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Worlds Apart


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Hello dear readers,

I have been offline for a while. My son just turned 18 and had his first day of classes at the University of Helsinki in Finland today. It has and continues to be a great adventure for both of us! I just returned to the United States after spending nearly two weeks in Finland, helping my son to get settled there.

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When I was 19 years old, as a third year art student at Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore, I too headed overseas to Paris, France to pursue my studies. As I look back at my own experiences as both a teen just beginning adulthood as well as considering my own and my son’s perspectives from a parental point of view, so many thoughts and emotions surface.

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Life is so different now. In September of 1986, when I first set out on my own European adventure, there was no Internet to speak of, no mobile phones for everyday people. I was truly on my own, and my family did not come with me to help me settle into my new life. I had to figure everything out for myself. There were advantages and disadvantages to this arrangement. It was a great struggle, but by necessity, I had to find my way. I had to figure out where to live, how to pay my rent, how to find a job and pay my own bills. I had to learn the language and make friends. I had to figure out the bureaucracy on my own and deal with its intricacies over a period of many years. It was often a lonely process. I could not message friends back in the U.S. or lose myself in social media. I spent a lot of time walking the streets of Paris, by day and by night, exploring the city. That was how I coped with the solitude of my condition, especially during the times when I had not yet made friends, or when my friends had left the country for other adventures.

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The world is much smaller today, and it is mostly a great thing. I can click on an app on my phone and see that my son is shopping at a grocery store near his student apartment and know that he is OK, even though he is, according to that app, 4,823 miles away from home. When he is shopping, he can message me and ask whether or not he should buy the apple cider vinegar for 4 Euros, or which of the electric kettles for sale is a better choice. There are still a lot of things he has to negotiate on his own, but it is comforting for both him and me to know that we can feel so very close thanks to the i-phone!

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My own mother was very fearful of losing her children. By holding us close, I imagine she felt that she would never be alone. It seemed as if she did not want us to grow up and become independent adults. While my brother and sister ceded to her qualms, I could not allow myself to live such a restrictive life, and I cut the cords. It was an either/or arrangement. Either you were part of the family, or you were a complete outsider. I chose freedom, and with that freedom came a large dose of solitude.

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I have come to love my solitude, which is not the same thing as loneliness. Yet in today’s world, we, as human beings, are trying to come to terms once again with intimacy. I have allowed and encouraged my only child, my son, to go to live and study in a country even farther away than France. It was important to me to encourage his dreams and to help him to realize his own potential. Was this easier for me to do because of technology?

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I have felt concerned as a parent and as a woman what my life will be like now that my son is living so far away. Now I will have more time to devote to my own interests. But because I have been cut off from my own family, this separation is all the more poignant. The technology is making it easier, less painful. I have traveled to Finland, and I have helped my son to decorate his room, to buy the things he needs. We have explored the city together. Without that shared experience, this transition would have been much more difficult.

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It has taken a lot of work, much organization and effort to carry off this ambitious project. I am a single parent, and I don’t have a large income or much savings. My son’s father has never contributed personally or financially to his well-being or education. But because my son and I both nurtured this dream and invested our energy and confidence in this vision, we were together able to make it a reality.

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This is inspiring to me.  With our thoughts, our emotions, our dreams, we create realities. As a mom, I am ready to restart my own new adventure, just as I continue to support my only son as he takes his first steps as a young adult in a far-off land. It is exciting and a little fearful for moms to let their kids go off into the world. We want to protect them, and often our identity hinges on being a mother. We have poured so much love and caring into our kids. I am very proud of my son, and I am proud of myself for helping to shape the intelligent, creative, caring human being that my son has come to be. We continue to grow together and as individual beings, so close and also apart.

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With our new technologies, we mothers of the world are able to stay connected with our kids as they explore the wider world, all while nurturing our own dreams and making the contributions to life and art that we, as creators of realities, have always held within our hearts, minds, and bodies.

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