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Emma with her packs and mini-mandolin.

Emma with her packs and mini-mandolin.

Well, there she is. My nineteen-year-old baby off on a gap year. Okay, so it’s not exactly a year, but close ‘nough. Over the next eight months, she will be living and working in Equador, China, India and South Africa. She’ll have “enrichment” weeks like climbing Machu Picchu, visiting the killing fields in Phnom Penh, riding camels across the dessert, and going “on safari” in Africa. For the majority of her time, though, she will be working with NGOs in each location. She’s not doing this alone, but with a group of other students her age and three adult advisors.

Over the last year, we have talked about this trip to countless people. It’s hard to not have to go into some explanation why you need to buy a particular kind of clothing, shoe, or back-pack-like item. We spent ten minutes at the bank talking to the teller before she counted out the one and five dollar bills she needed. (Equador is the first stop and they use the American dollar as currency.) Emma posted about how inadequate and tiring it can be to talk about something in brief snippets in her first blog post.

When talking about the trip,the responses I get from other parents land pretty squarely in two camps. The first is enthusiastic, and the second is a large-eyed dismay covered quickly with a tentative question about how I feel about it. I know I am generalizing here, but the younger a child the parent has, the less enthusiastic they are. It makes sense. If you have a little baby, you can hardly begin to imagine them at a friend’s house for a sleep over let alone sending them around the world. I know when Emma was little, I used to worry about how she would do overnight, let alone for 8 months.

After reflecting on her preparation for this trip, I realize that a lot of how ‘okay’ I am with this has to do with the fact with how ‘okay’ she is with it. Sure, she was pretty nervous yesterday when we waved her off, but it was clear her excitement outweighed her nervousness. Part of this does have to do with her education and how it trained me to accept her leaving in incremental baby steps.

I’ve written about Waldorf education in the past, and most of you know I have a love-hate relationship with it. Her experience with the various class trips she had is something to LOVE about Waldorf. Starting in third grade, she went on an overnight sleep away experience on a farm. In fourth grade she was gone for two nights for their Potlatch, in fifth grade it was the Olympiad, and so on. In high school, they upped the ante and sent the kids on week long back-packing, hiking, and service trips. Each time, the experience got a more difficult or involved. Her final senior class trip included rebuilding a trail in Oregon. Each trip taught Emma something new about herself and how to cope with being away from home, family, and creature comforts. And, each taught me something new about myself as a parent and how to let go.

Am I worried? Yes and no. I know that Emma has the where-with-all and reserves to handle the home-sickness, lack of technology, and various other social issues that will come up. I am worried about the things I can’t control–the unexpected and random stuff that happens. Weather, earthquakes, crazy people, illness–they exist everywhere. The fact that I won’t be around to help her through anything like that…well, that’s the hard part.

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