An American in Paris - wearing my socks

As I write, my socks are in the sky between continents. They, along with my youngest child, a daughter newly in her teens, are beginning a nine-day odyssey. Courtesy of, and in the company of, her fairy-godmother grandparent, Amanda will stop in Paris, Nice, Monte Carlo, Florence, and Rome.

Even before she lands in Paris, she will have already exceeded my travels to date, simply by leaving North America. Once that airborne milestone is passed, she will be in territory foreign to me, experiencing life in a way I can only imagine.

In the two months we've had to anticipate the adventure, the majority of time has been spent just believing that the trip is real. We've watched travel videos, done research in encyclopedias, browsed the Internet, but still it all seems remote. How do you imagine the unimaginable?

A more down-to-earth activity we could focus on was what to pack. Amanda was certainly planning to heed the overwhelming advice to pack lightly. But she still envisioned many areas of need, from walking miles indoors and out, to fancy dining, under warm sunshine or cool rain.

With instincts born of years of economical living and frequent moving, we browsed thrift stores for bits of multipurpose clothing. Amanda didn't want to look "too American." (I'm still trying to figure that one out.) The end result was a unique blend of fanciful and functional.

As fellow writers, we also brainstormed over the practicality of having a life-changing experience that would insist it be written about. When do you write right now so as to capture the fervor of a new moment, and when do you not write so as to live another moment, head up and heart fully engaged? We shopped for journals to pack in purses and tiny pads to fit in pockets.

In the last couple of days of assembling all that would constitute her portable home-away-from-home, I found a few items to offer her. In the midst of a very economical family budget, everyone in our family (adults included) gets an allowance. I use this unfettered finance to treat myself to products with a level of quality a few steps above absolute practical necessity. My earrings, writing pens, and socks happened to be items Amanda either needed or would appreciate borrowing.

So the night before her departure, during the final packing, I found myself feeling almost as if I were going along. My earrings will frame the face that turns to embrace sights and sounds and smells beyond my current imagination. Will a faint reflection of the Eiffel Tower linger in my silver cloisonn crescents?

Will my pen run dry, capturing images and impressions, the flavor and feet of foreign lands? And my socks.... My socks will travel nearly every inch of the journey, step-by-step with her in a new world of wonder. What stories upon stories will they have to tell?

WHATEVER else we both experience in years to come - and I don't limit the possibilities for either of us - Amanda will always have this trip behind her, not before her. The balance of her teen years, followed by young adulthood, perhaps choosing a life partner, making other long-term choices and commitments, all will be accomplished with whatever richer view of life this stretching time abroad will surely bring.

In a few days, I'll be at the airport awaiting my traveler's return. Knowing me, my first move will very likely be to embrace my daughter. I'm sure the arms that surround her will somehow squeeze tears out of my own eyes. But then soon, very soon, I'll want to know ... what do my socks have to say?

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