Tomorrow morning is a big day, one in which I will put Petunia on an airplane by herself for the first leg of a journey that, after a stop to see grandparents, will end with her spending five weeks at my former prep school. Cue the emergency broadcast system: This is a test. This is only a test. Normal life will resume in August with the start of eighth grade.
I am not panicked. Beginning at age 5, I flew on planes by myself. (Seriously. The pilots used to carry me on and off the planes themselves, and I would sit in the cockpit sometimes during flight. Those were different years!) And she is heading to a place that I love like none other. An old schoolmate is her summer dean. Bunches of friends live in the area. I can let her go because sending her to my school is akin to sending her to extended family.
But there is so much more to this moment than my not-panicking and wondering, as my mother did, if she will be able to cross the street sensibly -- for I remember this moment. I remember the first time I left home to live somewhere else for a summer. And in my case, it did not go well at first.
The summer before I left for prep school, when I was 15, I stayed with a family in the Basque region of France as an exchange student. Rewind with me for a moment: these were the days before Al Gore invented the internet -- or, at least, before its use became widespread. To prepare for this trip, we located my little town on a map. We used an encyclopedia. We knew they had a different language in the region, but the family spoke French. It said so, right there on the sheets of paper that matched me to my host family.
Two days into my adventure, sleep-deprived and terrified at the height of the Cold War, I snuck into the family's telephone closet and dialed America somehow on a rotary phone. (Mad skillz, that took.) Reaching my mother in the middle of the night, I assured her that I had been kidnapped by Russians, because these people sure did not speak French. And I spoke a little bit of Russian, and I still did not understand what the heck they were saying. Something was terribly amiss, and I needed help.
I am not sure how she did it, but I am pretty sure that my mother reached the Ambassador himself, for someone came calling for me the next day. My bags were packed, and I was hopeful to leave for France without further delay since I obviously was not there yet. Within minutes, though, much laughter ensued. That funny language? Basque, of course -- a dying language, and one that actually was their home tongue. While the family spoke French to me, they did not speak it among themselves. They course-corrected well, and thank God I stayed -- I was among few Americans the town had seen since World War II. Elderly Basque would beckon me over, "Venez ici! J'ai une histoire à vous raconter." (Come here! I have a story to tell you.)
Now, sometimes people in the greater Boston area do not sound like they speak our same English -- but I am confident that Petunia will be able to understand them. I am sure that she will find her way to her classrooms and to the gym and way too often to Dunkin Donuts since we lack those on the Left.
I am excited for her. I know what this moment meant to me once upon a time. And I remember my first days on that glorious campus. I never got homesick, for I was where I belonged. Will she feel the same? Time will tell. And time will also tell if this is a five week thing, or if I will lose her to the school for good in another year. Until then, watch me stand back and see my firstborn fly. As I sung to her as a baby:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night*
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
Be free, Petunia. Spread your wings and fly. I have raised you so that you would be able to leave the nest, and I know that you can. I cannot wait to watch your flight path from afar. xo Mama
(*Even the Basque would know that lyric is from "Blackbird" by the Beatles.)