eyTomorrow morning, at 4:30 a.m. I am dropping my kids off in front of their school for a class trip. A five day-long class trip to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Itโ€™s an incredible opportunity for the kids to visit a National Park as part of an educational program called Expedition Yellowstone that gives them access to parts of the Park not usually open to visitors.

The program โ€œteaches students about the natural and cultural history of Yellowstone National Park, investigates current issues affecting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and promotes stewardship and preservation in the park.โ€  In the unspoiled vastness that is Yellowstone National Park โ€“ this program, held in a section reserved for educational, scientific, and Parks Department use โ€“ is in theโ€ un-spoiledestโ€ part.

They will track wolves, test soil, study weather patterns.  And given the terrain there, do most of it on snowshoes โ€“the only way to get through a seasonโ€™s worth of accumulated snow.  They will sleep in bunks โ€“ with a communal bathroom in a separate building, cook their own meals, keep their cabins clean. 

In other words, theyโ€™ll be on a serious, independent trip. Without me.

I am happy for them.  I am.  Truly.  But I canโ€™t but feel a little bit sad. They are, for the first time, going on a real, honest to goodness trip  – having an extraordinary experience โ€“ that they wonโ€™t be sharing with me.  Theyโ€™ve been to camp.  But though I missed them enormously, it didnโ€™t feel the same.  Iโ€™ve been to camp.  I understand camp.  I know what it is they were experiencing even if I didnโ€™t experience it right along with them.  This trip to Yellowstone, though, will be the first time they go someplace that is completely foreign to me. 

It feels like a big giant step away from childhood, and into independence.  Which is, of course, the point of parenting:  you teach your kids, you give them the skills and the confidence to become independent.  But part of that independence is leaving you behind.  Leaving me behind.

So itโ€™s with a bit of sadness and a lot of pride that I watch them tackle this big step: the cross country flight, the less-than-comfortable conditions, the extreme weather, the spectacular scenery, the unique learning experience that is this big trip to Yellowstone.