At this time four years ago, my husband and I were standing amongst a group of excited and nervous parents at the Philadelphia International Airport as we prepared to send our 10-year-old son to Mexico.
At this time four years ago, my husband and I were standing amongst a group of excited and nervous parents at the Philadelphia International Airport as we prepared to send our 10-year-old son, also excited and nervous, off to Cuernavaca, Mexico for two weeks with his 5th grade class. We had been a part of the Plymouth Meeting Friends School community for six years already and we knew this day would eventually get here; in fact, PMFS’s Mexican Exchange Program was one of the reasons we chose PMFS in the first place. There are certainly other schools in the area that take students on international trips, but, as far as I know, none as early as elementary school. We were excited about this early opportunity for intercultural exchange - the cultural and language immersion for our child while he was in Mexico and the opportunity to share our home, our city, and our traditions with our son’s Mexican Exchange partner (a 5th grader at our partner school, Colegio Williams de Cuernavaca) for two weeks.
Our son’s teacher, Leann Stover Nyce, had been running PMFS’s Mexican Exchange Program for many years and was an endless source of information, support, and reassurance both as we prepared to host our Mexican friends in January of 2019 and as we prepared to send our own children to Mexico at the end of that February. And, yes, she did ask us to not cry in front of our children at the airport. This advice made sense to me. We wanted our child, despite any nervousness he might have had, to feel excited about taking this big step. No reason to make the departure any harder than it had to be.
To be honest, I really didn’t think I would get emotional at the airport send-off anyway.
And now I’m here to publicly say, “I was wrong.”
When those kids lined up in their matching green anoraks, with their three chaperoning teachers leading them like little ducklings up the escalator to go through security, away from the people who loved them most of all, my eyes filled up and I felt the sobs coming. I held it together until my kid was out of sight and then went off to a lonely corner to have my moment and then collect myself.
For the next two weeks, I was glued to my phone as both the PMFS teachers and my son’s host family in Cuernavaca sent us daily photos and news of what he and his classmates were doing. My heart was filled with love and gratitude and awe… and even a little envy! (Google “Las Estacas'' in the middle of a Philly winter and you’ll understand.) After two busy weeks, our son returned home not only with gifts for his family, but also with a new maturity… a worldliness and more evolved confidence in himself. He’s a 9th grader now and still views his experience with PMFS’s Mexican Exchange as one of the biggest highlights of his time at PMFS.
As for us parents, this week we’re sending our 11-year-old daughter off on her trip to Mexico. I’m definitely less nervous this time, but the question still remains: Will I cry at the airport?
Jessica Lember, Parent and Board Member at Plymouth Meeting Friends School