Here You Are

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Orland Park, Illinois
Orland Park, Illinois

I like to write on Saturday mornings before two thirds of the kids are awake.

It’s quiet, and I love the solitude minus the occasional interruption from the 9-year-old daughter who likes to ask me complicated questions about life when I’m trying to concentrate.

Last weekend I curbed my imbibing into a manageable martini and a couple of beers and woke at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, a good two hours later than my weekday schedule.

I settled into my comfortable writing spot on the couch, curled my legs under my body and hoisted my laptop atop my thigh to begin to work on a writing project that is currently in the creative stages but about to enter the dreaded editing and second re-write stage.

My phone rang around 8:30 a.m., about the time I was due for a short green tea break.

I didn’t recognize the local number, so I let it go to voicemail.

I picked up the phone a few minutes later and saw that the person had indeed left a message.

“Hello, my name is redacted, and I’m here with your son. He got lost from his running group, and he’s shivering and cold.”

I jumped up from my seat in a panic, nearly blowing out the tightly wound medial collateral ligament, which has been bothering me lately in my right knee.

I looked behind the couch and saw that the oldest boy’s shoes were gone, which meant he’d gone for a run.

I’ve had to pick him up a few times, when he went out a little too dehydrated in the summer and made himself sick on the trail.

But this was different.

“Hello, I got your message, can you tell me where my son is?”

“Yes, he’s at the Bed, Bath & Beyond near LaGrange,” she said.

“What’s he doing over there?” I asked, without realizing that she was just a stranger conveying a message from the boy.

“I think he said he was running with friends and they left him behind,” she answered. “Can you let me know how long it will take you to get here?”

“I’ll be there in 10-minutes,” I replied.

The daughter and I jumped in the truck and raced down Harlem, turning onto 151st, and I was still wondering why he was at a crowded strip mall on one of the busiest streets in the Southwest suburbs.

It’s unnerving for a parent in those few minutes between finding out your child is in distress and actually being able to assess the situation calmly to figure out what happened.

We pulled into the crowded parking lot and drove slowly past the Bed, Bath & Beyond, when we saw him walking across the street towards us.

“Are you ok?” I asked him when he got in the passenger side.

“Yes, I’m pissed off,” he replied.

The story unfolded in typical teen fashion with a high degree of incredulity and in a booming voice that is unmodulated because of hormones and listening to rock music through earbuds too loud or both.

He had gone on a run with his regular running buddies, but they decided to try something a little different than the more optimal Forest Park Preserves which surround our community.

They decided to park in the local mall, where they left their phones and his glasses, and to run around the more crowded Orland Park neighborhoods instead.

I suspect they thought it more likely to encounter hot girls there than in the less-crowded forest park preserve trails inhabited by old men on bikes trying to obey their doctors’ orders after eating one too many Italian beefs or older Polish ladies who like to walk four-women-wide so you have to pass them on the grass on the left or right side of the paved paths.

My son fell back toward the end of the run, and his friends kept going on.

Without his eye glasses and phone, he was soon completely disoriented and unable to figure out which way to get back to the car.

He stopped to ask for directions, but people would only give him driving directions, which didn’t help him, since he doesn’t have his driver’s license yet.

He eventually found his way to Bed, Bath & Beyond and started asking people if he could borrow their phones to call his dad.

Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, nobody wanted to let a teenager “borrow” their phone. This really didn’t appeal to his highly tuned sense of justice, and, more than anything, this is what continues to bother him about the incident.

One lady, the one who eventually called me, said she would call for him, but she stood far enough away, that it made him feel awkward trying to communicate something to me through her.

As we drove back to the mall, I pointed out a few things to him.

“This is LaGrange,” son, it’s the major north-south thoroughfare here, and it parallels Harlem, which is where we live,” I told him.

He just sat there, engrossed in his own thoughts. I gave him my phone so he could track his phone, which we found was moving through the mall at the speed of teenage boy.

We eventually tracked down his friends, his phone and his glasses, and I drove him home, trying to point out landmarks along the way.

What I realized in all of this was the fact that other than his high school and maybe the local grocery store, he has no geospatial concept of where he’s at.

When we go out for driving lessons, he asks specifically for directions  every few minutes without a concept for where he’s trying to go. This has proven very challenging at times, especially when I don’t know exactly where to go, and I have to give him very last-minute instructions.

I know I’ve become very reliant on my smartphone for figuring out how to get from point A to point B, but I generally have an idea of where I’m going and the major arteries that should take me there.

But I worry about kids today who don’t wander as much as we did when we were young. Wandering is the only way to truly understand where you are, how you got there and where you are going.

Knowing every hill and tree and stream you cross to get to your friend’s house was part of understanding your place in the world.

Knowing where you are was everything.

Red MarkerBut today we rely on a little red marker with a black dot in the middle to tell us where we are. Nothing outside the immediate area matters much.

I remember taking orienteering lessons as a young reporter preparing to climb Mount Hood. The lessons were meant to help you have a better understanding of where you are on the mountain should you become inundated by snow or fog.

Knowing where you are would help you avoid the fate of several climbers over the years who wandered off the back side of the mountain, which is a 2,000-foot drop or falling into one of the dangerous crevasses on the front side of the mountain.

I never did climb Mount Hood, taking a job in Missoula, Montana instead, but that orienteering class has served me very well over the years, especially on many other mountains that I’ve climbed.

And so I think I’m going to get some compasses and a map and drop my boys off a half-day walk from home and tell them to find their way back before dinner.


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