Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Essayists

My "kids" are no longer children. I am thrilled that two of the three of us have actually matured. No promises regarding the one with the over sized head who was left behind. I think - looking through the admittedly rapidly diminishing hindsight through which I see the past - that the two of them lived what could fairly be described as innocuous childhoods. No irreversible or impossible to overcome trauma. No boldface, above the type moments either. Just a couple of suburban kids living their lives essentially incident-free.

No doubt because the two of them blessed the Missus and me with a virtually trouble-free existence (at least until they each got a driver's license that is) I think if I live to be twice as old as I am now I shall remember their great bike adventure, which landed them in a doghouse built for two. If memory serves me correctly, neither was older than perhaps 3rd or 4th grade (Suz being one grade ahead of Rob). At the time we lived in what we later came to call the "flood house" as our homage to Hurricane Floyd. While I cannot recall exactly where the lines were drawn, I know that Margaret had laid out very specific geographic limitations as to where Suz and Rob were allowed to ride their bikes. The idea was to keep them fairly close to the house - if not within plain sight, then within ear shot.

One afternoon while they were hosting their cousins (at the time it was only the Bozzomo Trio as the second half of the sextet had not yet made their respective debuts) the Five Amigos apparently decided to flaunt Margaret's Line of Demarcation. In a move destined to show off their his/her matching rebellious streaks to their cousins, they took their bicycles (and their cousins) through an area that was off limits to them. A perfect plan. Margaret did not know that they had gone over the wall. Neither did I. Neither did Frank and C. Ah, sweet freedom.

Alas, they did not count on one of the members of the gang getting frightened and/or all of them getting lost or some such thing (after all this time the Devil may remain in the details but the details remain locked away in the recesses of my mind forever), which ultimately necessitated a call from frightened child to soon-to-be-very-torqued off parent. And with that single phone call, the jig was up.

I remember that Margaret and I were both more scared by where they had been when they called for help than we were pissed off that they had flipped us the virtual bird to get where it was they had gotten to. Being my father's son, I managed - with nary a Feather upon which to rely mind you - to channel my fear into anger long enough to threaten the two of them with punishments handed down to me from a grandfather they never knew. My kids were made of tougher stuff than I was when I was their age. And the fact that they were both - in spite of their tender years - considerably smarter than I was they allowed my biggest and baddest threats ("Do you want me to give you something to cry about?" and "How about I take away your birthday!" - Dad always taught me to bring out the heavy artillery right away) to bounce off of them like feathers. Wholly unfazed were they.

Punishment was demanded however so Margaret and I finally managed to cobble one together. We required each to write an essay of a seemingly extraordinary length (I think it was either 250 or 500 words) on the subject of why it was important that they listen to Mommy about where they were supposed to go and what they were supposed to do. Suzanne can fill 500 words on counting to 500 so she completed her assignment begrudgingly but quickly. As if to show us both one final time that she was operating at a RPM we simply could not match.

Rob took a far more creative approach in his essay. Whatever the word count was that he was required to hit, he did. Right on the nose. Not a word to spare. While his work was not necessarily one that contained a riveting narrative, it was laugh-out-loud funny. Rob channeled his inner Roget. He pointed out that by disobeying Mommy and going someplace he had been told not to go that he could have encountered a killer/murderer/slayer, etc who could have grabbed up his sister and him and taken them away in a car/truck/van/school bus/tractor, etc.......You get the idea. He wrote only a handful of sentences. Yet he managed to make each one of them at least twenty-five to fifty words long. It was remarkable.

It was also worth keeping. So we did. Somewhere in the impenetrable fortress of all things important she has in our home, Margaret has each kid's essay. All these years later, she still has them someplace where she can pull them out on a moment's notice and look at them if she wants to. Folks, therein lies a valuable life lesson for all of us, whether you are just a regular working stiff or a multi-million dollar business that makes your money overcharging consumers for your service. If you take the time to preserve and protect things you will always know where they are. You shall not lose them, which is really, really important when the stuff in question is not yours but someone else's that you inexplicably fail to transport from Point A to Point B.....but I digress.

If you do not know that she is holding onto them as invaluable Grandma swag to share with the next generation some day for use as props to support a "do you know what he or she did at your age?" story to a little one, then you simply do not know my wife.

I thought of all of this silliness in the wake of reading about Abby Sunderland. In the interests of full disclosure I must confess that I had no idea who she was or that she - or any teenager for that matter - engaged in a seemingly inane stunt such as sailing around the world alone until I read the story on-line on Thursday that she was feared lost at sea. I was thrilled to read on Friday that she had been located and that a rescue boat was on its way to pick her up and - presumably - bring her home.

Apparently Abby is a part of an adventure-seeking family. Her older brother (who I believe is 17 or 18) went on a similar jaunt at some point last year. Both kids have undertaken these adventures with the support, knowledge and backing of their parents. According to a piece on their father owns a yacht management company (I wonder if yachts are harder to manage than say the Kansas City Royals) and encourages his two children to live life to the fullest. Candidly, Papa Sunderland sounded just a touch defensive in his chat with the Associated Press after Abby was found, "Sailing and life in general is dangerous. Teenagers drive cars. Does that mean teenagers shouldn't drive a car? I think people who hold that opinion have lost their zeal for life. They're living in a cotton-wool tunnel to make everything safe."

I get his point - to a degree at least. Hell, when Suzanne first got her license we spent more father/daughter time together in Municipal Court than we did anywhere else. Still - his sixteen-year-old was thousands of miles away from home. Alone. On a boat in the Indian Ocean. We have no shortage of ex post facto bravado in the world today. I would wager - as a Dad - that had this search for his 16 y/o little girl ended with sadness instead of gladness, Mr. Sunderland would have bought up as much cotton and wool as he could lay his hands on and wrapped it around his family.

Discretion is the better part of valor. Or as I like to put it - Stupidity is the flip side of valor. The tricky part is not realizing that the coin has two sides. It is figuring out which one is which. And just how close one is, always, to the point of know return.


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