

Look out world. Here comes Earbaby. And she's going to take you by a storm.

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