As I write this, my daughter Riley, a junior in high school, is preparing for a spring break trip—a cruise from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, Barbados, and other islands I have only dreamed of visiting.
She’ll be traveling with two of her best friends, as well as the family of one of those girls.
It will be Riley’s first real vacation (with cars, planes and ships, thousands of miles from home) without my wife and I. We can’t help but be a little concerned. She’s our little fish in the big Caribbean Sea. But, we’ve been reasoning that this is good for all parties involved. These nine days away will prepare her (and us) for her eventual nest-exodus in a year and a half when she heads off to college. Besides, being away from us for so long will give Riley the opportunity to finally appreciate her parents (okay, probably not likely from our 16-year old).
We had all of the families of the girls over to our home last weekend for a potluck dinner. We discussed trip details, which islands they’d be visiting, excursions, costs, and most importantly, safety and expectations: never go into someone else’s cabin (no matter how cute he might be), always stick together (if one has to pee, three have to pee), be aware of your drink (if you lose sight of it, discard and get another), listen to your chaperones (or this will be your last trip until your honeymoon) and so on.
We felt a bit more at ease after our dinner. Then, the Brussels Airport was bombed. That reminded us that anything could happen to anyone at anytime…anywhere. Our anxiety levels rose and we questioned ourselves:
Are we really making the right choice letting her go?
Should we keep our daughter home with us in order to ensure her safety?
What if something happens to her?
We couldn’t pull the rug out from underneath Riley—she’s had her heart set on this trip. As her parents, how do we handle this when we have no control in a sea full of danger and fear?
I got my answer today…from a little fish.
I teach elementary school. I had a group of students with me for a pizza lunch that they earned. As we ate, we watched Finding Nemo, and that’s when I heard it. It was Dory. She was talking to Marlin, the father of the lost fish:
You can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing will ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.
That made sense to me. The ocean is vast and can be dangerous. I want to protect my little Nemo, but my wife and I need to let her live and have fun. The ocean is full of beautiful creatures and lost treasures waiting to be found. How will she ever experience these if we’re holding her back in fear of sharks?
We know our Riley will have an experience of a lifetime, and it’s our job to prepare her as best we can and be happy for her life experiences.
Bon voyage, Harpo.