Traveling the world has a pretty glamorous reputation, but in truth, there are parts to traveling that make it hard to stay motivated. It is especially difficult for kids, who reach a point when they would rather veg out with the Nintendo DS than see any more sites. (Warning: many kids stay in this state of perpetual “nothing is better than Angry Birds Space,” but I am told it improves around age 22.)
When our kids were younger, the promise of a piece of candy or a treat at the end of the day was enough to keep them going. Now that they are older, we can try to appeal to their sense of personal betterment. (In the interest of full disclosure, there are still times when the only motivator is a bit of good old fashioned bribery, but the stakes are much higher than a lollipop.)
On a recent trip to San Antonio, we found ourselves stuck between the Alamo and a bunch of kids who had reached their educational sites quota. We had spent the morning and afternoon touring the Alamo and the Riverwalk, but we still wanted to see the remaining lesser known San Antonio missions. Keeping bribery in our back pocket, we decided to see if we could dig into a little intrinsic motivation, so we pulled out the big guns: The Moral of the Keys
The Moral of the Keys originates from a Boy Scout story about a man wandering down a corridor. Along the corridor he sees keys of all kinds strewn along the path. Some are bright and shiny and attract his attention and some are dull and rusted. As he walks, he picks up some of the keys, but some he just leaves lying on the path. At the end of the path, he encounters a wall full of doors. Some of the doors are wide open, but the most appealing doors are locked, and in checking his collection, he learns that he does not have the keys to open the doors he wants most.
As we were driving to the missions, we reminded the kids of the Moral of the Keys and encouraged them that they at least needed to give the missions a chance. We admitted that the missions could be a total bust, but they could be a “key” that they would regret not picking up in the future.
Buoyed by a good motivational story we toured Mission San Jose first and found a few interesting tidbits that made the visit worthwhile. About halfway through our wanderings, our six year old began asking about the keys. “Where are we going to find the keys, Mom? Can I take them home? Can I keep all the keys I find?” He was in passionate pursuit of the keys he had heard spoken of so highly in the car.
With all the disdain a pre-teen can muster, one of the older boys chimed in, “We’re talking about metaphorical keys here.”
“Does that mean they are really rusty,” the inquisitive six year old shot back and we all had a good laugh about his concrete understanding. Maybe he had missed the general principle, but at least he was searching for something with gusto.
After the first mission, we continued on to the Mission Concepcion, and by this point, even my heart wasn’t in it. It was hot and we had been touring all day and I was tempted to just call it quits. But I just couldn’t squander the opportunity to see the oldest unrestored church in the US when it was just a mere two miles away, so we soldiered on half heartedly.
When we arrived, I gave the kids the option of staying in the car, but they all jumped out to see if it was a key worth keeping. We toured the mission and church briefly and then turned to lumber back to the car. As we were crossing the courtyard, my oldest son-the king of “let’s just stay here and play Angry Birds”-spoke up.
“Mom, I read something interesting back there.” Then he began to describe a placard he had read about being broken for a purpose, much like an egg is broken so that they usefulness can be reached. Together we plunged into a deeply spiritual and philosophical discussion about how a broken will or a broken spirit can reveal our greatest potential and be our greatest salvation. Almost instantly, I saw character issues that we had been working on for weeks melt away in a new level of understanding. As the other boys ran ahead, my son and I walked and talked side by side, our feet no longer slowed by the weariness of travel, but the solace of soul searching.
That paramount parenting moment brought the Moral of Keys full circle. We had come to see the missions, but left with something far more valuable. Touring the missions looked to be a rusted, unappealing key that didn’t seem to hold much promise, but the door it opened at the end held untold treasure.
Pick up your Keys! You never know where they might lead.