By Gabrielle.

I just got back from the San Francisco Airport. That’s twice in one week I’ve been a teary mess leaving that place. It’s possible I might be out of tears at this point — I told Ben Blair that everyone who is at home needs to hold still for a second while I catch my breath.

As promised, I wanted to tell you more about Maude’s opportunity and how she ended up flying to Paris today. The whole thing happened very quickly (holy cow so fast!) and I’m still wrapping my head around it. Because Maude LOVES her high school. The high school itself, and the experiences she’s had there. Maude has excellent grades. She’s active in student leadership. She’s been the captain of the Cross Country Team, and the Track team. She has an amazing group of friends that I adore. She loves school. And I wouldn’t have predicted this change of events for her.

But this summer, she went on a pilgrimage, and it really seemed to get her thinking about a different trajectory for her life. She started bringing up the idea of trying an international experience instead of returning to high school for her senior year. At first, I wasn’t sure she was serious about not returning, because like I said, she loves high school. But she was persistent about bringing it up.

As she looked to her senior year, she craved a new challenge. She knew if she returned to high school, she would make the most of it, and jump in with both feet, and take a challenging course load, and be super involved. But she had already done that. All of that. She had accomplished those things. She had been successful at those things. And she didn’t feel like there were many new challenges waiting for her. I would ask her what about Prom? What about senior year traditions? She wasn’t worried about missing them. She said, “I’ve been to Mormon Prom. That’s plenty of prom for me. If I’m in Oakland, of course, I’ll want to go. But Prom isn’t worth more to me than trying something new.”

There were a lot of really good and interesting people on the pilgrimage and hearing their stories, I think she started to think about her life in the third person, like she was observing her life. How did she want to describe herself. What experiences did she want to have that she could tell people about?

She kept bringing up the idea of an international adventure, and eventually we said, well, if you’re serious about this, there are a lot of things to work out. The biggest two: 1) What would you need to do to graduate? And 2) Where would you go, and for how long?We told her to start with those two, and if we can figure them out, we’ll take this seriously. But until then, we’re just considering it a fun idea.

Maude started searching for opportunties. Japan was high on her list. Also Norway. She liked the idea of learning another language. But no options seemed very solid. So it just remained an idea. Then, the day we arrived home from France for the summer, she got a text from her cousin — a family in France was looking for an American to work as an Au Pair/English Teacher for 18 hours per week, in exchange for room and board. Maude’s eyes lit up at the news.

There were two kids, age 7 and 9. She would pick them up from school, take them home on the Metro, help them with homework and make them dinner. And she would speak only in English with the kids (because their parents want them to learn). One night per week, she would put them to bed so the parents could have a date. Other than that, her time would be her own.

She would have her own studio apartment in Paris! She’s visited many times, but never lived in Paris. What an opportunity! It sounded perfect. She was definitely into it, but there were still a lot of unknowns. Would they want to hire Maude? What dates did they need her? And what about high school???

On the first day of school, just two days after we arrived home, she went straight to her guidance counselor and told her about the opportunity in France. The counselor was super supportive and very excited. She went through Maude’s schedule and attended to any missing details — like some PE credit that she earned from Track & Field, but that hadn’t made it onto her transcript. And she added up everything Maude still needed to graduate. Turns out it was only two classes! Just English and Gov/Econ.

So then we all talked together about Maude’s options. Maude’s transcript is in great shape to apply for college and we all (counselor, Maude and parents) want to make sure it stays that way. The counselor said there were online classes Maude could take to complete the two missing classes. Once finished, Maude could show the documentation to her counselor and the classes would be added to her high school transcript.

The counselor specifically mentioned there were certain online classes offered through BYU that are UC-approved (UC = University of California schools). We laughed that it was BYU, because she didn’t know that’s where Ben Blair and I went to school. (Funny coincidence.) The counselor said that if Maude completed her online work, she could come back and graduate with her class. This was music to Maude’s ears.

Maude wasn’t positive that she for sure wanted to do this, she was still exploring options. But once she had her school situation sorted, she started talking with the French family in earnest. She officially expressed interest and starting asking for more info. What kind of experience did she need to have? What dates did she need to commit to? What would the living situation be like? What neighborhood does the family live in? Could she get an Au Pair Visa — meaning, would she have permission to stay in France for the length of time needed?

The family was interested and wanted to hire her. They needed her to commit for a full school year. And they didn’t know anything about the Visa but were willing to write any necessary letters or contracts.

Maude started researching Visa options. And she hit a dead end. She couldn’t even get an appointment with the French Visa office here in San Francisco until the end of October. Alas, the host family needed her by September 2oth! Another bummer: from what she could tell, the French government won’t allow her to apply for the Visa when she’s already in France. The appointment needs to take place here in the States.

So then she made plan B. She would go to France from September 20th to December 20th — she can legally stay for 3 months without getting a specific visa — and then, when she’s home for Christmas, she’ll have her appointment with the Visa office here in San Francisco.

She communicated the Plan B idea to the host family and they approved. (Though admittedly, everyone involved is not quite sure what will happen if her Visa doesn’t get approved in December. Can she go back for another 3 months? Which would give her host family time to find a replacement? Not sure. She’ll do everything she can to prepare for the Visa appointment and then we’ll all hope for the best.)

Now that she had options for school worked out, visa questions sorted, and she knew the host family wanted to hire her, she had a big decision to make. Did she really want to do this? Or should she go ahead and continue her senior year?

I say “continue” because she’s been going to school every single day since it started. This has all come together very quickly and she wasn’t sure if it would really work out, so she wanted to keep going to classes just in case. That, and she loves her friends and loves high school and hates to miss out. : )

Ultimately, she had two good paths available to her and she knew it. She thought long and hard and decided Paris was the path she wanted to take.

She came to us with her decision and we talked out the possibilities. This was all happening very fast. As you know if you’ve been reading for awhile, we’re quite enthusiastic about International experiences, but when Ralph and Olive did a semester abroad, it had been planned for many months — over a year in Ralph’s case. And this was all happening within a couple of weeks.

Ultimately, we said yes, but we had four conditions: 1) She needed to reconfirm with her counselor that she could graduate with her class. 2) She couldn’t go unless she had her college applications in order. 3) She would have to have a daily Skype check-in with us while she was there — part of which would be us nagging her about her coursework. And 4) She needed to enroll in a local class of some sort while she’s there. Something that would help her make new friends in Paris.

Speaking of her college applications, they are coming along. She’s done with the UC apps except for her 4 essays, which she won’t submit until after November 1st (which is the earliest she can submit them). She has solid drafts of all four essays. She works on them on a google doc and every time she completes a new draft, she’ll share it with us and we’ll suggest edits.

But as for her non-UC applications, she hasn’t started yet, because the other schools she’s interested in don’t open applications until mid-October. But I’m not worried. All the info she’s put together for the UC applications (like her extra-curricular info, job experience, etc.) will help her finish her other applications more easily. We mapped out all the due dates and a task list before she left, and our daily check-in will (hopefully!) make sure deadlines are being met.

Maude is amazing, and I’m so excited that she has this awesome adventure ahead of her. But emotionally, I’m all over the place. This definitely feels different than a mission. I can talk to her or text her whenever. And we already have her return ticket for December 20th, so we know we’ll see her in just 3 months. But it also feels like she’s officially moving out. Assuming the Au Pair Visa works out and she’s there all year, then what? She’ll be home for a couple of months and then head to college? So strange to think of.

I really thought I had another year with her, and I kept having this feeling at the airport, with panic-ed heart beats: This is it? This is the whole amount of time I had to parent you? The clock has already run out? What if I forgot to teach you something? What if I didn’t hug you enough? Or say enough kind things? It’s too fast! I already miss you!!

Ben Blair had to keep talking me off the cliff on the way home. Between tears, I asked, “What if it’s the wrong decision? What if we should have said no? What if it’s awful?” Ben said, “Then she’ll come home.”

Then I asked, “What if after all the research and planning and checking, this still messes up her transcript? She’s worked so hard for so many years!” Ben answered, “Her applications are due before this this semester is finished. France or no France, her transcript wouldn’t change for the college applications. And even if by some fluke she doesn’t get into her favorite colleges right now, there are other pathways that can get her there.”

Then I asked, “What if she can’t go back in January because of Visa issues?” And Ben said, “Then she’ll go back to high school and finish with her friends. She’s actually fine with that.”

And we basically had conversations like this all the way home. It’s not that Ben Blair isn’t worried too. We were just taking turns. I would voice the worry we both felt, and he would respond with the voice of reason that we both know, but that sometimes I’m not very good at summoning.

On a happier note: I think Maude is really going to thrive with this new independence. She hasn’t ever had an experience like this and I think she’ll really love it. She’s smart and responsible and loving and she’ll be an excellent au pair. She’ll love having her own little studio apartment in Paris (who wouldn’t?). She’ll love managing her own schedule, managing her own money. I think it will be a formative adventure. And I’m sure her French will get even better. I’m betting she’ll come back in December with a big dose of confidence.

Also happy: I love that we know lots of wonderful people in France, so that if she’s in trouble there are friends who can help her even though we’re far away. I love that her cousin is across town being an au pair too! I’m so glad they’ll have each other.

That was a long post. If you have thoughts or questions, feel free to comment. And I’d love to hear from any of you who tried an international experience in high school!

P.S. — Thinking about Maude and her senior year, there was a definitely a turning point that I think changed her senior year no matter what. It was after that first appointment with her counselor. Once Maude realized that her schedule could technically just be two classes, I don’t think she ever would have been willing to go back to the original punishing schedule she had planned for her senior year.

P.P.S. — The photo at top was taken by my sister Jordan when we all lived in France. It’s Ralph, Maude and cousin Roxcy on the Seine. Maude and Roxcy can recreate this photo — they’re both in Paris for the year! Roxcy is the cousin who told Maude about this terrific opportunity.