Growing Pains Not Exclusively For Kids

Our daughter ended up in the hospital last week. Eight hundred miles and another time zone only added to the anxiety. Parenting from a distance is unsettling.

A doctor’s voice scratches from my wife’s cell phone, the speaker on.

“Appendicitis,” she said. “We’ll do the surgery tonight and keep her overnight.”

My watch sweeps towards 9 pm local; our daughter an hour ahead. My wife aches to be there. Flights are done for the day. Fourteen hours by car won’t work. This is going to happen without us.

“Don’t worry,” the doctor said. “We do these regularly. The doctor performing the procedure is very good.”

She didn’t, however, solve our time zone and distance problem.

As much as I know my daughter is a full-grown and mature woman, someone who is working her way through college and keeping up her grades, who on the spur of a moment jumped a flight so she could wake up alone in New York City on her birthday, she remains the fierce bundle of energy I first met on a snow-covered morning in Pittsburgh. In that delivery room, she kicked and screamed her way into my heart like an angry hurricane. And I gladly made room.

The doctor again reassured us all would be fine. I thought of the bundle of energy twisting in a blanket – putting the world on notice she had arrived, loud and proud.

The doctor closed the call and my wife sat with the phone between us. I did not need words to understand what she was going to do next – my opinion not invited. Marriage is like that, learning to read between the lines, understanding what is being said without having to say a word.

We said a prayer and parted ways – my wife to pack her bag and me to book her on the first direct flight the next morning.

Letting go as your kids become adults is not easy. While you need to give them their space and the opportunities to fail, you soon realize it is more difficult on you than them. They are ready; you are not or never will.

I thought about teaching my daughter to ride a skateboard at the age of 3. I’d put her brother’s Batman helmet on her head, one so large it tilted to one side. I’d have her place her small feet between mine, her facing me.

We began by coasting down a gently sloped driveway. Eventually, we moved to larger hills and faster speeds. We took a few falls, but each time I’d pull her close and take the tumble on me, pulling her safely between my arms. And each time as we would get up I’d hear a giggle.

“Let’s do that again,” she said.

That is what I was thinking of as the doctor wheeled her to surgery – and all I wanted to do was pull my little girl tightly into my arms and protect her, taking away any pain or danger.

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Cash No Longer King

Apparently, cash is no longer king.

I’m standing the branch of a nameless mega-national bank to deposit money into my out-of-state daughter’s account. It is the first of the month and rent is due in another time zone.

“I’m sorry, but we do not accept cash,” said the bank teller.

On the counter between the teller and me are five crisp $100 dollar bills, so new the bouquet of the distinctive ink still leaves a trail when handling. The edges of each bill so sharp, mishandling could risk getting a paper cut.

I look down at the bills between us. I can see a shock on the face of Benjamin Franklin, whose portrait graces the currency.

“You’ll need to go get a money order and come back,” she said.

Benjamin Franklin’s face is now wincing.

“But this is cash,” I said. “Like real money.”

The teller then drops her get-out-of-jail-free-card in hopes of ending any further discussion.

“Sorry, that is our policy.”

I take a breath. Looking down I see Benjamin Franklin’s hand planted squarely on his forehead, his eyes closed.

“But this is real cash and I’m only trying to put it my daughter’s account – the one she has with you – this bank.”

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The clerk repeats the distancing phrase, this time completely absent of any discernible emotion. Nothing I can say is going to change the situation. Turning around, the man in line behind shrugs his shoulders.

I turn back, reach down and pick up bills. I notice Benjamin Franklin has pulled a horse around. Franklin was always a smart man with a keen political sense. He must be sensing his job may no longer be secure and it is time to get out of town.

Together, Benjamin Franklin and I leave the bank, he on his horse, and me on foot to find an 89-cent money order.

Days later, my concerns slowing fading, I walk into a local pizza delivery shop. Handing the man behind the register bill, his hand pauses in mid-motion.

Having a flashback, I ask if they take cash.

“Yes, but not too often,” he said.

The next few minutes are consumed with conversations between he and the manager sharing passwords and codes to get the register to open. Finally, the clerk squats down, disappearing from view, and the register springs open.

I don’t have the courage to look down at the portrait of Andrew Jackson afraid Benjamin Franklin has spent the week sharing his traumatic banking experience.

The young clerk, as polite as can be, delicately hands me my change, a couple bills, and five coins. I sense his touching cash is not something he’s particularly familiar doing – his fingers touching the currency like it might be carrying some sort of long-forgotten plague.

Putting away my change, I notice George Washington looking back up at me. His mouth is open as if he’s seen a ghost. All I can figure is Franklin and his horse are back at the US mint spreading the word.

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Polishing Life Requires Discipline 

Standing outside the window of my truck, a man is holding a bowl of Halloween candy. A large motorcycle rally is in town, the island flooding with chrome and a constant deep rumble.

“Here, please take some,” he said.

He is friendly, but with a hint of desperation to be separated from the colorful bowl of treats. Unclaimed candies from Halloween, no matter how small the colorful packages appear to the eyes, turn radioactive to adults – the mere proximity a threat to contributing to expanding waistlines.

We strike up a conversation. He is working detailing motorcycles in the corner of a narrow parking lot along the water. His disposition is sunny, matching the sky above. Across the road, incoming waves twinkle as if a bag of children’s decorative glitter dances across the surface.

The day is much brighter than the night he came to town.

“I’d parked my truck for the night,” he said. “Then the storm came through, flipped it over. Totaled the 8 bikes I’d brought.”

His voice was even in tone, almost as if speaking about someone else’s experience. There was a disappointment in his voice – but a disappointment absent of anger.

He shrugged his shoulders, pushing the movement back into the past.

“Figured I was already down here. I might as well hang around and do something.”

We talked through the window about how he’d once owned a company selling detailing polish. He proudly held up a bottle for me to see.

But what struck me most was his total acceptance of his circumstances. What had happened had happened. Nothing on his part would have stopped the high-winds from coming to town. Maybe, he admitted, he could’ve moved the bikes out of the trailer, but he didn’t. His bad, so the saying goes.

Two Kit Kat bars moved from his bowl and into my truck.

But he’d given me much more than two pieces of candy. What he’d really shared me was a reminder of how to deal with situations we cannot expect to control in life. Here was a man, polishing rag in hand and 8 motorcycles mangled and twisted in a trailer, with a smile on his face. What was done was done. What he controlled, he demonstrated, was the now.

To him, and the success he’d found in life – the one led by a positive attitude – saturated his being like an inland marsh during high tide.

Everyone gets upset or mad from time to time. But what separates people seems to be their ability to successfully control the moment, somehow putting the proverbial genie back into a bottle without creating lasting damage. Careless words used in anger or emotional decisions made without thought can linger uncomfortably afterward – serving as stubborn reminders long after the original moment has passed.

Candy in the truck, we laughed, wishing each other a good day. But pulling out into traffic it occurred to me that for him, that was already a given.

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