Years ago, I stayed overnight in the Spam capital of America: Austin, Minnesota. Although I skipped the museum tour, I did manage to meet an interesting woman. Divorced with a handful of teenagers–some biological, some adopted–she had just returned from two weeks abroad, traveling with her 14-year-old daughter. Just the two of them. While I didn’t need to be convinced of the value of travel–especially travel out of the USA–she convinced me and my spouse of the merits of traveling, one parent/one child, when that child is in the “middle place” between childhood and adulthood.
We came to regard this sort of journey as a “coming-of-age” trip. Our children learned of their future coming-of-age trips when we told our eldest child, on his 13th birthday, that when he got to that middle place, he could choose anywhere in the world to go with either his mother or his father. The only requirements: pick a place that has personal and/on potential meaningfulness, and disregard the choice of parent made by older siblings. (Side note: this means that one parent could end up going on four coming-of-age trips.)
Our now 16-year-old took my spouse to Spain and Portugal last year. The other day, I returned from Greece and Turkey with our 14-year-old.
Words cannot adequately express the value I found in spending two weeks with my “middle place” girl. Truly suspended between childhood and adulthood, she ranged from skipping stones on the Mediterranean Sea to posing provocatively for snapshots of herself in her tiny bikini on the fine grain sand.
Conversations ran the gamut from “eat your vegetables” to “social injustice as it pertains to access to clean water and medical care.” Like the breadth of activities that she skillfully navigated, her ability to be intellectually engaged was impressive, likely due to the absence of the usual distractions of “every day life.” Being present in a place without predictability and familiarity yields a discomfiting feeling which, if done with an open mind, comes close to excitement.
During our trip, we shared photos on social media. When asked to describe what consists of a “coming-of-age” trip, I gave the above description. But It occurred to me, the trip was so much more than a check mark on the list of “Stuff Parents Do for Their Kids before They Move Out.”
It was a rare opportunity for me to see my daughter as both a child and an adult. It was my chance to appreciate her first fourteen years concurrent with projections about the next forty, recognizing that I will likely only be witness to that much longer in her life.
Some folks commented that they, too, would take their children on a trip like this.
For it only takes the blink of an eye for that middle place to dissolve under the feet of a person who’d once been just a baby and now has the entire world (minus Greece and Turkey) to explore.