“Dad, you’ve got to be kidding. We’re going to miss all of the Bowl games. There’s no way I’m going on that stupid trip.” That’s the reaction I received from my twin 16-year old boys when I shared the “good” news with them: “You get to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic next January.”
It was to be their first foreign trip without mom and dad to a country where they might see some poverty, have to work with their hands, eat lots of rice and beans and leave their iPhones at home. Could it get any worse? The only consolation was that 27 of their schoolmates were also being subjected to the same exasperation!
I didn’t make the situation any better by suggesting that they now had a chance to practice their Spanish language skills. “Dad, we hate Spanish! It’s annoying.”
Leading up to the trip – which they are currently on – there were lots of informational meetings at school but when asked about them, they just said, “It was a waste of time.”
I realized in October that their passports were almost expired and we needed to apply for new ones, pronto. It was almost impossible to get an appointment at a local post office and as time was running out, I booked a time at a distant location (40 minute drive) at 8 am on a Saturday. How was I going to break this to 16 year olds who love to sleep in on Saturdays? To make things even worse, when we got to our appointment we were told that they needed to see their original birth certificates; their current passports were not sufficient.
We were going in meltdown! I called my wife, explained where I kept the documents and asked her to get into her car and meet me half way. 45 minutes later: Mission accomplished but I had two boys who thought their dad was a total idiot!
On January 1st, at 4 am we rolled out of the garage and headed to the airport. Running on three hours of sleep it was understandable that they weren’t going to be very talkative. But, I did get the sense that there was some excitement starting to percolate in the car. Willi asked me three times: “How far are we from the airport? Will we get there on time?”
When we arrived at the Delta departure terminal they could see that ca 10 of their classmates had already arrived. I gave them each a big hug, told them I loved them and was proud of them and then got in the car and drove off.
As I drove home in the darkness I wondered what impact this trip would have on them. Would it be life-changing? Would they realize how blessed they were to be living in a nice house, attending a good school and had lots of ice cream in the freezer? Would they care less about X-box and iPhones, and yes, even the hoverboard they found under the Christmas tree (not sure why we gave in to that Christmas request)? Would they be more excited about learning Spanish and, would they want to go back to the small village and the kids they now called their friends?
A lot of good things can happen when a teenager is willing (maybe forced) out of their comfort zone. This time around I had to give my boys a little nudge. My hope is that they will have such a good experience that they will be proactive the next time around and challenge themselves to get out of their comfort zone.
I can’t wait to hear about all of their experiences when they return home late Thursday evening.
Photos: Susan Greenberg Jones