Being the grown-up

During these holiday breaks, the kids spend a good amount of time out of the house, playing with friends around the neighborhood. We live in a pretty good place for that: a gated community in a residential area. As long as they take their phones with them and stay together, I’m comfortable (ish) with them being out on their own, and the few misgivings I do have are outweighed by the benefits they gain from having the freedom to play and explore independently.

The other night, though, I had a scare. They’d gone out for a rare evening adventure, playing a game with a bunch of friends at the front of the neighborhood. I was at home, working on a manuscript, when my oldest son ran in the front door. He was red-faced, panting, and dripping with sweat.

“Dad! Dad! Come quick!”

I ran to the door. “Where’s your brother?”

“He’s hurt! Come quick!”

Okay. So this is the point in the story where things went bad with me. Instead of going to the natural place of worrying about my youngest son, my brain went into attack mode. “Why didn’t you call?”

“I did! I called like four times. You didn’t answer. Come on!”

Did I mention my brain was in the wrong place? It stayed there. “What do you mean you called? I’ve been here the whole time. The phone didn’t ring.”

“I called, Dad. I really did.”

After a short back-and-forth, we figured out that he’d called my cell and not the house phone. I, for no good reason I can think of, had turned my cell phone off.

We ran to the car and drove to front of the neighborhood, where three older kids stood, clearly and rather obviously keeping guard over my youngest son.

“He hurt his knee,” one said. “It was bleeding pretty bad, but it’s mostly stopped.”

“Thanks.” I picked up my hurt child and carried him into the minivan. “Thanks for taking care of him. I really appreciate it.”

We got home, got the scrape washed out and bandaged up, and put some ice on the banged knee to stop the swelling.

That night, as I was saying good night to my oldest son, I sat down on his bed beside him. “Tonight, when your brother got hurt, you tried to call me. When I didn’t answer, you left some older kids to keep him safe while you raced home to get help.”

He nodded.

“That must have been a pretty hard run. It’s like a mile. Running it to get help for your brother, not knowing where I disappeared to? That must have been tough.”

He shrugged.

“You did absolutely perfect,” I said.

“I called the wrong number.”

“That was one small mistake in an avalanche of good decisions,” I said. “Everything else you did was perfect. You acted like an adult out there, from beginning to end. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

I just wish I could say the same for myself.

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