Leap of Faith

For weeks before our summer vacation, my kids taunted me about the resort’s signature waterslide: a nearly vertical, 60-foot drop-off from the top of a replica Mayan temple, through a swift chute and a plastic tube that’s submerged in a shark-filled lagoon.

It wasn’t the sharks that scared me; I knew that for liability reasons, the resort would never expose its guests to the risk of being eaten alive.  I was troubled by the concept of losing control; of heading blindly, feet-first, off a precipice into uncharted waters.

We conceived the trip as our last family vacation before our oldest child heads to college, and we traveled with friends who also have a college-bound first-born. We were thrilled to find a resort that could entertain four adults and six kids for a week: a world-renowned water park, diverse restaurants, a bustling casino, night clubs for the kids (one for those over 18, another for younger teens), a state-of-the-art exercise facility and snorkeling, fishing and sailing activities nearby.

As the summer rolled forward, I found myself learning to loosen up on matters concerning my son. He begged for a later curfew, stopped texting me whenever he changed locations and even spent a night at a friend’s cabin, without parents present. “I’ll be on my own, making my own decisions in a few months,” my son explained.  “You need to start letting me prove I can be responsible.”

Just a few days before the Bahamas trip, I accompanied my son to his college orientation. On a track parallel to, but separate from, my son’s, I learned about dorm life, cafeteria hours, health-care options, study aids and the prevalence of alcohol, drugs and sex on campus.  (See Carol’s post on her orientation experience.)  I wondered if my son was ready to strike out on his own.

By the time we arrived in the Bahamas, I was waking up in cold sweats. During the day, my youngest two kept reminding me of the shark slide.  “I’m working up to it,” I told them.

On the first day, the six kids rushed through the 141-acre waterpark, trying every slide, sampling several of the swimming pools and watching sharks and sting rays in glass-walled tanks. After an hour-long “ride” in an inner tube on the “lazy river,” I enjoyed a beer al fresco.

At dinner that night, I learned that my friend and traveling companion Azie is a lot more courageous than I. She was anxious to master the “Leap of Faith” ride. She also seemed totally prepared for her daughter’s independence, but then again, she began boarding school in a foreign land at age 15.

Later on, I shuddered when her daughter and my son headed into the casino, drinks in hand (both legal activities for 18-year-olds in the Bahamas). I didn’t sleep soundly until my son returned to the hotel room. How will I fare when he’s 1,500 miles away?

On Day Three, I put on a brave face and walked with Azie, her younger daughter and my youngest child towards the Mayan Temple. My daughter, a very slight and tentative 11-year-old, screamed with abandon during the entire journey down the slide; I think she was truly worried about the sharks. Azie and her daughter took their turns without skipping a beat, smiling broadly from start to finish. 

Lying on my back, I paused at the top of the “temple,” closed my eyes, took a deep breath and pushed off.  For a moment, I was air-borne, not knowing when, or if, I would reconnect with the steep slide.  And then, I was careening through a tube, viewing hungry sharks through an acrylic barrier. Within moments, the exhilarating ordeal was behind me.

Tomorrow, I will take a different sort of leap of faith, as my husband and I load our son and all of his worldly belongings into an SUV and start the two-day drive to his college.

We adults kid ourselves, thinking we’ll have a captive audience for some 20 hours of “final” words of wisdom. In truth, our son will probably spend the trip texting friends, checking Facebook, listening to loud music through headphones and sleeping.

I wonder if I have told him enough about attending class, taking notes, keeping up on reading, communicating with professors and studying.  I’m concerned that he–like many college freshmen–will take too much pleasure in late-night parties.  I’m not sure if my husband and I have stressed the importance of respecting women. I’m not convinced we are ready to let go.

Leaving him at his dorm on Wednesday will certainly be a leap of faith. However, if I can stop over-thinking it, I’m sure the drop-off will feel fine.

Linda Williams Rorem, 15 Aug. 2011

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