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Today, my oldest son came home after serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Oklahoma City area. To say I can’t adequately express my happiness at his return would be an understatement.
While mission service isn’t required of Mormons and I have many active member friends who never served, it is a prevalent part of our culture. In the case of my family, mission service is in our blood — my dad served in Argentina as a young man, my parents served together in New Jersey after retirement, and my three brothers and two sisters served in Mississippi, Australia, Mexico, New York, and Chile. My husband served in Brazil and I served in Washington DC, giving tours in Spanish at the temple visitors’ center as part of my assignment. (You could still see remnants of “Surrender Dorothy!” painted on the bridge over the Beltway back then.)
Still, nothing prepared me entirely for sending off my own child for two years with no contact except a weekly email and two phone calls a year, or the sadness of feeling him gradually seep out of my life after 18 years of motherly micromanagement.
Yet this needy child, like the proverbial bird pushed out of the nest, didn’t crash to the ground—he flew. The same boy who couldn’t remember to turn in homework if he actually remembered to do it in the first place proved 100 percent capable of planning and budgeting his day-to-day, week-to-week life. He got by just fine without me reminding him to brush his teeth every morning or pointing out that he had his shirt on backwards. (Collared shirts and ties probably made that easier, though he did manage to go several hours in grade school wearing a polo shirt backwards.) He was able to feed himself and get his haircut with no input from me. After a few months of absence, I began to suspect that perhaps I was the needy one in this relationship.
To compound my emotional state this month, I’m also preparing to send off my second son to serve in Tijuana, Mexico. On August 29, we’ll put him on a plane to the Mexico City missionary training center with his luggage, a list of emergency phone numbers, and four (nearly useless) years of high school Spanish.
Will he also soar? As a toddler, he was cranky and obstinate, and when I compared him to his kind-hearted, happy-go-lucky older brother, I worried he would grow into a wild or difficult teen. But from the time he came screaming into the world until now, he has been driven to succeed. His obstinate one-track-mindedness has led to eventually passing five A.P. tests, becoming a talented artist and pianist, learning to sing even though he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and teaching himself how to 3D animate via YouTube tutorials and free online software.
But he still can’t give a proper hug despite plenty of coaching. He’s a tiny bit robotic and not given to emotional displays beyond cracking the occasional smile when he deems that, yes, you are soooo hilarious. It’s this nature that makes me less worried for his physical safety than his emotional well-being. Will he struggle to love with his whole heart and to forgive the inevitable rejections and conflicts he’ll face? Or will he surprise me like his brother did by growing beyond what I can foresee? Maybe—hopefully—he will do both.
In any case, these two brothers, who have always been each other’s best friends, teachers, and partners in crime, now have less than two weeks until they are separated again. We have plans to make the most of it—theme parks, family dinners, neighborhood activities. Through it all, I will keep reminding myself that we are a family of missionaries. And this latest generation is going to be just fine.
P.S. Earlier this summer, I posted this 3D animation that my second son Nathan made for the UDMAF contest. He had originally planned to finish another project before he left for Mexico, but circumstances did not permit—family vacation to Florida, Scout trip to Havasupai, youth conference to Snow College, and a summer job helping paint walls, service AC units, and repair playground equipment at charter schools across the valley. He did, however, start brain-storming with the family and made several sketches in preparation for a new animation that centers around an astronaut exploring an asteroid field. How do you think this one might end?