He's my first missionary. I didn't go on a mission and no one in my family went—so it's a pretty new experience. It's quite wonderful and I am proud of him. There is an element of bittersweetness to this. When he gets home he'll be all grown up. Sending him on a mission marks the end of an era with him. It's a little sad, but mostly I look forward to being a mom to young-adult-Sam. Of course I am 100% committed to the gospel and I think that serving a mission is the best choice Sam could make right now. I never waiver on that in the least. I believe in missionary work. I believe in service. I believe in Sam.
But it's also quite gut-wrenching and difficult in some ways. If you have little boys who may be mission-bound some day and the thought of that makes you cry, here's my advice: Don't think about it. Try not to think about it. Trying to raise them with the thought of them one day leaving constantly at the forefront of your mind is too much pressure and loads every moment with an unbearable weight of inevitability that is too much to bear.
Even now with only a few days left before Sam leaves, I try not to think about it because if I think about these numbered days I will ruin these last few days and make them weird. Probably I shouldn't even be writing this.
I have daughters, too, who plan to go on missions. I feel like what I am saying might be son-specific, even though it probably feels the same to send a son or a daughter on a mission, because there is a gravity to the responsibility for boys to serve whereas girls have a bit more wiggle room to opt-in or opt-out of a mission.
Here's what's hard about it.
First of all, there's a lot to do. There's paperwork, visas, medical and dental appointments and records, documents, TB tests—all sorts of stuff to help with as missionaries gets their papers in and receive their mission calls. It's pretty busy. There is a lot of shopping to do as well, but to me this is not hard. The shopping is really fun and exciting—I have loved that part of getting ready. Although you do worry about money a little. We'll probably spend around $1500 in upfront costs. Having all this stuff to do before they leave can be stressful.
The other thing that's hard about it—and this is really the thing you most expect—is worrying about sending your son away for 2 years. They're leaving, and they are teenagers who still need help sometimes. They are going somewhere new and possibly far away. You'll have very little contact with them and they will meet strangers every day who might not like them or treat them nicely. You know they are in for some hard work, which will be good for them, but you're still the mom and they're still the baby you used to worry about every little thing for. It doesn't feel any different than that first night home from the hospital, the first day of school, or the first sleep-away camp they go to. Even though he's older and competent and prepared, it feels the same. There is no difference.
Sam's mission president wrote a letter to him. And that really was the first mission-related correspondence I was able to look at without crying (and I'm not a crier). It's reassuring to think that President and Sister Leppard will be in charge of him now. My son is their stewardship and I take some comfort in that.
Those are the parts I expected to feel but there's another part, too. It feels like—and I want to be careful not to overstate this—what Joseph Smith described feeling in the Sacred Grove before Heavenly Father and Jesus show up. Sometimes (not all the time) I feel ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction. It's sad. I cry. It doesn't feel good. It could just be me being a weirdo, but other moms (and Maggie) admit to feeling the same way.
I'm not saying it's Satan trying to suck out the optimism and joy I should (and do) feel about Sam going on a mission but I'm not saying it isn't. I have wondered if the excruciating pain parents are feeling about their children leaving for missions has anything to do with the all-in, attachment, helicopter parenting we've been doing for the last 20 years. (Thanks A LOT Dr. Sears.) I don't know.
I think, maybe, the reason for the pain is that for the first time ever my core beliefs feel like they are at odds with each other.
I believe in the gospel and that Sam should serve a mission with every fiber of my being.
I believe in keeping my kids close and taking care of them with every fiber being of my being.
My being fibers are being split.
I think that's what I'm feeling. It doesn't feel good but I do think it will get better and I'm really into the idea of receiving a WHOLE SLEW of blessings like everyone always talk about.
I'll let you know how it goes.