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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dest"in Loco Parentis"

Thoughts on Sponsoring Senior Trips

It’s Tuesday morning—10:00 AM Central Time. The sponsors have been up for a few hours, starting breakfast, skimming the pool, vacuuming, etc. The first senior got up about an hour ago. Only half are up now. (I’m guessing they’re the ones who went to bed the earliest.) We’re trying hard to let time pass as if there’s no agenda and no clock while we’re here. About half the group was still up or in the pool till 2:00 A.M. (I'm now sitting at the pool as I type.)

Because this vacation home has neighbors, I asked our seniors to be as quiet as they would if they had snuck into some strang millionaire’s pool and dared not wake him or his hounds, which probably added a little fun to the swimming. ”Stolen waters are sweet…” as Proverbs 9:17 says. The kids don’t know it, but each night I lay awake till all are in bed. As a parent, I’m used to that role.

My wife and I have been sponsors on Senior Trips every few years for twenty-two years. Our first was with the Class of '84 to St. Louis. Each of our half-dozen Senior Trips was with a group of great kids, so it’s not much different than being a parent on high alert. If any seniors (past or present) are reading this, please forgive my use of “kids” just now, but seniors are still kids in that most do not yet have the experiences that cause parents to be proactive and protective. Kid's tend to think in terms of “wouldn't it be cool if...” but adults project ahead to a dozen other "what ifs" that aren't so cool at all. Common Law calls it in loco parentis, meaning "parents gone crazy"—not really. Actually it means “in the place of parents.” This sort of oversight isn’t about “not trusting” kids (though teens often play the “trust card" when they want to do something against their parent's better judgment).

TRUST is very involved in supervision. But the earned trust we put in people can never negate other realities that we can trust to be true: We can trust that Satan wants to fill the void reserved for God with other things; we can trust that in this depraved world there are those who equate innocence with opportunity; we can count on the fact that bad choices usually take us further than we plan to go and keep us longer than we plan to stay. Ideas have consequences. As young people show an understanding of these things, the trust factor becomes more and more credible.

The challenge of parenting teens on the cusp of adulthood is finding a balance between personal “trust” and all the other things we know are true. This balance first calls for the illusion of letting go, providing a sense of choice and independence while discreetly standing by to look out for their best interest. We interact and keep the tie that binds secure while providing ever-broadening boundaries. We share the path a while, then provide direction, but eventually the path of parenting requires staying behind at some fork in the road and watching from afar.

Graduation is one of those “letting go” forks in the road. The realization may not kick in for a few weeks or months. On trips like this, a week before graduation, the boundaries are still clearly in place. Freedoms are ample and earned until proven otherwise, and they are thereby exercised with maturity and respect. During the trip, the good of the group is put ahead of the individual. If they leave our little paradise compound, it's in groups (and they sign out). Probably not all of our parents agree with this approach, but most appreciate it, and best yet the kids recognize this small responsibility as part of the "freedom" of being here.

For the sponsors, it's like having a family of 20 kids the same age. (It helps that the guy-girl relationships are more like brothers and sisters than anything else.) We help with the hard parts—like finding lost wallets, keeping track of airplane tickets, smoothing out issues with airport security, serving as sun-screen police, band-aid providers, cooks, head-counters, peace-makers, shuttle-van drivers, and solvers of whatever other difficulties this trip still holds (—you know the routine, especially if you're a parent). But when we're less needed, we try to blend into the background.

It's cool when the students draw us in (e.g. when they run up to share their "finds" at the beach or mall). That's when we know the balance between being seen as fuddy-duds and friends is working, and we're one step closer to the future relationship we'll share with them as young adults. We've watched how it works through the years, and it's the most rewarding aspect of overseeing such trips.

I don’t mind staying up till 2:00AM, lying awake listening to the lively banter and occasionally walking about like a friendly insomniac. Even so, I relish the moment when everyone has called it a night. Then like some yawning gnome, I make my final rounds, checking doors, turning off forgotten lamps, listening one last time for signs of life, and then crawling in bed for good to catch a few hours of sleep myself.

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