A Daughter’s Homecoming Brings Sunshine to Switzerland

My Frenchman and I stand at the Geneva airport, gazing through the glass windows at the crowd milling around the luggage carousel. Our daughter, towering above the Europeans, slings a duffel over her shoulder and strides through customs with a tired grin, dropping her bag to hug her dad.

Baby Nat with grandparents

Baby Nat with grandparents

How many miles must one travel to connect generations between separate continents? Nearly three decades ago,  I cradled my Franco-American newborn in my arms during a 4,000 mile journey, 500 mph, 30,000 feet over the Atlantic. What was I thinking?  My anxiety melted the moment I stepped through customs at O’Hare airport and witnessed her grandparents’ joy. For the next 5 summers until cousins were born the McKinzie’s first grandchild was spoiled like an only child by her aunts and uncle.

proud little girl on the beach

happy little girl on the beach

How many road trips were made to Trouville in a pilgrimage to

Trouville in the spring

Trouville in the spring

Normandy and the other side of her heritage? In the thousand year old village on the English Channel, time stood still, frozen in the spindly, brick, 5-story fisherman flats lining the cobblestone quays. Here, Mamie and Papie raised their first grandchild on fish and fresh crème, the finest offering of France’s dairyland where sea and soil marinate to perfection.

Years after our first trans-Atlantic flight, my daughter landed back in Europe. Sunshine blinked through clouds in Switzerland for the first time in weeks, as old man winter finally lifted his heavy, gray veil. As we walked and talked, my footsteps felt lighter, as we wined and dined, the strawberries tasted sweeter, hinting at spring.

In a reversal of roles, now my daughter tucks me in at night. Sprawled under my duvet, we reminisce about her childhood where we weathered the storms of relocations and separations as we traveled to distance lands in our imagination on a 4-poster bed in make-believe. Today, we discussed books and babies (she is a pediatrician) and child development and teaching, language acquisition and writing.

Then in a blink we are back at the Geneva airport waving goodbye choking back tears, our hearts heavy. Our daughter flies home to her children’s hospitals in the Twin Cities, where she answers her pager at all hours. She cares for infants, speaking French to West African immigrants and conducts wellness visits for Spanish families. She reassures frightened foreigners, breaks down medical jargon into layman’s terms and magically calms fussy toddlers.

“She is so far away! Don’t you miss her?” my friends here ask. Others wonder, “How could you let her go?”

Ah, but just as my mom taught me, I know that “a child is a gift on loan from God.” Our daughter belongs to the world. She is where she is supposed to be, doing what she was destined to do.

We are together,
My child and I,
Mother and child, yes,
But sisters really
Against whatever denies
Us all that we are.
Alice Walker

Over the years, watching her grow strong, we invested thousands of dollars in education and traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, thousands of meters above sea level from Switzerland to Minnesota. The precocious little girl who grew up loving water settled in the Land of 10,000 Lakes where the trees grow tall and the skies are blue.sailing in Wisconsin

Can you put a price tag on family ties?

Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from lovin’ you.

No matter how great the distance, can you ever truly sever the cord connecting a mother to her child?

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Posted in family, inspiration, relationships, travel.


  1. Pat
    So glad you got to spend time with Nat again! I believe when the distance between mother and daughter grows, the memories of petty arguments shrink. What replaces those memories is an incredible bond of mutual love and respect.

  2. So glad Nat’s visit lifted you so high. And the answer is a resounding NO! One can never sever the cord connecting a mother with her child. So sweet. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Pat, this post brought tears to my eyes. What a loving mom you are, letting your daughter grow and stretch and reach for the stars! What a lucky daughter she is, having a mom who puts her needs after the needs of her offspring! You’re so right, moms and their kids are connected. Always and forever!

  4. Oh SIster, I can just picture you and Nat -a-bug tucking you in after talking for hours resting your back on the big bed! So glad you were able “to fill each other up” with attention, admiration and love. NO, nothing quite like the bond between mother and child, no matter the age. Thanks for letting me let those tears flow….again.
    Love you Mucho!

  5. Oh Pat, I love reading your posts. They always strike a cord with me just when I need it most.
    My mom always said, “give them roots to grow and wings to fly”
    Sounds like you had a wonderful visit!

    • Thanks Bonnie. My mom told me the same thing. As I fly around Switzerland, I will picture you flying around Connecticut and hopefully one day our paths will cross.

    • I am sure you can Helene. Do you ever get over to see your son and does he live anywhere near Geneva? Would love to meet on your next trip across the pond.

  6. Pat,
    We are so happy to be back in WI, so I can read your messages again! I loved the photo of Nat with Grandpa and Grandma. Your mom and dad have taught us all so much, just by being who they are. It’s so meaningful to see the bond between you and your daughter. I feel I have the same bond with my daughter. Life is Good!

  7. So beautiful, and no, those ties cannot be severed, no matter the distance. My daughter lives nearby, so I see her often, but even so, now that she’s an adult things have shifted a bit. I was so moved by this.

  8. Oh, Pat, that cord is never severed! Children are our miracles and when they are daughters, they’re given an extra dose of that something special…to which all mothers can attest.

    Beautiful post,


  9. I read your post with emotion because I felt what your words were saying. My parents lived in Paris and we lived in the US. I tried, as long as my father, then my widowed mother lived, to visit Paris twice a year but it was expensive and I could not take my daughters with me. They saw their French grand-parents only twice. It is not easy when family members live in different countries. I, for example, never met my paternal grand-parents, as they lived in Istanbul, Turkey – I wish I had known them. It is easier now though with the computer, you can send photos in email. When my daughter was a baby and we lived in San Francisco, we never called Paris and sent pictures rarely.

    • I am so glad you found me. I just hopped over to vagabonde and read some of your exploits and love your blog. I am curious are you French married to an American? Both my children were born in Paris where we lived for 10 years. Yes, you certainly can understand the pain of separation and the challenges of trying to stay connected. My Norwegian maternal grandfather immigrated to America as a young man and he died at the age of 48 and never had the means or opportunity to return to his homeland. We were reconnected to our Norwegian side of the family 35 years later. Internet has helped so much to keep me connected…often times feel like I have one foot in each world.

      • Thanks for coming to my blog. Yes I went to San Francisco and met my husband at work there. My father offered to buy us an apartment in Paris but Jim did not speak French, so we did not. Now I wish we had gone. The last time I spoke French was when we were in Paris in May 2011 – don’t know anyone here who is French or speak it – my daughters don’t unfortunately. Merci encore.

        • Oh dear, I can only imagine how you long to hear your mother tongue. Maybe I should call you up, although even though I have been over here for decades, I still speak French with my Midwestern American accent. Now that both of my grown children live in the states, they treasure any opportunity they have to speak French.

  10. “If I had to run, if I had to crawl
    If I had to swim a hundred rivers, just to climb a thousand walls,
    Always know that I would find a way, to get to where you are,
    There’s no place that far.” ~Sara Evans lyrics to “No Place That Far”

    Truer words were never spoken about that bond between mother and child!
    So glad Natalie was able to spend some much needed time with you!

    • What beautiful lyrics to capture the incredible links between a mother and child. Isn’t it amazing how special moments shared with daughters can lift our spirits and help us stay strong during tough times.

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