Is an overseas internship in your daughter’s future? (Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. You, on the other hand…)

 

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My daughter in Venice. Photo: Stephanie Trujillo

Last December 2, I backed out of the driveway headed for the rural middle school in southwestern Missouri where I teach language arts. It was 7:02 a.m. My phone rang. I saw it was my daughter. Awfully early to get a call. I wondered whether something was wrong.

“Mom!?”

“Yeah, what’s going on?”

“I got the internship!” My heart soared. Two months earlier, she had applied for an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum in Venice, Italy. She would venture to the beautiful floating city to undertake museum duties such as guarding masterpieces, giving presentations, hosting tours, and sculpture cleaning from Feb. 2 to May 2.

She was beyond excited. So was I, but now that her acceptance was official, it was impossible to imagine her moving to a foreign country and working for three long months away from her home, her language, her friends, her family, her life. The night she received the acceptance email, I lay in bed and cried.

I simply could not see it happening. but it did. True, it was a rough transition for everyone at first, but we made it, and it was a beautiful, life-changing experience… for her and me.

And let’s be honest, I realize this isn’t intimidating for everyone. Many kids and their parents have no problem doing this type of thing; however, for Midwesterners like us, just traveling to the coasts of the U.S. is a major excursion. In our eyes, Venice might as well have been Venus.

Internships that pay, like my daughter’s, are popular and highly valued. Study abroad programs are also. Should you ever be so fortunate as to have your child venture out alone on a similar endeavor, here are some tips to get you through it.

1. Be Strong. Even though I was excited, I was also scared for her, but I couldn’t let my reservations known. I had to be strong and encouraging because I knew that deep down she likely had reservations as well. Even though living in Italy and this particular internship had been her dream ever since we discovered it on Google, interrupting her college career and moving to a foreign country would definitely be outside her “comfort zone.” I had to show I was positive about this opportunity.

2. Send your spouse to get her settled. This was my first and best idea. My husband would fly over with her in January to help her get settled and accustomed to her new home. After all, she had never been to Italy, or even Europe for that matter. She had traveled with our family to South Africa five years earlier, and with a group of other college students and veterans to Vietnam in 2015. But Italy? For three months? Alone?

3. Make sure she doesn’t stand out. We Americans like our colors. Once my husband realized her bright floral umbrella could be spied far ahead through a crowd, he purchased her a black one. In looking at her Facebook posts that first week, I noticed her eye-catching, crimson-red purse.  I texted my husband to make sure to get her a black one of those, too. Maybe we were being overly protective, but after watching a few Youtube videos of tourists and residents walking around Venice, we knew the city is a labyrinth of narrow, sometimes dark, walkways interspersed with those picture-perfect canals. No reason to look like an outsider, especially if you’re female.

4. Use technology. Numerous Facetime calls, the app People Tracker, Facebook, and Instagram made Italy seem not quite so far away. She started a blog called “From Venice with Love” that kept her in touch with friends at home. Happily, her work and social schedule quickly filled her time, and posting to Facebook and Instagram became more convenient.

5. Send a care package. We waited a couple of weeks, but then sent things from home she couldn’t find there. For example, the Venice grocery stores she frequented didn’t carry American basics such as Ranch salad dressing or pancake syrup. Peanut butter is  hard to find. So are Ziploc bags.

6. Visit. If possible, visit for a short time about halfway through. This helped me understand the new lifestyle my daughter was experiencing. Her pictures and posts made more sense and I gained a new appreciation for the life-changing time she was having. Plus, it was Venice, people. We had to.

7. Break the trip into “chunks.” This made the trip seem more “doable.” My daughter’s internship broke down into three parts: one five-week period after my husband left, one weeklong chunk when we would visit, and finally one six-week chunk. Honestly, this last part flew by for both my daughter and I as she was finally comfortable and confidently knew her way around the city.

8. Pray. I relied on this daily. It was a great comfort to know that He would protect and care for her continually.

My daughter’s Venice experience was indeed life-changing. She now has an international set of friends she keeps up with daily through What’s App and she can’t wait to return and tour southern Italy. Her internship also confirmed her next steps: to complete her bachelor’s degree in Art Education and then pursue a master’s degree in Art History with the intention of working in a museum setting someday. She is already filling out applications for another overseas internship. I, on the other hand, am writing myself a note to re-read this post when she lands it.

My Kit-Cat Clock Swings Again: Let Christmas Begin!

cat-2My daughter gave me a Kit-Cat clock two years ago. Y’know, the black cat clocks with the moving tail and eyes? It’s one of my favorite things and looks great in the kitchen. About two months ago, I noticed it had stopped moving. It still kept time, but the tail and eyes were stationary. A Kit-Cat clock that doesn’t move looks sad and stifled. Stagnant.

I figured that there was probably a trouble shooter’s guide online, so I googled and found videos and said guide. I viewed all the videos, read the instructions, replaced the two “C” batteries exactly as shown in the diagram, balanced the clock on the table, gave the tail a nudge, and it still didn’t work. Kept time, but no moving tail and eyes. Bummer.  I couldn’t get the magnetic forces and batteries coordinated, apparently, to power the animation.

So I went after the eyes. They must be the problem, I thought. The website said that any dust or grease on the eyeballs might cause friction in the magnetism, so I cleaned them off.  Prowling (sorry) around inside the clock, I thought how this bit of 1930s-era Americana kitchen decor is an engineering marvel. There are  J-clips, a platform, a lever, eyeball pins, eye stems and loops that rotate and hold the stems. There’s a magnet, two batteries, that tail and the back panel. So I put it all back together, and still no cat show.

I hung it back up, deciding to tackle the problem another day… which brings me to today.  I pulled the clock back down and  removed the back panel of the clock. Actually, sliding-snapping-scootching (in that order) the back panel off is probably the hardest part of the whole ordeal.

I’ll put brand new batteries in it again, I thought, clinging to the hope that it could be that simple. I pulled out the left battery and caught a glimpse of the battery placement diagram embossed in the shiny black plastic.  Positive up. Whoa. Positive was down. How did I screw that up, I wondered? I thought I had replaced them earlier exactly as shown. All this toil, head-scratching, opening, closing, and scootching and an upside down battery is to blame?  I flipped the battery around, nudged the tail, and my Kit-Cat clock was back in business. Problem solved. Order restored. You may now resume your Christmas festivities.

Watching and Waiting at Persimmon Hill Berry Farm

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My husband wants to pick some blackberries, so he gets another bucket from the shed and heads to the ten or so rows of blackberry bushes toward the less-frequented part of Persimmon Hill Berry Farm in Lampe, Missouri. I wait for him under a cedar tree at a picnic table with our two one-gallon buckets brimming with the blueberries we just picked. It’s a sunny, humid day. Among the rows of Collins, Northblue and other varieties, the air is thick and still. Oppressive. But while I sit in the shade, a gentle breeze chills the dampness on my neck and arms.  I observe and listen to the mid-morning activity of blueberry pickers.

A mother walks purposefully by. She is wearing a stiff, white Anabaptist bonnet and a long, navy blue cotton dress that covers her neck, shoulders, arms. Its hem reaches to her mid-calf and draws my eye to her footwear: hot pink, sparkly flip-flops. Her son wears long shorts, a plaid shirt, and a gray cap. They chatter in a loose and quiet German. The woman’s daughter, about four years old and the younger of her two children, wears a burgundy dress in the same style as her mother’s. Her blonde pigtails bounce with every step she takes in her sandals. She lags behind her mother and brother, dawdling to carefully study three little girls sitting at the picnic table to my right. Like baby birds, they perch atop the table, lifting their freckled cheeks to their mothers to be evenly coated with  sunscreen and dutiful vigor.

The bonneted mother turns for the daughter and curtly calls her to hurry. Drawn to attention, the little girl’s eyes dart upward and her mother grasps her hand, pulling her alongside. The girl stumbles, hops, and dances to catch up to her mother’s long, deliberate strides. They turn into a row and disappear among the bushes near the far-end of the acreage where the berries are at their heaviest and sweetest.

My husband returns with a bucket half-filled with shiny, bumpy blackberries, many the size of elongated golf balls. It won’t take many to make a pie, which is what he intends to do this evening. We gather up our buckets and head for the house to pay our bill. I glance back across the valley of blueberry bushes. I see the mother’s starched white bonnet hovering over bushes and I appreciate her determination to accomplish the day’s tasks with her two little ones in tow.

I Cut the Grass Today

grass revI cut the grass today. I cut the grass with one of those old-fashioned rotary cutters that require nothing more than two legs and two arms to maneuver. No jerking on the starter cord. No gasoline. No loud engine noise.  A cool breeze stirred the humidity of the afternoon and tiny brown needles sprinkled down from the cedar branches. I looked up into the tree to see two steel hooks that in past summers held the blue plastic seat that my son and daughter swung in when they were babies and toddlers. The yard was lush then, twenty years ago, when the tree was small. Over time,  as the cedar has inched skyward, its toxic needles have infected the grass below, causing it to thin, grow scraggly, and yet still require a trim. The cutter jammed, shoving the handlebar against my hip. I stepped back and tugged and twisted the machine to jar the immobilized blades. Out dropped a twig, and I finished cutting the grass.

You’re a Good Mother: It means more coming from a stranger

FullSizeRender (10)I know I’m a good mother because a stranger told me so. And that’s why I know it’s true. Granted, it’s nice to hear it from someone close to you, such as your spouse or a parent or friend. In fact, it’s the unspoken need that all women have but never vocalize: to know we’re doing at least an “okay” job at the toughest job we’ll ever have. Furthermore, the compliment carries more weight when an impartial, unbiased observer witnesses you in the act of good mothering and calls you on it.

This happened to me in downtown Baltimore in July 1999. We had travelled there from our home in a small, mostly white, southern Missouri town. I, my four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son were heading back to our minivan from the convention center where my husband was showing his ceramic art in a wholesale show. It was a hot, sultry day and we were returning to our hotel for an afternoon nap in the air conditioning. My daughter skipped along beside me while I pushed the stroller. Suddenly, she tripped on a slab of concrete that had buckled slightly, scraped her knee, and immediately started crying. I locked the wheels on the stroller, and kneeled down to inspect the damage. A thin trail of blood driveled from her knee and down her shin.

Nearby on the busy corner, a petite, elderly black woman asked me if I needed a Kleenex. Then, without waiting for my reply, she reached into her purse, starting her own search. She, no doubt, had been in this situation before with her own now-grown children. Maybe she was still mothering grandchildren and possibly even great-grandchildren. Because really, when does motherhood end?

I smiled up at her and said, “No, I should have one, but thanks.” I was right. I found a wrinkled up Kleenex and dabbed at the bloodied knee.

“You’re a good mother,” the woman solidly pronounced, looking down at me. I laughed lightly at her comment, and averted my eyes, shrugging it off as if I shouldn’t need to hear the compliment. Then I dug further into my bag for a baby wipe to clean off the scrape. Found that, too. I decided to push my luck. I dug again for a Band-aid, and — cue the trumpets — found one. It was glorious. For one brief moment, I possessed everything I truly needed in my bag, which I had habitually maintained with all the little ancillary items that one might need for “just in case” moments like these. The moments that seemed to never occur. Until then. And this time, wonder of wonders, a complete stranger had witnessed it. She repeated herself, slowly and with meaning: “You’re a good mother.”

I gathered up the dirtied Kleenex, Band-aid wrapper, and baby wipe and stuffed it all hurriedly back into the bag. I stood up, took my daughter’s hand, and quickly checked on my son in the stroller.

Before leaving, I looked into the woman’s eyes, realizing this moment was pivotal to my sense of self and that this perfect stranger perfectly understood how important her approving words were to me. While two very different people, with dissimilar backgrounds and life stories, we were remarkably alike in that we both understood the frightening, yet satisfying, responsibilities of motherhood and our quiet need for the assurance that we both were doing at least an “okay” job. She had given me a gift. I replied, simply and truthfully, “Thank you.”