This past Mother’s Day my children were scattered across Europe. Quinn was in Luxembourg, Lawton was with Brett and I in the Netherlands, and Colin was *somewhere* in Belgium. Needless to say, there was no messy breakfast in bed or homemade card to wake up to. In fact, it was 1pm on Sunday walking the streets of Maastricht when Brett stopped in his tracks with mild alarm, “Is it Mother’s Day?!” Mother’s Day happens in Europe too, albeit with far fewer reminders – an easy holiday in a sea of holidays to miss. Taking shrewd advantage of the oversight, I proceeded to buy myself a Mother’s Day dress.
Colin left Luxembourg on Friday night for a weekend away in Belgium with his club basketball team. Now I have written previously about the International School sports and housing experience for my boys, but this weekend was altogether different. This is a team of local Luxembourgish kids with nary an international expatriate anywhere. He has spent much time over the past year with these boys on the basketball court, but virtually no time with them outside the gym. The intent of the trip was not basketball, but team bonding.
We got a packing list and a bus departure time and of course, a handful of Luxembourgish forms. No information was provided on where they were specifically going, what their accommodations would be, or any hint of an agenda save for the fact that they would be playing two friendly matches. As the only outsider to this local club, we kept our questions to a minimum but we did suggest that though Colin can’t communicate/understand Luxembourgish (the default language of his teammates) he could get by with his French (which his teammates also all speak fluently.) Colin is my kid that needs to “know the plan,” so in the absence of any plan, I focused on what I did know: “We need to be at the bus at 5:15, with your bag, your ID card, spending money, and a picnic dinner. I got you picnic sushi!”
As it was Friday night in the always-under-construction Luxembourg City, I was delayed in extra- horrendous traffic. We arrived at 5:25. I expected to see a small bus waiting with a few on time parents milling about. Instead, we arrived to a massive coach bus with tinted windows, a street lined with a sizable parade of parents in heels, and someone saying to me: “Oh good. You’re here! The bus is waiting for Colin.” Really???? Ten minutes late and he’s the only one not on the bus. Yes, really. There is no fashionably late in Luxembourg, nor was there time to remind Colin to look for the wasabi packet.
Once the bus pulled away, I learned that this trip was not only for Colin’s U12 team but also the girls U12 team and the boys and girls U14 teams. Hence, the big bus. A co-ed road trip for 45ish kids - half of them middle schoolers and half of them girls - is definitely not the plan I had contemplated or communicated. Initially I was wrapped around the axel about the whole late situation and how much I was trying to be on time, and then my focus shifted towards the 11 year old kid I had just hurried on to the bus. I had just put my not-so-flexible son on a bus with eleven other kids (plus some) who have known each other since they were tots and who speak to each other in a language even Google Translate doesn’t know to handle minus a game plan, plus a few girls to bond. I had willingly persuaded him to go and be the outsider, surely cemented by being the only kid with picnic sushi. Why didn’t I pack a sandwich?
The next morning we loaded up the car with Lawton to drive to his very first basketball tournament. The tournament was in Huy, Belgium (this we were sure of) and because it is close to the oft-praised town of Maastricht, the Netherlands – we decided to make a weekend of it. We left Quinn at home in Luxembourg as he was busy with a PSAT prep course on both Saturday and Sunday plus a full social calendar that included a late Saturday night Laser Tag game with his club basketball teammates where English would not be necessary. As we departed Luxembourg, Lawton suggested we pray for our trip (as is our ritual). Lawton led us in prayer which started as travel mercies and morphed into a tender prayer for his adventuress brother.
I cannot lie. It was hard to not be constantly thinking about how Colin was doing or frankly, what he was doing. By extension of the agenda-less pre-trip situation, there were was no team blog, group emails, or texts while gone. Just a reminder that pick up would be Sunday night at 8pm. This maybe would have been the right moment to break from our TAKE YOUR STAND AGAINST PRE MIDDLE SCHOOLERS WITH MOBILE PHONES, but then again – what exactly could we do if he called saying “I’m someplace near a Castle, Belgium. Come and get me.” Mercifully, while on the drive back from Maastricht, there was a text saying the team would be arriving earlier – at 18:15. There was no mention that Colin was missing, injured, or crying for his Mommy. I took this as a good sign. I was at the parking lot by 17:55 and the first flat-shoed parent to line up for the parade. The bus pulled in exactly on time.
Colin wasn’t the first off the bus and he wasn’t the last. I took this as a second good sign. First off would have meant “Get me outta here!”, last off would have meant “I have a new 13 year old girlfriend.” Within moments of him stepping off the bus, there was an unrestrained, albeit exhausted, grin. A Mother knows with that first look, and I knew it had been a good trip. Once in the car, Colin offered a few juicy sound bites to tease me but wanted audience with the entire family for the full stories. The high points were: they stayed in a Youth Hostel in Bruge, Belgium; they toured Bruge (a city people make pilgrimages to see); they drove go carts along the Atlantic Ocean! (where crashing into each other was the highlight); they went to a carnival at 10pm!; they played a little basketball; he roomed with a teammate Arthur who loves the NBA and practicing his English; he used his French with the other guys on the team; he spent a lot of time with his U14 school buddy when he needed an English respite; and they watched Hangover III and Scary Movie #? on the bus! (in German, because why not thrown in another language?) <<<<Really?!>>>>
After a few probing questions, we were assured that the care was attentive even if not US styled. I choose not to get tripped up about the Hangover III newsflash or the mention that Colin’s coach told the team at 11:30pm after the carnival, “I don’t care if you sleep. You can party, just don’t make noise”. Instead, I focused on the fact that not only had Colin survived being a fish out of water, he had also found his own boundaries in a substantially more laissez-faire environment than he was accustomed to. Our son came home with unspent spending money.
“Those movies were kind of inappropriate, good they were in German! ” Our son: the first to bed and the first to sleep? “I think I just need more sleep than most people.” He assured us he ate often and well, that the packed sushi was GREAT, but they ate on the bus concluding: “Picnic. Must be a translation thing.” He even stood his personal ground of “Never will I eat McDonalds” with polite response to the teasing when the whole bus descended on his home country’s most famous export. And finally, for this often anxious kid: “I had no idea what I was happening next or where to meet each day, so I just did what Arthur did. That strategy worked.”
And that is why we do it. We need to hold on lightly to our kids so they can experience the world – sometimes as an outsider – and in so doing, find their own two feet. Mine came home with all his shoes and a few new friends to boot.