“Can you believe I’m doing this and I’m only sixteen?, my daughter, Lily, asked as she helped haul her two giant suitcases out of the trunk at the airport. She didn’t realize how seriously I was trying to understand why the hell I did go along with this proposal from its inception. Lily was organized, motivated, and I think, fairly sensible. She was a kid who, simply put – got things done. But whole books have been written about that other side of her personality. By definition she is what you call, a sensitive person. Sensitive to other people’s moods, to the clothes she wears, the food she eats, and especially to the shades of light in a room. How could I agree to such an undertaking for her, as five months in the home of stranger’s in a foreign culture – as part of a language immersion program, and why, oh why would she seek that out? The most reassuring theory is one that I read years ago when I first began to worry about her adaptability. The theory was that these kids (sensitive kids) are, in fact, the ones that grow up and seek out adventure and unheard of challenges, because they feel they have been challenged and forced to adapt all their lives. If you didn’t know someone like Lily (and you probably do), you might say she was just fussy. It is different than that. It seems to me that while so many people are willing to just go along, people like Lily strive to seek out the best circumstances for themselves, though it can be distressing when she feels her disappointment in failing to do that so deeply.
Lily has learned that ordering chicken quesadillas in a restaurant almost always works out for her – of course, she checks to make sure the onions are green, not white and has explained to me that that the biggest issue is the chicken – “it has to be the kind of chicken that rips in strips, not that weird white chicken that can be cut into neat little cubes. Anyone would agree that stuff is gross.” (Really, she had a point with the square chicken bits.) If the onions are white and the chicken is square she switches to a pepperoni pizza, though she prefers the pepperoni on top of the cheese, please.
This daughter, who went out of her way to seek out well-lit interiors and spoke some French, but very little Italian, and worried too much about who liked her, this daughter had decided to immerse herself in a far away land on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, surrounded by strangers who would speak a foreign tongue and who may or may not like her, and who would likely abide in shadowy, ancient homes. Still, she spent a season walking home from school, hugging the last rays of sun on short winter afternoons listening to Italian CD’s. She had experimented with different pastas, and had agreed to try inner crying, rather than sobbing aloud when circumstances defeated her, and had said she couldn’t wait to see what everyday life in Rome had in store for her.
And hey, it’s true, she has cried in public places, but joy overcomes her too, and she’s been known to merrily skip in public, or burst into song, or make candid observations to others – complementary, but surprising all the same. “Try not to be a weirdo,” I said as we headed for the airport check-in counter. “Don’t worry, Mom”, she replied, understanding perfectly what I meant. “I will be so on the level.” She made a broad gesture with her hand, slicing straight and even through the air and raised her voice so that other traveler’s eyes were on us. “So on the level.”