Mother Nature (the ultimate parenting role-model) provides such endless metaphors! In this season of gratitude, we are thankful for her sly reminders, pokes-in-the-ribs, close calls, and generous opportunities to learn from our follies. Living with teenagers is just a constant "opportunity," ain't it?!
I have thought long and hard about writing this post, because as a rule I don’t talk about my very own kids with any detail. But the boys say they’re okay with this one, and the anecdote is too good not to share.
Kids Who Drive are a daily lesson in letting go. Since my eldest turned 16, I run a constant montage of the Buddha, the Blessed Mother, and Joan Baez in my head while I try to remember to breathe. Thus, when our two sons left on a gorgeous November morning for "a hike with the wrestling team," it did not occur to me to miss them until well after nightfall. They maintain a built-in Buddy System. They play the same sports and share friends, schedules and a car. Between them, there are two cell phones with healthy data plans, so we trust we'll hear from one when the other is truly in crisis.
Then both their phones went apparently dead. It got cold. Daddy started muttering about telling them to take jackets as they breezed out the door in shorts and hoodies, calling behind them, "We're fine!"
No parent wants to hear the words, "Search and Rescue." But we did. The scanners caught it; the local news ran it: "Wrestling Team Lost in National Forest. No Known Injuries." We were told to report to the Incident Command Post, an hour away over a dark mountain pass.
They were fine. We knew they were fine. Our hearts quickened, to be sure, but we never panicked. It was, however, a stunning reminder . . . of a whole lot of things.
5 Things teenagers Can learn from getting lost:
1. Mother Nature Doesn't Mess Around. Our children have hunter-safety licenses, winter-preparedness training, and compact emergency kits of their very own. They have in their possession hats with built-in flashlights, fail-safe fire-starters, and enough warm-weather gear to outfit a dogsled team. None of which they took with them on their warm, November hike. There is never any excuse to be unprepared, because it's impossible to know what might happen.
2. It is Easy to Lose the Trail. That's all they did. They were never more than a couple of miles from a road, but their three-hour tour (like Gilligan's) began to seem endless. The trail signs told them they were hiking miles and miles in the wrong direction. Darkness. Forest. They got lost. Like teenagers so often do.
3. Sometimes, It's Best to Call for Help. Their coach--a young man whom we trust and respect--at a clearing with cell-phone access, called 9-1-1. We are certain that on his own, or with a buddy, he would have soldiered on and eventually made his way back to the trailhead. But with eleven boys in his charge, he made a prudent decision. They stayed put; they called for help. They lit a fire, stayed warm, and Coach had extra sandwiches and a few extra pairs of gloves in his pack.
4. Good People Will Rescue You. It's hard for this girl, brought up in the Catholic Church, not to pause at the three men who came with lights and jackets and hot apple cider to rescue the boys. A Trinity of volunteers--who left family gatherings, made a plan, and ventured out into the cold--inspired a genuine cheer when they appeared. They led the team through the brambles, bushwhacking and shouting encouragement, to a waiting cadre of vehicles and eventually to their happy parents.
5. Near-Falls and Close-Calls: We Get to Learn from Our Mistakes. In wrestling, an almost-pin earns "near-fall" points which might eventually win the match. The guy on the bottom, on the other hand, gets a second chance. He escapes the finality of a pin and gets to adjust his strategy, mid-match. If he learns well, he has a chance to best his opponent.
My boys once accused me of "loving it when teenagers get in trouble." In a way, it's true. I love moments like this--getting lost in the woods, enough to be frightened, but not injured. The police--or a parent--interrupting an underaged party before anyone over-imbibes. A 'D' in middle-school math which wakes a kid up to how much he really does care about his grades. Near-falls. Almost-pins. Chances to learn, adjust strategies, and recover from mistakes before they cause real, final, life-altering damage.
We are all faced with a series of great opportunities--brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems. -John Gardner From the moment we crossed the threshold with our children, my husband and I considered it our job to help them navigate the wild world. We seek to give them tools to help them persevere in tough times, learn from their mistakes, and realize their God-given gifts. We are thankful for the near-falls and close-calls they suffer while they are still under our roof. Every experience is a chance to learn, to guide them, to have family discussions, forge new relationships, test personal limits, and make changes which will prevent future mis-steps.