It’s been some time since the Parent Imperfect answered a phone call with such anticipation. At 7:09 this morning, Vince called from the airport in Houston to check in. That was the first we have known of him since he boarded a United flight in Boston nine days ago for a trip to Ecuador organized by the Spanish program at the nation’s oldest public school. After saying hello, he immediately reported that he’s “still alive.” He must know what was on the mind of his always calm and confident father. Hearing his voice was reassuring, even though the first thing he told his mother was that the only problem on the trip was that he had caught malaria. Where did he get this sense of humor?
He’s been away from home for extended periods several times before, but this one was different…really different. He was going to be in Quito, in Otovalo and then in the Ecuadorian Amazon, seeing sights and spending a few days helping to construct a school in a small, indigenous town. The school did this with an educational tour business that exists, first of all, to make a profit, but also to keep kids safe and stimulated doing travel that just might change their lives. This is a serious operation that gets paid serious $$$ (cause for parental pause) for what it does, but, having organized such trips in El Salvador for a couple of years, I’m too familiar with the dangers inherent in the best planned trips.
He still has to get from Houston to Boston, but it was very good to hear his voice. In the middle of the week, Liz’s phone rang one night at about 12:15AM. She arose from a sound sleep and got to the phone, but the Caller ID number was so strange that she hesitated, and then the call was gone. We still don’t know if the call had anything to do with Vince’s trip (he probably won’t tell us, if it did), but it certainly got my attention, as I skated through the week firmly resting on the “no news is good news” theory of travel communication.
It’s all about payback. We insisted that he heed the organizers’ warning not to bring a cellphone with him, which he thought was ridiculous. As we waved the rules at him, Vince assured us that, once again, he would be the only one whose parents paid attention to what the rules said. That seems to have been the case, as he called us from Logan on two different phones and his call from Houston was on a third friend’s phone.
THEN, FOUR DAYS LATER, WHEN I FINALLY GOT BACK TO THIS
So, Vince did make it back, with a sun tan, a few less pounds and many stories about what seemed to be a really important trip for him. The trip took him from the modern capital city to a smaller, prosperous indigenous city to a tiny village in the Amazon. When asked what he’ll remember forever about the trip, he mentioned three things: the Ecuadorians who guided the trip (“they were so friendly and knowledgeable and you could tell they were people who really cared about their country”), the apparent happiness of the young people in the village living in what seemed to him to be impossibly difficult conditions and the cockroaches, which were at least four times the size of any insect he had ever seen. He also really enjoyed being “on a 10-day sleepover with 15 other kids (and NO parents).” In the midst of it all, he claims that Spanish came to him with surprising ease. The guides who “made the trip” for him spoke only Spanish and (in one case) Quechua.
And, just like that, he’s very quickly back into the pressurized environment of the school that made this trip possible, and now threatens to wipe it from his memory. The relaxed and slightly awestruck young man that stepped off the plane is still with us, but he’s looking more and more like a BLS junior who doesn’t know when he’ll have time to get it all done. I suppose it’s our job to keep that junior at bay, at least for a little while.