It’s a beautiful morning in London. People are smiling, and even the dogs I’ve met on the street today seem to have a little extra friskiness in their trot. Several days of sunshine and mild temperatures really change the vibe around here. Where was it I read recently that the reason London has such dismal weather is because if the weather were at its best all the time, then everyone would want to live here? Maybe… but only if they’ve never been to Santa Fe in October, or Marblehead in June, or Paris in May.
A funny thing about nice weather in London seems to be that people strip down immediately. I passed one of the pubs on my route to pick up the kids one day last week, and a guy was sitting outside at 2pm, shirtless and having a pint. Then I walked past the England’s Lane Starbucks, which tends to attract a local student population around that time, and noticed (didn’t take great powers of observation!) that many of the young women were sporting spaghetti straps and mini-minis. It was warm, yes, but hardly beach weather.
But all this talk about the weather clearly means I’m avoiding my topic. Small talk, you know? Chloe headed out this morning in hiking gear to catch the bus and rendezvous with her group at school for their trip to the French Alps. They fly out of Heathrow this morning to Geneva, then get ground transport to Samoens (France?), where they will hike to a yurt for the night. Then onward and upward from there, mostly hiking, with some snowshoeing at the higher altitudes atop Mont Blanc and environs. Pretty amazing, huh? All of the American School high school kids are on”alternative” learning experiences this week– some in London, doing things like intensive cooking classes, and some in places like South Africa, Cyprus, Spain, Nice, or the French Alps. This is what the annual school trip (not just for Seniors!) looks like if you live in Europe.
Last Saturday, Chloe and I went out shopping to get her outfitted. She really had almost none of the things she needed for the trip: Waterproof jacket and hiking pants, hiking boots, appropriate socks and underlayers, and a few specialized items such as a sleeping bag liner. Luckily, the school was providing (through the trip operator) the big backpack and rain cover, headlamps, and sleeping bags. But still, we had a lot of shopping to do, and we knew just where to go, having stumbled across the Covent Garden “outdoor store” district during Will’s visit in December. There’s nothing like the focusing power of an impending trip into the wilderness to get a couple of dithering shoppers down to business… we powered through that list! Even with a late lunch break (with hundreds of our closest friends!) in the sunny outdoor seating at le Pain Quotidien, we were able to finish up in a day what we should have been doing over the last couple of months.
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to help with the shopping– and not just the paying, but the considering and comparing and choosing. Because that was about it for my involvement in the preparations. I can clearly remember 3-yr-old Chloe telling us, “I do it myself!”… and she still does, in not so many words. She prepped and packed, and made her final decisions about what to take (knowing she would have to carry it all on her back the whole trip). She alone decided what snacks to take, and she made sure she had her passport and other necessities. We’re even past the part where I drive her somewhere to see her off– she walked out the front door this morning to catch the bus by herself.
But even as I write about this pulling away that’s such an ongoing process, I’m cheered to have received a few texts from her while sitting in this cafe writing this post. A little smiley about having found her Budapest ticket tucked in her passport… a funny observation or two about her group… the news that they are down to 2 girls amidst a bunch of boys on this particular trip… And meanwhile, I’m responding, telling her I’m missing her here at Euphorium (a cafe we often go to together when she has an early free block at school), and offering back a private joke about her observations. As we text, I remember that just yesterday we sat across the street together at Costa Coffee– which has sunnier sidewalk seating in the morning– before she had to be at school. If I step back and observe, I can see our relationship transforming slowly toward what it will be when she is an adult. Toward what it will be next fall– whether she finds herself stateside in university or gap-yearing in Europe.
These children. They grow up. And the sun shines, and life buzzes on around a mom– right in the midst of all this leaving.