Monday, July 9, 2012

Dropping our kids

As parents we spend our whole lives dropping our kids – we drop them off at a sitter’s home. We drop them off at Grandma’s house. We drop them at a friend’s house. We drop them off at their first day of school. We watch them roll into a surgical ward to have tubes put in their ears. We watch them go to the dentist for extractions before braces. We send them off to college.

And we send them on missions.

Thanks to other bloggers, I was aware of how this past Thursday would work. I’d pull up to the curb and the MTC liposuction machine would remove my daughter and her luggage from my car with surgical skill and send me on my way.

The fact that I knew what would happen does not mean I was prepared for it to happen.

We were told in the information she received with her call that we should say our goodbyes before arriving at the MTC. (I’ll point out that the family in the minivan in front of my rental car had obviously not followed that counsel. Their younger sons were super-glued to their older brother who was trying to start his mission. Sweet kids.)

And we began saying goodbye several days earlier. My daughter and I left for Utah on Tuesday. We had a goodbye breakfast of waffles (her choice, made by Dad…) and during our family prayer, I – who had been very stoic through all of the preparations – could barely eek the words out while fighting back the tears. Mom drove us to the airport and Mom and daughter had a tearful goodbye as she left us on the curb.

Once we arrived in Salt Lake, we began a short tour of selected family and friends, and each time, there were goodbyes. Some were more emotional than others. Some were warm embraces and some just handshakes (she had been set apart, after all). By Wednesday night, we’d seen them all. Thursday morning (Thursday, by the way, because of the holiday on Wednesday, the normal intake day at the MTC), we woke early to attend a session together at the Mount Timpanogas temple. (What a lovely temple, by the way – it was my first time there, and the folks who work there were very kind, and the temple itself is large and quite lovely. I think most of our “small” temple could fit in the celestial room of that large one!) There we happened to bump into a couple from our home ward. Another impromptu goodbye.

We did an errand at Deseret Book and grabbed some lunch at In-N-Out Burger (“My last meal,” she said!). We saw five or six other departing missionaries with their families there. (The elders were pretty easy to spot – one 19 year-old in a suit surrounded by adoring family members; my daughter was less conspicuous in her Sister Missionary clothes.)

We drove to the LDS chapel just north-east of the MTC. In the parking lot, I took a photo of my daughter pointing to the MTC in the distance (no time for pictures at the MTC itself, and there’s no longer a sign on the street, apparently because too many people stepped into the street to take pictures of it; I’m sure I would have done the same thing if I could!). We had been on the phone with Mom and the other kids at home. Our time came and we said goodbye, took a deep breath and drove the short distance to the entrance.

We were quickly waved inside, greeted by what appeared to be a senior missionary who gave us a yellow sticky to put on our windshield, and then waved into place by young elders ready to move us along. The elder who greeted us (well, greeted my daughter; it was as if I wasn’t there) asked if she had any keys or cellphone she needed to give me (nope, we’d done that already) and if she had her immunization record handy (yes, she did), and away she went. Another nameless elder (he had a nametag, but I wasn’t reading them very well…) waved at me and said, “She’s in good hands, sir. Have a great day.”

I got in my car and slowly moved away from the curb, drove down the driveway past quite a few numbered poles, thinking they really have this down to a science. I ended up in the lot next to the BYU laundry, and then I realized how well prepared they really were. The signpost included an I-15 sign with an arrow pointing to the right, reminding me that I had no place there where my daughter was.

Of course, she is in good hands. And I don’t mean hands of MTC elders or administrators or teachers. I mean the hands of Him who called her to serve. And for that I’m grateful.


  1. Paul, my oldest son is 17 and I'm thinking about this alot these days. I wish someone had sat down with me before my mission and honestly talked about what to expect and how to react to missionaries not committed to being there, to mission presidents who might make rigid demands, to loneliness and discouragement as well as the happiness and satisfaction. I wonder how to approach all of that in a way that gives hope and determination rather than foreboding. Good luck to you and your daughter.

  2. Near the end of my mission, my companion's brother was in our mission on business and got permission to take us to lunch. As we enjoyed the meal, he commented that one of the best kept secrets of the church is what a mission is really like. I had to agree with him.

    As I have thought about it, though, I don't think it's maliciously so. I think sucessful RMs tend to remember the best of their missions, and the difficult stuff fades faster from memory.

    And to some extent, I think we do need to experience the mission "as is." I'm not suggesting we shouldn't prepare our kids to face the struggles of missionary service, but I'm not sure it does any good to paint too cloudy a picture (just as it wouldn't necessarily be good to paint to rosy of one, either).

    Like other learnings for our children, these lessons are probably best taught in small doses rather than long lectures. But I'm not expert. I guess we'll see how my daughter feels a few months in... ;-)

  3. I have a missionary out now. No matter how much you try to prepare them there is a certain amount that is a shock to them. They and you don't know how they are going to handle something until it is happening. We told him it would be hard. He thought he knew what we meant. With God's help, he is learning to handle the problems, disappointments and himself.

  4. Glapha I think you're absolutely right: sometimes we just don't understand something we've been told until we're in a position to apply it. Without a frame of reference, it's difficult to know how something applies to us.

  5. I entered the MTC 13 and a half months after joining the church. I don't remember a lot of preparation or advice being given to me. The advice I gave my own son and others: Be obedient. Work hard. Love the people. Don't come home until you're done. Then, let God work His magic.

  6. The original anonymous again. Certainly no one can really know an experience until she has the experience, and certainly God will provide. But do we take that attitude for example about marriage and sex or college life? Oh don't worry, God will provide? I think knowledge about any endeavor we undertake is good and better than being in the dark.
    Sure people said a mission was hard work, but it was always in a context that implied it was only hard for those who weren't truly committed or those who didn't have enough faith. So when I started my mission and felt I truly was committed and truly did have faith I didn't know how to handle the loneliness and the discouragement, I assumed it was my fault, that I was lacking. It took a long time for me to see those emotions as normal. And that is what I want to teach my son, that it is normal to feel those things, and it is normal to meet missionaries that don't really want to be there, and it is normal to experience unrighteous dominion from a leader (and even normal to display it yourself when you are the leader). I don't want my son to waste his effort and thoughts and feelings figuring out that confronting these things isn't a measure of his faith and work ethic but a reality of missionary work, and adult life in general, so that he can take that knowledge and use it to make the time he spends there more effective.

  7. Anonymous II -- I gave my daughter similar advice as we sat in that church parking lot -- and she has been a member her whole life, too.

    Anonymous I -- I agree the issues you raise are significant. So much so I'm addressing them in a separate post on Thursday. I think your comments speak to value of our sharing our own experience with our children, perhaps in small doses along the way rather than in one large sermon. The hope is, of course, that they will remember what they've read in our missionary journals or what they've heard us talk about in the moment they need it most.

    The other thing I have done with missionaries that I write is that I try to tell real stories from my mission that match the timing of their missions. Early on, I tell them about my abismal relationship with my first companion (and I also describe the pain I felt when I finally realized when it was too late what my role in that relationship was). Toward the end, I write about seeking confirmation that the mission has been accepted by the Lord, and so on.

    I think the message that a mission is only hard (or hard work) for the uncommitted is just not true, and thoses who preach it don't do much to help missionaries serve well. A careful study of the scriptures makes clear that even faithful prophets had hard, hard work to do (think Moses, Nephi, and so on).

    I think your son is fortunate to have you for his teacher.

  8. I seem to have gotten out of touch with letter-writing, and esp how and what to write to a missionary. Maybe you could share some more ideas...?

  9. Paul: I am happy for you. And sad. I was just looking at pictures of my son who is also in the MTC, and I think the hardest part for me is not the current separation, but the milestone that comes with it. When he comes back, he will be his own man. It just goes too fast.

  10. Robin, more thoughts coming in a future post!

    MMM, thanks. I hear you. The longest I was home after my mission was two weeks. Within a year I was married and had my own family to worry about.