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.
I was minding my own business, trying to enjoy my coffee and a few moments of peace before starting my day.
And then it happened.
I was watching the Today Show—a bit about Drew Brees’s donation to help fight the devastation of Covid-19—when Hoda Kotb crashed through the television screen and shoved a rusty knife against my neck. Her accomplice, Savannah Guthrie, stood off to the side—glassy-eyed, but watchful—making sure I didn’t make a run for it.
They had me cornered and I—a well-planned, cautious, control freak—never saw it coming.
Hoda pressed her face against mine, violating our new social distancing ethos. “Don’t move,” she whispered. “Give me all your feelings.”
I had no choice. So I cried.
Savoring my morning coffee and a few quiet moments before facing whatever awaits me on this day, I find myself staring at our back door. I’d left it open after letting the dogs out to run.
(Yes, it was me. I let the dogs out.)
We live in my wife’s grandparents’ old house. They built this place in the 1950’s. One of them—Laura’s grandfather—even died here, slipping peacefully into that next life after another busy day at the hospital. He was a doctor. A healer. In more ways than one.
“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.
*(Adapted from X-Plan Parenting, published by Simon & Schuster’s Howard Books)
Little League All-Stars. District championship game.
Bottom of the sixth. Tie game. Winning run on third. My son emerges from the dugout.
Standing with friends on a hillside above center field, I sigh heavily. I turn away from the field and drop my head onto a buddy’s shoulder. Anxiety and prayer come together in a moment of desperate hope.
Please, God. Let him have this one.
I am frozen in fear.
What if I make a mistake? What if this turns out awful and I’ve wasted all of this time and effort?
What if I fail?
Nearly fifty-years-old, I’m still haunted by ‘what-ifs’—the crippling terror of being wrong—and I’m sick of it. This is not the adventure I once dreamed of living.
My father-in-law once convinced his young bride that she was a terrible cook. She was so inept in the kitchen, she couldn’t even make Jell-O. After mixing up a batch, she’d stick it in the fridge and later discover a panful of colored water.
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.
“You’re going to get shot at your coffee meeting,” my oldest son, Ben, texts me.
“Maybe,” I reply.
He’s been following my dialogue with a stranger on Twitter. I fired off a snarky comment about a local news story that was getting national attention, and this guy challenged my knowledge of the situation.
“This is my hometown,” I shot back at him. “I know everyone.”
He immediately returned my volley (like any dehumanized bot). “Mine too, big deal.”
At that point, I had him. He couldn’t be a local—I just knew it!—so I called his bluff.
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.