Our family spent this week in Iceland. We love to travel, and love to travel together. For years we have spent most major holidays out of the country, in out of season locations, since travel is much cheaper to travel at times, and to places, that no one in their right mind would choose.
During the past few trips, though, we have had to hone our routine to accommodate Ben's growing independence. A few years ago, we traveled to Dublin (a favorite family meeting place) and had to get used to Ben disappearing with his cousins after we had settled in for the night. In January we visited Beijing and Shanghai, and he went out on the town(s) with another young man we met on the trip, a seasoned traveler who had lived in a number of different countries and spoke passable Mandarin.
This time, he went out on his own. There was a soccer game he wanted to see on the first night of our visit, and Bill and I were too tired to accompany him. He donned his Chelsea jersey, promised to stay in touch, and disappeared—for six hours.
We hadn't realized that the new international texting feature on our phones was wifi dependent, and so Ben didn't bother to connect to the wifi in the bar he ended up in. He made new friends, watched several matches, and texted us every hour to update us. There was no indication that his texts weren't going through. He assumed we weren't responding because we were asleep.
On our end, we were sending frantic texts—also with no indication that they weren't being delivered. We imagined him trapped in unimaginable situations in a strange city. We tried to distract ourselves by talking, reading, and reassuring each other that he would walk in at any second.
The whole thing was ridiculous. He is 20 years old, and has traveled on his own before. Reykjavik is a small, safe city, where he was probably much less at risk than he is at home in NYC. He is one of the smartest, most levelheaded and responsible people I know. There was truly nothing to worry about.
Yet this parenting reflex doesn't seem to relax just because our kid is launched. I had the same twist in my stomach as I did when he was two and wandered away in the grocery store, or when he was twelve and didn't come home for dinner because he had forgotten to tell me he had soccer practice after school. I wonder whether I will still be worrying like this from the nursing home, or from the grave.
We had an otherwise great time, including seeing the Northern Lights, geysers, an amazing waterfall, and a glacier, and crossing from North America into Europe and back.
We are already planning our next trip, for the spring, and I am mentally preparing myself for the next step in separation. I don't know what that will be, but I have already vowed to take up prophylactic meditation.