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Roxane Salonen, Published June 16 2009

Parenting Perspectives: Daughter’s camping trip fuels ‘what-ifs’

I almost didn’t see them coming, but the what-ifs
know the perfect time to pounce – during those awkward lulls when there’s time to think.

I’d joined my 9-year-old daughter on our front steps, where she sat with her elbows on her knees looking out at the road leading to our house, a sleeping bag at her side and a look of happy anticipation on her face.

She’d just been invited on a camping trip. With little time to spare, we’d scurried around the house in search of a canteen, baseball cap, toothbrush and change of clothes.

Outside, the cell phone chimed. “They’re almost here,” I said. “You excited?”

She nodded, smiling. I blessed her forehead and gave her a mother squeeze. “You’re going to have fun – I’m excited for you!”

Soon enough, a pickup rolled up and three lively girls and a dad poured out. The girls bounced around in the driveway, helping to situate bags and sort out sitting spots, chirping excitedly about the upcoming adventure.

“You forgot your pillow,” I said, noticing the others.

“Oh!” my daughter said, dashing back into the house. In her wake, another dead spot opened for the what-ifs.

Though I’ve always aspired for us to be the kind of family that’s brave enough to tackle camping, I’ve yet to convince my husband of the merits of a summer night without air-conditioning.

Now, my daughter was being given the chance to experience the warmth of a real campfire – not just the fire pit out back – and sleep under the stars.

Still, worst-case-scenario images began to swirl through my head; things I’d watched on the news or read in books or retained from nightmares from my childhood. Was I crazy to let my daughter go away without me to protect her?

As I stood by the garage waving goodbye, I said a quick prayer for her safe-keeping. It was all I could offer now.

The next morning, I was startled awake by an early morning phone call. “Mom?” said a quiet voice. “Do I really have to come back by 1?”

“Are you having fun?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered, suddenly charged with energy. “We just went on a hike, miles and miles, and when we got to the top you could look out onto everything and see trees forever and ever. It was so cool! So, can I stay longer?”

Moments later, I slipped back into bed, feeling contentedly sleepy.

I’d made it through the night just fine, and so had my daughter.

Thank you, God.

How many more such nights will I experience – evenings of teenage drivers and proms that will move into other trips farther from home, and years when months will go by without me knowing what my children are up to?

The what-ifs
will threaten a return, I know they will. But I’m determined to hold them at bay.

I want my children to experience the life that awaits them in all of its wonder – including the mountain-top moments that will happen in my absence.


Roxane B. Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and husband Troy are parents to five children. She also has a blog, www.areavoices.com/peacegarden