Sometimes getting our thoughts down on paper is the only way to make sense of a situation—a dissapointment, or even tragedy. And that’s what I’m attempting to do here.
I didn’t have time to post last week. I was busy helping my daughter, Danielle pack for her school trip to France. There were so many little details to take care of that my head was spinning. In fact, I really wondered if she’d ever get on the bus at all—like shopping, packing, making calls to the cell phone company, exchanging american money for euros, and so much more. It turns out though, that after all the planning and scurrying we did, she actually didn’t get on the bus. But as you can probably guess, the reason had nothing to do with her not being packed and ready to go.
Two years ago, when Danielle was in 10th grade , she had the opportuity to travel with her French class to Montreal and Quebec City. She had begged me to let her go—all her friends were going, they’d get to experience the French culture, see the French inspired elements throughout the city—and even speak some French. I admit, I was so scared to let her go. (Yeah, I am that mom.) But my husband and I agreed that it would be a fabulous experience- only 9 hours away, and much less expensive and scary than sending her to France.
Little did I know how amazing this experience would be for her. She reveled in the French culture and to this day speaks of the beautiful architecture, the fabulous sites, the dog sled rides, and fun times spent with her friends. After the trip, her French teacher, Mr. Thomas, assigned the kids French pen pals from a school in the town of Quimper, France—about 8 hours from Paris. Danielle and her pen pal, Maelle clicked right away. At first, I think it was beause they both loved gymnastics and shared their competition stories, and in the beginning, the girls simply exchanged letters, practicing writing in a foreign language. But eventually their communication evolved to social media. It’s amazing how Snap Chat can solidify a friendship—from even across the pond!
This past February, Mr. Thomas (the same French teacher she’s had for three years) talked to us about the school’s mini exchange program. In April, the French students would visit NYC for a few days and then visit Rochester. Each American student would host their pen pal in their home for a little over week. They’d go to school with them and live life exactly as an American teenager does. Then, in November, the American kids would would travel to Quimper, stay in their penpal’s home, go to school with them—live life as a French teenager for almost a week. Then, the Americans would head to Paris and experience all that the City of Lights has to offer… a dream come true for all of them!
Without going into too much detail, I initially told my daughter she could not go on the trip. I told her we would be happy to have Maelle stay in our home for the first part of the exchange, but I was just too afraid to let her travel overseas alone. The attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris had just occurred and I was fearful of what could happen. As you can imagine, my daughter was upset, but she seemed to understand.
And then in April, Maelle and her French classmates arrived.
That’s when everything in my eyes changed. I saw the world as it really is…a small place full of amazing people—kids who live so very far apart but who are really very alike. I saw kids who had much to offer each other and many experiences to share. But what I mostly saw was a whole bunch of French and American teenagers laughing and hanging out together like they had been best friends their whole lives.
At the end of their trip, on the morning the French kids boarded their bus for the airport, my heart was heavy. The kids were sobbing as they said their good byes, knowing that many of them would never see each other again. Sure maybe thier families would travel to Europe some day and maybe they would look each other up to meet for coffee, but they’d never all be together as a group like this again.
That’s when I changed my mind about Danielle participating in the French portion of the exchange. I realized the importance of her having this experience. But it was much more than just the exchange. Danielle’s best friend Siobhan was going on the trip and had been begging me to let her go too. The roomates for Paris were not yet set and she wanted Danielle to room with her—wanted to go on the trip with her and shop with her in France. How could I say no to two girls who had shopped together through their tweens and now had the opportunity to shop together in Paris and experience their culture? Besides, our whole family loves Siobhan and had grown to love Maelle and her best friend, Zoe too. The thought of Danielle never seeing them again made me so sad. And so I pushed my concerns and fears away (as well as I could anyway) and after much deliberation, my husband and I told Danielle—she could go to France.
So much happened over those next few months—track season, junior prom, a summer job to help pay for the trip, a new school year, applying for colleges—and all the while Danielle and Siobhan made their plans for France with their pen pals, Maelle and Matilde. They made plans with their French classmates and Mr. Thomas. They were incredibly excited—and I was really doing okay with her making the trip. I knew Danielle would be in good hands, experience the trip of a lifetime with such close friends, and I was truly excited for her.
Then, last Friday night, while Danielle and I shopped at the mall for last minute items, 6 days before her class was set to leave…we got the news: Paris had been attacked.
Most of you know the rest of the story. The events have turned our whole world upside down. People from all over the globe have been affected so profoundly…and it’s heartbreaking.
So why bring my daughter’s story to light? Why even mention it at all? In the scope of things, I realize it’s really very small. But I guess that’s exactly why I feel the need to write about it.
Events like this are farther reaching than many of us realize and they can hurt in the most heartbreaking of ways. Of course, I know I’m so very lucky that her trip was cancelled and that she was no where near the attacks when they occurred. I know it could have been so much worse.
However, her story is still heartbreaking.
Sure, she may get to France again some day, but she will never experience France in this way again—with Siobhan and Maelle and Zoe and Mr. Thomas…and so many others.
So now you know why I’ve been quiet on the blog. My heart has just felt so heavy and sad. Sad for the victims, sad for the people who were there, sad for the kids who should have been there—under entirely different circumstances.
But in every tragedy and disappointment comes a light and this case is no different. Last evening, a local business in our town hosted a French dinner for the kids. A local hair salon styled the girls’ hair and gave them manicures for the event. A local florist gave each of the kids flowers (an iris—the national flower of France) and created centerpieces for the tables, a local photographer took pictures, and a local chef prepared a traditional French feast. The kids and their chaperones were treated to a spectacular evening that I’m sure they will never forget. Sure, there were tears—some for the trip that they were not meant to take, and some for the tragedy that has befallen people just like them in a land they long to see. But all in all, the event shed a positive, spectacular light and showed us that people are generous and caring and good. It’s lovely to see how people come together when it really means the most.
And so as we head into this next week of Thanksgiving, I realize how very much we have to be thankful for when it comes to my daughter’s trip to France. She and her friends are safe in their homes—both the American kids and their French friends—and thanks to this amazing exchange, they’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime from even across the pond. And that’s something very special to be thankful for.