A week after my youngest child left to once again study in another country, I shocked myself.
I was enjoying a peaceful morning, sipping some coffee, when two thoughts hit me like double lightning bolts: I did not know the name of the university where he was studying and worse — the real zinger — I did not have his apartment address.
The short answer is, I never asked. I had the country and the city down, so there was that. But anyone who knows me well would likely consider this brief, blissful ignorance way out of character.
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I was never a raging helicopter parent, but I’ve been known to have my brain hover over my sons’ well-being. There were chopper moments, but the spinning blades have all been related to health and safety, as opposed to orchestrating my children’s life paths.
I would say now I’m more of a toy-drone-in-a-hurricane mom. I’m up there aimlessly buzzing off course, all desperate for glimpses of my boys’ status quo. But in truth I’m whipping around in the gale-force winds of an inner voice yelling, “Oh come on lady, geez, they’ve got this now.”
Looking back on the build-up to this recent glitch of not knowing where my son was living or studying is kind of funny. I went through the first stage of receiving his final study abroad announcement with, “Gulp, really? Is it safe there? What about a different country?”
Once plans were locked up, the next stage was sitting with him to witness a Google street view of his assigned neighborhood. I didn’t want to and I don’t recommend this activity to any parent.
I was still recovering from a previous peek. The charming, leafy, cobblestone aesthetic of a study abroad brochure was definitely not there.
So you would think during the more recent street view session I would have jotted down the actual address, but I was too focused on looking for broken windows and crime scene tapes and chalk outlines of bodies. There weren’t any (that I could see) so I distracted myself with positivity until the day he took off.
And that’s roughest stage, aside from enduring the semester as a parent. The airport.
Between sharing jokes and looking down at the glittery, galactic-themed floor tiles of MCI, I gave him the biggest hugs my muscles allowed. I lectured him about the safety stuff he already knows. Always pay attention to your surroundings. Never trust overly charming people. Wear sunscreen. Drink filtered water.
With welled-up eyes, I waved to him as he was swallowed into the airport security maze. I didn’t realize my smile might have had undertones of Study Abroad Mom exhaustion and, “Have the best time at…wherever!”
The deeper explanation for the unexpected glitch of not knowing where my son was living or studying is I recognize he’s a responsible young adult. This is his fourth time living in a foreign country and he is now absolutely fluent in a second language.
He’s strong, he’s savvy and he’s a natural at befriending and appreciating people of all cultures. Plus, high five to satellites, I remind myself he’s always a few cell screen taps away. That’s if I don’t think about the time his former phone went swimming in South America.
But no worries, my world traveler texted his specific whereabouts after my belated inquiry. Now the important information is somewhere in my messages. Somewhere…if I scroll way back.
Could this apparent cavalier behavior mean I’m finally, finally becoming a free-range parent? I’ll figure that out once I convince myself the kid packed a warm enough jacket.
Reach Denise Snodell at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DeniseSnodell