A few days into the trip, I notice the host father seems to have stopped posting pictures on Facebook. This is disappointing, since I am going out of town for a few days and won’t have access to Skype. I tell The Child she can call me if she needs to or wants to.
The father calls me one evening. He leaves the house and goes to sit in his car so we can speak privately. The Child is being difficult, he says, and he would like my advice in managing it. She’s arguing about things, and going off by herself, he says – but not in a safe way. She takes the paddle boat and goes off where she’s been told not to. She refuses to wear her life vest one day, or to go somewhere with the group another day. She argues and snaps and storms out of the room sometimes.
What I want to say is, send her home, but although everything seems to have been planned to the last detail, there is no escape plan.
Instead I say she’s exhausted and make suggestions: she doesn’t handle the unexpected well, I suggest, so it really helps to prepare her for what’s coming next. Tell her ahead of time, and then issue regular time warnings as you get ready to leave. The more tired she is, I tell him, the more she needs help with this.
It worked in third grade. It worked when I was still Mommy.
I receive many such calls over the next few days, and when I talk to her, I ask what’s going on. The conversations are not private, though. They are always on Skype, in the living room, where everyone else seems to be. She has a headset on, so they can’t hear me and I ask her questions. But all she says is: This isn’t how I thought it would be. This isn’t really fun.
She glances at people around her as they walk by, to let me know she cannot say what she wants to.
I get texts from her, sometimes happy sounding: we’re at a waterfall, it’s beautiful! But when I talk to her later and ask how she’s doing, she only says, it’s okay, but I’m not really having fun.
I try to coach her to put a smile on her face: She’s there as a guest, all expenses paid – and clearly her presence and her misery is ruining everyone’s trip. Make the most of it, I tell her. Maybe it’s not what you expected, but try to enjoy it anyway. You’re doing fun things, right? Try to enjoy them.
She can’t seem to find either her sense of fun, or the words to tell me what is wrong.
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