Written by JM Randolph, the accidental stepmom
The Forbidden City
A respected student organization invited my middle stepdaughter on a summer trip to China. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but China is on the other side of the planet. It’s 7,400 miles away, or, as I like to think of it, 1/32 of the distance to the moon.
Since the cost of the trip was greater than our annual New Jersey property taxes, she needed to do some serious fundraising. This was a great opportunity to teach her that the biggest factor in achieving a goal is your own belief it will happen. Secretly, though, in my own head, it was still a maybe. As long as that was the case, I didn’t have to think about her actually being in China. We still had nine months.
She talked the owner of our local coffee shop into hiring her at just 15. She did odd jobs for relatives and sold candy bars. Before long, she’d raised a significant amount of money. She even made sure we got her passport application in on time, a miracle in itself.
The organization sent out an email for prepaid international cell phones. It sounded like a good idea but we didn’t need to think about that yet. Every time I thought about China, I had visions of her falling off the Great Wall or getting attacked by a rogue panda.
Because the group met on Saturdays, when my husband and I work, our babysitter went with her to the meetings. The students did presentations and had to take quizzes online. The cell phone option was discussed, but we still had time.
Our babysitter took notes and knew exactly what to expect in China. Our kid, however, apparently spent most of that time texting her friends. Despite her impressive ambition for fundraising, she turned out to have an equally impressive ability to procrastinate. I can’t imagine where she got that.
Two days before departure, we got home from work at midnight to find her hovering over the babysitter’s laptop trying to pump her for answers to the quizzes she still had to complete. There was an empty suitcase in the living room with a laundry basket of wadded-up clothes nearby. She had lost the checklist, as well as the first three days of the itinerary.
Meanwhile, my husband and I had missed the deadline for the cell phone. Also for the reloadable Visa card. I went to the bank at the last possible minute to exchange her pocket money for yuan.
Just like that, she was off to China for 17 days.
During the twenty-two hours it took their flight to land 7,400 miles away in Beijing, I deeply regretted not getting the phone, not being at the meetings, not forcing her to be more prepared, not being more prepared myself.
When she called on a leader’s phone to tell us she forgot to get a calling card, she said she'd walked the Great Wall. “It was amazing! You can’t even imagine it from the pictures.”
She said most kids didn’t have cell phones. The ones who did were constantly answering texts from their parents; everyone else was just…being in China. Doing exactly what they should be doing: reveling in a completely different culture, without their parents, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
A little procrastination goes a long way. Sometimes, all the way to China.
JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand, and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.