Posted on June 28, 2011
Our oldest daughter Emma tonight boarded a plane bound for London and then Damascus, Syria.
Lots of friends and family members and colleagues have heard that plan and then paused and asked, “Well, aren’t you worried?” Indeed, I’m pretty sure Emma’s grandparents are filling out the nomination forms for the Worst Parents In The World Competition convinced that they have a winner with us. After all, we are letting Em return to the turmoil of a country that seems in the middle of a meltdown. Of course, the idea of “letting” Em do something is a funny notion. This is the kid that lived in a subsistence level African village right after high school, embedded as a photographer with the 101st Airborne in Iraq, and worked in an asylum for three months to collect oral histories. I’m not sure we “let” her do any of those things. Put another way, I’ve earned my gray hair.
Yet, we are not oblivious to risk and she is not reckless. In Syria right now the violence is taking place in places sealed off by the military and no Westerner is getting remotely close to those areas. No violence is being directed towards Westerners. Emma’s apartment is in an area that everyone agrees would be among the last places to be affected. We have an agreement: if the Red Cross and Europeans send families out, she will go. So are worried? Sure, but I worried when she went to the Mall of NH, walked across the Brown campus at night, and drove after 10 PM. Still, I will await her daily text message check in and sleep better if things quiet down in Syria.
I guess I’m being philosophical and saying that the world is always dangerous if you are at the wrong place at the wrong time. We’d be paralyzed if we couldn’t bury that thought, because it is the daily reality with which we live.. For example, I’m sure those poor parents who sent their kids to Virginia Tech only to see them perish in a senseless killing some years ago would have thought the campus infinitely safer than Damascus. And yes, the violence in Syria is terrible right now if you seek it out or if it comes to you. It’s not a haven of safety and order. However, with 32,000 handgun deaths in America last year, one might say the same thing about the US. Actually, if one is not near one of the areas of strife, Syrian streets are far safer than ours.
Syria is also a part of the world she loves, the place where her boyfriend works as a journalist (if you have heard Phil Sands interviewed on NPR you’ve heard him), the setting for the novel she is writing, and a culture she has come to deeply appreciate and enjoy. When Em and Han were born my wish for them was that they would lead “big” lives, embracing and not fearing the world, shaping their lives on their terms and not the conventions to which we too often surrender. I guess that the rewards that come with an expansive life also carry more risk than the routine and while the thought of harm befalling either of them is too painful to contemplate, so would be lives lived in quiet, soul-deadening desperation. So I’ll sleep less well and live vicariously, knowing that if I were in Em’s shoes I’d be on that plane too. Where else would one want to be?
The funk I’ll be in these next couple of days will not be about where Em is now. It will be where she isn’t. We are never happier than when our girls are with us and with Emma’s graduation a month ago we will not have the easy access to her we loved when she was in Providence. Thank God that Hannah has another year there!
It remains the great irony of parenting that if you do the job really well — if you prepare your kids to venture out in the world and make a life — they will leave you. At least for periods of time. In what other area of life do we work incredibly hard to send off that which we want to hold onto more than anything else? That’s why that first drop off at daycare is so hard. Why parents keep finding excuses to linger at the dorm on drop off day. Why they cry at the ostensibly happy event of a wedding. Or at the airport when they see their “kid” walk through the security gate and venture off again for the next adventure. It’s the letting go when all you want to do is hold on.
Parenting. It’s not for the weak.