(This weekend, we are headed with my parents down to the hill country of Texas to our home away from home, Mo-Ranch. Every summer families from our church, First Presbyterian Dallas, gather to relax and play there on retreat, and I’ve gone every year of my life except when I was on my honeymoon! Here is a reflection I wrote last year from about trip, but never published…)
When MJ was a tot, he came down with an awful croupy cough when we were down at Mo-Ranch. It was the first time Iʼd experienced it, and I was no where near an ER. He awakened gasping for air and calling out for “Ma – (gasp)- ma”! After helping him catch his breath in a steamy bathroom, I took him outside and snuggled with him in the cool air of the hill country in the wee hours of the morning, snoozing with him in a camping chair under the glorious stars and the moon, feeling and hearing his breath as he lay on my chest. Iʼll never forget that intense feeling of maternal care that kicked in along with the initial panic. But it eased into a sense of peace and love, becoming a special memory out there under the Texas sky as I stroked his soft skin and blonde hair… A memory of being needed and wanted more than anything else by my little boy, for comfort and security.
Well, this MO experience was a little different. My little tot has grown into the most independent-minded little 6-year-old kid Iʼve ever known. And Mo-ranch is a place that develops this sense of independence even more in children. Here are some of the phrases I heard from MJ over the weekend:
- “This table is full. thereʼs no room for you, Mommy.” (when I tried to join him and his big kid friends for root bear floats.)
- “Go back to your seat, Mommy!” (When I tried to sit down on the floor with MJ and the other kids to watch the talent show.)
- “Mom, Iʼm going to the craft barn with Kate.”….(this involved a walk up from the river across the Kitty Walk, and up the hill with an older “woman”, age 11.)
- “Mom, Iʼm going fishing with Jarred.” (a sweet teenager)
The couple of times I heard him utter the words “Mommy, CAN I______?” I definitely praised him! He pretty much wanted to be in charge of himself the whole time, and the times that I did insert my parental authority, we usually had a problem…a meltdown…even a full-on tantrum one evening in front of everyone as I had to drag him kicking and screaming back to the room. (An experience that left me in tears when it was all over.)
Ellie becomes a little more shy with all the other people around, so she still needed and wanted me around more. But she too, enjoyed a sense of freedom. The first morning we were there she asked me to sit on a rock outside our room while she walked ahead of me to the dining hall. “Mommy, you sit here.” She did not want me walking along with her, but watching her from a distance as she progressed towards pancakes, self-esteem and womanhood!
I have long parented with this philosophy of ““free range” parenting in mind for the healthy development of my kids, and our church retreat at Mo is the perfect spot to give some extra freedoms towards this end. You are in a safe place surrounded by people who know you and are looking out for you and each otherʼs kids. The older children and young teens fall naturally into a leadership role with the younger ones, guiding and leading them around, just as I did when I was there age. The children learn the major landmarks and operate within the same schedule and structure each year so it becomes their home away from home. Just as it did for me. On Sunday evening when I was bemoaning the fact that MJ just didnʼt want to have anything to do with me at Mo to my Dad, he recalled that he used to know a little girl who also felt as if she owned the place at that age. Touche.
Sunday evening I let my kids stay up late for the first time to enjoy the musician-led sing-along in the lobby that has become such a treasured tradition. I had imagined them snuggling with me, singing with me, and falling asleep surrounded by the joy and music as Iʼve seen some other children do. But they wanted to be with the big kids up in the balcony dancing, playing cards, playing games on phones. At least they were in the same space as me, enjoying the same music and happy atmosphere. MJ loved it as I knew he would, and one of my favorite Mo moments was when he sat leaning on the balcony, looking down and smiling at me, and we signed “I love you” to one another, content to be sharing this time and place together, even if it was not the way Iʼd imagined it. (After all, how often does parenting go the way we expect?) Sweet Ellie came to me with her blanket to snuggle for a minute, asking me to take her to bed. When I stood up to leave, I was asked to sing so I performed “Natural Woman” with Ellie waiting patiently right next to me, blanket on head. Even MJ came to bed willingly that night. I should have known that was a sign he was about to get sick…
Though I was very sorry that he suffered through a stomach bug, selfishly it was kinda nice that he needed and wanted me again….been there? So there I was next to him in the church van the next day, holding the plastic bag up to his mouth every time I heard him gag, stroking him, wiping his face, comforting him. And the next day I got to spend a good day of being needed as “Mommy” with him…reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” to him, snuggling with him on the bed as we listened to “Winnie the Pooh”, tucking him in for an unusually long nap, feeding him crackers and ginger ale, giving him a soothing bath and lotion massage. Heʼs still my little boy, and even as he grows up and away from me, Iʼll always be waiting in the wings, ready to be there when summoned or needed, as only a mother can…with a bag, with a hug, with a message of unconditional love.
More pictures and posts from Mo-Ranch: