October 14, 2011 my son departed for the African continent. More than 6 months later, he will soon return and my life will be changed, in ways I cannot yet predict. Like many young adults, my son needed time to figure out where he wanted to take his life. Together, we opted for time volunteering in Africa as a way for him to "get away" while giving back something. His first 3 months were spent building civic projects in the hills of Eastern Ghana. I know only a little of his time there but he lived with no electricity or running water in a place that was equatorial hot. He met volunteers from all over the world and seemed to have his eyes opened to many things about himself, being American, and regarding world politics. It seems work was easy as the Ghanaians are soooo friendly but not sooo hard working. He then traveled east to Tanzania where he lived in finer accommodations but had to struggle to teach English and math to students in an orphanage. Again he met many people and gained insight into how hard teaching is, the impact of a tourist economy, and the beauty of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Of course, it wasn't all hard work and no play-he did treat himself to a short but impressive (his experience) safari and a week on the spectacular beaches of Zanzibar-a place of which most of us can only dream.
His path home took him through England where he traveled to see family, family-friends, fellow volunteers from Africa and to pay tribute to his deceased grandparents. During his time there, I know he has been scrubbed clean and obtained some fresh clothes-slowly shedding the layers of Africa from his ski, hair and cloth. But I suspect even when he stands back on American soil, that Africa will not leave his system so easily. How this experience will change him, our (and others) relationship, and his dreams and future plans, will only emerge slowly over time. I will do what I can to support his re-entry but I too have learned things during his time away-I know I can never return to how we co-existed in past years, that I need not completely sacrifice my health and happiness to accommodate an "angry young man". I know that being a good parent (mother) means more than opening a wallet, preparing a meal, lending the car, or greasing the way. It is also letting go, allowing them to fall, forcing them to confront, refusing to lower standards, and holding your head high. Parenting-the hardest work I have ever done and ever expect to do.
Wish me luck!