MJ Hanley-Goff

Before my daughter, Emily, and I took a trip to Paris, I made her watch the iconic action-thriller film, “Taken.” It was the first of that Liam Neeson series about two teens snatched while on vacation in the City of Lights and sold off to the sex trade. The movie showed what a parent should do to recover their child (OK, a Mission Impossible kind of parent), and offered a reminder of what can happen when you let your guard down in unfamiliar surroundings.

Just before taking off at New York’s JFK International Airport, I reminded Emily—then in 11th grade—of the movie. “Now Em,” I said, “if two cute young guys ask us to a party, we have to say no!” To which, she coolly replied, “Mom, if you’re with me, no one is going to ask us to any party.” So off we went, fulfilling a promise made when I became a mom: To take each of my children on a special trip, somewhere in the world.
Why did I choose 11th grade?

Because once kids reach their senior year of high school, something kicks in. Most don’t want to stand near their parent, let alone spend a week in their sole company. It’s the time before the college excitement really takes over, and they can still seem (sometimes, at least) like the cute 5-year-old they were just a short time ago.

I also wanted each girl to eventually feel comfortable travelling anywhere. For Emily, and two years later, daughter Caroline, this meant giving them a sense that the world was reachable, that they could get to far-flung places, experience a new culture, foreign language and currency. They would learn that people are good all over, and that there’s so much to enjoy in this big, big world. Even—and especially—after 9/11. I wouldn’t want my kids to plan an excursion to a war-torn country, but I wanted to raise them brave.

Lastly, I didn’t want to wait until they were too far along with their own friends to do these kinds of adventures with Mom. By her second year of college, Emily would be driving herself up and down New York State, and on her spring breaks, she could fly off with friends to a beach somewhere. I didn’t want to put it off&—no “shudda, wudda, cudda,” regrets in my later years. Nope, 11th grade was the optimum year.

So when each daughter entered that special year, I proclaimed: “Pick any place in the world you want to see. The only condition is that we need a passport.”

Emily immediately chose Paris for its trendiness and fashion—and because since she was taking French, she could show me up at reading menus, street signs and subway maps. She held her tongue, enduring every church we had to visit; I, in turn, held mine as I waited for her to wake up each morning. (Geez…11am? Really?) We took the high-speed Chunnel train which whooshed us from France into London in about three hours. We spent a day on a bus tour, and spent the night in a hotel near Hyde Park, then whooshed back to Paree. It was wonderful.

When I offered my younger daughter the same kind of mom-and-daughter trip, she couldn’t decide where to go. “Caroline,” I said, “it could be anywhere&—Hawaii, Mexico, even an African safari.” To which her eyes opened wide. “Really, an African safari?” I gulped. But I agreed. After all, Emily could have made an equally exotic request, so South Africa it was.

I chose a travel agent who understood my concerns travelling to an unpredictable area. I needed to know that we had reputable hotels, reliable transport, the right vaccines and anti-malaria medications. One last thing. “You might want to check the U.S. Travel Alert website regularly,” she said, and consider purchasing emergency cancellation insurance. That night we watched “Taken.”

Despite our pre-trip jitters, all went well&—it was magical, really. The accommodating hotel staff, the exquisitely prepared food, the wild beasts roaming the plains. We felt we’d been more than just a 15-hour flight away, but rather, light years.

Of course, these trips did not come cheap. I still have a few more payments to make. (I used a designated mother-daughter adventure credit card, with zero interest for a time, and a low rate after that.) But without a doubt, it was money well spent. The adventures, the one-on-one time with daughters—you can’t put a price on that. Whether it meant as much to them, I may never know. What I do know is that each one, as I had hoped, has since become an easy traveler, confident in getting themselves wherever they have to go. Occasionally, we’ll bring up a memory, like, how we found a Starbucks just outside Versailles where we charged our phones, or sat mesmerized, watching a baby elephant charge our safari jeep. (We’ve since become elephant advocates, anti-ivory fanatics, and the adoptive parents of an elephant calf.)

When I mention these trips to other parents, many look at me with amazement. Some say they wish they’d done something similar. Others say they could never go off and do that. Maybe so. But even if you don’t have kids, consider calling up a niece, nephew, or godchild and making the same offer.

Life is short, and we aren’t promised tomorrow. I learned that one Monday night in 1981, when my dad came home from work, and after dinner, sat in his rocking chair and suffered a massive heart attack. He was gone before the paramedics got to the house. He was 64.

Whether you’re in your 40s or your 70s, every day offers an opportunity to do that one thing you’ve always wanted to do. For me it was travel; for others, it may be skydiving or learning to scuba dive. Just do your research and go.

And if you ever want to watch “Taken,” I can lend you my copy.

MJ Hanley-Goff is a freelance writer who recently moved to Nassau County, New York, fulfilling a promise she made in her previous essay (http://roelresources.com/so-where-would-home-be-now). Author of two books, MJ conducts writing workshops throughout the metropolitan area. She can be reached at mjgoff758@gmail.com.

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