Camping trip tests rope of freedom

stream and trees

I have come to realize that I never know when a tough parenting moment is about to hit me. It’s not like a summer storm when the winds shift and the leaves on the trees turn up before the worst of the wind and rain hits. Instead, it’s like a tsunami suddenly hitting the shore after a hidden earthquake deep on the ocean floor.

Our plan was to camp next to another family at Mammoth Cave in southern Kentucky. At times, it seems our kids are closer than cousins from traveling together in the summers throughout their childhood. They seem to enter into their own world when they are together.


We had been at the campground a few hours and the kids had quickly explored different areas, looking for places to bike and hike. The two oldest boys in our families are teenagers now and enjoy a certain level of freedom. They drifted off together, aiming to walk the dry creek bed searching for geodes next to the campground.

Their two younger brothers had lots of options available to them but instead chose to follow their older brothers. Like moths to a flame, they wanted to be a part of anything the older boys were doing.

Expecting them to return shortly, we continued playing cards and talking at the campsite. We had traveled across a time zone going to Mammoth Cave. Any sort of time zone change can throw off my ability to gauge time.

Out of touch

Time seemed to fly by before I realized it was getting late even though it was still light outside. The boys should have been back already. It didn’t take my mind long at all to realize the four boys were somewhere in the national park without cell service and no way to get ahold of them.

My biggest fear was that they would somehow get separated or lose one of the younger boys. I also remembered news stories of other people getting lost in parks. I immediately thought of a teenager that was lost for 11 days in the Smoky Mountains after losing his way searching for ginseng.

The two dads went down the same creekbed the boys were exploring. They came back without finding the boys and grabbed two flashlights. I said a prayer and paced around the campground, hoping to see the boys when they returned.

It seemed like an eternity to me, but the boys eventually returned to the campsite. They came from the main road, a completely different direction from where they left in the creekbed.

They were all a little dirty like they had fallen once or twice. My youngest son was sopping wet, from his head to his toes. They were also laughing and smiling like they didn’t have a care in the world.

I felt like the mad emoji face, my face was red and hot. I was about to lose my cool. Instead, I told the boys not to leave the campsite and went to find the two dads.

I didn’t have many options when it came to communicating with my husband and his friend. We didn’t have phones or walkie-talkies.

I used all my pent-up anger from dealing with the boys and yelled. My loud banshee cry was heard clear across the ravine, probably for miles.

We always use an analogy of a rope of freedom with our kids. If they make good choices, that rope is long with lots of freedom. A few bad choices mean the rope is shortened, and their options are limited.

Not only did they venture off a main trail, but they also lost track of time. I was relieved to hear that they stayed together, but I’m pretty sure there were “dares” involved with the younger boys.

Trail in question

Just because we were on vacation didn’t mean it was a break in parenting. The next day, we had them show us where they had gone. They claimed it was a trail; they were proven wrong.

The creekbed the boys followed at first turned out to be a feature of karst topography. The dissolution of soluble rocks like limestone creates landforms like springs, caves and sinkholes.

The dry creek bed led us to the sinkhole directly above the waterfall in the cave. Clear, aquamarine water flowed in a nearby stream. When sunlight interacts with the mineral content in the water, a striking blue color is seen.

From the sinkhole, we were able to access an actual trail with signs and explanations for the topography we were experiencing. The trail led down to the Green River and right past the Echo River Spring. The spring is where Echo River, an underground river in the caves, reaches the surface.

The longer we hiked with the kids, our anger dissipated. Abundant grace turned our frustration into an opportunity for growth and maturity. A very short rope of freedom tethered our boys close by for the remainder of the trip.

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