I found Mom sitting outside crying this morning.
Dad recently died, and she’s been adrift without him. To be honest, we’re all struggling to find our footing in this new reality. However, that’s not the point of this tale … or maybe it is.
“Danny, what’s that on your ankle?” my wife, Laura, asked our fifteen-year-old son as he walked barefoot across the patio. Panic washed over his face and settled in with a frozen, awkward grin. He first looked at Laura, as if trying to devise an answer, then to his older sister who was staring at him with an uh-oh expression.
“Gotta blast!” Katie Jo exclaimed as she launched out of her chair and abandoned her little brother to his fate.
“Some people are just jerks,” my daughter says, telling us about her most recent shift at a telemarketing call center. Home from college, she and her older brother needed temporary, part-time summer jobs. The call center gig fit the bill.
They could set their own schedules, work as much as they wanted, and earn a decent hourly wage. The only drawback was the job itself—reading a scripted survey for hours and hours to strangers who were either unlucky, lonely, or irritated enough to actually answer the phone.
If your phone rang this past summer at dinnertime or when you’d just settled down to watch a movie, it might have been one of my kids calling. I’m sorry about that. However, I’m not sorry for what the job taught them … and me.
Just four months before the release of my book, X-Plan Parenting, my wife and I awoke to a living nightmare on a beautiful February morning.
Our teenage son was gone.
Not left early for school (as he sometimes did). Not asleep on the couch instead of his bed (another norm).
Left behind was a note, telling us not to worry, that he would be okay, but he just couldn’t take this life anymore.
Anxiety and depression haunt most families. We try to exorcise the demons with therapy, prayer, prescription drugs, physical activity … you name it. However, the numbers don’t lie. Things are getting worse, and our kids are suffering the fallout.
Anxiety is now the most common form of mental illness in the US, affecting 10% of young teens. That number swells to 30% by the age of eighteen, until we find upwards of 40% of adults suffering from anxiety.
Anxiety and depression often hang out together, and our technologically advanced, postmodern lifestyles (including our warped online realities and social media melodrama) only seem to be dragging our kids deeper into this mental/emotional hurricane.
I was thirteen-years-old the first time I got thrown out of a Dairy Queen.
The manager came charging out from behind the counter like an angry drill sergeant. He glared at Andy and me with an iron jaw and then threw a stiff thumb over his shoulder toward the door.
“Out!” he hissed.
“What!” Andy demanded (although it came out Wh-Wh-Wh-What!). “What about them?” He motioned toward the trio of octogenarians—a balding, silver fox and his two blue-haired lady friends—seated two booths behind us. They were stifling laughs with handfuls of tattered napkins.
My friends, I owe you an apology.
I am deeply sorry for my reaction to this most recent shooting. Even more, I need to offer something else: not an excuse (I, too, am sick of excuses) but an explanation … if you’re willing to listen.
I am broken.
It’s taken me some time to comment on coach Jeff Walz’s rant about participation trophies because … well, to be honest, I am (as coach says) “a loser.”
I have a “participation trophy” from youth football.
My team had a perfect season, a feat few athletes at any level can celebrate. Even the worst teams screw up and win a game a two. But not my football team. The Enslow Bulldogs. Perfection. Not a single win. Never even close.
I have the trophy to prove it.
(Heads up, friends. Though I’ve tried to be delicate, there’s some adult stuff in this one. Like most of my work, it’s a true story, just a bit more literary in nature. Tread lightly. Sacred territory here. Thanks for the nudge, Marie.)
From my second floor office window I see her waving to the ice cream truck as it rounds the corner. It slows and pulls to the curb. With an excited hop she breaks into a sprint, off to collect her special treat.
Like a comet’s tail, her flaming red hair trails behind, flowing in the wind. Wide eyes. Mouth agape. Both betray a child’s joyous heart. Alabaster skin covered in a constellation of freckles. Tube socks worn from summertime adventures are bunched around her ankles, revealing bruised shins and scabby knees. Telltale trophies of kickball, hopscotch, and double-dutch jump rope.
Open your contact lists on your phone and computer. Count the entries. Next add your social media friends and followers. Now, estimate how many people you brush up against on any given day (in both the physical and media realms).
Let’s pretend you actually arrived at a final sum (we’ll call it “Z”).
Head out to your local hardware store. Ask the kid behind the counter to make “Z” copies of your house key. Finally, send one to every person included in “Z”. (Make sure you have extra copies to hand out to random folks throughout the week.)
We wouldn’t give many of our family members that much open access to our homes, not to mention the countless others we encounter. But this is exactly what we do—day in and day out—with our hearts.
Little wonder we feel plundered at the end of most days. Life has a way of breaking-and-entering on its own. We don’t help ourselves by handing out keys like Pez dispensers.
We know that art imitates life. Life also imitates art. And somewhere in between, we explore nature’s blueprint as we each try to figure out who—and what—we really are.
Sitting here in my writing sanctuary, I’ve become distracted by movement in the woods just beyond my window. A woodpecker is making his way up a long, slender birch tree, stopping ever so often for some investigative pecks. He visits our woods regularly. I frequently hear his rhythmic knocking, and when I do, I always stop to look for the handsome fellow. He’s a delight to behold. Slender, coal-black body. Fiery red head. Power and grace that would shame most ballerinas. I’m mesmerized by his existence. And I wonder how a bird that can be so beautiful and naturally gifted at locating insects in a tree still can’t retrieve tennis balls like Cleveland and Bruce, our golden retrievers.
Our woodpecker is the worst retriever I’ve ever seen. In fact (pardon the phrase, but there’s no better way to say it), he flat-out sucks.