by Sherry Chidwick

I should have seen it coming.

From the start, we raised our kids to love adventure and to think outside the box. We taught them to value being different, to learn and create and generally MacGyver their way through life. Their bedtime stories were their parents’ real life tales of adventure–smuggling Bibles into China, swimming in crocodile-infested waters, surviving a train derailment, swerving through a band of armed highway robbers. They had adventure in their blood.

As soon as she graduated from high school, my daughter and I set out on an adventure of our own–just the two of us. We had worked for the entire previous year doing odd jobs, selling surplus items, even appearing as extras on a movie set. Having saved up everything we needed, we flew to Europe for two weeks and traveled through four countries, riding trains, buses, subways, riverboats, and bicycles–in addition to walking many miles every day. We stayed in AirBNBs and hostels and explored as much as we possibly could. She was the navigator, deciphering maps and signs in three languages. As an experienced international traveler myself, I was impressed. She did great.

When we returned from Europe in early July, she moved out. “No offense, Mom and Dad,” she had said, “but I would really like to see if I can do this adulting thing.” Our nest was emptied earlier than we had expected, but no offense was taken. Her plan was to take a gap year before starting college the following August. She had a full-time job lined up and had rented a basement bedroom at a friend’s house across town. She would work as much as she could until she left in January for a six month service opportunity overseas. We had raised our kids to take risks, to embrace change, to step out in faith into the unknown, so it shouldn’t have been so startling when they actually did.

On New Year’s Day, at the ripe old age of eighteen, we took her and her enormous backpack to the Portland airport to board an airplane–alone. With layovers and plane changes scheduled for San Francisco, Taipei, and Kuala Lumpur, she would not meet up with her team until she arrived three days later in Perth, Australia. From there, she would go to the Philippines and India. We wouldn’t see her again until late June.

When I was eighteen, I felt capable and ready to conquer the world, but the same eighteen suddenly felt terribly young from this side of the family dynamic. How could my youngest possibly be old enough? I wasn’t ready. At the Portland airport, I slipped into a gift shop and bought a large PDX sticker so her new water bottle wouldn’t look so clean, so vulnerable, so fresh-faced and new…so much like her.

Saying goodbye at the security checkpoint is always less than ideal. It feels so impersonal, so exposed. We huddled together and hugged and prayed and laughed and cried. We took selfies and hugged a little more. Then we let her go. After she had cleared security and put her shoes back on, we waved and blew kisses one last time. Then she set her face toward C7, her gate.

Fly away, little bird, little Chavala…         

She would be fine. We knew it. She had already proven herself to be a savvy traveler. God had provided for her every need, every step of the way so far and we didn’t see that stopping. In our heads it made perfect sense; she would be fine. Our hearts, however, needed a little more convincing.            

Once she was completely out of sight, my husband and I found ourselves a little weepy–actually more than a little. This goodbye was far more emotional than we had anticipated. We couldn’t return home yet. We just couldn’t. Hand in hand, we walked through the airport aimlessly, as if in a daze. I have never prayed that their lives would be easy, their paths smooth. Rather, I always prayed God would do whatever it took to draw them into a life of following after Him. Learning and growing and maturing are attained most often through difficulty and discomfort, so we taught them to strive, to endure, to adjust as they sought God’s wisdom and guidance. I suppose the same lessons apply to the parents, as well.

After walking for some time, I realized I was hungry–terribly hungry–like I hadn’t eaten in days. Does emotional work burn calories, too? We wandered into a restaurant and ordered a late dinner.

At one point, our server asked if we were doing ok. Despite my best efforts to control them, the tears still leaked down my face steadily. I looked up at her and explained why we were there at the airport. Her own momma heart was touched. Her oldest, a daughter, was seventeen. We talked about preparing our kids as best we could, then watching them take flight. Eventually, the server had to go attend to her other tables, but before she walked away, she reached down into our booth and gave me an awkward but touching side hug. It was a kind gesture and I was grateful for her thoughtfulness.

When we were finished eating, she brought us our check and set a bag of caramel corn on the table. We looked at her confused. We hadn’t ordered any caramel corn.

It was a gift.            

“It isn’t enough,” she said quietly, her eyes soft with compassion, “but hopefully a little sweetness will help balance out the sting. Then she added brightly, “We make it fresh every day!”

She was so very sweet. I stood this time and gave her a real hug, thanking her for her kindness.            

“It isn’t enough,” she repeated, with a tear sliding down her own cheek, “but I would just hope when my own daughter gets on a plane and flies away, someone would think to give me a hug and some caramel corn.”

Sherry Chidwick is a seeker of beauty and truth. Beauty is not always truthful and the truth is not always a thing of beauty, but wherever the two meet, she narrows her focus. Sherry is a high school teacher, a road trip junkie, and a big fan of both mountains and museums. As novice empty nesters, she and her husband are experimenting with full-time RV life in Salem, Oregon.

Cover photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash