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Spreading Her Wings: My Daughter is Studying Abroad

A few weeks ago, I dropped off my youngest daughter at the airport so she could fly an ocean away to study in Florence, Italy, for a semester of college. It’s the culmination of her lifelong dream to live in Europe.

My heart is breaking. I currently walk around with tissues all the time. Before she left, I would hide in the bathroom so she wouldn’t see me cry.

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As young as five, she would say, “I want to travel to Paris.” She never stopped yearning to see the world. So she, quite determinedly, applied for scholarships and loans so she could do this herself. And now, she is off on her grand adventure. My daughter, studying abroad.

The What-ifs

It’s difficult to describe the lurching in my gut when I go through all the Mom What-ifs.

What if she gets really sick? (She has bought health insurance there, but still…)

What if she needs me? (That’s what FaceTime is for.)

And don’t even get me started about thoughts about her getting pickpocketed, or losing her Visa or passport, or, or…. Remember the movie Taken? Where is Liam Neeson when I need him?

She was stressing too but bravely waved good-bye at the airport. (All right, so there were copious tears.)

The Mixed Emotions of Parenting

It’s not just the pain in my heart. Even her pesky 14-year-old brother is sad, and her dog curls up outside her room and acts mopey. For me, it’s a painful mix of grief and joy—which I have discovered is a mix of emotions very common in parenting. We root for them to leave the nest, to move on to the next stage of life, and eventually adulthood. But it doesn’t make it any less bittersweet.

None of that matters in the face of letting her spread her wings. As terrifying as some of this is, I am thrilled for her. I was never that brave to leave home and family and go overseas not knowing a soul.

Sometimes a child just knows what they want. For someone else, it might be a college far away, or a dream of sports or academic glory. They might be a musician, or an artist, with real talent, reaching for the stars. I’m not sure some kids seem to arrive in the world with a vision, a goal, that they never part with—but this child of mine certainly arrived that way.

Here’s the thing no one told me about parenting: They leave.

We parent our kids for these moments. Helping them figure out their dreams and finding their paths to follow.

Yet here I am, bereft, picking up the pieces of my own heart, pretending I’m not crying in the bathroom.

Just Imagine

But then I dry my tears and adjust my thinking. I imagine all she will see and do—cathedrals and museums. Cafes and Italy’s famous cuisine. Pizzas and fresh mozzarella. Yes, even the wine. She will learn Italian, since she pretty much only knows ciao right now. And from Italy as a home base, she plans to see Croatia, Paris, Munich, and Pompeii.

So my advice to her has been straightforward from the start: This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Do it all. And if you can toss in falling in love, so much the better. Just go. Go and don’t worry about who and what you leave behind.

Our kids are only young once. That spirit of adventure and fearlessness is what gives them the lift their wings need.

For more thoughts on studying abroad:

So, off she has gone, an ocean away. I used my box of tissues at the airport and on the ride home. And that’s okay, because it was be a visible sign to her that she is greatly loved and will be greatly missed. But she should go. And soar.

This is her time.

Erica Orloff is freelance writer and novelist based in Virginia. She is mom of four, a fanatical Yankees fan, and a collector of Buddha statues. Follow her on Twitter: @ericaorloff.

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