As the parent of a strong-willed 15 year old, I’ve had more than one opportunity to recognize my own stubborn self in my son. I know from experience that the words of a parent will be heard but not always embraced. So I do my best to set some firm boundaries and let JT learn his way through the rest of life’s choices. On occasion, this strategy works out. Case in point: JT’ summer schedule.
Within a week of the start of Summer Break, JT had slipped seamlessly into a daily schedule which featured hours of reading about and watching sports and playing iPad games with his friends late into the night. Throw in some music and a little Netflix action and his life was complete. He’d crawl into bed by 3 am, awaken at 11, rinse and repeat.
I was not amused and said as much. Naturally, my concerns were dismissed for the unreasonable nonsense they clearly were. Salvation of sorts came in the form of summer athletic practices, some of which occurred in the morning Though it must be noted that the transition to a more reasonable schedule was a pretty unpleasant journey for a certain 15 year old.
Nearly two weeks ago, on the Monday after his usual weekend debauchery, JT rose at 7:30 am to join the cross country team in a weightlifting and sprinting endurance workout. The night before he’d gone to bed at 3:30 am. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see this wouldn’t end well.
He came from the practice just after 10:30 am, awash in sweat with jittery legs and a pale face. He looked like death on a cracker. He lay on the floor in my office for about 10 minutes and then asked for a ride home. We made the 15 minute drive in silence and when we got home he stepped out of the car and seconds later was on his hands and knees in the front yard, vomiting up the contents of his practically empty stomach. Like most people, he doesn’t enjoy throwing up. However, unlike most of us, he has done so exactly four times in his life. This was the fourth and it was a gangbuster, featuring loud wretches and dry heaves. The neighbor’s little girls, dressed in tutus and headed to dance class, watched in horror. I stood quietly by his side, suggesting only that he rinse his mouth and not gulp water. When he was done, we went inside.
I recommended a shower and he complied. Then I gave him some Sprite to sip and tucked him into bed with instructions that he have a nap but set an alarm so that he would awaken by noon. I returned to work and received a text just after noon, “I’m awake,” he reported. I instructed him to leave his dark cave of a bedroom and head downstairs to the light of the living room. When I got home just after 2 pm, he looked much better. I made him some noodle soup and gently suggested that the morning’s events were the result of taking his body for granted and not looking out for his health. I pointed out that he had to live in his body for the next 70 years and that if he treated his body well it would reward him for his efforts. He bore the lecture silently and I left for the gym, hoping that my words and actions would be heard and embraced.
That night, he stayed up until nearly 3 am, when I woke up and ordered him to bed. We were mutually annoyed with one another. The next day, we had another discussion about striking a balance and making good life decisions —— I provided some more examples. I suggested that staying up late could be 1 am instead of 3 am. He could get out of bed around 10 instead of noon. He could get some physical activity every day and eat some healthy food that would fuel workouts. JT treated these suggestions as interesting though not necessarily useful for him. I was disheartened and felt that I wasn’t making much progress.
That afternoon I was sitting on the front porch when a small dog wandered across the street. He was clearly well cared for and just as clearly loose without an owner. I called JT outside to help me. We checked mystery dog’s collar but there was no tag and we were mystified until a neighbor informed us that the dog belonged to a house down the street. JT and I headed that way with the dog and I knocked on the door. We could hear the TV blaring but no one answered the door. We waited a minute and then walked to the backyard, not exactly sure what our next action should be.
When we got to the backyard, we discovered an open gate and the mystery dog seemed interested in going to the yard. As we returned the dog, the back door opened and out stepped a young man, likely in his early 20s and looking rather worse for the wear as he smoked a cigarette. He confirmed that the dog was his and said, “I had no idea she was gone. How did she get out?”
JT and I exchanged a look and then I explained that the gate had been open. The young man thanked us and we left. JT was silent as we walked back up the driveway and out to the sidewalk. A moment later he offered a thought, “That dude was a mess. He didn’t even know his dog was gone.” I had just one response: “That’s what poor life decisions look like.” We walked home in mutual silence.