I'll never forget how startled I was when Mitch walked up to me and handed me this piece of paper whispering, "Hey Dad, I made this for you and Mom." I smiled and said, "Awww, Mitch, I love it when you draw pictures. Can you tell me about it?" Mitch paused a moment and said, "Remember that night we went camping and we almost froze solid?" I giggled, "Oh, boy do I remember that night." Mitch then giggled and began to describe what he remembered from that camping trip. He said, “You kept waking up to check on me.”
That was the most difficult night we’d ever had camping. I remember calling Natalie on my way home from a meeting one wintery Friday night. I asked her to throw our camping gear in the back of the truck and told her that me and the boys were going on an adventure. The boys were excited and before we knew it, we were headed up a snowy canyon near Tibble Creek reservoir.
By the time we reached our campsite the sun was all but gone and we were setting up in the dark. My sweet wife inadvertently packed a summer tent with no wind guard - which was basically a mosquito net. I asked the boys what they wanted to do and they said, "Let's not quit. Let's do this."
After a few rounds of hot chocolate around a roaring campfire, we settled in for the night. My boys were cuddled up in sleeping bags, blankets and beanies. The canyon filled with giggles as little Mitch and Ethan shared jokes. Then the giggles softened and the jokes became fainter. Before I knew it, the boys had drifted into a deep slumber. I wasn’t so lucky.
I don’t think I really slept that night. Instead, I was in a constant state of worry. On occasion, I drifted into a shallow sleep, only to jolt out of my sleeping bag to make sure my boys were still covered and warm. Then I’d lay on my back and look through our unprotected half-tent at tree branches made bare from the winter snow. I gazed beyond the forest trees at a million stars that shimmered like crystals of ice. I thought, “I’m pretty outer space isn’t this cold.” I wondered if the night would ever end.
After what seemed a never-ending cycle of waking, panicking, checking, then dozing … the stars became faint and the blackness that surrounded them turned deep blue, then gradually light blue. Before I knew it, morning had come and the stars were gone.
We started another roaring fire to get warm and it didn’t take long before we were on our way down the canyon. Mitch was quieter than usual that morning. Mitch just looked out the window as if in deep thought. Finally, I asked, “Hey Mitch, what’s on your mind?” He said, “Dad, let’s never do that again.” I chuckled and said, “Good idea. I’m in.” He smiled and we both laughed.
Later that night, I sat by Mitchell’s bed as he whispered a nightly prayer. Until that point, I don’t think I’d ever heard a more genuine expression of gratitude for a bed, warm blankets and that we “didn’t have to sleep in a tent for reals.”
That camping adventure remains our most difficult one on record – which is why it surprised me little Mitch took the time to draw it. When I asked him why, Mitch thought a moment and said, “I don’t know. I guess it wasn’t THAT bad. Plus, it made me grateful for what I have.”
Mitch wasn’t the only one to draw pictures of that hard adventure. My other boys did something similar. In their minds, they saw the difficult experience for what it was – just momentary discomfort. What they remembered, in the end, was the good they pulled out of that experience.
In matters of parenting, I wonder sometimes who is raising who. My kids teach me in the most simple and profound ways. Yes, they may acknowledge a difficult experience, but it seems they chose to remember the better parts. How often is their mind and heart simply shown by their hand-drawn art? And if it be our children see the good so easily, therein lies a lesson and a challenge for me.