Malia Obama's School Trip to Mexico Is a Parenting Nightmare

Malia ObamaIf there was ever a day not to be jealous of President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, today is that day, folks. The president and first lady decided to give daughter Malia Obama the go-ahead to go on a school trip to Mexico, and what happens? An earthquake, that's what!

As if they weren't already dealing with some silly criticism from Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum for sending her into a county that isn't "safe" (at least in Santorum's over-generalizations)! The good news is Malia is doing just fine, as are her school pals, but I have to wonder if the Obamas are questioning themselves big time. I think they did the right thing, but I know I would be second-guessing myself anyway if I were in their shoes!


I don't know if I could let my 13-year-old go out of the country without me. I won't even let my daughter spend a week with my in-laws in this country! OK, so she's 6, and my in-laws live a full day's car ride away. If they were across town, like my own parents, she'd be camping out in their living room any time she wanted. And eventually, she will be able to spend a week crashing at their Southern home.

But my parents, who spend an awful lot more time with my daughter because of their home's proximity to ours, have floated the idea of taking her with them on one of their frequent trips to visit relatives in Germany ... and I don't know when I'll take them up on it, if ever.

It's not the chaperons. It's the fear of letting her cross a border without me. A trip to Grandma's doesn't doesn't require a passport. It's certainly much easier for me to get her if something goes wrong. And I speak the language if she ends up sick. There's even a fair chance the hospital will accept my insurance.

On the other hand, I completely understand why the Obamas OK'd Malia's trip. She's 13 -- almost 14. She's not a baby. She was going with her school, which is about as safe as it can get for kids. And there is nothing like a visit to another country to broaden your teenager's horizons. Travel is the gift that keeps on giving even after they get home.

I know firsthand. My parents sent me out of the country without them I was freshly 15 and headed to Paris for a trip with my church youth group. I didn't exactly make it easy on them while they were deciding whether it was safe. I begged and pleaded and generally annoyed the crap out of them because I was 15 and thought I knew everything there was to know about everything.

In the end, they let their only daughter get on a rickety airplane (seriously, you don't know fear until you've flown Pakistani Airlines) and leave the continent without them because they wanted to give me a chance to form my own opinions about the world around me, and they were willing to trust a grouchy priest chaperon to keep an eye on me. I survived just like Malia Obama, and I still have some amazing stories to tell ... just like she will.

Just remind me of those stories when my 13-year-old wants to hop a plane for Timbuktu. I'm going to need them to keep me distracted so I don't jump in her luggage! I'm not ready for that nightmare week of worry!

What age is "old enough" for your kids to leave the country without you? Would you have let Malia go if you were the Obama family?


Image via Congressman George Miller/Flickr

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