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Five months ago, I got a blast from the past that made me realize how much life is different these days.

I should start by sharing that I lost my mother in November of 2019. She lived the fullest of lives and was an inspiration to our family and those who knew her. She passed with joy and acceptance. Frankly, I think her example was one of the keys to helping us have the fortitude to operate last summer.

Anyway, my older sister and I decided to wait over a year to go through about a dozen boxes of memorabilia. We focused on addressing her estate issues in the first year and were not quite sure we were ready to review a life well-lived until the second.

What we found helped us span the widest swath of emotions. We cried, laughed, admired and were surprised. We found letters exchanged with authors, playwrights and politicians. We learned about her activities in college. [Note: this was a ridiculously long list that had the effect of making us both feel like underachievers.]

But we had heard many of the college stories and were also well-versed in the stories of her marriage to daddy and their lives in Midland.

What I was not expecting was to discover the teenage Joan. My mom had always been the “Silver Fox” to me. I called her that because for my entire life, she had white hair. To help you visualize her, she was occasionally confused with Barbara Bush.

But the boxes revealed a young brunette, some journals, elementary school grades and (most impactfully) letters between her and her parents while she was at camp.

I wrote in a previous blog about the homesick letter that I wrote her when I was 8 that she later gave me when I became a full-time camp professional. In it, I wrote that my tears were falling on the page and that she could only prove her love if she would rescue me. She knew I would find an inner strength and not just survive, but thrive. She was right. But she certainly got joy from sharing that letter.

And suddenly, I was reading letters she wrote when she was 10-14.

I share part of one that she wrote as a 13 or 14 year old. It seems so unusual to me today that I thought it worth sharing.

She writes to her parents, “I want ‘you all’ to come up at the end of camp to see the final campfire. I know I can get a ride home, so if you can’t come to see the campfire- I’ll hitch that ride.”

My mom did not live someplace close like Austin. She lived in Galveston, a full 5-6 hours from her camp. She had essentially no expectation that her parents would attend closing day ceremonies and was willing to hitch a ride home.

Please do not think I am claiming this is better or worse, just really different. I know parenting styles vary over time and there is no “right” or “wrong” style. If a parent loves their child and fosters their growth, the outcomes tend to be really positive. I know my grandparents loved the Silver Fox, but that was a time that getting from Galveston to Kerrville seemed like a long, long way and parental attendance to camp events was optional. I am more intrigued at the idea that a 13 or 14 year old would be making her own travel arrangements. It helps to remind me that teens are more capable than we often assume. I then remember that her brother was a Lieutenant at age 17 that led a group onto the beaches of Normandy.

I am thrilled that we are not sending our 17 year-olds to war and that we have mobile phones that make travel arrangements infinitely easier to make. But I hope we can take the leap of confidence to expect more from our young people.

My mom used to say that “you rarely get what you hope for, but you generally get what you expect”. This idea has been a mantra with our Senior Camper program – we believe that they can be leaders and that they can serve. To our delight, they rise to the occasion.

I guess this is the point of taking “reasonable risks”, challenges that are out of our comfort zone that help us grow. All campers take reasonable risks, and they all grow. “Through competence comes confidence”, Susie Ma’am likes to say.

Let me conclude this, however, with a simple request. Please do not ask your teens to make their own travel arrangements this summer!

Steve Sir