Last night, all three of the triplets were out of the house. Brenden has gone on a weekend-long retreat with his best friend’s church’s youth group, and the girls were invited to another church’s lock-in. It’s amazing to realize that they are at that age.
I remember being 14. I remember 9th and 10th grade. And I remember doing things with church youth groups, even though my family were not regular church attendees at that time. I remember going to holiday events with friends. I went caroling with the Mormons with a guy in my class, I went to a Halloween trunk-or-treat (probably one of the first of its kind, back then) at a fundamentalist church with my best friend, I even went to a couple of youth Bible study groups at another fundamentalist church with a guy from my programming team. I remember how disconcerting it was to encounter so many of my classmates in these completely different environments, and to realize that these environments were home to them, although foreign to me.
The best youth group memories I have come from a trip I took around the state with the Crestview Baptist Church youth choir. I first joined up with that group because of my friend Dawn, but it turned out I knew quite a few people there, even a boyfriend. Of course I’m a sucker for anything that involves musical performance, and since they accepted me, I was in all the way. In the summer of 1990, I think it was, the choir went on tour around the state of Texas, and I went with them. We were gone for quite a while, traveling in a van-bus quite similar to my current family car, pulling a trailer behind for luggage and sound equipment. We went all over the state, singing in churches and staying usually with host families. I remember the family that had a hot-tub they let us get in. I remember splitting up to go to our host homes at night, and reuniting with the rest of the choir at the church the next morning. I remember making out with Doug in the back bench of the bus, hoping the choir director wasn’t looking in the rearview mirror right then. I remember listening to Ray Lynch and Kitaro on my walkman while reading on somebody’s porch futon before going to sleep for the night.
I especially remember when we made it to Amarillo. In Amarillo, we were meeting up with the First Baptist Church there, if memory serves, a typical Southern Baptist mega-church for the time. For that stop, we stayed at a camp-meeting ground outside town, in a big building with boys and girls dormitories and bunk beds, a piano out in the main room that I would play sometimes, a typical Texas view outside that went on forever, or so it seemed. In order to get to the camp, we had to drive past a stockyard, and the smell was absolutely terrible, even with the windows rolled up and the air vents closed. The first time we drove past that stench, the other Doug in the front seat thought he needed some fresh air, and he rolled down the window!!! We never let him forget that mistake. I remember that First Baptist of Amarillo had their own rec center, complete with cafe, basketball, swimming, even roller skating, and we got to hang out there with the local youth group for a few hours in the evening.
Now that my own children are getting old enough to be involved in these things, I wonder how my mother felt about me taking off like that with a church I’m not sure she ever even visited more than once, with people she really didn’t know. I have a little trepidation about that myself, but I keep it to a low buzz because I know that these groups are generally safe, and I actually do know many adults in the churches even if I never attend. I have a little more trepidation about them always being Christian churches and Christian youth groups. When I did my time in youth groups, I had not yet found my religion. My girls have, and Brenden at least has been raised in it, and I do worry about them being confronted in these environments about their beliefs the way they have unfortunately been confronted by even close friends in their own homes. So far, though, there has been no conflict. As I recall, these youth groups are more about providing a safe, wholesome outlet for socializing and having fun, rather than about proselytizing to outsiders, so I don’t truly expect much conflict. I can wish there were a pagan youth group that my children could participate in, but if wishes were wings, pigs would fly. There just isn’t enough organization among pagans to provide that yet. We would need the same kind of support these Christian groups have, with their own church buildings and large congregations.
I wonder what kinds of memories my children will make as they move through these groups. It’s a step toward them moving out, really, a real chunk of them making memories and having experiences away from me and Brian, outside of the home. It’s a step toward them establishing their identities apart from us. I look forward to them doing more, and I look forward to someday hearing the stories they have to share, the memories that stick with them for years or even decades.