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Waiting in the car line

I’ve been picking Adam up after school for the last six weeks, give or take a few days. Before that, Beth was picking him up when he got out. They both go to private schools, but Beth was only doing half days. Her school didn’t offer all of the classes she wanted/needed, so she got out early to take her remaining courses online. She had a car and her online courses were pretty flexible, so she could save us money by picking up Adam when he got out of school a little later. She was more than willing to make this sacrifice if there was a little something in it for her – like a car. (Yes, aftercare is that expensive.)

Beth started riding the train to school (which opened after we moved here) after the accident, so it meant Adam had to go to aftercare until I got off work.

If none of this sounds particularly interesting, that’s because it isn’t, but here’s where it gets fun.

I was picking up Adam the other day, and although he was standing right in front of me, they couldn’t find him. They weren’t physically looking for him, they were trying to find him in the books so I could sign him out.

“Why don’t I have Adam on my list?” One woman asked.

“Well, he came over from the car line and…” I stopped listening.

Me: “Adam, I’ve been picking you up for weeks now. You knew no one was coming right after school, so why would you wait in the car line?”

I was sure I was going to hear about someone picking on him in aftercare. I could feel it coming. I was ready to go through all of the emotions. I might have even turned towards the woman looking through her books, assuming they were giving her some cover for what she knew was coming too.

Adam (in a hushed tone): “Can I tell you in the car?”

Something was up. I knew it. I shrugged my shoulders, signed him out, and we left.

Me: “Okay, let me have it.”

Adam: “Well, I knew they were charging by the hour and I figured if I waited in the car line for thirty minutes every day it would save you and mom some money.”

You’ve been waiting in the car line every day?

“Yes.”

No is making you, are they?

“No, why would they?”

No one is picking on you in aftercare?

“No.”

You’re just waiting in line. Every day. Even though you know you don’t have to, because you chose to… to save money?

“Yes, why? Is that bad?”

No, I don’t think so. It’s just… unexpected.

So Adam is working the angles of fourth grade, to save a few bucks.

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The Call

The Call has many forms. There may be as many versions as there are people, but I suspect there are a lot of similarities.

Look at your life. Pick a spot where you are vulnerable, where life has you by the fucking balls. Pardon the colorful metaphor. Now imagine a phone ringing. That’s The Call – in your life. It’s a wily bastard. It changes as your life does, adapting to your weaknesses. For me it changed (again) when my daughter got her driver’s license. When I imagine it, it’s better when it starts with her voice, but my imagination can be a bastard too – so it’s not always much better.

I got The Call Thursday morning at work.

  • “Dad?“ she said with tears in her voice, ”I’VEBEENINANACCIDENTANDIDONTKNOWWHAT….”

  • Beth, stop. Take a breath and start over, but slower this time.

  • “I’ve been in accident and it was my fault and it was so bad and the car spun around and I thought there was enough room but there wasn’t and I’m so scared and it was so bad…”

You’re on dad.

Where to start? It’s easy and freaky hard at the same time, or it is for me. I wanted to know that she was o.k., but in situations like this time slows down. I’m listening to what she’s saying, processing how she’s saying it, and considering not only what I’m going to ask but how I should ask it. I want – NO – I NEED to know if she’s hurt. But at the same time I know she desperately needs something from me too. What I say and how I say it will be parsed in a similar way, though probably not as efficiently given her state of mind. Even a simple question will communicate how I feel. Am I concerned? Mad? Am I panicked, and if so does that mean she should be more worried than she already is? All of this is going through my mind in the span of her single, run-on sentence.

My heart is pounding but concern carves it’s way through my own panic, forcing a slow, measured tone: my loving, calm but concerned, father voice.

  • Beth. Beth. Elizabeth.
  • “Um, yeah?”

  • I just want to know if you’re o.k. Are you hurt?

  • “I think I’m o.k. but I’m scared because I’ve neverbeeninanaccidentbeforeandhaveyoubeenin….”

  • Beth. Beth. Has anyone called for help?

  • “Yes there’s a man here who saw it and he said he was calling and….”

  • Beth. Where are you? Can you tell me where you are?

  • “I was just trying to pull out from our street and I thought I had time but the cars were coming faster than I thought and I tried to stop and….”

  • O.K. Beth. You’re near the house?

  • “Yes. I was just trying to pull out….”

  • Listen to me Beth. I’m coming right now, o.k.? I’m going to be there soon. You know my office is pretty close right? I’m going to be there really soon. You’re not alone.

Fuck that calm crap. Fuck the bad neck. Fuck what anyone else thinks. I ran down the stairs, across the elevated walkway connecting my building to the parking garage, juked a few late arrivals walking the other way, jumped in my car, then took a quick moment to gather myself. I needed to drive there safely. I needed to actually get there.

When I did my eyes ignored everything about the scene, save one thing: my firstborn child, my only daughter, standing on the sidewalk. Looking at me. Crying. But most importantly: standing.

  • Are you o.k. Beth? Does anything hurt?
  • “Nothing hurts but I’m really scared dad.”

We hugged and I looked around, relieved. Her car was pointed in the wrong direction, 180 degrees from the right direction. The SUV that hit her was driving away, driven by the other driver’s spouse. The other driver, an adult, had a small entourage gathered around, twenty yards up the street. The officer on the scene seemed to be camped out with the other adults. Beth, a 17 year old kid, shoulders slumped with shame and shock, had stood alone on the sidewalk on this rainy, overcast morning. Waiting for someone, anyone, to stand with her. For her. Waiting for anything in the world to tilt her way, though fearing she didn’t deserve it, knowing the accident was ultimately her fault, and feeling overrun with guilt.

I knew it could have been much worse. No one seemed to be hurt. The other car was being driven away. But seeing my daughter there, alone, so vulnerable, the weight of the world on her shoulders and feeling as if it was leaning against her – it broke my heart.

I gently took her head in my hands.

  • Beth. Close your eyes and listen to me. Just listen to my voice. Only hear my voice. You are the only thing that matters to me. You didn’t hurt anyone. It was an accident. They happen all of the time. You made a mistake and I can tell you learned something from it. Everyone has accidents. You got to learn from one where no one was hurt.
  • It was just a car.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • It was just a car.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • You’re just as special to me as you were two hours ago.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • I love you.
  • This changes nothing that’s important to me.
  • I’m here with you.
  • I love you.

I want to protect my kids but I know I can’t protect them from everything. I know they shouldn’t always be protected from everything. Childhood is the opportunity to make mistakes in life when the stakes often aren’t so high, to learn by trial and error in a (somewhat) controlled environment.

But of course, we gradually and steadily lose that control as the years pass, until suddenly we realize we’ve lost it altogether – or perhaps was an allusion all along. It’s another one of those things I alluded to in my last post. You can read about it and think you understand. “Yeah, yeah. I get it.”

Then your hysterical child calls you in the morning, when you thought she was safely at school. In a single moment of carelessness, your gifted child pulled out into heavy morning traffic at the wrong moment, the collision spinning her car like a toy. You see the point of impact, the bent axel of the driver’s side front wheel forced back into the ruined transmission. You see the untouched, driver’s side door and you know: a couple of feet was the difference between her standing on the sidewalk crying… and not standing.

There’s nothing like standing there and realizing you didn’t get it at all, but you sure as fuck do now.

**Note: this post was approved for posting by Beth.

Beth Grows Up

The site lost something when the kids got older. When kids get into trouble as an infant, it’s much more amusing than when they’re a teen. Plus, somewhere in between they learn how to read, become aware of the world around them, and don’t find it amusing when they lose control of their own narrative.

I’m making an exception with this post because it’s really about me – and that’s not my ego talking. I’ve been ego impaired since a tragic incident early in my childhood.

Something hit me the other day.

F—! It hit me again! Agh! Damn it! Stop that!

Beth is graduating from High School this year.

I’ve know this for a long time… like some people know they’ll have kids one day. After your first is born (and sometime between the grand entrance and your first all-nighter on the first night home) it hits you. Your life is never going to be the same.

I can’t help but wonder if the same is true when they leave home (the first time). They’re born and BANG – you have a child. Twenty odd years of experience and conditioning, of taking care of yourself and worrying over your own life, (milage will vary) all of it is thrown out the window. Then they leave and BANG – you have a child out in the world. Eighteen years of experience and conditioning, of being responsible for the care and safety of a person in progress, much of it becomes obsolete. I wonder if you can really prepare for either one, or if they both sneak up and shatter your worldview in an instant.

It didn’t hit me when Beth started her senior year, took her SATs, or even when she got her first college acceptance letter. I knew there was no way in this lifetime any of us could pay for it – that or I was in some serious denial. It hit me when she got her second. It hit me again when she scheduled a tour of the campus, and once more when she left for it this morning with Cheryl.

Holy shit. She really is going to go.

Don’t worry about her. She’s gonna be fine. I’m the one you should worry about. One day soon she’s going to leave for college.

For better or worse, I’ll finally know what it’s like to have a child out in the world.

My loss will be your gain.

You’re welcome.

My hero

This morning I was driving to work. An intersection flashed past my window as the Foo Fighters sang the refrain: “There goes my hero…,” and in a flash fantasy: I’m the inspiration for the song.

In the moment I felt like the Shat-man staring down Khan in Wrath of. I sneered at life like I knew something it didn’t: I’ve got it’s number… (I digress back to Khan) or the ship computer’s number. “Oh yeah, that’s right. You might be named after some bad-ass Monguls (or not, I don’t really know), but I’m gonna push this button and your shields are gonna drop like a feather in a vacuum – assuming there’s something with a bunch of mass nearby to provide a lot more gravity than just a feather, of course.”

That’s right. The Shat-man may be cool, but he knows his basic physics too.

In the moment I felt like I was going into battle (as if I’ve ever been in a battle), and the rest of the day was looking back across from the other side of the battlefield. It was an F.U. moment and I’m not referring to Furman University. I was feeling the pain of another morning after PT, but I felt like JT Kirk, drawing a line in the sand with my boot (I was actually wearing a really nice pair of loafers I’d never wear in the sand, but bear with me) and sneering at life. “Yeah, you might make it this far – BUT NO FURTHER, YOU HEAR ME?!?”

Cliche? Sure, but when you’re in the moment life doesn’t wait for you to come up with something better.

But the song ended and with it went a bit of my mojo. But then I remembered what waited for me at the office: coffee – my first dose of caffeine for the day. Those bitter ground brown beans were begging me to brew and imbibe.

Once again I was ready.

I am ready.

Alright Friday, do your best. I’ll be right here waiting for you.

Beating up Facebook and being beaten

Last September I wrote a post about leaving Facebook, but I’d left a while before the post. Not long after I deactivated my account and deleted the app from my iPhone, thinking I wouldn’t be back for a while. I didn’t give anyone a reason because I didn’t want it to be interpreted as a grand statement, but I had one – a personal one.

I was depressed. Big shock, right? I’ve been depressed and writing or talking about being depressed for a couple years. But 2014 was bad. At times it was about as bad as it’s been. If you’ve never experienced clinical/major depression, I can’t make you understand it. It’s beyond my ability as a writer or speaker. It may be beyond anyone’s ability. Part of it was me – the way I’m wired. Another was a combination of events from my recent (moving) and remote past.

I was fighting this battle with my own mind when news broke about Facebook doing research on its members to study emotional response. Or rather – it had done research in the past, and the first we were hearing about it was when they decided to publish.

We could have a long discussion about reasonable (and unreasonable) expectations of privacy, informed consent, terms of service documents, and ethical research practices. We could but I won’t. I was depressed. I recalled my own experience doing psychological research on human subjects in school. Imagine yourself at your most fragile, vulnerable state. Then imagine you found out people were manipulating what you saw to see how it affected how you feel. I got very angry.

End of story.

Well, the end of that story.

I’ve thought a lot about social media. I’ve thought about socialization. I don’t make friends easily, and people don’t stay put, so most of my friends are not local. Depression is not something anyone should suffer in solitude, so cutting off access to my friends (in hindsight) was not a great idea.

Oh, and Lord help me. I bought Facebook stock. I had just enough in my account from Apple dividends to buy one share. So, as is my quirky, market custom – guaranteed to cost me more money than make me (due to transaction fees) – I bought the one share.

I feel dirty, but I couldn’t very well stoop to buying stock and not reactivate my account.

So here I am. You may mock me at any time.

Random statement of fact

Honor Roll or not (though he is), my fifth-grader has the capacity to act much smarter than your pet. Mind you, I have nothing against your pet. I’m sure he/she is adorable and a beloved member of your family – but let’s not get carried away.

I think it’s worth pointing out my fifth-grader is a person – a little human being. I’m not advocating cruel treatment of any animals, but I think we should all aim a little higher when we think about how we’re going to treat another person. 

Yes, I know your bumper sticker was a joke. Believe it or not, I do have a sense of humor. I just didn’t think it was funny. Not even a little bit. Not when too many of us still treat our pets better than other people. 

I don’t understand

When my mouth is in sync with my mind, I try not to overuse the word “understand” when it comes to life experiences. It suggests a depth of shared knowledge I think is much rarer than use of the word.

I hope this gives you some sense of what I mean when I say… I don’t completely understand the level of intolerance shown by many people on the basis of race, gender, religion, or just about any other way you can distinguish between groups of people.

For better or worse, our perception of the world takes cues from our environment, both past and present. I recognize at least this much, so perhaps I understand a little. I suspect my environment was unlike the intolerance crowd. It was filled with people who encouraged me to think in relative terms rather than absolutes, to see beauty in diversity rather than chaos, and to seek the deeper meaning in things rather than stopping at the outward appearance.

Perhaps it’s ironic that my bias is to see people, at first glance, for what we have in common rather than how we differ: we are all people. Well, I think I do anyway. No one’s perception is perfect. Because of my nature, most of my contact with other people takes place at work, and because of the nature of my work, I probably interact with a greater variety of people than average. I don’t say this to brag, or to offer it as lame proof of a loving/inclusive nature. ”I can’t be a racist. I have black friends.” I only mention it because it’s given me a lot of information to consider when I self-reflect. As an introvert who suffers from low self-esteem, I can say I do A LOT of self-reflection. As someone who also suffers from depression, I can say I’m not easy on myself. Despite this, it was a bit of a shock the first time a coworker said to me: “everyone likes you John.” It was a greater shock when it occurred to me I tend to like most of them too, when I come out of my shell and talk to people. But here’s one of the keys to this post: I take it for granted others don’t (or didn’t) tend to have the same experience.

At an intellectual level, I know everyone can’t, and don’t get along. Still, it almost always comes as a surprise when I learn two coworkers are not getting along – and I’m the last one to know.

I’m well aware people do terrible things to others throughout the world. I become almost numb to it – probably not unlike many of you. But every once in a while a story will pop up, not even a particularly nasty story (relative to others), and it will be like a quasi-epiphany (only I’ll feel despair rather than joy). Taking my experiences in life for granted, I’ll wonder at how others can be so cruel, for such arbitrary reasons.

But that’s the catch, isn’t it? The reasons aren’t arbitrary at all to those people. Gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation – they’re all “reasons.” I know where some of them come from. And yet… there’s a part of me that doesn’t understand why we can’t move past these “reasons,” why we can’t find and tap some inner source of common humanity in each of us, to find some small amount of compassion… empathy… and turn the hate on its head. I know there’s no magic switch we can flip, that biases, attitudes, stereotypes, etc. take time to change. But at this time in history when the world seems to grow smaller at an accelerated pace, and all of us are increasingly exposed to other people, I would hope our differences would come as less of a surprise – that we would become desensitized to them at a similar accelerating pace. Instead, I fear there are some circles were the opposite is true, and our common humanity is failing to shine through.

This random story of cruelty I mentioned before – it hit me and I think of that inner humanity drying up somewhere, and I mourn its loss.

I do what I do for a living because I want to help people. I think it’s why I had several conversations with pastors growing up and in college – not just because I wanted to understand injustice in our world, or even the roll God does/doesn’t play in its existence. I wanted to know what I could do to help change it.

“Well, to some extent you are John,” was a common reply – followed by some bullshit about leading by example. It was never satisfying. Not even a little. Then my pastor would usually ask if I’d ever thought about going to seminary. The experience was probably the biggest reason I never did.

In hindsight, I know it’s not completely bullshit, but it’s still not satisfying. I feel helpless, particularly now.

One small thing came to mind when I became a parent. I could raise my kids as if the world did not have these arbitrary barriers I’ve mentioned, in addition providing a similar environment that I was raised. That meant if my daughter wanted to go out and kick a soccer ball around the back yard, that’s what we did. If my son wanted to take dance and singing lessons, that’s what he did. (To give just a couple, gender related examples.)

But increasingly, as my daughter races towards adulthood, it feels like some of this idealism should be set aside – and it’s a bit heartbreaking. There’s a difference between the world I want her to live in and the world she will. As the story which hit me recently reminds me, we live in a world where men abuse women, in a disturbing variety of ways and frequency. No, I do not want my daughter to live her life in fear, but at the same time it would be irresponsible to pretend we don’t live in this world. If the world doesn’t treat us all the same, doesn’t it follow, to some extent, that all of us can’t treat it the same?

At times I almost wish I could see the world in absolutes. Making decisions would be SO much easier. Instead I’m often caught in the middle somewhere, as I am now. I’m haunted by the question I think haunts many parents: where and when do I reinforce the difference between the world we should live in and the one we do?

As I finish this up and get ready to post (with woefully little editing), it’s a beautiful Saturday morning in Florida. Cool air is blowing in from the north across the lake, and much in the world seems very right. Yet a few troubling questions persist, both about my small world and the larger one outside it. What more could I do? Should I expect more of myself?

I’m not sure seminary would have helped me now either.

Do you know what day it is?

No, I’m not talking about the beginning of the end for the indigenous people of this hemisphere, or the man credited with getting the party started. (Bad sarcasm. BAD!) I’m asking from the perspective of a man who lost track of time last week.

I had a nasty little stomach virus with the power to fiddle with the space-time continuum. There was a great disturbance in the force… as if billions of innocent, intestinal bacteria cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

I was out of touch last week as my body dealt with fever, pain, nausea, dehydration, and a pinch of helplessness. My few coherent thoughts contemplated a world without gastroenteritis.

I still feel a little weak but I rejoined the rest of the world today. It seems there’s a lot of catching up to do.

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I’m shocked!

I’m shocked I tells ya! Shocked! And if iOS 8 auto-corrects my slang one more time I’m gonna give it a heave.

I talk about depression a fair bit, especially here, so you can imagine what my self image is like. Well, today someone called me “happy-go-lucky.” Let me tell you – that doesn’t fit my self image.

I think I mentioned trying to be positive in one of my previous posts, and how tiring it can be when I’m depressed. But I wonder. Maybe I’m so tired because I’m not just trying to but up a brave, positive front – I’m acting out a fully fleshed out role. Maybe I’m putting on another personality for a third of my life, while I’m at work.

I’m not sure if this is good or bad for me personally, but I’m glad someone sees me this way. I don’t want to be the mope – the buzz kill in the office. I’m glad I’m not, for everyone anyway.