A Teachable Moment

Our sixteen-year-old, an aspiring linebacker, recently discovered we were monitoring his internet traffic. Hashtag triggered. My wife before work, trying on a brand-new antidepressant, neglected to shred the weekly print-out of all the inappropriate porn domains he’d visited, and then she absentmindedly left it at the top of the kitchen trash, almost like she wanted him to find it. Hashtag mom life be like.

His little brother and sister, scrawny bookworms replete with academic dreams, were already home when he returned uber-miffed and limping from another brutalizing practice. His coach continues to vow in the wake of his cognitive impairment diagnosis: One day, he’ll play in Canada! To keep up, he has to eat at least a box of cereal every day. He saw the print-out when he was throwing out two finished boxes of chocolate cereal and, well, he set fire to the contents of the kitchen trash, the router, the printer, and most of the clothes he was wearing.

To his credit he did the burn in the backyard gravel, away from the dying pine trees. He created the pile, retrieved the plastic gas can from the toolshed. Any decent parent will tell you: One must listen to both a child’s words and their actions to truly understand and learn. But wouldn’t you know? What could’ve been an opportunity for growth became needlessly complicated due to our laconic neighbor, who doesn’t think I’m a very good father. She’s always asking about my wife.

Years ago her husband and son, a lawyer and a law student, were quite violently garroted during a botched break-in wherein only she survived. Almost everyone in the neighborhood knows. When our sixteen-year-old began to actuate his anxieties, she was sitting quietly in her backyard lily garden, no doubt preoccupied by an irretrievable past. She smelled then saw smoke and heard what was written into the report as “screaming and taunting” and “a metal baseball bat rhythmically striking personal properties.” Understandable!

Two police cruisers arrived with sirens roaring at least a half hour before the fire department. Two pairs of new officers, babies right out of the academy, shattered the tall wooden fence surrounding the backyard with their automatic weapons already drawn and, well, you know. Bravely, his little brother and sister tried to intervene, to no avail. We’re not hostages, they screamed. All involved did their solemn duty.

We received our separate calls to leave work right away, to go find him and his little brother and sister in the expensive county hospital where we’re still paying for his three concussions and various rehabilitations. I arrived first, and he was up and speaking but his little brother and sister were behind closed doors. They weren’t conscious, but would soon be. Lifetimes later, after the hullabaloo had died down, and we were still waiting for news on our two youngest children. Then and there, my wife and I decided we were going to let our sixteen-year-old get tattoos (pre-approved ones, of course) to cover whatever scars would be left by the bullet wound sutures on his arms and legs. He lit up like it was Christmas and said his teammates would be totally jealous.

The four officers and the laconic neighbor came to visit before his surgery and we thanked them profusely for the extravagant chocolate arrangements and heartfelt cards. Never again, I said through their applause, will we secretly surveil our children. I will go to my grave, I told the local news, knowing that adversity truly is the greatest teacher. This is a great homeland, I cried, for those who are capable of loving it. Hear hear! said his team of nurses and doctors. Bravi! Bravi!  

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