In the last days before your trip, everyone has been anxious; your sister has pouted relentlessly. Today, your brother was actually ill. No one wants you to be away.
I helped you pack and re-pack your suitcase; somehow you got your mask, snorkel, and flippers in your suitcase. I’m not even certain you’ll need them, but you were so pleased with your masterful packing skills that I couldn’t argue with you.
“Yyup,” you nodded. “I need them.”
When you packed your copy of Mockingjay, I know it is strictly for my benefit; we both know you’ll only use your iPod, but you realized that I can’t wrap my mind around the concept of bookless travel (I tend to have a novel in my purse at all times).
On the drive (which took about an hour) to the International Student Exchange meeting, I find myself lecturing on good manners and speculating on what you should expect. In 72 hours, you’ll know more about Europe than I do, but you listen to me, grinning.
“You have to use vous when you talk to adults,” I insisted. “It’s rude if you use tu.”
“Don’t worry, I will.”
“I would have felt better if you had answered: “Ne vous inquiétez pas””.
At the meeting, the exchange organizers tried to provide the parents and students with some useful tips. They were particularly descriptive about alcohol use, and they indirectly told parents who endorse prohibition: “Too bad for vous.” They described European habits of embracing and kissing, and they warned us that Canadians are considered cold, because we are known for backing away from these affectionate greetings. You shifted from leaning into your dad to snuggle into me. I’m so glad that you’ll be hugged while you’re gone.
You are the most affectionate person I have ever known. I have tried to show you my love through a simple rule: I’m never the first to let go a hug. Most of your hugs are quick; when I feel you pull away, then I let go. Sometimes you hold onto me longer; I am there for you as long as you need me.
Outside of airport security, I held you for a long time. Then, I felt you pull away. Bravely, you turned and went. Your dad and I watched you, until you passed through the barrier.