The school trip is an experience that is almost entirely a mystery to me. My mother’s over-protective tendencies, combined with our families financial restrictions, meant that any trip that had any perceived physical risk, would go out of the city and/or last longer than an afternoon was not for me. I have a clear memory of my grade 5 teacher (Mr. Finnegan, I believe) personally calling my mother to assure her that I would not be at high risk of grievous head trauma if I went roller skating with the class. And, other than sore feet and a significant amount of slow, wobbly turning, the outing was perfectly safe.
It took that level of intercession to change my mother’s mind, but an overnight trip was still out of the question. I understand what fueled her fear-I was a sickly kid, hospitalized several times for asthma attacks, and perpetually plagued with respiratory illness, ear aches, and sore throats. (For the medically curious readers looking for environmental triggers, the answer to your question is yes, my father smoked inside of the house for the entirety of my formative years). So my mother’s anxiety was understandable, and it transferred in some part to me. I would look at any potential variance from my normal routine and immediately examine it for health risks and other dangers. This all fed a general fear of the unknown.
But as you’ve witnessed in this blog, I’ve gone through a real change in the way I see my own life, and the things I want to do with it. And this new ambition and excitement has pushed me past my old reservations and into new unexplored experiences. This last weekend I went, by myself, to Ottawa for the Liberal Biennial Convention, and I discovered that the emotional reactions I would have had as a school-age child on a similar trip had simply been deferred until now. There were times when I was lost, confused, and scared, usually when trying to find a bus stop, or waiting to fall asleep in a strange bed.
The first night away from home was especially potent. I was physically exhausted from working until 11PM the night before, then sleeping fitfully before embarking on a 14 hour day of travel. I stumbled out of the convention centre at 9:30, with only a tenuous understanding of where to catch the bus. A few blocks of trudging through the snow passed, my luggage dragging my arms down and straining, and I staved off the desire to freak out, cry and panic long enough to find the bus stop. On the packed bus hurtling into the darkness, a sense of profound loneliness overwhelmed me. I was far away from my wonderful son and my loving wife, heading farther away from the only people I knew in the area, towards an apartment somewhere in the darkness. I was homesick. Thankfully, I had enough presence of mind to remember that being exhausted and sleep-deprived always makes me overly sensitive and wildly emotional, so I resisted the urge to totally break down, and instead I crawled into bed and waited for sleep. Night 2 was much better, though the homesickness was still present.
Along with the normal, negative emotions that come with being away from home independently for the first time, came the positive experiences. I made a slew of new friends, people who made me laugh and made me think. I had a new. And whenever I was in the convention itself, I felt like I was supposed to be there. I wasn’t nervous about making a mistake or being disliked. I was confident.
And now I see the incredible value in giving your children the chance to experience the world independently. There is a point where protecting them from potential but unlikely harm inhibits their personal growth and their self-esteem. You can’t know how well you can handle a strange situation until you survive one.