From the minute they’re born, children need to be watched over. Is the baby hungry? Watch him around that sharp-cornered table. If he fell on that, could he hurt himself? Gilbert, get out of the street!
Just because they don’t yet know what to be afraid of, children can innocently do things that almost scare their parents to death. They want to climb into the washing machine, go exploring by the creek, or find out how many things a sharp knife can cut open.
But the scariest thing a child can do to his oh-so-careful parents is grow up.
Of course, I knew from the time he was born that Gilbert, my oldest son, would turn into a man one day. But I vaguely thought it would happen sometime around his sixteenth birthday.
He thought it should happen much sooner. And so, step by step, we performed the most painful operation of all—cutting apron strings!
One of the first times I learned to let go a little was when Gilbert turned eight. The baptism would come the Saturday after the birthday and the confirmation the following Sunday.
For Friday night, though, Gilbert had planned to celebrate in his own special way.
He had talked about his plans for a long time. He wanted to go with his cousin, Michael Bryce, up to the head of the field behind the Bryces’ house and camp out. All alone.
Should we let them go? It was March first, and in eastern Arizona March nights are cold. But the boys were so enthusiastic and had been planning for so long that after much consideration both sets of parents agreed to let them do it.
They did their own packing, and I was certain they were taking far too little bedding, but they insisted on taking just the things they wanted to take.
I can still see them, two excited little boys hiking up the road and across the field to their campsite—about a quarter of a mile from the Bryce house and about a mile from ours.
As darkness came I began to get fidgety and wanted to go see how they were doing. I suppressed the desire, however. At least for the time being.
By eight o’clock I said to my husband, “Why don’t we just go check on them? I think we ought to take them some more bedding.”
“Let’s just leave them alone,” he quietly advised.
We spent the rest of the evening talking about Gilbert and speculating on what was happening out there at the head of the field. At ten o’clock I could no longer suppress my desire to go cheek on my son, so I spoke again to my husband.
“Let’s just go check,” I said. “They wouldn’t even have to know we were there.”
My husband was still as sure as before that we should not invade the camp. We went to bed, but my thoughts all night long were with two little fellows in the mesquites and rocks at the foot of the hill where their dads had played together as boys.
The next morning, exuberant faces smudged with dirt told us that the campout had been a success. As they recounted the events of the night before, each boy looked as if he felt ten feet tall.
The next year, when Gilbert was nine years old, he and Michael celebrated the March birthday by going a little farther out. This time they camped on the top of a hill just beyond the head of the field.
Again I spent an almost sleepless night. I wondered if they would be cold. I wondered if the sounds of the desert night would scare them. I worried that they might burn themselves on the campfire or cut themselves on their knives.
The next morning when they came back, their faces had that same exuberant, smudged-up look I remembered from the year before.
“We slept cold,” they confessed. “We found a better way to do our beds though, so next year we won’t get cold.”
Each year the campouts took Gilbert and Michael a little farther from home. As the birthdays came and went, the two boys moved their camp from the top of the field to the top of the hill, and then on out into the Gila Mountains. Yet Mother’s nights were no longer sleepless.
We watched them with pride as they grew in stature and ability. We saw them prepare for the long hikes and overnight camps with skill and care, and then return tired and weatherworn—but happy.
Time went on, and a great new range was opened before them as they were called to serve missions in the Church. Mother had let go a little bit at a time since that first campout at the head of the field. Now she didn’t have to do it all at once.
I knew as Gilbert left on his mission that I didn’t need to worry about him. He had taught me to trust him, step by step, as he explored new paths and relied on his own judgment under the stars on chilly nights in the desert.