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.
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.
How many road trips were made to Trouville in a pilgrimage to
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.
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.
Can you put a price tag on family ties?
No matter how great the distance, can you ever truly sever the cord connecting a mother to her child?