Launching a child is a difficult thing to do at any age for both parent and child. So how does a parent let go? How do you say bon voyage to your baby?
This past week, I helped launch my last child. She packed her suitcases for a year of over seas studies in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. It’s 26 hours by plane. We all held our breath as this remarkable young woman took her first flight. After taking her to the airport and dropping her off at the gate to find her own way, her sister, Molly, and I shared a good cry.
Crying helps to let go. “I feel my own childhood is walking out of my life,” lamented Molly. “I just hope she’s OK.” I reminded Molly over lunch how Anne is one of those enigmas with teeth. Truly the mud lark, a tomboy from early on, she discovered charm at 5’10” when she put on her first sized eight slinky dress and smiled.
“Ah, hah,” she said. “So this is what it’s all about.” “And then she stole nearly everything she could get her hands on. Remember mom, if it was missing, it was in her room.” “I remember,” I said as I also remembered the lovely red head with the jaw bone from a renaissance German painting gliding easily into any arena.
At twenty, she finds most things intellectually easy. She finds pre law a breeze. “I just remember everything,” she says lightly, and then can’t find her car keys, her wallet or her head. She finds reading music off a page a natural ability, she played the tuba for the junior philharmonic, and of all ungodly instruments, and actually did solos.
A high scale restaurant chef since she was sixteen, she views handling cooking for a whole busy restaurant part of a night’s work. “I had a party of 37. I wish we had another burner,” she passively suggests climbing into a hot bubbled tub.
Now she’s in the Middle East . “I hate flying,” she told me over the phone. “I have mother syndrome. I kept asking if it was normal. Then we landed in Jordan and the bathroom was a hole in the ground.” Anne wants to look at the Arab world from the inside out. “It’s the new political combat zone. If I am serious about international law, it’s the place to be, and as far as I know, they aren’t blowing up Sharjah like they are London .”
So how do we rear a child like Anne? Do we really want one? She started out her father’s delight. At six, Anne would come into the kitchen and make “ordurves.”
She would pour two glasses of brandy and she and her dad would watch Hercule Poirot. She loved sports, politics and history and fielded difficult questions from her professor father with a sly eye and an opinion cast in iron.
Anne was never grounded, never punished, never in trouble. She made friends of adults quickly and was often the favorite, but had few peers and fewer close friends. She played baseball with a vengeance and made the President’s Physical Fitness and President’s Academic Fitness in grammar school.
Now it all seems so far away. From the desert she writes: "In the mornings and at night here there is a wonderful cool. The mornings are my favorite time. I wake early and listen for the sound of the morning prayer called the fatihah. In this huge city there are mosques on every corner. There are mosques everywhere. One cannot go more than 100 feet without running into an absolutely gorgeous mosque, even in the desert.
But when they call the fatihah, it almost brings tears to my eyes. The entire city stops. The sounds of the prayer echoes off of the huge buildings, and people race into the mosques. Everything is silent in a huge city. It is really something. Very beautiful."
Rearing a child like Anne takes stamina and courage. She was always a different kind of child. Now letting go seems to be just part of another busy week. I keep telling myself that sending a child off to school 8 thousand miles away is not the usual order, but Anne is not on most family menus. I’m glad she’s mine.