Maggie, 8, hopped into the car of a virtual stranger this morning and traveled off to spend the day in a Danish elementary school. She reassured herself that the children must know some English because every night the Simpson's are on TV. She was packing a sheet of 72 stickers in hopes of sharing them with her new girlfriends.
There aren't many little kids who will ride off with virtual strangers to a school where most of the conversation will be in a language she doesn't understand. Maggie, I've come to realize, is pretty special.
I agonized about bringing her along on this business trip. Her older brother and sister both accompanied me on work trips to South Africa. Maggie has been waiting for her chance to go overseas. But I wondered if Maggie was too young, if she could entertain herself during the day while I worked. When I've traveled with Molly and Clarke, I've brought along another adult to mind the child. That wasn't an option this time around.
I made the decision to bring Maggie just a month ago. We rushed to get her passport. She is missing the first full week of school.
Flying over the Atlantic, we watched Kung Fu Panda together. Then she stretched out to sleep, while I kept a wary eye on our mentally ill seat mate (that's a whole other story.)
We arrived in Copenhagen at 9 a.m. and wandered through a construction zone passing for an airport. Are there any airports not under construction? We emerged from immigration, disoriented.
We managed to buy tickets for the train to ride to Hellerup, where could catch a cab to our hotel. Last train Maggie was on was a New York subway. Where the subway is a bit greasy, very crowded and always ear-piercing. The Danish trains are clean, comfortable and quiet.
And efficient. We were trying to maneuver our bags off the train at our stop when the door closed in front of us. We'd taken too long. And we were on an express train. We got off at the next stop, carried our luggage down some ancient stone steps and into a tunnel and back up another set of stairs to the other side of the tracks.
A train was about to leave, but I had no idea how to figure out where it was going. Paralyzed by fear, we watched it pull away. I looked around. It was a tiny train station in the countryside and there wasn't a soul. No ticket salesperson. No taxi drivers. No fellow passengers.
I started to cry. Just a little gasp, really. But I'm sure it scared Maggie. She was a rock, offering up suggestions. "Let's just wait until someone comes along. Let's stop that guy on the bike." I was convinced I'd made a mistake hauling her along with me. She was too young. I had too much work to do. She would be miserable and I would be distracted. I questioned my motives. Maybe I was just trying to alleviate my guilt at being gone so long.
It turned out that I was mostly wrong. I've worked with two groups of journalists this week. And both have them have marveled at Maggie's independence, her curiosity and her manners. While I teach, she has explored the Danish forest, caught frogs and learned how to order ice cream. Every day at lunch, she politely takes tiny bites of pickled herring and stinky cheese. And when asked, she demonstrated the steps to the Cha-Cha Slide, then explained that the only time we ever do that dance is at the roller-skating rink.
So it didn't surprise anyone when she bravely went off to school this morning, paired up with Caroline, another freckled-faced adventurer, who could be her sister.
"Our moms are both journalists," Maggie pointed out. "So we'll have lot to talk about."