“Don’t lose her”
The summer before I started 6th grade, a glossy brochure describing a three-week European vacation arrived in the mail. Mom picked it up and turned the pages. “Wouldn’t this be a wonderful opportunity?” she asked, leafing through the photos.
“Are you thinking of going?” I asked.
“I told your dad our next trip has to be a family vacation,” she said, evoking stomach-curdling memories of long hours in the car, fights over comic-books in the back seat and Dad’s promise he’d never again take us anywhere. “I’d love to go, but this is just too expensive.” She tore the book in half and tossed it in the trash can beneath the kitchen sink.
The week before school began, Mom took me shopping for school clothes. When we returned, she gave me a suitcase and said we were going to Detroit for the weekend, where we’d visit museums, eat in restaurants and go to the movies. This was a shorter and much more entertaining vacation than I’d envisioned. She suggested I pack all my new clothes.
“For the weekend?” I asked.
“That way you’ll have a choice,” she replied.
The first night, we ate dinner at the restaurant at Detroit Metro Airport, "so we could watch the planes." As we were finishing, a colleague of Dad’s recognized him and came to our table to chat. He shook Dad’s hand and asked, “Are you going on the trip to Europe?”
Dad and Mom exchanged glances and smiled. “We’re flying with you, but we’re not travelling with the group. We decided to surprise the kids.” I burst into tears.
When we landed in Germany, a new white Volkswagen squareback awaited us. We drove to the first destination on Mom’s itinerary. My brother had fallen asleep in the car, but Dad was so excited to sightsee he impatiently told Mom, “We’ll lock him in. He’ll be fine.”
When we returned to the car, my brother was gone. Mom was panicked and Dad told us to stick together as we searched. After several frantic minutes, we saw a throng of people surrounding my bewildered brother.
* * * *
Thirty years later, my husband and I separated after 15 years of marriage. I’d made arrangements for my daughter to go to camp, but for 10 days after school ended, she would have nothing to do while I was at work. I felt it would be better for her to spend the time elsewhere, while I packed and moved to our new home. I called Dad.
“We’re going to Brazil,” he said. “Can we take her?”
I got her passport, took her to the pediatrician who prescribed malaria medication, vaccinated her against typhoid, yellow-fever and God knows what else, purchased mosquito netting, bug spray and sunscreen. On the way to the airport, I promised her it would be a big adventure and warned her to stick close to Grandpa and Nana.
We met at the airport. The prospect of travelling to an exotic place with her grandparents completely eclipsed her worries about the uncertainty of her future. As we said our goodbyes at the gate, I put both hands on Dad’s shoulders. “I promise we won’t lose her,” he said, sheepishly.
* * * *
Many years later, as I drove my daughter to the airport to board a plane for college, I repeated the admonition I always gave when we departed, to “be safe.” “Hey Mom?” she asked, with a bemused smile. “Do you remember when I left with Grandpa and Nana for Brazil?” I laughed, and repeated Dad’s words.
She put her hand on my knee. “They lost me in an open-air market," she said. I’m pretty good at taking care of myself.”