“It’s only an 18-hour drive. Me and Mike can drive straight through. And we’ll share the driving.”
I was barely awake when the phone rang. My son, a college student at Florida State in Tallahassee (Go Noles!) who had recently turned 21, was informing me of what he’d like for Christmas. Mike (his fraternity brother) and Bennett (my son) had just bought concert tickets to go see one of his favorite new bands, Pretty Lights. (For those parents who are too busy changing diapers and wiping ‘something or other’, take heart – I’d never heard of the band either until Bennett introduced me to their music).
“That’s great!” I exclaimed. “Where’s the concert?”
“New York City…on New Year’s Eve,” he replied. “So for Christmas could you and Dad give me gas money to get there? Mike’s cousin lives in Queens and said we could stay with him.”
My heart sank – the request came “pre-Hurricane Sandy” when New York was fully up and running. The thought of Bennett driving 18 hours straight, going to a 2-day concert in New York City, then turning around and driving another 18 hours in the span of 4 days was not setting well with Mama Bedford. He’s a great driver, don’t get me wrong, but his driving experience has never been tested through December’s dead of winter anything-could-happen Northeast driving conditions.
I was quiet on the other end of the line, trying to remain calm and rational. You learn that as a parent of teenagers. At times, they are like little birds. If you say something rash without fully thinking it through, they clam up, tense their muscles and fly away.
Visions of every long road trip our family had ever been on (and there were several) always included Bennett in the back seat snuggled into his pillow, blanket tucked under his chin having fallen asleep within the first hour of the journey. So for me to make the leap from Mr. ‘Asleep-In-60-Minutes’ to “He’s-Gonna-Drive-In-Weather-He’s-Never-Experienced-For-18-Hours-Straight-Behind-The-Wheel-Of-His-Second-Hand-Car” was too much for this mama’s heart. Yes, he’s 21 years old, and yes he is old enough to make his own choices, but golly, did he have to go from driving two hundred mile trips to thirteen hundred mile trips in one fell swoop?
“What do you think?” I asked my husband later that evening. “Well,” he replied, carefully considering the situation, “He’s gonna die sometime. You gotta let him go. You can’t control him forever.” I looked at him incredulously. Was that supposed to make me feel better?
Actually, it did! The truth is, growing up I lived a very predictable life while at the same time my husband Tim’s middle name was Adventure. And it always gives me comfort remembering the challenges Tim has overcome. His mother recalls the many nights she spent on her knees praying for him.
Today, he is a very successful business man. You’d never know he was in a life threatening car accident his Freshman year at college. An accident that sent him to a major hospital hundreds of miles from his Iowa campus and hundreds of miles from his family, courtesy of a medical helicopter. He woke up in an unfamiliar place, alone, to discover his injuries required a 2-week stay in the hospital . At the time his parents were both hard at work making ends meet and were unable to afford the trip to Iowa to be with him. I can’t imagine the agony Tim’s Mom went through being unable to be with her child at a time like that.
When Tim got back to college, he was informed he’d lost his college football scholarship because he had been injured during the semester “test” week. With no scholarship, he was unable to afford tuition and had to return to his home town. Years later he returned to college and is, as I said, the successful businessman he is today, but not before surviving several (and I do mean SEVERAL) could-have-died-that-day “Adventures”.
Getting back to Bennett and New York City: I came to realize what Tim was trying say. A parent’s greatest challenge is learning to trust that there is a Plan in place for their kids, just like there was a Plan in place that brought you and me through those difficult teenage, early twenties years. Our job as parents is to support them, encourage them, and give them roots and wings along the way. Roots that let them know you love them and they always have a safe place in your home to be themselves, and wings to fly and discover all they were created to be. By no means is it always easy to let your kids “fly away” but once you put it into practice it truly does set you free. After all, you never can really control another person. Just ask any stubborn 2-year old having a tantrum at the most inopportune time!
A funny thing happened as few weeks later. I gave up control of Bennett driving safely to New York City and the next thing I know, he called yesterday and had found a cheap flight out of Orlando flying directly into JFK Airport for less than it would have cost him in gas. Can you believe it??? What a wonderful thing it is to give up trying to control a situation with your older kids, only to have them come up with an “idea of their own” that gives everyone peace of mind.
Parenting is hard at any age. Truth be told, you never stop being a parent, you never stop worrying about your kids. The challenges change from ages two to twenty-two but the love you have for your children is the most incredible emotion ever created. Make your next “adventure” be a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends. Be thankful for what you have, hug your kids, and talk around the dinner table about your happiest memories, cherishing the times you have together – before the next “adventure” takes an unexpected turn.