Ah, the crisp warmth of springtime temperatures.
The birds are returning, chirruping their songs. The trees are starting to bloom.
And I can almost hear the glorious ping of aluminum bats from youth league baseball fields all over town.
I say “almost hear,” because for a lot of young players, they won’t produce that sound very often. Sadly, for many of them, they’ve been drilled with the worst five words ever spoken in youth baseball:
“Get your back elbow up!”
“Dr. Fulks, you know I’d do anything in the world for my Belle,” Mrs. Arrington offers with a solemn expression. As if on cue, the little Teacup Yorkie on the exam table dances up on two legs to receive a hefty dose of ear scratches and muzzle kisses from her owner.
“I know you would,” my wife, the vet, smiles as she hands Mrs. Arrington a rather expensive heart medication. “You always have.” Laura gives Belle a loving pat on the rear. “This sweet little thing is lucky to have you.”
And she is, too.
Without a doubt, that animal receives better care, love and attention than most humans I know. Diagnosed with a sneaky heart condition several months ago, Belle is now doing great, and her heart seems to be responding well to Laura’s veterinary care.
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.