Earlier this month, before our youngest son’s college semester began, I found him in the kitchen hunched over his laptop. I asked, somewhat rhetorically, “Hey, watcha doin’?”
He answered, “Just sending an email to my family.”
For a half second, my soul did one of those cartoony, jowl-flopping triple-takes. Wha wha wha? How weird it was to hear my 20-year-old label others as family. He was talking about his European hosts, so all was cool.
After some frantic packing, off he went across the Atlantic. He refused to bring a winter coat. I insisted, and then I backed off. The new me. He’ll be studying/shivering there until Christmas, living with people I have never met.
All I know is right away his parallel universe “fam” took him to a running-with-the-bulls event. Did I need to hear that? My kid claims he didn’t participate, but his host dad did.
You would think a person of my nervous temperament would be looping in a panic. My son, who was still a teenager just months ago, is bouncing around Europe. Coatless.
But wait, there’s more. He has three-day weekends and has discovered Ryanair, which is cheaper than Starbucks ventis. I think he’s in Switzerland today. Or is it Portugal? Curiously, I feel calm. Me, the Level 10 doom visualizer.
And it’s not just our hopelessly itinerant child who dangles mom-unfriendly plans in my face: Our 21-year-old peppers us with “announcements” all the time. The stuff he tells us now would have had me breathing into a giant paper bag a mere few years ago.
Just this summer, Mr. 21 said things like, “I’m going to get scuba *certified!” (*In a murky Ozarks lake.) On a Skype call from his internship, he casually blurted, “I *climbed a tower last week!” (*On a hot, palm-sweat-inducing day.) And, with the money he earned scaling narrow ladders/brainstorming beneath a hard hat, he informed us he’s planning some intense passport-stamping as well.
So I look ahead. For quite a long stretch, my boys will be taking turns being out of the country doing who knows what. We have not only launched our kids, we have somehow equipped them with jet fuel.
Yet, I seem to be enjoying this surprising calm streak. If I ever qualified as a helicopter parent — I’ve had honorary moments — the hovering machine is parked in a hangar. Did I mention my kid is in Europe without a coat?
A hovering metaphor is convenient, because maybe I can explain this crazy zen with my own actual, 3-D helicopter story.
When I was a young television producer, I was asked to accompany a meteorologist for a severe weather talk. (I was basically Andie McDowell in “Groundhog Day,” but with tornadoes.) The town on the itinerary was far from the station, so naturally we would take a helicopter. Thrilled, I agreed to go along.
Yet I thought about my mother, the planet’s number one aeronautic-neurotic. Major conversational editing ensued.
When she eventually found out about the long chopper ride, I did not dare tell her certain details. Namely, the swagger of the John Wayne-ish pilot, who mumbled things like “I hope I remember where those guy wires are.” I did not mention how I rode shotgun alongside this heli-cowboy. Or that on the post-sunset return flight he asked me to intermittently aim a flashlight at the dashboard so he could see the controls. At first I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t.
The flying-by-AAA-battery experience was magical. I can still picture the twinkling red and white lights of Interstate 35 way down below us, and the faintest hint of a salmon dusk to my west.
I realize my sons also need to light up their own dashboards to discovery and adventure. And I don’t have to know about every detail. Ignorance is bliss on a comfy chair. I want to learn just enough so I can warn them about the guy wires out there. But no specifics, kids. This year will be long enough.
Denise Snodell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @DeniseSnodell