It's scary when your kids don't need you any more, writes Pamela Wade
My daughter has chosen independence and self-sufficiency. In anyone else, I would instantly respect that.
Millennials and their phones, right? First thing, last thing, and every moment in between, they're never separated.
It's all WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, and other apps I know nothing of because I'm too old; because the main — the only — thing for them is to Keep Connected, knowing what their friends are doing and thinking, and vice versa.
I long ago gave up on the possibility of ever having my older daughter Amelia's full attention. Whatever was going on in front of her was always diluted by her dedication to keeping up with what was happening elsewhere.
Suggesting any other behaviour was met with blank incomprehension; in the end I reluctantly accepted it as the new normal.
When she set off on her OE it would be pay-back time, I thought. I told Amelia what it had been like when I was doing mine in the late 70s.
"I'd spend an hour or more writing a letter home, post it, and maybe three weeks later, I'd get a reply. When I was on the move, I'd just send a postcard and for some reason they took even longer to be delivered.
"Phone calls were horrendously expensive, so for emergencies only, and Christmas — and then you had to book your call in advance.
"For most of the time I was travelling, I was totally out of touch with home. I had no idea what was going on there, and they often didn't even know what country I was in. Imagine!"
I expected an echo of my wonderment at such primitive communications. What I got was envy.
"Wow! How cool was that? To be completely on your own. That's real travel."
Fast-forward into her OE and Amelia's doing it 70s-style. Despite widely available free Wi-Fi, and her ability to double-thumb type messages in seconds, I am reduced to an occasional Like on my Instagram feed, the odd LOL comment on a Facebook entry or, if I'm really, really lucky, once a month or so an email paragraph that doesn't answer anything I've been asking her.
Sometimes I get desperate enough for contact to scroll through her friends' feeds, looking for a recent like or a comment from her.
I've become a stalker.
And it's not because I want to keep tabs on her — although I'd love to hear where she's been, what she's doing, how things are going.
Mainly, I just want to know that she's safe in what feels like an increasingly dangerous world.
I wonder now, somewhat belatedly, how it was for my parents. I imagine they were just as anxious — but expectations were so different then. Snail mail was the norm. You couldn't keep in close touch because the technology didn't exist. There was no choice.
Today, there is. And my daughter has chosen independence and self-sufficiency. In anyone else, I would instantly respect that. After all, the OE is meant to be as much about self discovery as it is about exploring the world: learning to cope with whatever it throws at you, acquiring experience, resilience, adaptability.
Perhaps I should embrace the bliss of ignorance. Amelia's somewhat more communicative younger sister, a dedicated long-distance cyclist and solo free-camper, recently posted a timed Instagram selfie from the Appalachian Trail. Her caption lamented the fact she'd missed photographing the bear that had just at that moment crossed the river 5m behind the camera. Really, that was too much information.
So it was probably as well that I didn't know beforehand that Amelia was about to cycle down Bolivia's Death Road, or that she had just had her phone snatched while walking alone at night in Valparaiso, or when driving through the Rockies burnt out her brakes on the downhills because she didn't know to use the gears.
The downside of getting occasional passing references to such adventures means I have learned she could be up to anything, risking her life at this very moment, and I wouldn't know.
I suppose, of course, I could actually phone her.