Monday, August 1, 2011

Planes, Trains and Automobiles—and Sending Daughters Abroad

I've probably watched the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles at least five or six times, and it's just as laugh-out-loud funny each time. It is about a man (Steve Martin) who tries to get home to his family for Thanksgiving, and everything that can go wrong goes wrong on his trip, including the fact that he always ends up with an annoying shower ring salesman as a companion (John Candy). But I don't think it's just the comedic genius of John Candy and Steve Martin that appeals to me. I watch that movie to truly appreciate the fact that I am not out there experiencing a trip of nightmarish proportions. I'm experiencing it vicariously, yes, but with the power to instantly end the experience via the click of a remote control and go to sleep in my own bed--a power I woefully lack when I'm actually out there braving airports and delayed flights. So that movie is more than just mindless entertainment to me--it's a complex psychological experience.

I've been having the opposite psychological experience since I woke up this morning, after finding out that my daughter Chelsea has been stuck at the Reykjavik airport on her way to Norway--about sixteen hours now. She will hopefully arrive in Oslo by 2:30 a.m., barring further delays. After much time talking with relatives on the phone, communicating with Chelsea through email, and researching hotels on the Internet, she has a hotel room by the airport and will be picked up by my dad when she checks out tomorrow at noon. Hurrah for the Internet for making long distance helicopter parenting possible! 

Not that Chelsea needs helicopter parenting. She pretty much planned this year abroad entirely by herself--figuring out how to get her college credits transferred, how to get a Norwegian social security number and passport (she has dual citizenship), learning the culture and language, and following the Norwegian news. She has lived and breathed Norway for the past year. 

She has also carefully researched the Norwegian fashions. (In case anyone is wondering, Converse high tops are a must have if you are planning a trip in the near future--the more colors the better.) A couple of days before she left, after too many trips to the mall to buy and return shoes and stuff, I warned her against going to Norway with a Norwegianer-than-thou attitude, by telling her about my Italian friend back when I studied in Norway my junior year in college. His real name was Giorgio, but when he moved to Norway he exercised the exceedingly poor judgment of legally changing it to Jørgen. He wore traditional Norwegian sweaters all the time and spoke Nynorsk (the version of written Norwegian that combines dialects and which is used in more traditional parts of the country). He was far more Norwegian than those of us who were born there, and of course we thought that an Italian born-again Norwegian was too funny.

Chelsea explained that she was in no danger of becoming like Jørgen because although she had worked very hard to become as Norwegian as possible, she wouldn't look like she had tried too hard. She would look like she effortlessly blended, instead of screaming, "I am American!" 

Maybe true. But even with all the right footwear, the best laid plans of mice and men and college girls can go awry. Several months ago when we made the reservations, Chelsea didn't need a meddling mother to tell her that a ten-hour layover in Reykjavik (which has now turned to sixteen) was too long and that she should go through London instead. She loved Iceland almost as much as she loves Norway (and yes, I think the past tense is probably correct, although I haven't asked her about it).  

I just got on Flight Stats and found out that her flight out of Iceland has taken off. Yay! And it will arrive at 2:30 a.m. local time. Not so yay--especially since we left for the San Francisco Airport at 6:45 a.m. yesterday, and her trip will take a grand total of 37 hours. But at least it should be over soon.

So I think I'll take a deep breath (after I call and double-check Chelsea's hotel reservations in Oslo) and watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles again tonight.

UPDATE at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time: She is now in her hotel room and the lady at the desk was nice enough to offer to let her check out at 2 p.m. tomorrow, so she can sleep in.