My friends and acquaintances had much to say to me, the intermittently teary-eyed mother, as my 21-year-old daughter prepared to leave last week to study in Switzerland for six months.
“How lucky, that your daughter gets to go to Europe!” they said.
“She’s going to have the time of her life!”
“Buck up, Mom! They all grow up some time!”
This is all true, and don’t I know the significance of a child individuating, self-actualizing and eating baguettes and fondue in a Geneva patisserie when that’s all she can afford. I didn’t read Parents magazine for nothing. I’m one mother who does her research.
What is also true is that I am the mother and I will miss my daughter, her entourage and even her laundry, which I won’t see again until June.
What is further true is that my children have grown up in a culture in which kids play iScrabble in French. It’s a global society I openly support and promote, mind you. It’s just that my maternal DNA has yet to catch up.
Be careful what you wish for and all that, my husband and I have raised our children to seek out and appreciate other cultures, beginning with our own United States. As a family, we’ve lived in four states. I’m from the South. My husband is from the North. He is an international studies professor who travels to other countries frequently and brings back stories, indigenous bling and friends wearing burkas and saris. When our children were 5, 8 and 14, we lived for half a year in Switzerland and visited six European countries while my husband managed his own study-abroad program. Our first child, 25 now, works for a government agency in Washington that sent him last year to three African countries and China.
Add to this, the early and continued socialization of our children’s lives, beginning with the multilingual “Sesame Street” and continuing with a multicultural public education and the Internet, and globalization is part of their DNA. According to a recent survey by America Wave and Zogby International, 40 percent of Americans ages 18-24 are “seriously interested” in relocating abroad. This compares to 2.5 percent of the general population.
“(Young people) are experiencing globalisation (sic) on an everyday basis through employment patterns, the friendship groups they develop, their usage of the Internet (particularly for social networking) and wider cultural influences on their lifestyles,” writes Dr. Douglas Bourn, editor of the International Journal for Development Education and Global Learning. “They are surrounded by a dizzying array of signs and symbolic resources dislodged from traditional moorings. They are the main targets of global consumer cultures and are increasingly targeted with messages concerning global social problems.”
Don’t get me wrong. I understand wanderlust. I also heartily respect Kahlil Gibran and his “Your children are not your own.” I would never fashion myself after the Midwestern mother of my friend, who continues to lay a guilt trip on her middle-aged daughters, one of whom moved six hours from home, and the other, to England.
“She always tells people it’s her cross to bear,” my friend said. “She’ll bump into someone who has grandchildren two hours away and she’ll moan that that’s nothing – she’s got granddaughters 350 miles away and grandsons an ocean away.”
No, I am no helicopter parent with a sad case of impending empty-nest syndrome. What I am is a woman who grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and Margaret Mead, a matriarch now whose agrarian-based ancestors for centuries maintained extended family in proximity. What I am is a fully engaged, balanced woman who came to cherish family, who is experiencing two primal desires in conflict with one another: One is the desire to support my children’s dreams wherever they take them. The other is a wish for my children and their parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, great-aunts and cousins twice-removed to live in one of those Iroquois longhouses, together, forever. Or at least in the same state.
Clearly, our generation of parents and children is lucky. We have access to game-changing technology that keeps us connected, no matter the miles. Already, in the six days my daughter has been gone, she has contacted us via Facetime, Facebook, text and Skype.
We mothers are also savvy enough to realize our unconditional love and support is still needed at this juncture. Not just for our children as they creatively work out uncertain futures. But for ourselves and each other, as we work out ours.