Both Karen and I spent our childhoods moving frequently. It’s just part of life when you belong to families involved with missions and the military. The migrations continued when we got married and we spent our first seven years moving around Germany. Finally, just as the boys were first entering school, we settled in one place and have been living here for the last fifteen years.
It’s amazing how many people you get to know when you’re in one place longer than a few years. Even casual acquaintances become familiar. You start recognizing other people’s kids because you played ball with them a few years back. Your younger kids encounter teachers who remember your older kids. The circle of folks you know, and those who know you, grows steadily. The connections between folks become clearer. This can have interesting benefits for parents.
All three of our boys are…outgoing. Whether they were in school, or at church, or on the ball field somewhere, you probably noticed the Burke kid. This was both a blessing and a curse. It sometimes seemed like every adult they encountered knew Karen or me, so there was little margin for error in their lives. When they were behaving themselves they could be pretty sure that reports would filter back to us. When they were misbehaving it was almost certain.
It’s tough living under a microscope, so it was natural for the boys to appreciate those rare moments of anonymity when they could let their hair down a bit without fear of being recognized. It wasn’t that they wanted to do anything particularly terrible; it was just a little exhausting to have to consider the consequences of their every move because someone who knew their parents was probably watching.
As they grew older and gained more freedom their worlds got bigger and their opportunities to be anonymous grew more frequent. We trusted that the good judgment they had shown when we could watch them more closely would serve them well as they explored their independence.
It also helped that the world isn’t nearly as big as they thought.
A couple of years ago, we gave Philip permission to go to the beach with the family of his lifelong friend, Adam. The beach is about six hours away, and though we knew Adam’s family would take great care of him, we still prayed a lot that week.
When Philip returned from his trip we asked him how it had gone. He said the weather had been fine, they had eaten lots of good food, and they had enjoyed their time in the sand and surf. But something was bothering him.
It seems that one day the boys got on the elevator to go down to the beach, and on the way down a lady they didn’t know boarded with them. The doors closed, and as they descended the lady kept looking at Philip. It was a little uncomfortable, but finally she spoke.
“Aren’t you Karen Burke’s son?”
She went on to introduce herself and offer polite conversation until they reached the bottom floor, but the damage was already done. Here he was, more than 300 miles away from home, thinking he was surely out from under the umbrella of parental supervision, and still he bumped into someone who recognized him and knew his mother.
Perhaps our prayers were answered in that chance encounter. Maybe we’ve just been living here so long that the odds were pretty good that something like that would happen anyway. Most likely, both are true.
Either way, it’s good to know that someone is always watching.
originally published 10/24/11| next post Manners