Tomorrow 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. It’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 “teaches 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.” In the unspoiled vastness that is Yellowstone National Park – this program, held in a section reserved for educational, scientific, and Parks Department use – is in the” un-spoiledest” part.
They will track wolves, test soil, study weather patterns. And given the terrain there, do most of it on snowshoes –the only way to get through a season’s worth of accumulated snow. They will sleep in bunks – with a communal bathroom in a separate building, cook their own meals, keep their cabins clean.
In other words, they’ll be on a serious, independent trip. Without me.
I am happy for them. I am. Truly. But I can’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 – that they won’t be sharing with me. They’ve been to camp. But though I missed them enormously, it didn’t feel the same. I’ve been to camp. I understand camp. I know what it is they were experiencing even if I didn’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 it’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.