Recently I tagged along with Older Son on his senior trip to Buenos Aires, where he was an exchange student, along with a handful of other classmates, in a Spanish immersion program. Husband and I have always felt a certain bit of pride in not being helicopter parents, but with following him 6,000 miles to nearly the tip of South America, surely we’ve ruined our reputation.
But hopefully, for understandable reasons. Older Son has struggled with some health setbacks for the past couple of years, causing him to miss some special high school opportunities, including his school trip to Costa Rica last year. For months he had looked forward to the experience and handled the heartbreak of cancelling it with quiet grace. This year, when new complications threatened his trip to Argentina, Husband and I vowed that we would do anything possible to allow him to travel. And that’s how I found myself in Argentina for two weeks, to be available if necessary, but promising to mostly stay out of the way.
One of my main jobs there was to fret over how much walking was required of him. Suburban dwellers at home and used to negotiating even the shortest of distances by car, we instantly became city folk, and walking five or ten blocks was no big deal. Except if you’re someone who is still working to fully recover from a broken femur.
“We had such a great day today!” Son exclaimed to me on our third evening in Argentina. I loved hearing his details and basked in his enthusiasm. But I unintentionally burst his bubble when I learned that one of his visits was to Plaza de Mayo, a public square which I knew to be far from his school.
“You didn’t walk there, did you?” I blurted out, a bit more harshly than intended. “You know you could have taken a cab and waited there for the other students to arrive?!?” (I did have a job to do here after all, and had traveled all this way to be helpful…)
Son thought quietly for a moment, ever patient in deflecting my hovering worries, and gentle with me as our roles reversed.
“Mom, today wasn’t about Plaza de Mayo,” he explained. “It wasn’t about where we ended up. The whole point of the trip was getting there, together. That’s the part I didn’t want to miss.”
He had just made it so obvious what I work hard to remember every single day: that the joy is in the journey. Try as I might, I often lose sight of this truth (especially during the holidays). It’s not about checking things off the list as fast as possible in order to arrive at the “destination”, whatever that end point may be. More important is to enjoy the ride there.
This beloved son graduated from high school a few days ago, not long after we returned from our trip. After years of hard work and difficult classes, he reached the endpoint of this journey; high school’s destination, in the form of a diploma. He checked that milestone off the list, and now prepares for life’s new adventure. Graduation was a celebration, a couple of hours of one otherwise regular Thursday morning to acknowledge years of discipline, determination and study.
But the real achievement and true learning for the new graduates was found in every tiny experience collected along the way. And whether the individual days brought joy, stress, exhaustion or elation, Older Son and his friends have experienced it all, together. They come through as young adults of vitality and character. This group of teens has supported, trusted and encouraged each other with such mutual respect and kindness that all of us adult witnesses — parents and teachers alike — have become much wiser, and inspired, through their examples.
Was every single day filled with joy? Not at all. But, in looking in the rearview mirror, it’s clear that they were able to move through their days with positive energy, step by step toward graduation and their next chapter. It wasn’t only about finishing high school in order to graduate and move on. It was also about enjoying the long journey there.
Note: “The joy is in the journey” is not my creation — I read it online a few years back and, although I do not remember who said it, those words have been a mantra to me, and I’m thankful to whoever shared this wisdom. This post first appeared on Prayers and Piazzas.