Many people have told me how much they enjoyed the story in The Radical Edge about my daughter, Angelica’s, teenage journey into adulthood. And, in retrospect, I realize it’s an example of the dynamics we discussed on this blog in an earlier post.
So, today and tomorrow, I’m presenting that story for your consideration and comments. Here’s part one:
In some ways, my daughter was different from her peers. Instead of fighting to get out of the house, as most teenagers do, Angelica preferred to stay in the family nest and take care of her younger brothers. At 14, she was a domestic, maternal, and altogether lovely child—and, I have to admit, it was great having a built-in babysitter under the same roof. As she approached her seventeenth birthday, however, she was still a homebody.
I know that many parents would kill to have their teenagers stay at home, but what troubled her mother and me was why Angelica stayed home. She was a paradox of confidence: at home she was Queen of the Roost and a paragon of responsibility to her brothers. Away from home, however, she was fearful as a finch outside its cage. We came to realize that we had far more confidence in Angelica’s abilities than she had in her own, and that we needed to create a situation where Angelica could prove herself to herself.
So in the summer of Angelica’s 17th year, we sent her away—far away. We sent her to Italy, by herself, for six weeks. On one level, she desperately wanted to take this trip; on another, she was terrified.
We found her a room in Florence and enrolled her in Italian language and fine art classes. Before she left, Angelica and her mother planned every minute of her travel schedule down to the finest detail: she would fly from San Francisco to New York’s Kennedy airport, switch planes, and fly on to Milan. At the Milan airport she would catch a bus to the station in central Milan, get on a train, and ride another seven hours to her cousin’s house. She would stay there and decompress for a few days before traveling up to Florence where her Italian living and studying adventure would (finally) begin.
You may think it extreme of us to send our daughter on such a potentially perilous journey. You’d be right in the conventional, suburban sense, I suppose, but we knew she could handle it; she only suspected she could.
On the day of her departure, watching her walk down the Jetway at SFO, I had a vicarious jolt of joy and liberation. I remembered the first time I’d gotten away from my father and set out on my own. “She’s going to have the time of her life,” I whispered to her mother. Before she stepped through the airplane door, Angelica turned and, with a tremulous half-smile on her face, waved goodbye. She’s going to have the time of her life, I said to myself.
I didn’t fully realize, however, that I would never see the same little girl again.