"You need to sign this," my son Joe informed me, waving a sheet of blue paper approximately two inches away from my nose as I loaded the dishwasher.
"What is it?"
Rolling his eyes with a sense of impatience, Joe replied, "A permission slip. And it's due tomorrow!"
Wiping my hands as I scanned the sheet, I learned that Joe's sixth-grade class would be taking a field trip to the state capital.
"That sounds like fun," I said to Joe, picking up a pen. "I've always wanted to see the capitol."
Joe's blue eyes bulged. "You can't come!"
Mystified, I set the pen down. "Why not?"
"Because you always come on field trips!"
I was still clueless. Of course, I always joined his class on field trips. I love field trips.
Being a chaperone on a field trip is one of the perks that comes with being a mom, a vacation day in a career that offers little opportunities when it comes to a change of scenery. And up until that point, Joe had always wanted me to go along with his class. Looking at his anxious face, I realized that this time was different.
"You don't want me to be a chaperone?"
"Give someone else's mom a chance," he suggested, "I don't mind."
That much was painfully obvious.
What was surprising was how much I minded being so unceremoniously dumped from the short list of willing chaperones by my own son. After all, we have a long history together as travelers – a history I'm not ready to abandon.
When Joe was in kindergarten, his class planned a pretend trip to Norway (a natural destination for any Minnesotan).
"Norway!" we excitedly said at home when we heard about the journey.
"Boy, are you fortunate," my husband told Joe. "I've always wanted to go to Norway."
Joe looked doubtful. "How far away is Norway?" he questioned.
"Very far. Let's look at a map." So we did, and as we traced the path we thought his class might take, Joe followed my finger carefully.
"That's very, very far," he remarked.
"But think about all the wonderful things you'll see that you can tell us about when you get back," I enthused. "My kindergarten class went to the fire station. I wish we'd gone to Norway."
The class planned on taking off for Norway on a Tuesday. The day before departure, Joe woke up not feeling up to par.
After ascertaining that he didn't have a fever, he did have an appetite, and he generally seemed fine, I asked, "You don't want to miss getting ready to go to Norway, do you?"
Joe shook his head. "I guess not," he said.
But when I picked him up at the end of the day, the teacher's aide gestured for me to join her in the coat room.
"Joe got a little upset today," she whispered.
Feeling my heart sink, I felt the guilt familiar to all mothers who send their children to school when they aren't sure whether or not they're really sick. "What happened?"
"He doesn't want to go to Norway without you."
So that's what had been bothering my literal-minded 5-year-old. He thought his class was really flying to Norway on their wooden chairs in their paper airplane. He believed those passports and tickets he and his classmates had been making were the real deal.
"What did you tell him?" I asked.
The aide's eyes twinkled. "I suggested that he invite you to come along for the ride."
And so I did. We departed at 8:30 in the morning. Joe was a delightful traveling partner who never once left my side, plied me with Kool-Aid, and even bought me all the souvenirs I wanted.
After a brief visit, we returned to the United States and made it back to the elementary school before lunch. Joe and I waved good-bye to the teacher/captain and the aides/flight attendants before starting our short walk home.
"Mom," Joe told me, "I didn't want to go to Norway without you. I'm glad you came with me today."
I smiled down at him. "I'd go anywhere with you, Sweetie."
Truer words were never spoken. And those words remained true. Only as the years passed, time has a way of changing things. The kindergartner who worried about flying to Europe without me became a sixth-grader who walked several miles behind me at the mall.
Preadolescence descended upon our household with a heavy thud as my husband and I found ourselves bracing for the upcoming teen years with the same trepidation as someone about to climb an ice-covered mountain wearing high heels.
But as I looked from the permission slip to visit the state capital to my son's face, I knew that he was right.
The time had come to let some other mom deal with the noisy bus, the unruly kids, and – especially – the tricky task of not embarrassing her offspring in front of his classmates. Joe needed to take a field trip without me hovering over his shoulder. And I needed to let him.
"All right," I told him, signing the slip but not putting an X next to the "willing to chaperone" box. "Have fun."
"I will," Joe promised, surprising me with a fast hug. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," I told him as he disappeared into the family room and I returned to the dishes.
I'm glad he doesn't need me all the time, I thought – and tried to believe it. After all, I'll always have Norway – and my memories. And for that, I'm very grateful.