The heavy-around-the-middle cop shut the front door behind himself, took a notepad from his shirt pocket and flipped it open.
His gaze fell on me, crossed legged on the floor in tube socks, sneakers, a puffy little fro and a mouthful of silver braces.
“I’m looking for these three people. Have any of you seen them?” he asked us. The third name was mine.
The living room full of underage cigarette smokers, truants and long-hairs fell silent but for a ping-pong ball that bounced repeatedly on the terrazzo floor. The officer ran a hand through sweaty hair and quickly scanned the young teen and pre-teens that looked back at him with curious disdain. Bad Company’s Runnin’ With the Pack played in the other room.
“No,” ten shaking ragamuffin heads muttered.
Its hard to say when and why I started to veer to the dark side … but some time around age 12 the kind-hearted, gifted-program, baseball-playing, pre-pubescent me started falling in with the too-cool-for-school slacker crew that first got me high on cheap Mexican weed that same year.
The cop left empty-handed. But the echo of my own name from his mustachioed lips rang like a hideous bell in my brain as I pedaled my chopper bike in a panic the mile home. I burst into the door to find my mother sitting calmly on the green couch in our living room. “I’m wanted by the police!” I blurted, exploding into tears.
She listened carefully as I explained between sobs that a few friends and I had unchained golf carts from the local course one night and joy rode the things all over the neighborhood. We tore up the greens doing donuts and zipped up and down fairways and hills … until one of the jokers rolled his into a lake.
Fifteen minutes later my grim-faced mother stood silently by my side as I confessed it all to a non-plussed black female officer at the local station. Grand larceny was the charge to which I pled no contest. Three months and $1000 in lawyer fees later, I got three years parole.
Thankfully, I managed in the year ahead to pull out of the nose dive my so-full-of-promise life was taking. I transferred out of the junior high with the bad seeds and literally across the tracks to where none of my friends shared the dubious honor of a criminal record (since expunged). But I still wonder where I’d be today if I’d kept making wrong choices early on.
More importantly, how will I guide my young children to fly right?
I had no excuse for my bad judgement. I was smart. I came from a middle-class, morally sound, home. My parents divorced; but whose didn’t? There was no reason for me to be such a rule-breaker. I just was … until I wasn’t.
Years later, my dad told me he didn’t think it was such a big deal, just a bunch of kids getting into mischief. Sure, I wasn’t jacking liquor stores or lighting homeless people on fire … but I was actively hanging out with the ne’er-do-wells and doing what they did when they did it. How do I give my children the tools to steer clear of the troublemakers? To yearn for excellence early on. And knowledge. And wholesomeness.
I’m all for a bit of naughtiness. But how do we keep their young compasses pointing north?
I have no game-plan beyond loving them up constantly. Attempting to stoke the fires of what excites them. Reading with them. Speaking the truth when they ask. Offering praise when appropriate. And refraining when praise is gratuitous. Acting charitably and kindly to people in our village and beyond.
I cannot only hope this is enough.
How did you keep your kids from falling? Or yourselves? Please share.