Travelling to Europe brings back many memories. We landed in Heathrow London for a short while and immediately I could smell an infamous cigarette smoke penetrating the airport even though it is forbidden to smoke inside. I casually noticed how much better Europeans are dressed compared to Americans. There was this sense of being in a different world even though British speak the same language. Soon we were boarding a Croatian airplane. There I was pleasantly surpized. Alexandra, exhausted from a 16 hour trip had fallen asleep in my arms while waiting for boarding the plane. I was carrying her inside when a plane attendant offered to fasten her into my seat belt with an extension kit. That worked perfectly because I didn’t need to wake her up for a take off. During my previous trip, a year ago, the stewardesses had demanded that she was sitting in her seat fastened for the take off even though it warranted a 45 minutes screaming because all Alexandra wanted was to sit on me.
Zagreb airport was relatively small compared to other ones we visited. Here the cigarette smoke was overpowering. But outside, awaiting us was beautiful golden autumn. Fall is by far my favorite season of the year and when I used to live in Poland I anticipated it with a thrill of excitement. Why? Because it offers the most splendid foliage and the colors of fall are worthy the palette of an artist. I remember how much I loved taking long walks on chilly yet sunny days, strolling through the alleys filled with red, yellow, brown leaves. I enjoyed the fall colors and even more that special feeling of coming home from a chilly walk and having a cup of hot tea to warm my hands and heart. Here in Zagreb, I noticed the same beautiful fall weather with its golden and red insignia. That filled my heart with pleasure. As we were driving through the city I was curiously looking out the window and observing the similarities between Warsaw and Zagreb. Both cities look very much alike with similar architecture and abundance of parks. I was explaining to Ania that here people walk on foot and use public transportation rather than their own cars. The girls noticed that children are walking to school all by themselves.
This was a topic in itself. We discussed that Eastern Europe children learn to be more responsible for themselves much earlier on and are given more freedom by parents. They walk to school in groups of friends and can cross the street. Parents teach their children how to think for themselves and be safe. Younger children go home right after the school but older ones usually linger around their neighborhood and spend time in a park until it is time to go home. Teenagers hang around the downtown trendy spots. I clearly remember when I was 16 I was taking a bus or a tram to the downtown after my school just to hang out with my friends, go shopping or take classes. I was back home around 8pm, many hours after the darkness fell. My parents were not worried with me being away from home for the entire day. Now, that I think of this, it is amazing as it is in direct clash with American lifestyle. Our middle class suburbian life is as far as can be from my European upbringing. There is crime and violence and to let young children be free like that is simply dangerous. But…
But, I am wondering, in an effort to protect them from a harm, aren’t we protecting them too much? Aren’t teenagers supposed to be thinking for themselves? Discovering what is safe or not and using their own brains? I certainly did. My parents provided me with general outlines and explained what was safe and what was not but the rest was up to me to figure out. I was a teenager who ventured with a group of friends to visit Polish mountains and hiked there for two weeks. We were given backpacks, tents and some money and there we went. I could travel by train from my town to another one without my mom. Surely, it was a different time without drug dealers, addicts, and all the modern world demoralization. But there were dangers. I remember seeing a psycho man in the middle of my path to school. I went back and waited for a group of other students to walk together in a big group. Another time I was being followed by strange looking man, I managed to hide myself in a cafe shop. There were moments when I wasn’t safe. So now, being a mom, it is hard for me to imagine my daughters being in a harms’s way and not protected by me.
It is different time and different culture. While I would love to give them the freedom I was given as a child and a teenager, this doesn’t seem feasible in America. Since my daughters are still very young such questions will remain unanswered for a long time. At least until they are teenagers and the issue of independence does come up. Then, I will have to embrace their flight for independence and remember how advantegous my situation was when I was younger myself.