The Amazing Race

One thing we’ve learned while parenting a teen in a foreign country is that it seems to be tradition, at least among European teenagers of a certain class, to make a multi-country European jaunt after one’s high school graduation.

When I first heard this, I pictured a trip along the lines of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s Interrail odyssey, Before Sunrise.  But because of discount airlines, the 2020s version is a little different: more jetset than it is On the Road.  Mykonos could be involved, also Airbnb. (I’ll keep my thoughts to myself about Airbnb rentals to 18-year-olds).

Today, Younger Daughter turns 18.  She’s not going to Mykonos, but just in a few weeks, she’ll participate in a five-country, 2.5 week jaunt with very little more than the clothes on her back (see: RyanAir carry-on requirements). We’ve started calling this European rite of passage The Amazing Race European Style.

I know calling something The Amazing Race dates me. She and her older sister, who has been in Madrid between the spring semester’s end and the start of her summer internship, lack this particular cultural touchstone.  I was pregnant with Older Daughter when The Amazing Race, the Survivor spin-off that pits American teams of two against each other as they travel around the world, debuted.  9/11 happened the week after its first episode aired.  Cell phones weren’t a thing yet. Facebook was hardly a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. I could keep listing all the things that have happened between then and now  — but there’s no need.  We lived it all, and not all of it has been good.  

To rectify the gaps in their media and pop culture knowledge, we’ve been watching the show the past few nights.  Surprisingly, it’s engaging enough to keep them watching (sometimes because they’re aghast, I admit). Also surprisingly, even it, base reality TV though it is, contains food for thought.  

It has been nice, to have my people here under the same roof.  Because to be a mother is to always in part be a shepherd dog: most at peace when you can keep an eye on your whole flock.  It has also been scary, to realize that the girls who were four and seven when I started this blog are both heading off on Amazing Races of their own.

Hydrate, I tell them. Don’t count your money in public. If you feel stressed out, ask yourself when you last ate. Don’t sleep with the laptop on the bed because 1. that’s how they get broken and 2. That’s got to be bad for your mental health. Check your tires and get your oil changed. Pay your bills.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was reminding them to brush their teeth?

There are so many things I’ve forgotten to tell you!  So many other things I didn’t even… know.

One of the more interesting things about watching Season One of The Amazing Race 22 years after it first aired is that we can so easily access how it all turns out. And by how it all turns out, I mean more than just who wins. Only one of all the couples who participated stayed together. People died. The show itself is rife with so damned much evidence of just how easy it is for us to lose our shit with the ones we say we love when things get stressful.

As we watch episodes together, I keep hoping that, sooner or later, rather than sniping or kvetching or breaking up with their significant others while the cameras roll, someone will just look at their teammate and say hey, you are worth so much more to me than a million bucks. Let’s just…. get out of here.

But so far, no one ever does. Instead, they just keep on playing the game, convincing themselves it’s the most important thing.

If I were a consultant for The Amazing Race, these would be my rules:

You don’t have to be nice — but you have to try to be kind.

And at the end of the day, maybe the game isn’t everything. The best parts of your life are unrolling outside it, despite it — and that, more than anything else, is the main thing.

1 Comment

  1. I’m right there with you. But I haven’t seen Amazing Race and just kinda remember when it was a thing. I wouldn’t have guessed within ten years of when it aired.

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