When my son was in high school, I got a call from someone who said, “Do you have a son named Chris?”
“Yes,” I said slowly, worried that he was either injured, or more likely, in trouble.
“Does he have a backpack?”
“Yeah,” I said, even more slowly. “Why?”
“I found it in a ditch and thought he might like it back.”
“In a ditch? Where?”
“On Armond Street.”
“Well, sure, he’d like it back, I’ll come right over and get it.”
A few minutes later I’m looking at this threadbare backpack with odds and ends of junk in it. Someone must have stolen it and swiped the good stuff before they tossed it.
When Chris got home later, I held the backpack up and said, “Look what I found.”
His mouth dropped open and his eyes got wide. “Where the heck did that come from?”
“Somebody discovered it on Armond Street in a ditch.”
“Oh my gosh,” he said.
“Was it stolen or what?”
“Uh, no. It’s just a piece of junk. I wasn’t using it anymore.”
“Then how did it get in the ditch?”
“Uh, well, I threw it out the window.”
“I didn’t need it anymore and it was just cluttering up my car, so I tossed it out the window.”
“You don’t just toss something out the window. Why didn’t you bring it home and throw it in the garbage?”
“I don’t know. What kind of person picks up a ratty old backpack in a ditch?”
“What kind of person THROWS a backpack in a ditch?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t need it anymore. Are there any cookies left?”
“You know better than to litter, for crying out loud. Some stranger has to call me because my son throws a backpack out the window.” I paused for a few moments to show my utter dismay about the situation. “They’re on the counter.”
This is a mini-commentary on what happens to kids when they get to be teenagers. You hound them for years and years, trying to teach them to be good citizens, making sure they give you every tiny wrapper in the car because it’s wrong to litter, and they turn into teenagers with a car and end up throwing everything you’ve taught them out the window like an old backpack.
If you’re lucky, as a parent, some of it will start to come back to them when they get older and aren’t striving to be the exact antithesis of that good little child you worked so hard to mold. And hopefully, those life lessons will come back around and start to make sense – just like that old backpack. (Well, I don’t know if the backpack made sense, but it seemed like a profound way to end this, don’t you agree?)