When I was a junior in college I spent a semester in Zimbabwe. It is embarrassing to remember how little I knew about the country; I picked it because it sounded so, so far away. When I was a senior in college I decided to move to Kathmandu after graduation because i had nothing better to do and one day when I was in the bath listening to the radio the Cat Stevens which repeatedly mentions the capitol's name came on. These experiences led to a love of travel and adventure which led to my study of public health - a subject I find fascinating and inspiring but also a means to the end of seeing new places and meeting new people.
|Me, at graduation from Public Health School, 2004|
As a child there was no grand master plan for me - no predetermined path to follow or hoops to jump through. There was me doing what I loved at the moment and my parents making room for it in our lives without ever becoming so invested that I felt like it was either no longer mine or that I couldn't stop for fear of disappointing them.
While I'm pretty sure they didn't do it on purpose, they also instilled in me an attitude of excitement, not fear, about the world. I lived in Durham, North Carolina until I went to college but we traveled a lot. Road trips bouncing around in the back of the station wagon for the 2 day drive from NC to Detroit, family "skiing" trips to West Virginia where the hand-me-down Oldsmobile from grandma with the red velvet interior almost slid off a cliff, summers at the North Carolina coast. We went to NYC regularly to see family and for my parents to play concerts and I learned how to hail a cab with confidence, navigate the subway system, part the tide of a busy street enough to make some forward progress and walk with confidence on dark quiet streets. We also flew to England to visit my grandparents. I can't remember a time when I didn't have a passport, when I didn't know how to get through customs, when I wasn't aware that there are ways of doing things that differ from what people do in the south.
Not that things always went perfectly but when I was mugged in Boston my parents asked if I was OK and called to check in every day for a few weeks. They never suggested I stop going places by myself at night. When I called from a Michael Jackson concert in South Africa and the phone cut off because a riot broke out they didn't call INTERPOL, they didn't even yell at me when I finally called back a few weeks later, they just asked if I was ok and if I wanted a plane ticket home and when I said no they let it go.
I want to do the same for my kids. I don't want them to be afraid of the world, or of things they don't know. I want them to Embrace the unknown with the naive belief that everything will be ok in the end as long as they are kind and open. (I also want to somehow bequeath to them the dumb luck that got me out of many, many a self-made sticky situation). Above all, I want them to follow their hearts, to pursue their dreams, to be able to sit with themselves when those dreams wane or fail to come to fruition, or when they don't exist. I want them to be able to walk away, to come home, to never let too long pass between sobbing and shaking over a scary experience and laughing and getting ready for the next trip.