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Around The Bend - Letting Go

On-the-Road Life: The Boys are Getting Older

Jennifer Steedly Duncan
Nov 1, 2012
Photographers: Jennifer Steedly Duncan
Were they kidding? There was ice on the water bucket that morning, and they were talking about having my child sleep outside with nothing but a sleeping bag and some pine boughs? My mind immediately conjured up pictures of meandering bugs, wandering bears and cold snakes looking for a warm spot to spend the night.
Photo 2/7   |   Liam constructing his own quiver from leather
After a few deep breathes, I managed to stifle my momentary panic and remember that Liam was no longer a little boy, but a teenager with a four-season sleeping bag and capable of coming inside the bus if he was uncomfortable.
That particular frosty morning, we were discussing the last of his requirements for his Boy Scout Wilderness Survival Badge, which is needed to make Eagle Scout. The requirements were that he sleeps outside overnight with nothing but his sleeping bag, with things he might reasonably have in a daypack, and what he could gather from his surroundings to provide shelter.
This particular night, we were in the Santa Fe Wilderness area, which provided Liam (13 years old) with his first real opportunity after months of desert camping to work on this badge. The prospect of sharing his sleeping bag with scorpions and cold coral snakes by camping out in the desert didn't strike my son as a risk worth taking, for which I was eternally grateful, as I don't think my nerves could have handled that and so he waited for a more familiar and friendly forest setting to make his attempt. However, the tradeoff for a forest setting was an elevation of almost 9,000 feet and very cold nights.
Photo 3/7   |   Shooting the .22 with a little bit of help
Liam spent the entire day unbelievably filthy, building the perfect shelter, but immensely proud of the sound structure he had built. He was able to spend two warm and bug-free nights in the shelter.
Not to be outdone, his younger brothers Elliot (10 years old) and Tucker (8 years old) decided that they, too, needed to build a shelter and spend the night outside. Tucker was unlikely to make it the night outside on his own in a pine bough shelter, but I had become infinitely wiser on this trip, so I kept my mouth shut when he proposed the overnight. My husband Chris and I encouraged, waxed enthusiastically over the final product, which was indeed a proper shelter, and waited with bated breath to see how long he lasted. After stuffed animals, special blankies, flashlights, and hot water bottles were delivered to the shelter, we retreated to the bus to wait. Sure enough, 15 minutes later, he was back in the bus, calmly stating that he just couldn't go to sleep out there. I said OK and tucked him back into his bunk, so proud that he had tried it but secretly relieved that he was back in the bus.
Moments like this, having to choose to let one of my children do something we as parents deem risky or scary has been one of the continuing challenges of this trip. At this point in our trip, we have officially relinquished our, albeit erratic, membership in the Helicopter-Parents Club and have instead adopted a modified old-school approach. No, we haven't ditched our bike helmets and our kids aren't running with scissors, but challenges and appropriate risk are our new motto. In many ways, our children are actually safer and wiser through our acceptance of more (appropriate) risk than they were at the beginning of this trip.
Photo 4/7   |   Chris and Tucker working through Tucker’s first climb!
When we joined up with relatives who were also traveling by RV for a few months, Chris and I had a real dilemma, since our relatives (retired Oregon ranchers) traveled with handguns and shotguns as a matter of course. After some debate, weighing the pros and cons, we decided to have their great-uncle teach them proper NRA-approved gun safety lessons. I couldn't have been more thrilled at the outcome, since rather than thinking guns were cool or sexy, by the time they had been through all of that, they decided that real guns were a heck of a lot of trouble to have to deal with and they would rather target practice with BB guns. As the mother to three very adventurous boys, that was music to my ears.
Photo 5/7   |   Tucker showing off his just completed shelter
So far, this trip has been a learning experience for all of us in the most unexpected ways. We have gone into this trip anticipating the hands-on accumulation of facts and figures. Ecosystems, birds, Lewis and Clark, plains Indians—you name it, they've learned it. Road-schooling, though, has also provided them with an opportunity to learn necessary life skills.
I added their acquired skills and experiences to their school portfolio and was amazed: starting and cooking over fires, existing on the most minimal of water, twice watching us help other campers/hikers in medical crisis, building mud ovens, driving a car, conquering fear, showing kindness, persevering towards a goal, archery, firearms, juggling, bike repair, teaching younger children new skills, respecting differing opinions and ideas, learning when to be cautious and when to push their boundaries, and…well, the list goes on!
Photo 6/7   |   Liam, learning to shoot a 40-pound compound bow
Recently, Liam was confronted by his crying exhausted 5-year-old cousin pleading for “Lee-lam” to carry her as her twin was being carried by their dad at the end of a difficult hike. Liam started to carry her, but Chris, concerned, stopped him. He was afraid they were too heavy and Liam would become exhausted, meaning we would have three tired people to get out instead of just two. Liam and I did the math, deciding their 40 pounds were as much as an overloaded backpack, but definitely within his capabilities, so Chris and I decided to let him use his best judgment in the situation.
Now it's one of my most treasured memories of this boy-child of mine turning into a young man. Without an eye roll or complaint he picked her up and proceeded to alternate carrying her and her sister the remaining two miles of a hot, sandy 6-mile trail.
I wanted to stop right there in the middle of the trail and bawl like a baby at this lovely young man, kind and compassionate, camouflaged by layers of typical obnoxious teenaged attitude. Maybe stuffing five people into a 40-foot bus for a year wasn't such a crazy idea after all!
Photo 7/7   |   Making an adobe mud oven for pizza under menacing skies


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