I owe you an Annual Vacation Odyssey post, and I will deliver on that tout suite. But in the meantime, I want to tell you about my darling Diva, whom I’ve shipped off to the Dominican Republic with a bunch of people she’s never met to run a summer camp for under-served children.
This idea hatched in my brain earlier this year as I watched her struggle through her freshman year of high school. It was like she was trudging through life with a beehive on her back, frequently getting stung and wondering where the fuck was this honey she’d been hearing so much about. Being 15 is hard, y’all. Do you remember? I don’t. I’ve blocked it out entirely.
Last February, I glimpsed into the future and envisioned a summer filled with Snapchat, Instagram, hurt feelings, tears, and hours and hours of Netflix, and decided she would need a break from privileged beachside living. I did some Googling and discovered that lots of companies have stepped up to address this apparently common problem of teen malaise – they offer service and leadership trips ranging from elephant rescue in Thailand and reforestation in South America to wilderness survival in Patagonia.
“Honey,” I said to my daughter, “I think you need to get away from here this summer. What do you think about going on a trip out of the country to do service work somewhere?” She browsed some links I sent her, and told me she liked the idea, but didn’t want to do anything including the word “wilderness,” and would prefer to work with kids.
I soon zeroed in on this Dominican Republic trip, a 16-day adventure offered by Rustic Pathways. The Husband and the Diva gave me lukewarm consent, so I quickly put down a deposit before anyone could say no, and for several months the trip resembled a refreshing oasis, beckoning from the distance. As departure date neared, I think the Diva started to see it more like a sinkhole, especially as she read the frequent updates and advice she received via Rustic Pathways. She worried about being kidnapped, what she would eat, and whether she would like anyone. I read a more detailed accounting of the itinerary; the first few days would be spent on a wilderness camping and hiking adventure to help the group bond. Whoops. (Note: You would not believe how much it costs to send your child to volunteer somewhere.)
With only a few days left, she was having trouble packing. “I think packing makes it seem more real,” she told me. I carefully did not say, This is fucking real, sister. You are getting on that plane. Instead, her dad and I stayed positive and upbeat, and talked about how envious we were.
On the day she left, we had a family breakfast before I drove her, both of us a little weepy, to the airport; I waited until she boarded and the plane lifted off, and had a panic attack as I drove home, wondering how sending my shopaholic, asthmatic 15-year-old daughter to an impoverished country with total strangers could possibly improve her life.
But it has. She called me on her third day, and I asked her about the other kids. “Oh, mom,” she said, “I love them so much.” The food? “Mom, the fresh pineapple is out of this world, and guess what? I ate mango!” Also, “hiking isn’t as bad as I thought.”
The day after she left, I took the younger kids to see the movie Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman recounts the life of Diana, who was living the dream as the daughter of the goddess Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. They lived on a mysterious hidden island paradise of women, where everyone practiced the arts of war. Diana doesn’t have a father because Hippolyta made her out of clay and then made Zeus breathe life into her. So, obviously, Diana is a goddess herself.
One day a World War I pilot crashes near the island, Diana saves him, and he tells her about the war. Diana and Hippolyta surmise it was started by Ares, the god of war, and Diana intuits that she must leave the island forever with the pilot in order to kill Ares with the God Killer sword, which she does. It doesn’t end the war, but her commitment convinces the pilot to fly a plane full of mustard gas into the sky and kill himself in order to crash the plane, burn up the gas, and thereby save thousands of lives. And in this way, Wonder Woman finds her raison d’etre, and lives forever young in present times, finding wrongs to right and evils to slay. I left the movie thinking how cool it would be to live on an island full of Amazonian women who could teach me the arts of war. But I also thought about how Hippolyta spent years training her daughter to be strong enough to fulfill her destiny, only to have her leave forever.
Hot Firefighter Husband believes children don’t belong to parents – that they’re just placed in our care in order for us to prepare them to be citizens of the world. I prefer to think of them as possessions – how else can I order them around? – but as they grow older, I see his point. We must train our children to be ready for their life’s purpose, and that includes pushing them out of their comfort zones.
My darling oldest girl will be her own version of a Wonder Woman one day, and she will fly from this house to find her place in the world. We can’t teach her everything she needs to know – but today my daughter will meet a child her age who cannot read, and in this way, begin to learn those lessons anyway, and move one step closer to leaving me. Holy Hippolyta, I will the need the strength of a thousand Amazons when that time comes. But the Diva, she’ll be ready.