I hear it a lot.
“You have sent such a tiny little girl all that far away!!”
The refrain comes from various quarters, family, close and extended; even friends and those seeing her for the first ever time.
My reaction is uncertain. I am never able to pin the proportion of concern, blame or awe in that phrase. Is it an exclamation? An accusation? Or plain, good old disapproval? They could even be marvelling.
It is true that she has flown a distance and most certainly, her frame might be called petite. Add to that her chronological place in the family; being the younger will always peg her as the junior, the little one, the kid sister, and the smaller, irrespective of the passage of life she might be traversing at the time of these observations.
She has been travelling yes, living with strangers, moving over unfamiliar territory, discovering her pace in alien cultures, sustaining on exotic fare and foreign air. I have gone over the map of strangeness she must have to traverse over and over. Are there moments of crushing loneliness that first night in a strange bed? How often do the bouts of anxiety strike over the local security systems and formal procedures? What is the degree of denial that takes place in situations she is not at ease enough to seek help? How wholesome and healthy are her emotional negotiations in spaces she has no prior knowledge of?
It takes a lot. There is the pre-departure preparation. The mandatory drill of Visa acquisition, pondering over luggage content and weight, airport transit Visa where needed, currency exchange, baggage tags, first aid box, online familiarisation with the country she is approaching, establishing some form of contact with what will be her nodal host agency, working out her international communication protocol over differing time zones….it is unending.
Would it have been easier to have her closer home? For the family, most certainly, that would have given us a greater degree of control and ease of operation. Her cheery, tongue-in-cheek presence would have buoyed up the evenings. There would have been the joy and pride in her steady growth and accomplishments. One doesn’t need J K Rowling’s imagination to fathom the bonus reason there would have been to spring up from the bed each dawn. But the thing to ask is, “Who is this about?” Is it about the child and her unpainted canvas or the parents who would be wary of risks? What is owed, how much, by and to whom?
What will it be for our young? Order, safety and convenience or lives free of fear, guilt, shame and self-doubt? Years lived inside high walls of custom and tradition or the core autonomy of being? The excuse of having borne external decisions or the consequences of one’s personal courage and conviction? A morbid hark- back to what might have been as against an edgy touchdown amidst unfamiliar challenges?
It is the reason I go clinical on the drive to the airport. There are the constant backward glances at the passenger seat, in vain attempts to frame imprints of her face. The goodbye hug is over before the mind is able to record her aura sharp enough to last until her next visit home. As we re- enter the silent home, echoes lunge out from spots she has just vacated. There is nothing left to do but to track her flight. It is only when she lands safely that the slackness comes.
It emerges all over again that parenting really is in letting go, in allowing them their spaces to evolve, in making it possible for them to meet life at the front door, in acknowledging that flesh of your flesh they might be but they are individual persons with a life map their own. Attachment, need, togetherness are merely the illusory fuels that crank the business of living. Truth be told, there is a song that they hear in their heads, a path uncoiling ahead. There should be happiness enough just over some shared notes. Not to bemoan or sigh therefore, but to cheer and whistle them on!