This morning my husband and I drove our eldest son Bobby to San Francisco International Airport for a flight that will eventually land him in El Salvador. To the question, "Why is your son going to El Salvador," my standard answer is officially, "Because I am an idiot."
I guess the real answer is somewhat more difficult to figure out. My son has parents who are overeducated overachievers who way the hell oversheltered him for the first 14 years of his life. And then we moved to Berkeley two years ago and it all went to hell. Sort of. I think the best thing about Berkeley is that it's a great place to raise free-range children. Our youngest, Sam, started taking BART by himself when he was 11 because his best friend moved to the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel. We would drop him at our end, they would pick him up on their end. We armed both of them with bus passes and let them head off to Eudamonia in downtown Berkeley. Or to the ledges outside of Berkeley High where the skate punks gather. And every time they walked out the door, my heart would seize until they came home.
And then I moved them back to Salinas and pissed them both off.
I think I'm hoping Bobby will figure out his life during a few weeks in Central America. He's a low-ambition kid, a smart as hell, exceedingly eloquent 16-year-old kid who has no interest in performing for his parents or for his teachers. He always has a few books going, he loves theater and music and baseball. He thinks he wants to join the Peace Corps, but that could change by tomorrow.
Our friend Max has been planning this trip to El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize for months. His wife, Feliciana, needs to be in Guatemala for the next nine days to ... celebrate? mourn? the first year anniversary of her father's death. Max is going to take his boys, Bobby and a fourth teenager--the son of another set of friends--surfing and hiking and for Spanish lessions in El Salvador before they head to Guatemala on Thursday, where they will work at a clinic sponsored by Max's congregation and hopefully help out with any work that needs to be done at Feliciana's house. She was raised in the mountains, three hours away from electricity, and with both of her parents gone, the small farm and the house now are hers.
We met all of them at the airport this morning, where Dr. P, the mom of the fourth teen, asked me how I was doing with the trip. Because her husband (we'll call him RFM, for Really Famous Musician) was freaking the hell out. Dr. P will be joining them on Thursday, when I will start freaking out a little less.
"I'm freaking out too," I said. "Do you have your prescription pad? Can I have some valium?"
She didn't and I couldn't. But we sat in a lounge area while the boys got their boarding passes and talked about our worries.
Chuck: Dengue Fever. You're on your back for eight days and you can't take care of your own basic needs.
RFM: Nodding. Yeah, that's a bad one.
Me: I'm worried about kidnapping, illegal organ harvesting and Central American jails.
Dr. P: You can't be worried about organ harvesting. That's not a legitimate fear.
Me: It's my fear and I'll worry if I want to.
RFM: Condoms. I forgot to tell him about condoms.
Me: Yeah, we went over that one last night.
Dr. P, eyes widening: Condoms? You don't think ... really? Condoms?
Me: They're teenage boys.
RFM, sighing: I'll go tell him.
We lingered on as the boys and Max wended their way through the security line. I wrapped myself around my baby's neck and hung on until it was embarrassing for both of us.
And then I let him go.