I’m a new parent. So new, in fact, that I am only just now beginning to experience the joys of teething. So I don’t know a lot (yet). I don’t know what it is like to wrestle a toddler into the bath or to try and convince him that a toilet is better than a diaper. I don’t know what it feels like to have my sweet little boy scream “Mommy!” And run into my arms. I am so looking forward to that. But I do know what it feels like to suddenly have my heart walking around outside my body, toddling around in the big scary world. I know that I can’t (and shouldn’t) protect him from all of the hurt he will experience. I know that I will likely cause hurt that I can’t predict and will regret. And I know the world can be unkind.
In preparation for this, I have already started squirreling money away for the day when wilderness is the best choice for our family. Because I have seen it work for so many others. In fact, I believe the woods would help all of us, no matter our age. I have felt the power of it. As a field instructor, one family session many years ago stands out in my memory. The daughter was so tough. So sweet too, it turns out, though it took many weeks for her to let down her tough facade. Her family came to visit toward the end of her stay. I remember exactly where we were sitting, the memory is so clear I could point it out on a map. It was a crisp and sunny fall day. The air was cool but the sun was warm, and enough leaves had dropped off the trees that we could see the outlines of the neighboring mountains. I don’t remember the specifics of the session, or what prompted this sweet but tough girl to start crying, but she did. And then her mom started crying. And then her dad. Then I was crying and her therapist was crying and we were all crying. And after a minute or two of that, this sweet tough girl smiled. She said, “Dad, I’ve never seen you cry before.” And her mom leaned into her, smiling, forehead to forehead, and said, “You know what, neither have I.” Then Dad started smiling too.
That session impacted me in a big way. When the parents left that day they gave me a big hug and her dad said: “Thank you for giving us our daughter back.” He wasn't thanking me specifically, I was just the representative of the program who was lucky enough to receive that sentiment. And that is what I saw, time and time again, with hundreds of kids throughout my time in the field. Watching the evolution of pictures and letters throughout a kid’s stay is like watching a butterfly come out of its chrysalis. I know that is a corny and stereotypic metaphor, but there is no other way I can think of to describe it. We see miracles.
So I don’t know, yet, what it feels like as a parent to turn my kid, my heart, over to the care of complete strangers. But I hope that if (when) the day comes, I will have the strength and courage to follow the lead of so many other brave families that I have encountered at Blue Ridge. Because it works. To all the current families with kids in the woods, and to all the families who have come before, this post is for you. You are so brave. You are so strong. And I hope I will have the strength to do the same, when the time comes