By Dena Amoruso
The anticipation with which we looked forward to our trip to Europe was intense. After nearly eighteen years since our last trip there together, my husband and I were very much looking forward to being taken completely "out of our element" and transplanted in Greece, with its balmy Mediterranean breezes and starkly contrasting whitewashed houses and bright blue accents.
This anticipation, however, was not intense only in its excitement for travel; it was, rather, laced with a feverish worry about leaving our just-turned-17-year old pretty much on her own while we were gone.
We had lamentations of foreboding by friends and family that kids our daughter's age were famous for holding house parties, skipping school, and leaving a house in shambles, as depicted in many zany movies about leaving teenagers on their own. Our daughter was not unlike other teens trying to get away with murder while putting up a good front to those in authority all around her, but somehow we thought she was up to the task of holding down the fort, feeding the dog, staying in school, and keeping her part-time job, while not failing to neglect her social life in any way, shape or form.
We are not totally clueless, however. In the days and weeks preceding our departure, vital phone lists were drawn up, a holographic will (this was a strange task) came into being, and we arranged to rent a universal cell phone only for dire emergencies (and at two bucks a minute, I meant it), and enlisted the help of my best friend to stay at our house a few nights a week while we were gone. She was to oversee and make our daughter accountable to stay in touch by cell and home phone several times a day, but also around for the purpose of keeping the house from burning down. For her visits, my friend was to target the two most vulnerable days of week for her sleepovers (to our daughter's chagrin) -- Friday and Saturday nights with strict instructions to enforce the usual curfews.
After seventeen years of intense parenthood and the realization that our daughter was one of the fiercest individualists of her generation, we were not at all sure if we were asking for disaster. Our daughter's perennial protests at our "greedy" control over her life had us truly concerned that she might indeed take advantage of our absence in every way conceivable, even though her promises to the contrary sounded sincere.
The first few days of our trip were spent in disbelief that we were so far from home, and my motherly angst set in quickly about how crazy we must be to think our solitary offspring could function without us to get her up in the morning, feed her, and make her accountable for the most mundane aspects of daily life. Our ancient and exotic surroundings began to distract me, however, and I soon began to realize that there just wasn't much I could do from so far away no matter how much frenzy my conscious or unconscious senses could handle. So, I suppose I just had to "let go and let God" at one point.
If you are hanging on every word at this point, wondering if all the warnings we received about this experiment would come true, you can rest easy. As it turned out, our daughter performed admirably.
When we returned, we were to find things in mild disarray, but not disaster. The grass turned brown, the dog was fed at all the wrong times, resulting in occasional muddy-colored stains on our light beige carpeting, and the pool had a delightful green-algae tint to its appearance. But that was pretty much the extent of it.
Our offspring was late to school (this was nothing new) and got sick one day, but a call to the attendance office with the explanation of our voyage to points other-continental was excuse enough for her lapses in self-responsibility. She managed to keep her job at the factory outlet store, somehow stay fed and even raise a few grades while we were gone. During our periodic phone calls and frequent e-mails from "Internet cafes" around the Greek countryside, we sensed a loneliness in her that we didn't expect, accompanied by a tangibly-felt count-down to our return. This practically brought tears to our eyes and made us realize that our role in her life was not just one of dominion and persecution, but of attachment and emotional need - one we hadn't felt since her pre-teen years.
And it felt pretty darned good.
The icing on the cake, however, was a thoughtful and mature act she performed the weekend before our return. My custodial friend recounted how our daughter had come home from her job one Saturday with a small package under her arm. After handing the gift to her temporary guardian, she uttered words of thanks for "putting up with her" while we were gone. Upon hearing about this small but significant act, we felt as if hope sprung eternal for us as parents, and that God had showed us that all those years of tears, parenting books, and family counseling had paid off.
I guess we don't know how we're doing as parents until we take that leap of faith sometimes. That leap that says "okay, we micro-managed you all this time and now it's time to try out your wings," while we cross our fingers, say our prayers and ignore the well-meaning warnings of those around us. And it is perhaps that leap that gives us a precursor to what life will be like someday, when we are left with the sounds of our own voices instead of the pounding bass rhythms blasting from an upstairs stereo.
This experience will forever become a part of all our lives now. We may be telling the story about our experiment in parenthood repeatedly in the weeks and years to come, trying hard not to give ourselves credit for its outcome, because the real heroine in all this, was, after all, our daughter.