My neighbours just returned from a month overseas. Their young daughter was with them and by all accounts, had a wonderful time. She adapted so well to the European school (similar to our pre-kindergarten) that she didn’t want to leave. No matter that she couldn’t speak the language! When I told this story to Gill, she commented: “Oh, Ma…they’ll rue the day. They’re creating another person who can’t stay in one place long enough to get a library card — just like me. I loved travelling to different places when I was little and now you can’t keep me at home! Bet you wish you could have a re-do on that one, huh?”
I guess that’s the price one pays for having children able to swear in four languages, bribe the police or other figures of authority in three, and find the cheapest (note I didn’t say ‘cleanest’ or best) youth hostel in any major city.These are useful talents and they’re guaranteed to doom the child to a life of wandering the world in search of new adventures…or riches. I did the same thing to my parents (although in a limited way) when I left them in the dust for California years ago. Payback is a bitch, I think you’ll find…
But I am grateful to Mr. Jobs et al for inventing services like iChat and Skype. I am now able to see, as well as hear, how tired, sick, or just plain irritated Gill is from week to week. This is something my parents were never able to benefit from. As I quickly learned back in the Dark Ages, a cheery letter can gloss over many things. Your kid is able to hide nothing when you’re looking him or her in the face. As they say, the camera shows all. A mother can tell if something is wrong. A mother can tell if her kid is hungover. All the debauchery shows up in living colour on the screen.The child is unable to hide the bruises from last night’s bar fight or that nasty encounter with a mean grizzly bear (I am thinking here of Crazy D and his northern adventures…)
Children do develop a skewed vision of ‘normal’ when they are hauled around the world. If they are Canadian children, they soon come to believe everyone spends Christmas on the beach, building sandcastles instead of shivering in two feet of snow. They think nothing of a steady diet of luscious tropical fruit instead of chawing down on moose steaks and other fatty meats designed to build up the layer of fat (blubber) they need to keep them warm. Okay, so I exaggerate a little…substitute a Mickey D burger with fries and you’ll see where I’m going with this.
They will absorb the customs of foreign places and, when set down again in their home environment, will annoy the natives (neighbours and teachers) with their tendency to call adults by their first names instead of the reverential ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ I do believe Gill’s experiences along this line almost landed her on a shrink’s couch…they certainly found her joining The Principal for regular afternoon chats. Until she was ten, Gill assumed it was normal to have llamas and buffalo as her next door neighbors. Crazy D was so confused he wore his wool coat and cowboy boots to the California beach and developed a dislike for the sun that haunts him to this day. And L’il Sis lived her first year in a clothes closet — a situation I am convinced led to her career in fashion design. Yup, be careful what you show your kids, dear readers.
Your world travelling kids will know, with an expertise that is frightening, how to pack a suitcase in ten minutes or less. They won’t have a clue how to make a bed…no matter, they spend most of their time in a hotel room where somebody else does it for them or in a sleeping bag where tidiness is the least of their worries. They may lose their lunch boxes, homework or school books when they are doomed to put in time in their own city, but they know how to hide and protect their passports so nobody pilfers them. These kids have security issues down!
They may not know how to run errands such as get milk from your local grocery store, but you can be absolutely certain they know how to arrange a round-the-world trip online…complete with the best airline deals, discount safari rates, and best way to reserve a camel for that little jaunt across the desert. They will always ‘know a guy who knows a guy’ with just the right connections, equipment, or scenic spot…not to mention best eatery frequented by locals, location of the nearest Amex office from which to procure money from parents, and hottest club to meet guys/girls (depending on their orientation).
Even those, like Gill, who hate change and are somewhat creatures of habit, will learn to adapt. And isn’t that, above all, what we want our kids to learn? Of course it is. Of course, that often leads us, the parents, the ones keeping the home fires burning, schlepping to the store for the milk, making the beds when they take off for other parts unknown, minding the pets they leave behind, worrying about the dangerous/awkward/ridiculous situations they find themselves in. Ah, but what else are parents for? Worry and money…that about covers it.