Thoughts of a Mother With a Daughter in the Amazon
Title got your attention, didn’t it? If you were expecting a South American mother who misplaced her child in the jungles of the Amazon, you will be disappointed. It’s just me. An average American mother whose child, a sophomore in college, is studying abroad in Ecuador.
I was not prepared for Ecuador. I am certain Ecuador is not prepared for my daughter.
For my middle child has many wonderful attributes. But common sense is not one of them.
I think evidence of this point is best demonstrated by a story from her past. She was four years old. For reasons that remain unclear to this day, she decided to pull her arms out of the sleeves of her one piece blanket sleeper and gallop around the upstairs, her armless sleeves flapping in the wind of whatever playful fantasy she was lost in. All was fine and good until she tried to go downstairs.
I heard the sound of flesh on the hard wood stairs and came running, my heart pounding wildly, preparing myself for the devastation I would find when I got there. I arrived just in time to see her roll like a hot dog down the last few steps.
I grasped my child to me and then checked for damage.
That’s when I screamed. She screamed back.
“Where are your arms?”
My daughter looked around in confusion for a few minutes until she remembered where she put them.
“Here they are!” she said, pulling them back into the sleeves to show me. “No worries!”
So, I think you can see why I’m worried. She can’t remember where she put her arms and I’m supposed to trust her with her passport?
This has got international incident written all over it.
Now I must admit to knowing very little about that part of the world, so I did some research. Did you know that the Gallapagos Islands are in Ecuador? You know, the only place in the world where rare species, such as the komodo dragon, exist? Visiting the Gallapogos islands is on their itinerary. Do yourself a favor if you’re a mother and don’t google “Komodo Dragon attacks.” I still can’t get it out of my head.
And the weather? Well, Ecuador is on the equator. So that should work for my fair skinned beauty who requires SPF 150 for our Northern NY summers.
I had to arrange for her to get some vaccines for some pretty scary diseases, namely typhoid and yellow fever. And Malaria? Well, we had a fight about that. Having read State of Wonder I knew the malaria medicine can have some pretty unpleasant side effects, but I felt it worth the risk. My daughter’s assertion that “no one else was taking it” didn’t appease my worry. I read the literature the college sent me where it explicitly stated that they would not be in malaria prone areas, except for a short three day trip and “any excursions the kids went on into the Amazon by themselves.”
“You will not be going on any excursions into the Amazon by yourself,” I informed her. These are words I never really imagined myself saying.
“It sounds like fun,” she grumbled.
See the problem is, my daughter is not only devoid of common sense, she is also the luckiest person I know. The sunshine literally follows her around. I keep waiting for the universe to teach her a lesson, but every time she does something careless, somehow, the universe shuffles its cards and it all turns out ok. A lesson is coming, of that I am sure. I am praying that the universe does not see Ecuador as a teachable moment.
In fact, there are things I hadn’t even thought of worrying about.
Here’s a rundown of texts you do not want to receive when your child is 3,000 miles away.
Daughter: I wasn’t feeling that well today. I think it was from the volcano errupting.
Me: VOLCANO? There’s a volcano in Qito?
Daughter: Yeah, it’s just a little one. I think all the ash went on the other side of the mountain, so no worries…
Daughter: Is it normal if your vomit is green?
Me: Put your host mother on. Right now.
And, most recently…
Daughter: After school today, we are going into the Amazon! I will text again when I
Me: I specifically told you NOT to go to the Amazon! Malaria, remember?
Daughter: Ha ha! It’s fine, mom. I’ve been taking the pills. No worries!
No worries? Seriously?
Well, here’s the good news. She’s thriving. As a mother, I can’t help but worry but, at the same time, I am so proud of the courage and independence and open mind she has shown. I would be scared to death to do what she is doing, but she charges ahead, learning and embracing the language and customs of a world that is so far from the one she has known. As parents, we try to teach them all these things. We try to build their confidence and their trust in the world so they can go out and live in it.
If we do our job right, we raise them to be able to live without us.
And the heart break of it all is, that’s what they do.
But the other thing I have learned is this: Whether it is North America or South America, mothers are not so different. We all worry. My daughter has been placed with a wonderful Ecuadorian family. They wait up for her to come home at night, texting her if she is late. They watch over her. That’s not an easy job; I should know. But she has a beautiful host mother who checked on her every few hours the night she was sick, just like her own mother does. A host father who drew her a detailed map to guide her to a place she wanted to visit, just like her own father does. I am grateful beyond words to know that, across the world, she has found parents like these.
I told you she was lucky.