When I returned home, a friend asked me, “So what was this trip about?” I wasn’t sure how to answer then. Or now. It’s almost two weeks later, and I’m still not 100% certain what the trip was supposed to be. It was a hundred different things. Or maybe just one quite simple thing. I’m sure of only the most basic details. My oldest son and I hopped a westward-bound plane and spent three days riding snowboards down a Colorado mountain.
My list of reasons for taking the trip seems to change each day. I figured I should probably put my thoughts down in words. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far to answer the question posed.
1. My son is growing up.
Somewhere along the way, this little tubby toddler became a kid who is physiologically racing toward junior high. And I’m not going to say it happened overnight. I am not going to say those words and give validity to every voice that told me it would happen so fast. But the voices were right, as they often are. We are now entering the scary world of adolescence.
The therapists and counselors and wisdom teachers all tell us that this is a crucial stage. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right, knowing full well that none of us will. Still, I want to give my son every possible resource in navigating the turbulent waters ahead. That’s part of why we took this trip.
2. I’ve got a thing for rituals.
I believe that rituals help to hold societies and families together. They give us markers by which we locate ourselves on the existential map. Sometimes people act like rituals are unnecessary and unimportant. But the truth is, no one is taking selfies when the Color Guard folds the flag at a graveside. In a moment like that, we all have a universal grasp of what’s at stake.
Virtually every culture has some rite of passage for adolescence – a Bar Mitzvah, a quinceanera, a first hunt with the elders of the tribe. And I’ve known for a while that I wanted to mark this particular season of life symbolically – with a ceremony, of sorts, or a shared experience. I just didn’t know how I would do it.
3. Love Does
Last summer, a friend gave me a copy of Bob Goff’s book, Love Does (thanks Julie). The author devotes a chapter to what he calls “the 10-year-old adventure,” an experience he developed for his own children. He describes it this way: “On a ten-year-old adventure, the goal is to do everything that you can in the time you’ve got. You don’t know where you’ll stay or what you’ll eat and all the other details that usually accompany a trip. For three days, the kids and I commit to learn about each other and the world through what we experience in it, not what we’ve read about it or planned into it. There aren’t any other rules. That’s what makes it an adventure, not a program.”
I appreciate Bob Goff’s enthusiastic approach. And I admire his sense of spontaneity. But I also realize that I’m not Bob Goff. I made plenty of plans for our trip… too many plans, to be honest. And I’m sure I overthought every detail along the way. Still, I was grateful for the idea of turning this rite of passage into an adventure.
4. My son is ready to be baptized.
For a while now, he’s been asking questions about what it means to walk our particular path of faith. And I want to prepare him for this as honestly as I can. I don’t want to make it scary, but I also don’t want to make it trite. He needs to know both the gravity and the grace of our religious conviction. My hope was that this trip would give us a chance to talk about what all this means without losing a sense of marvel in the divine alchemy of it all.
5. I really like Colorado.
I grew up taking ski trips there with my family. It’s always been my first choice for a vacation. And yes, I realize that it sounds incredibly selfish to steer my son this direction for his trip. But I also know that he sees me do a hundred things out of obligation. He probably doesn’t see me do nearly enough things out of delight. And I want him to know that delight isn’t some outlier in life; it comes from the very DNA of God.
6. We are more than lions.
I realize that the inevitable is coming. My sons will keep getting stronger – in body, mind and soul. And like every generation that’s come before them, they will push back against authority. They will flex their might. They will put a target on me and try to control the entire pride. I’m not sure how that happens in 21st century middle class America. Maybe just through Twitter bombs and group therapy. But it’s going to happen. And when it does, I want my sons to know that we are more than lions.
We are broken, but beautiful, creatures woven together with blood and wonder. And we belong to each other, now and always. There are days ahead. Difficult days. Confusing days. I will lose him soon enough. And I have to make my peace with that. What makes the losing tolerable is a hope that I will have him back in some larger sense. So I shall furiously cling to the notion that we have a grace to buoy us despite our great transgressions. And it will remain at the end of all our more difficult days.
To answer the question of my friend, I think all of this is what the journey was, and is, about.