Loco Parentis: Crossing Borders

I brought my daughter up to believe that everybody’s equal. What was I thinking?

Compared to the boys at Dicklenburg, Mario is authentic as hell. He’s Heathcliff to Marcy’s Catherine — romantic, exotic, a bump in the smooth, easy path that I want her life to be. All the things that are hard for him turn out to be hard for her, too. She has to translate for him to the outside world. He won’t eat anywhere but at Mexican restaurants, where he can read the menus. Her Dicklenburg friends are completely perplexed by him; he’s outside their realm, an alien in every way.

Pondering my daughter’s future with him makes my stomach churn. It’s full of danger, uncertainty, volcanoes and landslides and mestizos. Already, it’s beginning. In August she’s headed to Mexico for a total-immersion semester studying Spanish. (He doesn’t want her to go. He doesn’t trust Mexicans. So much for immigrant solidarity.) To me, he’s the anti-anchor, a monkey wrench, the deus ex machina across the side fence.

And yet. Her world is going to be so much bigger than mine.

When she started at Dicklenburg, she didn’t want to study abroad. Speaking Spanish with Mario changed her mind. Now she’s talking about another semester away from school her junior year, maybe in Argentina, maybe in Bolivia. “Do you know what they told us at orientation for Mexico?” she asks, sitting in my sunny kitchen, home for the summer — though how much longer this will seem like home to her is something I don’t care to contemplate. “You don’t flush toilet paper there. You put it in the trash can. I’m going to be living with a host family and putting my used toilet paper in their trash can. How crazy is that?”

When I used to think about Marcy’s future, it was always in terms of her being settled. I’m beginning to see that being unsettled isn’t such a dreadful thing.

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