Loco Parentis: So Far Away

My daughter is having an adventurous life of her own, without me. Is it time for me to follow her lead?

‘‘WANT TO HEAR the new life plan?” Marcy asks over the cell phone. She’s calling from college, where she’s plotting out her courses for junior year. Should she double-major in women’s studies and Spanish? Women’s studies and Latin-American studies? Triple-major in all three? The problem is trying to cram the required classes into her remaining four semesters.

“Go ahead, shoot,” I say, folding laundry while I watch a Phillies game.

“Okay.” My daughter takes a breath. “I’m not going to Argentina.” That was last week’s life plan; spring semester junior year in Argentina. “I’m going to Mexico instead. I know — I already spent a semester in Mexico. But the professor in charge of the Study Abroad department convinced me I should go back. And this program’s based in my favorite city — Oaxaca.”

“What makes it your favorite city?” I ask dubiously, and have my dubiousness reinforced when she giggles:

“It has great clubs.”

“I see.” My voice drips wet-blanket, and she doesn’t miss it:

Joke, Mom. This is perfect for me. It’s an independent study.”

I don’t like the sound of that. If she has to go abroad again, I liked the Argentina plan, in which she’d study at a university and stay with a family, just like last time in Mexico. Nothing bad happened to her doing that. “What makes it an independent study?”

“We start at a university, but then we go out into the field. These guest lecturers come and tell us about different NGOs and community development groups, and we choose one we’re interested in and do a field-study seminar. The program’s called ‘Grassroots Development and Social Change.’”

I want to be enthusiastic. I truly do. But her college, Dicklenburg, has a beautiful leafy-green campus, handsome historical buildings, and several thousand smart, good-looking kids who go to football games and join frats and sororities and have a lot of fun, all while wearing designer clothes. Why can’t she just spend her college years there, drinking and getting high with friends? “Is it safe?” I ask.

“Oaxaca’s in the south. It’s not near the border, where all the drug killings are.”

How reassuring. “When you go out on this field study, who exactly goes with you?”

“I don’t know.” She’s getting impatient, and I can’t blame her. Here she is on the threshold of a great adventure, and all Mom does is carp. “I need to challenge myself,” she says curtly, reinforcing my sense that she’s nervous about taking this next step. Glimpsing a chink, I move to exploit it:

“Can’t you challenge yourself at Dicklenburg?”

Long sigh. Then she goes for the jugular: “You don’t think it will look better on my résumé that I did a field study in Mexico?”

How can a parent argue with that?

“There’s a website for the program,” she tells me, and spells out the URL. “I have to go to the library now. Love you. ’Bye.”

“’Bye,” I say faintly, already heading for my computer. I pull up the one-page description of the program, and have to admit it seems custom-made for her odd combination of interests: women’s studies, the Spanish language, indigenous cultures, Latino men. Then I see a box on the page that’s headlined “Grassroots Activism”: