The Permission Slip
by Lynn Roaten Terrell

For days, the headlines had flashed the same frantic message: "Navajo Youth Claimed by Mystery Illness." The afternoon paper echoed the alarm: "Another Teen Struck Down at Four Corners." Unimpressed, I quickly turned to the crossword section. That was the only puzzle I was interested in at the moment.

Our teenager, Ken, strolled in and casually tossed a crinkled piece of paper toward me. I recognized it immediately. It was the "Permission Slip." How I hated them! I had signed hundreds, for summer camps, field trips, flu shots, an ear piercing, or two. There were also those for 21 operations and dozens more when they mistakenly thought our son had leukemia. I never asked for that much responsibility for another person’s life. Oh, how I had waited for the day it would all end!

"What’s that for?" I inquired.

"It’s a release form for my trip to the Navajo Reservation at Four Corners. Remember?"

I was right — another permission slip. Six months before, on Ken’s 18th birthday, I had joyfully sung "Happy Birthday to You," followed by a rousing ad lib of "And I’ll never have to sign another permission slip for a child as long as I live." I was in awe of the freedom I had so piously earned.

"What are you doing, anyway, Mom?" Ken asked, plopping down to pull off his running shoes. The dog, Dee-O-Gee, tempted by the aroma of used socks, was quickly diverted by a new rawhide stick.

It was the opening act to a routine comprised of two decades of after school talks, as I explored the Mysteries of the Universe with our children. It started with Lori, 22, who was now expecting our first grandchild, Nichole, followed by Ken, at 18, now legally an adult.

They had once been so eager to believe everything they were told. At first, their curiosity and perceptions were so innocent:

"Granny, why does all of the big water turn to little water when mommy stands up in the bathtub?" inquired our toddler, as she buttered her breakfast toast. And, "I sure hope I don’t go to heaven when I die, because I don’t want to fall out, like that bird did!" commented our three-year-old, pointing to a heap of wilted feathers next to the sandbox.

Parenting was going to be a breeze! But I think, at times, they might have been better off with a little more "Street Smarts." As they ventured farther out into the world, the reality set in.

"Would you please have a talk with your son?" Our pastor’s wife begged. "Today, Ken asked if the kindergarten could make something for art class. When his teacher wanted to know what he would like to make, he replied, ‘Let’s make an Obscene Gesture! – just so I’ll know what one looks like if someone gives me one on the street.’" And we talked with him, so he’d know what one looked like.

Then, "Stop pointing at people across the restaurant, it’s rude," I would chasten. "Well, at least he didn’t point with this finger," his sister proudly commended, flourishing an offending digit to the amazement of dozens of startled diners.

And, his second grade teacher approached us in desperation. "Please ask Ken not to turn in his homework in ‘code’ quite as often. Even with the key he gives me, it just takes too long to grade his papers."

Democracy was nearly toppled when the 6th grade gifted students elected him their class president. His school apologized, "We spent a month studying about the sanctity of free elections. Now we have to explain that their class election is not valid. You see, Ken can’t serve as president of the 6th grade. He’s only in the 2nd grade!"

Yes, those were much simpler times. But, eventually, we had to deal with the inevitable, "Where did I come from, and why am I here?" queries that make parents gray before their time. As the issues became more complex, we challenged each other with increasingly more complex moral and ethical issues, always ending with, "Let’s see what the Bible has to say."

It became a game – kind of a biblical "Name That Tune": "I can show you in two chapters that dinosaurs roamed the earth with man." Or, "I can tell you in 10 verses where the Bible says we can use animal fur for clothing." Or, "I can find five verses that says it’s okay for a woman to own her own business – and keep the money!"

I would counter with, "That’s nothing! In only one verse, I can disprove Einstein’s Second Law of Thermal Dynamics!" Although I really don’t know what a thermal dynamic is, I created an interesting hypotheses – with scripture to back it up. And that remains one of our favorite theories for discussion.

None of us ever understood why anyone believed the Shroud of Turin was the burial cloth of Jesus. We could prove in both the Old and New Testaments that Jesus looked like an ordinary man. We know that Roman soldiers’ armor from that era averaged 5’4", and most of the Jews were even shorter than the Romans. Yet, the form in the shroud is 5’10" – much too tall for a first-century Jew!

But today, as I tried to ignore that new permission slip, even those issues seemed simple compared to the discussion that was to follow. And I braced myself against it, as I glanced up from my crossword puzzle and asked, "But why are your bringing me another permission slip? You’re over eighteen."

"I know. But they asked for your signature on this release form because I am still on your insurance. And Four Corners is many miles away from a major medical facility."

Four Corners? Medical facility? There was a pregnant pause. What was wrong with this picture . . .?

Suddenly, I dropped my pen and flipped back to the front page. I shoved the newspaper under his nose. "What’s the matter with them, anyway – still expecting you to go to Four Corners. Don’t they read the papers? People are dropping dead up there. You’re not going," I shrieked.

"I am going, whether anyone else goes, or not," he responded, in a well-modulated tone.

"But, why?" I desperately cried.

"Because I promised them I would. Remember? When I went to teach last year, I told them that I would go back and help remodel their church." Picking up the pen and shoving it assertively toward me, he added, "You know, I don’t need your consent, but I would like it."

He had always been a rebel – ready to take the road less traveled. Wasn’t he the same child who insisted on making a sandwich for the pre-school talent show competition? And the same child who had put a bean up his nose – just to have it germinate out of his nose during dinner with the pastor – leading to another trip to the emergency room, and another permission slip!

And recently, when I picked him up following his first car accident, he actually had the gall to ask if he could drive home. Yep! I had signed for his driver’s license, too. "I know they say it’s a good idea to get right back on the horse," I replied, herding him gingerly toward the family car. "But this isn’t a Mustang – it’s an Escort!"

I seemed to have had so many clever answers then. But where were they now that I really needed them? The discussion was rapidly heating up, and the more hostile I became, the more determined he was.

"Remember . . . ? " I was searching. "Last year, you postponed shoulder surgery to do mission work with the Indians. And I signed the release anyway – against my better judgment. But this time, people are dying. Young people, your own age. You would be foolish to expose yourself to that disease. Why, they don’t even know whether this thing is carried by air, water, animals, human beings . . . No way!" I said, tossing the permission slip toward him. "Go if you must, but don’t expect my endorsement."

"Mom?" he inquired – carefully, deliberately, pacing the question in staccatos, for maximum affect. "Did Jesus go to the lepers, or did He wait for them to come to Him?"

Where did he come up with this stuff, anyway? I wondered. Now he was actually throwing scripture in my face!

"Well . . . Jesus wasn’t my son," I shot back, angrily.

And then that handsome young man broke into the dimpled "gotcha" kind of grin he’s so famous for, and calmly replied, "But Mary let him go!"

So, as I signed that last permission slip, I realized that I was not only "letting him go," but I was also "letting go of him." And I can prove that that was the right thing to do in only part of a verse: "Go ye, therefore, into all the world . . ."

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