missionary? We recently made the trip to the MTC to drop off our third missionary. From this perspective, I can say that in some ways sending off missionaries does become easier, but not in other ways.
On a side note, I referred to our MTC trip as "Operation Empty Sea" at work. One of my LDS coworkers asked what that meant. I explained that when I was a missionary, one of my companions had come from an area where there were few Latter-day Saints. At a going away party before he left on his mission, some of the LDS attendees kept talking about "the MTC." A non-LDS friend wished my companion well, but then asked why he had to go to "the Empty Sea" to be a missionary. It's kind of been a joke for me ever since I heard that story.
It takes a lot of work to get a son or a daughter ready to leave to serve as a missionary for 24 or 18 months. Quite frankly, my wife has shouldered the bulk of that burden for all three of our missionaries. I suspect it is the same in many families. So among the emotions a parent experiences upon sending off a missionary are relief that the preparations are finally done and worry that you probably forgot something important. Incidentally, my son's first email from the MTC said that he had failed to pack deodorant.
Parents generally experience varying levels of worry about their missionaries for the duration of their missions. Of our three missionaries so far, we're least worried about this one. That's only in part because he's not the first. The first one gets additional worry simply because there are many things the parent experiences for the first time, even if the parent has served a mission (as both my wife and I have).
The real reason for the reduced worry is that this son happens to be fairly low maintenance. He's low on drama. He's pretty comfortable in his own skin. He has always been very comfortable talking to just about anybody about things that interest him. That penchant used to cause us embarrassment and consternation when he was young, but it will come in handy as a missionary. This child is fairly flexible. He doesn't get up tight about new situations or new people.
This doesn't mean that we aren't worried at all. While our son is quite smart, he has a certain type of directional dysfunction. His brain doesn't register landmarks the way a typical brain does. Meaning that he easily gets lost. This problem was mitigated by the mapping app on his smartphone. We're reasonably certain that he will have access to some kind of GPS device while serving as a missionary. At any rate, he will have a companion with him 24x7, so if he gets lost, at least he and his companion will be lost together.
As we have with the other two missionaries, we drove up to the Provo Temple to take pictures before going to the scheduled drop off at the MTC. It was rainy, so we didn't stay long at the temple grounds. The photos didn't turn out very well. But such is life.
We drove onto the grounds of the MTC. After waiting in a line, we were directed where to turn and where to pull up to a curb. We hopped out and pulled our son's luggage out. Another missionary that was assigned to be our son's escort grabbed some of the luggage as we gave final hugs and good-byes. By that time, the escort was already moving down the sidewalk. Our son grabbed the rest of the luggage and hurried to catch up with his escort. We hopped back in the car and were directed to pull out. We were soon back on our way home.
I know that rapid-fire drop off process sounds harsh. But having done the drama laden presentation gathering back in my day, I truly believe that this method is better for both the missionary and the family. After all, you've already had weeks to say your good-byes.
I felt a great sense of pride and joy as our son entered the MTC. Still, a piece of my heart went with him as he walked away and we drove away. That part never seems to get easier. It's different for each child because each attaches to our heart strings in unique ways.
This son spent three years as my Scouting buddy, acting as chief of the Order of the Arrow chapter that I advise. He's been transitioning to more of an adult role in life, especially since he began college last fall, so that the Scouting separation I feel is more nostalgic than immediate. In fact, he seems far more comfortable interacting with others on an adult level than he ever did on a child level. It just seems natural for him.
One less body in our home simplifies things in some ways. We aren't waiting up late for our son to return from a date or an evening with friends. It's easier to coordinate family schedules and meals. But our home is also a bit emptier than before.
Occasionally I find my thoughts wandering off to what our son might be doing at that moment. As I consider some of the more difficult things he will face on his mission, a part of me reflexively wants to reach out and protect him. But another part tells me that it's a good thing I can't do so. Our son will become something more, hopefully greater as he deals with these things. He will be less our little boy. But that's a good thing.
Godspeed, my son. Serve well.