By Chris Burritt
We packed Alice up and put her on a plane to Paris. Somehow she had convinced me that spending a year in one of the most expensive cities in the world would be cheaper than going to college in Columbia, South Carolina.
Not yet 21, Alice has turned out just as many parents would wish. She’s smarter than her dad. She inherited a blessed few traits from me. She stumbles on her words. When the last of her travel documents for Paris arrived shortly before her departure, I chided her, but she reminded me she had learned procrastination from me.
I imagine some of you would welcome a break from your grown children. In the few weeks Alice was home last summer, she left coffee mugs everywhere except in the kitchen sink. She hijacked her grandmother’s car and scooted around whenever she pleased. Exactly where, I’m not sure, though I think she was somewhere in the Carolinas.
I ask you to remember a few years back, or maybe long ago, when your children were coming along and you wished the best for them. If you were lucky, they didn’t get caught skipping school or breaking the speed limit — or worse. We shouldn’t be surprised when they fail to resist the temptations of the proverbial primrose path; after all, we’ve created a roadmap for them.
I should have learned this lesson sooner. But admittedly, I’m a pushover for my daughter — even to this day. Children play the gray between parents. They tell us where they’re going. They sometimes lie. Alice tends toward being sneaky, another of my traits. I’ve warned her about the perils of shading the truth; she shrugs.
I’ve urged her to wear a mask wherever she goes even if Covid-19 regulations don’t require it. Her insouciance nagged me as Alice left for her second trip to Paris, on her own. The first visit was a family trip that lasted a few weeks. Alice was old enough to cycle with her older brother, Christopher, to the bakery near our garden apartment. They’d return with soft éclairs, fresh and wrapped in paper.
I realized then they were blessed with wanderlust that lured Christopher to Asia and now Alice to Paris. She said she’s actually going to study there. Alice endeared herself to me long ago when she defended my dog, Inky, from someone’s accusation that she smelled bad. “Inky smells like Inky,’’ Alice replied.
She was a precocious child. I rocked her on a creaky floor, telling stories about a little girl who lived in a house in the woods. On her walks, she’d encounter a monster with long claws that would swipe at her heels. She always managed to escape, jumping through her bedroom window and under her bed covers, safely home.
I remembered those stories when Alice came home last summer, though some of their details had slipped away. I also remembered rocking Alice for a while when I’d finish the story, until she’d say, “You can leave now.’’ I guess she’s saying as much now.
Before she departed, Alice invited me to visit her in Paris. I’m setting aside money from odd jobs to buy a plane ticket.
I’m inclined to pass on things we did before. Wouldn’t I regret skipping the Mona Lisa in the Louvre? I tell myself no. I’m embarrassed to say what I actually want to do: Return to a particular bench near the Musée d’ Orsay, a museum of Impressionist art. It was shady and cool on that July day, I remember, and Alice slept in my lap, while her mother and brother visited the museum to look at Van Gogh’s self-portraits and one of his starry nights.
I think I’ll book a flight for next spring. On second thought, the view from the Eiffel Tower may be too breathtaking to pass up. My daughter and I may ride to the top together. Imagine this instead: I jump on a flight to Paris and when I get there, Alice is not. Never was. Wouldn’t that be just like her?
Chris Burritt is a Greensboro native who has worked for the State Port Pilot, the weekly newspaper in Southport, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Bloomberg News. He now writes articles for the Northwest Observer covering Summerfield, Oak Ridge and Stokesdale.
Illustration by Harry Blair