2009.12.09 Kids: Give them wings or give them chairs?

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

The recent story in the news about the Seattle undergrad student convicted of murdering her British roommate while studying abroad in Italy prompted a conversation with my mother-in-law about my daughter Maddie’s impending trip to Thailand for environmental studies.

We didn’t think Maddie was the murdering type, but we talked about how worrying it is when kids travel abroad.

“Well, at least she isn’t going to Italy,“ Jackie said.

“But she is going to Italy,” I responded.

Or, at least that’s part of the ever-expanding plan: Thailand and Malaysia for the study abroad, Vietnam and Cambodia for fun, Indonesia to visit her aunt and uncle, Germany to visit a friend, Italy to work on an organic farm.

Luckily, not all travel abroad goes as planned. 

Just ask my son Ben and daughter-in-law, Sarah.

More than a year ago, they were set to relocate to Abu Dhabi for Ben’s job. They even fast-forwarded their wedding plans so they wouldn’t run the risk of getting put in jail for five years if they had been caught living together in the United Arab Emirate.

The departure date kept getting pushed back until eventually they decided they couldn’t live with the uncertainty anymore. It was December, Sarah would be resuming her old job teaching kindergarten (she had given it up when they were supposed to go to Abu Dhabi in early September) and they were getting a little tired of living life on hold. Ben told his boss he and Sarah wouldn’t consider moving until after school got out in June. And, then, the bad economy hit over there and opening an office in Abu Dhabi was put on hold indefinitely. 

I was sorry Ben and Sarah would miss out on the excitement and experience, but I must say I was so relieved—Abu Dhabi and Dubai (where he would also have been working) are just a little too close to Iraq and Iran for my comfort.

It’s not about me; I know that. But worry is my other full-time job and now that I don’t have to fret over their proximity to unstable countries, I barely even think about the hurricanes that come their way in Miami—and Rozee and Taylor’s in New Orleans. It’s like, now that we dodged the hotbed-of-instability bullet, hurricanes are nothing.

But Maddie in Thailand. Oy. Typhoid and polio. Hepatitis and meningitis. Malaria and diarrhea. Dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis. My brain zooms right in on the worst that could happen.

Oy, oy, oy. Pure excitement at the idea of her pursuing this journey—proud that my baby is heading out on an adventure without knowing anybody in an unknown territory—and pure dread at what could befall her.

“You can’t worry,“ said Jackie. “You either live...or you sit in a chair.” 

That sounded like pretty profound advice to me.

“Are you quoting somebody or did you make that up?” I asked.

“Well, I just said it now,” she said.

And she did. I googled that line—I figured an observation of that magnitude must have been said by someone famous and I wanted to attribute it correctly—but I didn’t find anything remotely similar to her comment.

Live—or sit in a chair. Of course, those aren’t the only choices, but it pretty much sums it up—take the bull by the horns or  watch the world go by. 

I started reading “Eat, Drink and Be from Mississippi” by Nanci Kincaid just after Jackie made that wise comment, and the same theme appears there.

Courtney comes home from college in nearby Jackson, Miss., and announces that she’s quitting school and moving out to California to enroll in art school in San Francisco.

Her parents are devastated and her brother is disgusted with her for making their parents unhappy. Courtney tries to make her brother, Truely, understand her decision.

“I’m trying to be an adult here, True,” Courtney said. “Adults make decisions about how to live their lives. They don’t just follow the path of least resistance.”

Twenty-eight pages and a few years later, Truely is about to follow in his sister’s footsteps. His father still isn’t happy about his children leaving home.

“I don’t like it—that’s all. My daughter so far off. Now you leaving too. Makes me wonder what we should have done that we didn’t.”

Probably should have taught them how to sit. Maybe bought them La-Z-Boy super duper Reclina-Rockers that offer massages and heat.

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