A few days before we dropped off, our middle daughter, Elizabeth and her stuff in Bozeman, Montana for her first semester at Montana State University, we embarked on our last family vacation together with Yellowstone, a place we’ve always dreamed of visiting, as the ideal backdrop. Along the way I accumulated a few life lessons, gaining a deeper understanding of my family and myself.

gibbon fallsLife lesson number 1:  It’s REALLY hard to plan a family vacation with grown-and not grown-children.

Our oldest daughter, Samantha, in her third year of Chemistry at University of Oregon, had been accepted into two summer internship programs. She was the first student using the internship to count for an undergrad and masters program, and all the brains in the Chemistry department couldn’t figure out how to work the dates for her. It took three long months to finalize dates so she could join us.

Ben, our youngest child, was chosen to be a student leader, mentoring the incoming sixth graders this year. His excitement turned to disappointment when we found out that the mandatory training was the exact time frame we’d be visiting Yellowstone.  If he couldn’t be there for the mandatory training, he couldn’t be a student leader. He’s left feeling resentful because once again his big sisters’ plans vetoed his.

driving yellowstone

Life lesson number 2:  Thar she blows!

With firm dates for our trip, I planned out everything, and tried to get my kids to actually start packing. Meanwhile . . . Elizabeth worked herself into a frenzy over leaving home and going off to college, to the point of paralysis. Samantha stressed over internship work, her math class and managing sloppy summer roommates. Tempers were high and tears were in abundance.

Amidst the drama, we finally packed up the truck, and headed off to Yellowstone. And almost immediately, everything changed and a calm settled in. Stresses forgotten, worries left behind, as we gazed in wonder at geysers shooting water into the air, pools of boiling hot aquamarine water, bubbling pots of mud, and Bison, elk, and a coyote cavorting in a field. Sunsets and sunrises that amazed the senses, and the sounds and smells of the earth boiling and burping noxious fumes and steam from her bowels to reshape the landscape.

aquamarineWe hiked countless miles, stared at waterfalls that rivaled Niagara, and joked and laughed about the awful smells that coated our skin by the time we returned to the cabin each night. We’ve always been a close-knit family, and Yellowstone brought us even closer, knowing that soon we’d be down to just one child at home, and both girls off on their own. Our family was growing up and leaving us, and that’s as hard on the parents as it is on the kids.

Our time at Yellowstone came to a close much too quickly, and we headed to Bozeman. We moved Elizabeth into her freshman apartment, and discovered that her three other roommates were no longer coming to the school, and she had a roommate she’d never met before. The roommate spent the weekend with her family in a hotel, leaving Elizabeth alone at night. There were tears, phone calls, and texts. We seriously wondered if we could even leave her on Sunday. Did we really not prepare her that much? Could she handle being so far from home? Leaving her behind proved brutal.

the girls yellowstoneLife lesson number 3: Letting go, and keeping in touch

When Samantha left for school two years ago, it was just as hard. We spent the first year texting daily. I ‘got the hint’ the second year when Samantha wouldn’t answer right away, my cue that I was too much helicopter, not enough absent parent. But she felt comfortable texting at 3 am when she was lonely and sad that first year. I must have done something right if she felt she could reach out to me at all hours, especially knowing that I go to bed at 9:30 every night. Elizabeth’s reaching out to us right now as she tries to settle in and make new friends. But that too will change. And that’s good—and bad. It’s hard to let go, and yet still be part of your grown kids’ lives.

I am a geyser, erupting into tears and anger at my aging family, going away and leaving me. I am a deep aquamarine pool, bubbling underneath with worry, but showing a calm surface to the people who need me quiet and reflective. I am a waterfall, letting fears flow past the jagged rocks, cutting deep and carving new places to explore. I hope they still want to come back and explore us—enjoy us– as we grow independent of them, too.

E & nesbitt kids

BIO:  Emilie is a married mom of 3. She currently resides in Bend, OR, where she volunteers with Scouts and school, hikes and camps all around Central Oregon, and tries to keep sane as her family grows and changes around her.

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