One of the few downsides of being bicultural is growing up far away from extended family. Don't get me wrong, I love being bilingual and bicultural and that my children are even more of a mix than I am. But the part where months — and sometimes years — can go by without being with those you love can be hard. Especially for the kids. I will never forget the day 11 years ago when I landed in Miami with my two daughters, then 4 months and 3 years old. Since then I've only been back to Spain — where my girls and I were born — twice. The first time I took my daughters, the second time I flew alone.
Sure, we have the phone, FaceTime, Skype, and all kinds of apps to keep in touch with our family. But that's no substitute for actually spending time with them, enjoying hugs, sharing words of love spoken in Spanish, tasting the food, smelling the smells and listening live to the music of your country of birth.
I know people who can afford to travel with their kids to another country every summer. I would love to do that. But I'm not embarrassed to admit that I can't. So every time one of my children gets an invite to fly to Spain to visit family, I accept — even if it means they have to fly alone.
Photograph by Carlota Nelson
I know people who can afford to travel with their kids to another country every summer. I would love to do that. But I'm not embarrassed to admit that I can't. So every time one of my children gets an invite to fly to Spain to visit family, I accept — even if it means they have to fly alone. The first time I did this, a good friend invited my eldest, Chloe (then 9 years old), to spend a month with her in Sevilla, the city where she was born. The caveat was that she'd have to take two planes as an unaccompanied minor.
I was anxious and quite frankly, a little scared. I asked my daughter whether she wanted to go. She said yes. Her dad and I talked and figured if she felt she was ready to handle it, who were we to stop her from having that wonderful experience? Besides, we both come from nomadic families, so we knew how excited our first-born must have felt about the possibility of going.
From that moment on, I had to put my own family at ease. Even though they would get to see Chloe, they were worried something would happen to her. I'm no pilot, so whether I flew with her or not, it would not change the fate of the plane. My daughter was a responsible, mature little girl and I knew she was ready for the challenge. I didn't let her know I would miss her, or that I would be scared. I put on a brave front.
We all traveled from our hometown on Florida's west coast to the Miami airport to see her off. Chloe is now 14 and is soon traveling with her stepbrother to visit my sister in San Francisco. This time she is flying as an adult. She knows the ropes of airports and still remembers the smallest of details of her solo trip to Spain — even the moment when she missed her connecting flight and had to wait a few hours at the airport. That trip empowered my 9-year-old daughter and taught her more than she could learn in the classroom in an entire school year.
This summer, my youngest was invited to fly solo and spend three weeks in Spain with her godmother. And, get this, spend her 11th birthday there! Once again, I held my breath and asked my little one if she was ready to fly alone to visit her aunt. She would get to visit her grandmother, my grandmother, my father, aunts, and uncles … and well, spend time in her country of birth. Her eyes opened so wide that I thought they'd pop out. She flashed a smile. It was a big heartfelt yes! And so once again, her dad and I talked and decided she would go.
Photograph by Lorraine C. Ladish
We traveled to Miami and saw her off at the airport. This time we had smartphones and apps to keep in touch that did not exist six years ago when Chloe traveled alone. Alexia was so excited about her trip that she could hardly sit still, or even sleep the night before. There was absolutely no trace of hesitation. I shoved my motherly qualms out of the way and enjoyed the trip preparations with her.
My youngest is now enjoying the attention, the love, and the connection with her family in Spain. Something that I alone cannot give her. She knows I'm here for her when she needs me, but I know she is already wiser, more empowered, more worldly than just a few days ago when she left.
And the moment she was out of sight, walking down the aisle to the airplane, I could imagine her enthusiasm and sense of adventure and all fears were put to rest. The next morning I woke up to a text from her godmother: a selfie taken at Madrid airport. Those two smiles told me I had done the right thing.
My youngest is now enjoying the attention, the love, and the connection with her family in Spain. Something that I alone cannot give her. She knows I'm here for her when she needs me, but I know she is already wiser, more empowered, more worldly than just a few days ago when she left. I also know that time will go by too fast. Before I know it, I'll be picking her up at the airport. She'll fling her arms around me and tell me all about her exciting trip. And she will never forget it.
One day, I hope my children will do the same for their kids.