Handled with Care

Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” Doctrine and Covenants 13

One of the things that frightened me most about getting divorced was the lack of a father figure in our home. I know I can accomplish a lot as a competent mother- but I also know, for both my sons and for my daughter, having a healthy idea of what a man is and does is vitally important. And this is something, no matter how good a mother I might be, I cannot provide.

Last night was our ward father/son campout, (as it was many places), commemorating the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood on May 15, 1829. For my boys, this announcement last Sunday was the first of many small, bumpy reminders that we are a different shaped family. My children are tender, the edges of their small lives are a little raw from what has happened to them the last year- and it’s never far from their awareness that their father is absent. They need to be handled with some care.

Over the course of this last week, as the men of our ward planned this campout, they included my children in their plans. They thought about the feelings and hearts of two small boys, and kept mindful of what they might need to feel comfortable and included, despite not having a dad present. Each boy was assigned to a specific dad who could meet their needs, even my autistic son- who was chaperoned by a father who also has an autistic son.

The boys had never been camping before. They were eager and excited, and waited by the fence watching the cars pass and looking to be picked up. Their bags, pillows and food was stacked by the front door, and when the van pulled into the driveway a few minutes late, they jumped in without so much as a backwards glance.

At almost 11 o’clock last night, my phone rang. It was a member of our bishopric, with my sons in his tent, and they were sobbing. He said all had gone well, but when it came time to retire, and they got in their small dome tent, they both were overcome with tears and wanted to go home. He had tried to soothe them, but they were quite distraught. Hearing my voice on the phone only made them cry harder, and the phone was passed back to the bishopric. I prepared to drive out the campground to pick them up, but I was unsure where they were, and it was almost midnight. The camp was remote, and they had hiked in.

Our bishop and his counselor carefully packed my tired, weeping children on the two ATVs with which they had trekked in supplies, and they carefully made their way down the mountainside in the pitch black night. Then my bishop, leaving his own son, and telling me to stay home with my daughter, drove my boys home. He even carried my sleeping son in the house, and put him in his bed. The other boy curled up in my lap and cried.

On one hand, this camping trip could be seen as a disaster. But I don’t really think it was. My boys are young, only 8 and 6, and this morning, they talked about how great the bonfire was, how fantastic marshmallow s’mores are, and how awesome it is to pee on a tree. When it got late and dark, they were frightened to be away from the familiar, and there were good men watching out for them, protecting them, and who got them to a place they again felt safe. I have a feeling this “disasterous” camping trip will have long, gentle repercussions for my boys. The take-away is far greater than the surface-story of small boys who wanted their mama and their own bed. My children have been richly blessed.

“I hope our granddaughters and grandsons grow up knowing that they are not and have never been third-party observers of the priesthood. The blessings of the priesthood, which ‘are available to men and women alike’ are woven in and through and around their lives. Each of them is blessed by sacred ordinances, and each of them can enjoy the blessings of spiritual gifts by virtue of the priesthood.” President Julie B. Beck


  1. laurenlou says:

    Simply beautiful. Thank you, Tracy.

  2. Wow.

  3. This is awesome. We “assign” people to kids with disabilities as well.

  4. “Over the course of this last week, as the men of our ward planned this campout, they included my children in their plans. They thought about the feelings and hearts of two small boys….”

    Mine didn’t. I am sure there are lots of very good men in my ward, but as far as I know, not a one of them thought for one second about my sons. They are young, and have many years to participate in (or feel excluded from) this activity, so it is certainly not the end of the world, but I am sure a time will come (soon) when they will feel this kind of loss. Glad your boys had a good experience. Everyone loves a campfire, right?

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    You’ve got one hell of a ward, Tracy. I think God placed your little family there for a reason.

  6. that’s wonderful Tracy! I’m so glad the men in your ward were so sensitive to the needs of your children.

  7. Yeah, Kev, I tend to agree. This is the only Church I’ve ever known, having been baptized in this stake, and only living here since… This is an amazing area.

    ESO, I’m so sorry. I hope someone picks up on some inspiration to reach out to your sons as well.

  8. beautiful, glad that your boys were able to have some good memories and that your Bishopric clearly cared for all of you you.

  9. I’m glad you have such people looking after your family, Tracy. You have a wonderful perspective on this experience.

  10. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    Wandering through the foyers, I always feel like the women of the church have a much greater sense of familiarity and connectedness. Not that the men walk around looking at their shoes, but our conversations generally average 20 seconds or less, when a head nod doesn’t suffice.

    Get us a ways removed from the paved road though, and wonderful things happen.

  11. Andrea R. says:

    My heart breaks for you and your family. I am so glad you have such a wonderful ward.

  12. Tracy, what a wonderful ward you live in. And they are lucky to have you in it. What blessings your children will know when they remember such kindnesses as this. I’m so happy to read this. It made my evening.

  13. Living in Zion says:

    What has consistently impressed me about you is your attitude of gratitude. I personally find it much easier to help people who are gracious with my offering of service. I think your ability to find the good in even rotten situations is a gift for many of us. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I am learning from you.

  14. God bless good men and Bishops, and especially the single mothers they serve.

    ESO, I echo Tracy’s hope. May someone see your need and help in a way that will be meaningful to you and yours.

  15. ESO… is there any way you could draw this to the attention of your leaders and make sure they aren’t just being oblivious (as I know my husband is) to the need?

    Tracy, I too am glad your boys got what they needed. Make sure your leadership and the assigned men know what a difference it made for your boys even though they did go home early.

  16. ESO, as the time comes for the next Fathers and Sons’, place a bug in the ears of your sisters in RS and your hometeacher. There’s undoubtedly somebody in your ward who would be happy to take your sons, but they’re simply too thoughtless to come upon the idea on their own. I fall in this category. Last night at our Fathers and Sons’ outing I saw a number of kids running around who came with families other than their own, and I was glad because I hadn’t thought to invite them. I would hope that next year I’ll be more thoughtful, but based on past results, any little reminder would be appreciated.

  17. I suspect that is what happened for us, too. I have a fantastic Home Teacher, and he has his finger on everything that happens for us.

  18. The image of the bishop carrying your son in is what did it for me. I almost cried. :-)

    I’m happy to say that such a thing would have taken place in our ward as well. There are beautiful people to be found. I’m glad you have some.

    We have a son with an autism spectrum disorder as well.

  19. Norbert says:

    Oh, that’s sweet. I’m especially touched by your own sense of success at what what others might see as failure.

  20. Well, I sure didn’t expect this to make me tear up, but I did! You have the living gospel right there — such a beautiful act of service for you and your boys. I love your kind and gentle perspective on the event too. XOXO

  21. Josh B. says:

    What an awesome perspective. We need more people like you.

  22. Stephanie says:

    Tracy, this was wonderful to read. There will likely be lots of bumps along the way, and your heart and their hearts will ache sometimes. Father’s Day is a hard one. But you’ll all survive. There was a time after my dad left when I didn’t know if we would survive. Things looked bleak and scary (and they were). But, we did, with lots of help. (In fact, my mom just told me that the wife of our home teacher all those years called her recently to apologize for thinking that my mom was having an affair with her husband. The wife couldn’t imagine why he was at our house so much. We had a lot of needs. My mom just laughed. You never know the burdens some people carry).

    My four brothers all had wonderful scout leaders and support. Honestly, I don’t think it was quite the same for my sister and I. Then again, my mom says that it was High Adventure trips that saved my brother’s souls. YW don’t do things like that.

  23. Stephanie says:

    ESO, your comment reminded me of something. For the past two years, we have barely finished my son’s pinewood derby car in time. We were putting it together the night before. And both nights, as we were finishing, I asked DH, “Did anyone help [cub scout whose dad took off recently] with his car?” DH answered, “I hope so”, but the cub scout wasn’t at the pinewood derby either year.

    We should have called that boy’s mom and asked if he wanted to make his car with us. We would have if we weren’t so busy. We would have if we had been putting our car together on any night other than 9 p.m. the night before. We would have loved it if she would have called and asked us to help.

    Anyways, yes, it would be better if we would remember enough in advance to call him and coordinate it. But would it be good enough if she called us? As a mom, can you ask for help for your children to make sure that they are remembered?

  24. Sounds like a wonderful ward with some good caring priesthood leaders.

  25. I love your bishop. These stories are why I stay. Thanks.

  26. I should add that it is usually me who is crying and wanting to come home at that point in the campout. The first campout is often hard.

  27. Stephanie says:

    ESO, my comment 23 came across weird. I guess my point is that even though members of the ward might not be thoughtful enough to remember on their own to include your boys (consider me prime example #1), perhaps they would be thoughtful enough to include your boys if reminded? I know I would.

  28. ESO, as a mom I have to wonder if there are actually men in your ward that you’d be willing to send your son to camp with!
    They say you should tell your kids that if they are lost THEY should pick someone to ask for help. Because they are better off picking someone than waiting for the wrong sort to come approach them.
    So, there is something to be said for YOU being the one to look at the situations and the available choices. Who would your child be comfortable with? Who would you be comfortable with? Then you can ask them. Pray specifically about it.

  29. Martin “There’s undoubtedly somebody in your ward who would be happy to take your sons, but they’re simply too thoughtless to come upon the idea on their own.” Sometimes though, do you think people might have the thought/desire to help, but perhaps fear being intrusive or not close enough to the situation or perhaps thinking maybe someone else will do this?

    To Stephanie: while it is good your ht served so well, it seems too bad that he wasn’t able to involve his wife more in helping your family, so that she had at least some idea of your situation and perhaps have better supported it, instead of feeling like she was being betrayed.

    I know now couples can be a combined unit for ht/vt. Maybe that would be an idea.

  30. Kristine says:

    I won’t speak for ESO, but I will say that it is hard to convey just how utterly humiliating it is to be a divorced parent in this church. One is alternately lionized (“I don’t know _how_ you do it”) and shamed (cf. any sacrament meeting talk on families, the evils of divorce, “no other success can compensate…”, etc.) Above all, one is relegated to marginal status, a case for the ward council rather than a member of it. One is either the object of service projects or the one deemed unworthy of such service (if there’s any question about one’s blameworthiness in the divorce). One’s children are singled out for extra scrutiny (my children never just misbehave because they’re kids anymore, they’re presumed to be “troubled” because of their family’s brokenness) and incessantly reminded that their family isn’t Proclamation-worthy. It is asking a hell of a lot to expect a mother to swallow whatever last shred of dignity she might have held onto in that situation and ask for the help she needs (to say nothing of the practical issues–if families with two parents barely manage to get packed for the father/son campout or get the Pinewood Derby car put together on time, do you really think that a single, working mother is going to have it together enough to ask ahead of time–she doesn’t have time to breathe, let alone to organize a week or two ahead!)

    I’m not saying other commenters have been inconsiderate or unkind with their suggestions on this thread–indeed, as a practical matter, their suggestions are spot on. I’m only trying to explain why making that perfectly logical, sensible phone call is not so easy.

  31. I do not see Kristine’s comment anymore, but Kristine and Tracy are my heroes.

  32. Kristine says:

    I got squirmy and took it down for a minute, Chris, then decided to be less of a wimp :)

  33. Stephanie says:

    Kristine, I do have a bit of an idea of how humiliating it is. I definitely know how humiliating it is to be a child of divorced parents in the church and to be the one forgotten at a campout or forgotten at a pinewood derby (figuratively speaking). Looking at it from the POV of the child (which is what I can identify the most with), it makes a world of difference to be invited along, even if it takes your own parent to do the reminding (which the child wouldn’t know). That’s why I suggested it. Not to try to add to humiliation.

    I know I’m a jerk for forgetting this cub scout, and I really hope I don’t do something like that again.

  34. Stephanie says:

    I guess also that I wanted to make the point that even if noone calls and extends one particular invitation, it doesn’t mean that noone cares. I know that sounds hollow and offers little consolation. Of course people who care should invite, but I do care a lot about this particular boy, and I have tried to show it in other ways (I am now his scout leader and changed the meeting time when I was called so that he could be there). Oh, and my husband did take him and his brother on the Father/Son campout a year or two ago, and someone else did this year. So maybe we are not totally in the doghouse . . .

  35. Kristine is correct in her assessment. Were my ward not so good about watching out for us, I would have a very, very hard time swallowing the shreds of my pride and asking for help. I don’t know that I could do it.

    The messages ARE mixed. I can’t tell you how many times since last October I have heard a well-meaning “I don’t know how you do it…” Depending on the day, I can either laugh, burst into tears, and get really ticked off. “Dammit, I do it the same way as you- get up and try my best. I don’t have a choice- there are three kids counting on me for everything.” It confuses me, and I don’t know what to actually say. So I smile and nod.

  36. Kristine says:

    Stephanie, I really, _really_ didn’t mean my comment to be directed at you particularly, and you’re not a jerk. You’re human, and busy, with more good intentions than you can possibly carry out, just like all the rest of it. As a practical matter, your suggestion is exactly right; it makes sense for parents to suck it up and do what’s necessary for their kids, and I hope I would, if I needed to.

  37. Wow, great post. Thanks for this window into a ward that seems to be doing things right.

  38. Kristine @30 — I really glad you left that comment up. I’m glad Chris H piped up.

    Tracy @35 — I’ve said “I don’t know how you do it…” Ugh. All I can say is I said it more out of respect, not really pity.

  39. This brought tears to my eyes – I was afraid it would turn out so differently and am so happy to see that you are blessed with good men leading your ward. I have to say that in my experience, that isn’t always the case and I sometimes tend to be slightly bitter about my experiences. I try not to be, truly, but still it comes to the surface occasionally….
    I love reading your posts.

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