100 hours

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.  – Kahlil Gibran

It was somewhere in the middle of nowhere along I-80 in Wyoming that I had an epiphany. Perhaps it was sleep deprivation; it was approximately 4 a.m. and I’d been up since 6 a.m. the previous morning. Perhaps it was stress; I was on a school bus with 40 teenagers and we’d been at a complete standstill on the interstate, surrounded by semis, for right about six hours, on what would ultimately turn out to be a 17-hour bus trip from Cheyenne to Evanston.

Perhaps I was just completely losing it. Over the next two to three hours I would repeatedly convince myself I saw the lights of Wamsutter approaching in the distance as we finally broke free from a complete stop to creep along, ever so slowly, through the maze of semis lining the interstate in every direction.

My husband and I have a standing joke as we travel across the state, in which we refer to Wamsutter as Mos Eisley space port. Star Wars fans may hear Obi Wan Kenobi wisely proclaiming, “You will never find a more wretched hive…” I’ll leave the rest out as my opinion of Wamsutter has been changed forever. Indeed, I’ve never been happier to come upon anyplace as I was to come upon the Love’s truck stop in Wamsutter early on the morning of Monday, Dec. 13.

Allow me to back up and provide context.

We had set out early on the morning of Dec. 9, headed to Cheyenne for the State Thespian Festival. I’d been meaning to chaperone for years but other obligations kept me from it. This year, however, would be my son’s last time attending. It’s Aidan’s senior year, so it was now or never, and I hopped on the bus with 40 kids, their teacher Erin Russell and our bus driver (who I now know is really a superhero) Beth Barker. Another district bus driver and superhero, Jim Saxton, followed us to Cheyenne hauling a trailer full of set pieces and props for the student productions.

The plan was to drive to Cheyenne on Thursday morning so the kids could perform Thursday afternoon and Friday morning and then head back home Friday evening. As I packed Wednesday night, however, I was sure to pack extra stuff; the weather forecast led me to believe we’d almost certainly end up stuck in Cheyenne due to road closures.

Sure enough, by Friday afternoon the roads were closed.

I could probably tell a hundred stories about what transpired over the next couple of days, but this column doesn’t afford me the space to do so. To summarize, however, I offer this:

We learned a lot about the kindness of strangers as the folks at Laramie County Community College heard of our situation and offered to put us up in the dorms for as long as we needed, including providing bedding, towels and laundry detergent.

We learned that the weather between Elk Mountain and Rawlins is terrible approximately 90% of the time, which is my educated guess based on the fact that when it was bitterly cold and windy in Cheyenne, the weather in Rawlins was terrible, and when it was sunny and warm in Cheyenne, the weather in Rawlins was still terrible.

We learned how to adapt and support one another and handle the things beyond our control. No matter how many times we all checked our WyDOT apps in a day, the roads weren’t going to open any sooner.

I personally learned a few lessons as well.

These kids are kind. I had a bit of a meltdown on the Saturday of our little adventure, when my laptop ceased cooperating. I had a final paper for my graduate program due on Monday, which I had planned to finish during any down time. Instead, I found myself in a dorm room crying, which was not a place I expected to be at the age of 50, trying to finish a paper on a Kindle. A student saved me by offering up the use of his new personal laptop, which other students informed me nobody else was ever allowed to touch. I can’t begin to express my gratitude for that action.

These kids are funny. During an impromptu talent show on Saturday night, I learned just how funny through magic tricks, rousing sing-alongs and stand-up comedy routines, including a 30-minute monologue a student (who shall remain nameless) shared about an incident involving his dad, his uncle, some coyotes and some absolute craziness. That particular monologue I believe will go down in the annals of EHS Drama Devils history.

These kids are smart and thoughtful. At one point on the marathon bus ride home, they thought I was asleep. They began talking about relationships, the meaning of love, intimacy and consent, friendship and more. I’m not going to say anything else about what was said on the bus. I was there as a chaperone and if they had crossed the line into being inappropriate, dangerous or illegal, I would have stopped it, but that wasn’t necessary because they didn’t. In fact, they engaged in some of the most thoughtful dialogue it’s ever been my pleasure to hear, between teens or adults. However, since they all believed I was asleep at the time, I have no intention of ever repeating their deepest thoughts they shared with trusted friends.

But this does lead us back to my epiphany.

I struggled a lot internally over the snowed-in weekend. I was there as a chaperone with my teen son, who was doing his best to spend time with his friends while also humoring his mother by playing ping-pong, pool and foosball with her. And I possess something close to zero hand-eye coordination.

The weekend was turning into a microcosm of everything that’s hard about raising teenagers, and seniors, particularly. I know I have to let him go and push him out into the world, but at the same time I want to snuggle with him and smell his hair like I did when he was a toddler (and which he would absolutely refuse to let me do now). It’s hard letting go. And it’s equally hard holding on.

It was on that bus ride that a small miracle occurred and he did sit down next to me to share a blanket in the cold, ultimately falling asleep with his head on my shoulder. Somehow the heavens had aligned such that on that terrible, stressful, dreadfully long bus ride, I got a few brief moments of the closeness that I think most mothers remember, and it filled my soul up in a way I didn’t even really know I needed.

Well, that combined with all the laughs, tears, singing, talking and silence of the previous days and the knowledge that these kids are extraordinary, all of them. We were thrown together for almost exactly 100 hours on that bus trip, 100 hours that I believe many of them will remember for the rest of their lives.

How lucky I am to have gotten to experience that first hand and be a substitute mom for those hours. How lucky we all are that they are our future.


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