Last spring, our son was offered a spot in the George Washington University Paris Scholars' Program for his freshman year of college and our daughter was accepted as a Rotary exchange student in Sardinia, Italy, for her junior year of high school.
My husband and I were not surprised.
We had both grown up traveling and raised our children to do the same. Through family vacations and business trips, ranging from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to Lucknow, India, they learned the ins and outs of navigation, accommodations, and adventurous eating. The key, we reiterated on numerous occasions, is to plan ahead but remain flexible and keep an open mind. They were more prepared, both intellectually and emotionally, than we were.
What was a surprise is that they were listening. Davis and Isabel were each offered a unique opportunity, and they accepted without hesitation.
After wading through endless paperwork, visa applications, and packing requirements, we saw them off to France and Italy before we had a chance to digest what their sudden absence would feel like. We reassured ourselves that this was not the pre-cellphone era of expensive calls home by pay phone. Our parents had to wait weeks for us to respond to their tissue paper airmail letters. We could have a group text chat via WhatsApp and occasional FaceTime calls.
Within weeks of their departures, we adjusted to our new virtual family status. The six-hour time difference meant sometimes waking up to a dozen texts. Our son or daughter would initiate a conversation and then they would chat back and forth between themselves until one of us in the States woke up.
Through this text chain, we were united in ways I never anticipated: instant pics of unusual snow in Paris, fog in Sardinia, croissants, and pizza. In return we sent requested photos of our dog and cat, video clips from the Eagles' parade after the Super Bowl, and the occasional snapshot of a friend who missed them. We were sharing everything from the beautiful and sublime to the whimsical and mundane. Armchair traveling took on new meaning — we could spend the year being in three countries at once, as a family.
The idea of a reunion was often discussed. Rotary has a rule prohibiting visits before five months. For us that meant February, and weeks in advance our children began lobbying for a weekend get-together. Our son booked a hopper flight from Paris to Sardinia. His plane was delayed for hours, then canceled. The airline put him in an airport hotel and re-booked him on a 6 a.m. flight with two layovers. He spent almost 20 hours to get to his sibling.
Perhaps this had been the ultimate test of our flexible mindset. We are a family of travelers, and every trip is a gift.
Margaret Burton writes from Narberth.