I stood near security at Newark Airport, watching his brown hair bob past the inspectors as he continued around the corner towards duty-free. My son Conor was off to Costa Rica for a term abroad.
By himself. Alone.
I prayed he would get there without hassle. Conor knew some Spanish already; he went to Costa Rica to learn more as he completed his sophomore year at college. His father and I planned this as the first step in a launch—eventually he should live on campus and get a life of his own, just as we did.
That evening we learned Conor was settling into his room in a house with several other students, run by his ‘Tica Momma’ and her child. For the next three months, he got himself to class and learned the ropes of the university, while spending nearly every weekend on college-sponsored trips around Costa Rica. In this enchanting land he experienced volcanoes, did research in the cloud forest, went horseback riding, visited beautiful waterfalls and got sunburned on Tortuga Island while swimming in the Caribbean Sea.
Back at the empty nest, I practically bulldozed his room. All the well-worn bedding was discarded, along with six garbage bags of junk and other clothes that needed disposal. One garbage bag was full of just tee shirts. It’s amazing how many tee shirts a person can acquire when charity walks, souvenirs, gifts from the parents and volunteer activities give them out for free. I labelled drawers, organized storage boxes and sorted out the closet. I bought new bedding for Conor’s room and made up the bed. The place looked good. Even my house cleaner remarked on how spacious the bedroom seemed now.
Meanwhile, Conor was learning life lessons in Costa Rica. His Tica Momma quickly reminded everyone of the cultural rules—in Tica households, people linger after dinner and share news of the day with each other. The Tica cats in the house urinated on stuff lying on the floor, so the students quickly learned to pick up clothes and tidy their rooms. These were important lessons—and I was very grateful I wasn’t the one who had to teach them.
When Conor overslept one Saturday, missing the university bus to a weekend field trip, he figured out the local transportation and took it there on his own. He was startlingly good at managing his finances across the different currencies.
Back in America, with fewer people around we decided to make changes. Out went old rugs and the large sectional couch from the living room. In came new replacements: a lovely red sofa with chairs and two rugs I designed online. The winter continued on without snow, saving me from shovelling the driveway and front walk without Conor, who usually drove the snow blower in one place while I shovelled out the other.
We all communicated on Skype, but that doesn’t replace reality. It took Conor awhile to realize the chair I was sitting in wasn’t the same color as the furniture he remembered from home. In turn, when we finally visited Costa Rica, I almost didn’t recognize the long haired young man with a beard that slid into the chair next to me at the Grand Hotel and greeted me with “Hola Mama.”
From the time he was small, I made it my business to take my son on overseas trips. Half of his extended family lived in Northern Ireland and the rest were in America. The kid needed to know how to move seamlessly between two very different cultures. Conor traveled with me to Italy in sixth grade when he studied ancient civilizations. Wherever I went on a day trip at home, he was my buddy. Whether in Spain, touring Iceland, dancing at Irish family weddings or on a day trip to Montreal, Conor became my favorite traveling companion. My son was reasonably cautious but fearless, observant and polite, eager to engage local people and try new foods and experiences. He wanted to see it all.
Conor became an independent traveller, the kind of person who experiences his world from the cheap seats, with local people who have the most fun of all.
This fall, my son moved into the college dorms where life became less about home and more about studying and living on his own. When Conor came home for dinner or a weekend, now it was like having a friend around; not the child you always had to watch over. Much nicer, if you ask me.
But Dear Readers, I have to say goodbye. I hope you have enjoyed the stories in Parenting Express about that little guy and his mom traveling together around the world. My child has grown into a young man now, into the best kind of person I could hope for in this life. And there’s a lot more of the world to see.
We’ll still travel together. I hope for a long, long time.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem