Some number of my gracious readers were kind enough to enquire about my tip to Montana in May. (Hey! Three is a number!) We saw tons of bison. There are some 4700 bison in and around Yellowstone. I think we encountered each and every one of them. Magnificent, shaggy, and underwhelmed by homo sapiens, herds of bison crowded the roads leaving hapless motorists gaping and snapping. Traveling three miles into the park took over an hour as dozens of bison meandered down the road while the rest of their herd strolled through the snow adjacent to the clogged thoroughfare.
One afternoon we watched as an endless stream of bison crossed a river. Although my fluency in Bison is limited, I’m fairly certain I perceived hesitation on the part of the yearlings. Imagine watching as everyone you’ve ever known ambles off into the cold unknown. One minute you’re on the same solid ground you’ve known your whole short life. The next instant, you’re supposed to put your feet somewhere you can’t see into a substance you don’t recognize.
Some of the calves demurred. They tried to take steps in another direction. Their unmistakable preference was to stay firmly on terra firma; their lack of interest in the chilly unfamiliar was clear. What was also apparent was the unshakeable will of the group. The young ones were herded into and across the river. Their parents nudged and pushed. No calf left behind.
Don’t you wish your peers could be trusted to help your kids along? Wouldn’t it be great if we could live in the non-existent, hypothetical past where everyone in the community shared the same values? All the parents on your mythical 19th century street could have meaningful conversations with, inspire, and discipline your child because all moms and dads had the same beliefs. Today, not so much. Inappropriate pictures on Instagram and 90,000 opioid deaths last year are the least of it. Your neighbors think it’s a great idea to smoke pot with their 15-year-old children. (It’s not.) The folks down the street encourage their kids to vape. (Because juul is better than nicotine--in the sense that being run over by a bus in preferable to being run over by a locomotive.) You’d like for your middle schooler to gain independence by having a sleepover with that family but how can you be certain that family doesn't have unlocked firearms, alcohol, and pornography? Some people do. And it’s uncomfortable to ask. We’re looking forward to Susie spending the night at your house this weekend but we just wanted to ask if you have loaded guns lying about or allow the children to drink alcohol. Awkward.
Absent signing up to be buffalo, the answer in each of our family silos has to be preparing our child for the path rather than preparing the path for the child. Our kids have to have the ability to speak up: I don’t feel comfortable with that family. Our kids have to know what we expect from them: my parents wouldn’t approve. Our kids have to be able to advocate for themselves. I’m outa here.
How do we get there? How do we get kids who can do all these things, advocate for themselves, respect the values of their homes? Easy. Take them at their word. Trust them. Listen to them. When they say they are uncomfortable, believe them. The reason loving parents say, we will pick you up from anywhere, no questions asked is that we trust your judgment and don't need to know who it was that made you feel like you'd like to be elsewhere.
Because if they don’t feel you will listen when they tell you things, why would they tell you things?
Because we can no longer trust the broader group to help our kids plunge into cold water and get across safely.