Monthly Archives: June 2016



This is a column about being a parent, and being afraid.

As any parent can tell you, there are a lot of moments of sheer terror that come with the territory. There’s that moment of panic when your toddler nearly runs into the street. (Or the gorilla enclosure. Hey, I’m the parent of a child who once stuck his head inside the ball return at the bowling alley: trust me when I say I don’t judge.) Then there’s that heart-stopping five minutes when you can’t find your child at the department store. (Because apparently it’s fun to hide inside the sales rack while they lock all the doors and call your name. On Christmas Eve.) And, of course, there’s that terrifying few hours when every time you turn on the GPS in your child’s phone their dot shows up in jail. (Whose bright idea was it to put a coffee shop so close to the jail, anyway?) But this column isn’t about that kind of fear. No, despite the fact that there are stacks and stacks of examples of all the times when we are desperately afraid that something bad has happened to our children, this column is about the other kind of parental fear.

This column is about the fear that someday our children are going to do something bad to someone else. In other words, this is the Brock Turner column.

There’s a great line in A Bug’s Life when Hopper brushes off the new Queen’s excuses by saying, “First rule of leadership: everything is your fault.” That one line describes parenting perfectly. It doesn’t matter if it is factually true or not: in parenting, like literature, oftentimes the Truth is revealed in stories that are inherently not true at all.

Did Brock Turner’s parent’s bad parenting create the remorseless creature we saw in court? Did their neglect, or smothering, or cluelessness, or enabling make him into the predator he is? Maybe. It doesn’t really matter, though, because we already know in our parenting hearts that they are the ones to blame. They are the parents. We are the parents. Everything is our fault.

I used to think that my primary role as a parent was to protect my children from the world, to stand like a seawall between them and the constant buffeting of life, but as they have gotten older, and as they have become more capable of protecting themselves (or at least less likely to stick their heads into the bowling ball return), I have started to feel as if my primary role shouldn’t rather be to protect the world from them. Or rather, to help them to become the type of people the world doesn’t need to be protected from. The type of person who doesn’t throw their beer cans out the truck window, who realizes that the super cheap 3-pack of t-shirts comes with a price you can’t always see, and that the only thing as bad as being a bully is being the person who watches and does nothing.

Only time will tell whether or not my bad—or good—parenting has created the kind of person who attacks a helpless woman behind a dumpster, or the kind of person who jumps off of their bicycle to save them. Of course I hope for the latter, but if for some reason I have gotten the former, then I hope that I have the strength to let them get the punishment they—and I—deserve.

Because, whichever way it happens, it will most certainly all be my fault.

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Invisible Mountains


I’ve often joked about how my children have a “looking disorder.” How, if I ever really wanted to hide something from them, the best place for me to put it would be right out in plain sight, because the chances of them finding something when it is sitting in the middle of the kitchen table are roughly the same as the chances of them finding it hidden deep inside the heart of a forgotten Incan tomb. (Actually, they probably have a better chance of finding it in the Incan tomb—at least the video game version of an Incan tomb. This is because in video games it seems like the description of all important objects magically appear on the screen in front of you if you hover over the object long enough. Maybe that’s what my children are waiting for in real life: “Math Homework, due today” floating in bright yellow letters above the kitchen table.)

Still, as much as I’ve come to accept that their looking disorders are simply a part of who they are, I never before realized that this disorder included not just the objects they were actively “trying” to find (supposedly), but also objects that are part of their everyday landscape. Big objects. Really big objects. Like, literally, mountain-sized.

So literally, in fact, that my son, Clyde, who has lived his entire life at the foot of the tallest mountain in Arizona, has only just now noticed it was there.

It happened while we were waiting in line at the Dog Haus drive thru. Temporarily freed from the tyranny of the screen, Clyde was forced to look out the window to entertain himself. And that’s when he saw it.

“What’s that mountain?” he asked, clearly startled to have a 12,000 foot piece of landscape sneak up on him like that.

I glanced over just to make sure that a new mountain hadn’t, in fact, moved in while I was ordering. “Those are the San Francisco Peaks,” I said.

“Oh,” he replied. His disappointed tone revealed that he had just made the same mistake so many people do, and assumed that the “San Francisco” part of the name referred to the town a thousand or so miles to the west, making the Peaks closer to the Pacific Ocean than they were to Flagstaff. (The perils of having essentially the same group of people name so much of the Southwest.) “Can we go there someday?” he asked. His tone revealed that he was clearly resigned to hearing one of the many different parental versions of “we’ll see” in reply.

And I was prepared to give him one. Until I looked over at the mountains and realized how long it had been since I had really seen them. Which is how we ended up turning right, rather than left as we exited the Dog Haus.

Twenty minutes later we were parked next to an Aspen grove a thousand feet higher than we had been before. What had been a warmish day was now a little chilly. And the Peaks, instead of being an abstraction, were now very real—as real as the ground beneath our feet.

Clyde wandered through the grove for a bit (neither one of us was prepared for a real hike) and I sat and listened to the rattle and clack of the aspen leaves in the wind. It was calm, and peaceful, and an utterly different experience from the Dog Haus drive thru. When Clyde returned we got in the car and drove back down, talking as we went about what we had seen and when we could come back, this time to hike to top. The mood in the car was light and happy: you could even say that it was relieved.

And why shouldn’t it have been? After all, it’s always such a relief to find something that has been lost.

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