"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
September 25, 2014
Earning Our Spurs
by Hannah Bird

Despite Waylon and Willie’s specific warnings, I did let my baby grow up to be a cowboy. He does pick guitars and drive old trucks. He wears faded old Levi’s. And he is never at home. The warnings were prescient but went unheeded.

This summer, he slept in a cave. He has watched grizzly bears pass by him. He caught rattlesnakes with his bare hands. He also skinned and ate them. He watched his favorite horse find a new home. He moved pipe. Then he moved pipe some more. He drove equipment that cost more than our house. He found a new favorite horse.

This is his second summer as a ranch hand. Last year was great, but it was a time of learning. This year he is older and wiser. He is more capable. He can move water or move cows. He can run all the equipment. This year, he is an asset.

He is 16.

When he was a little boy, he wanted me to buy him some spurs. He was going through a cowboy phase and wanted a pair to wear with his boots. I said no. I explained that spurs are something you earn. They are a sign of an achievement. They are the right of those who have earned them.

My response failed to satisfy.

He was well out of the cowboy phase when he ended up going to work on the ranch. He swore to me he would never ride a horse. He didn’t ask for spurs.

This year he called me. He asked if I remembered when he wanted spurs. I did. He was being given the opportunity to earn them. Suddenly it was all clear to him. Spurs were for someone who could ride, someone who had been challenged and risen to the occasion. His boss had laid out some requirements for earning spurs.

He said I was right.

I couldn’t breathe for a minute. I am not often right. Or rather I may be right or not but I seldom feel right with my parenting decisions. I usually feel like I am holding on to the side of a roller coaster car that just won’t stop. My children are breathtakingly spectacular. But I have some real concerns about their mother.

We talked about music and muscle cars. They are our common ground. He and I love classic rock and ‘67 Impalas. We said good night. He had an early start the next morning. He was earning his spurs.

Last summer, when I sent him to the ranch, I heard many opinions. Other mothers told me they would miss their kids too much. It was too dangerous. There wasn’t enough supervision. He might get hurt or homesick.

Then he came home with a rattlesnake tie. Now it was most certainly too dangerous. Catching snakes and sleeping rough in actual genuine wilderness was not a responsible thing to let a kid do. A visit might be fine, but one ought not turn their 15- or 16-year-old out into the wilds. It isn’t safe.

I agreed. He wasn’t safe.

He needed, I think, to be unsafe for a while. He needed to ride a horse with the very real chance of falling off. He needed to find out that he was faster than a snake. He needed to know that he could work till he was dog tired and keep going.

He needed to find a place under that flat blue sky that goes on forever. He needed to make his way through sage brush and fear. He needed to look up at the red hills and breathe in freedom. He needed to be a little bit hungry. He needed to find out who he is when it isn’t safe.

Safety isn’t as safe as we think. Far more young men die from foolish nonsense in their own homes than snake bites. An afternoon with a computer and nothing real to do is every bit as dangerous as a fast horse. Having him here to see every day is not the same as watching him grow.

My fear and worry do not trump his growth. I could buy him spurs and keep him here. I could enjoy his fierce hugs and quick wit. But he is safer for knowing that his has earned his keep. He is safer knowing that he is strong and quick. He is safer having longed for home.

He will come home soon. He will be brown and sinewy. His hair will be bright gold. The boots I bought in the spring will be battered. He will have wonderful stories. I will smile when I hear him playing his guitar down the hall. His baby sister will radiate joy and follow him everywhere.

He will hang his spurs on the wall to remind himself that he earned them. I will hang my spurs in my heart to remind me that letting go is as much a mother’s job as holding on. Then, I will try to do both in the right measure while the next grizzly passes by.

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About Hannah Bird

I am me. I live at my house with my husband and kids. Mostly because I have found that people get really touchy if you try to live at their house. Even after you explain that their towels are fluffier and none of the cheddar in their fridge is green.

I teach Relief Society and most of the sisters in the ward are still nice enough to come.

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