Posts Tagged ‘School of Hard Knocks’


An Unexpected Homecoming

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

On the Monday before Christmas we received a phone call from our daughter Michelle, who has been living in San Antonio with her boyfriend and his mother for almost a year. My wife talked with her for a while, as they usually do, and came to me after she hung up the phone.

“She said he’s broken up with her, and she wanted to know if she could move back home,” my wife said.

“That was sudden,” I replied. “When was she planning to come up here?”

“They want her out of the apartment before Christmas,” she said. “And with everything she’s got down there, it’ll take the truck to move it all here.”

“The truck” referred to my 14-year-old Ford F-250 diesel pickup with just over 200,000 miles on it. That is a lot of miles, but in the diesel world it represents about half of the engine’s useful life; it is not uncommon for these trucks to run up to half a million miles before they finally bite the dust. It is not pretty to look at, but I did not buy it for its looks; it was that engine that attracted me to it in the first place.

“That’s about a six hour drive each way. Are you up to riding in the truck that long?” I asked. San Antonio is approximately 350 miles from our home.

“I guess I’ll have to be,” was the answer.

“All right, find out when she will be packed and we’ll go from there. It’s been a long time since I filled up both of the truck’s fuel tanks.”

A couple of phone calls later, we had most of the arrangements worked out. She would be ready to go on Thursday the 23rd. I came up with an aggressive game plan: we would get up at 4am and be out the door by 6, arrive in San Antonio around lunchtime, load her stuff, eat lunch, and drive home, hopefully getting back in time for a late dinner.

The next two days were spent hurriedly finishing up our Christmas shopping. Fortunately, we had already done all of our shopping for Michelle, and had even shipped her presents to her the Friday before. She had been told not to open the shipping box until Christmas Day; now, in an ironic twist, the box would be coming back to our house to be opened.

Thursday, 4am. My wife and I struggled to get out of bed, drag ourselves into the shower, get dressed, and grab a bite to eat before heading out the door. A stop at a gas station to top off the tanks, and we were on our way. The drive down was somewhat uneventful; the most excitement came while we were going through Austin, the state capitol. The traffic there reminded me very much of downtown Atlanta when we used to live in Georgia: everyone running flat out, dodging and weaving their way like they were in a NASCAR race. The one benefit from that was it did not take us very long to drive through the city.

We finally arrived in San Antonio, pretty close to the time I had envisioned. Following the directions we had mapped out the day before, we found our way to the street where the apartment complex was located, and with Michelle helping on the other end of my cell phone we made it to the entrance gates. We pulled up in front of the apartment building and saw our daughter, standing alone. After a quick greeting and hugs all around, we went inside the apartment. I met her now ex-boyfriend and his mother for the first (and probably only) time, and much to my relief everyone was quite civil about the situation. They helped with loading her things into the truck, then after a round of goodbyes we left.

After stopping for lunch, we got back out on the highway and retraced our route to go home. Unfortunately, the trip back was more eventful than the trip out. There were traffic jams in two different cities, each taking an hour or so to get through; and, the truck was also losing antifreeze somehow, taking almost two extra gallons of it to get home (I learned later the heater core had a split in it). Thanks to the delays, it was almost 9pm when we finally arrived at the house. We unloaded Michelle’s things and piled them into her bedroom, fixed ourselves something to eat, then sat down to relax. The cost for spending 15 hours on the road? Aside from frazzled nerves all around, it took 35 gallons of fuel, two gallons of antifreeze, lunch and snacks.

But, our daughter was back in our home, safe and sound. We do not know how long she will be staying with us; it could be weeks, months, or even longer. One thing I do know: she has been missed by all of us.

Welcome home, Michelle.


Of Mothers Day And Daughters

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Mothers Day is coming up this weekend, and like many dutiful sons and daughters I will be calling my mother sometime during that day. She lives about 1,000 miles away, so it would be difficult at best to hop in the car and drive over for a visit. I’ve made the trip back and forth several times, and the best one-way time I marked was about 15 hours. It might be possible to do the round trip in a weekend, but it’s not very practical.

I’ll also be spending time with my wife, who as I’ve mentioned in other posts is herself a mother of three. She will be calling her mother just as I will, but she will also be looking to receive a call for the first time from one child who no longer lives at home – our 19-year-old daughter. We aren’t really sure if she will call; we haven’t heard from her since before her birthday almost a month ago. We send e-mails and text messages, and we forward her regular mail periodically, but we have neither seen nor heard anything in return (her last message said she was mailing a letter to us, but we still haven’t received it). It makes both her mother and me very anxious at times, but I have come to realize that my parents probably felt the same way when I left home, since I also didn’t call or visit very often.

My wife hasn’t talked much about it to me, but I’m sure it’s a strange feeling for her, just as it was for our own mothers when we first moved away from home.  It certainly feels strange to me! I never really appreciated that before, and I suppose you can’t until it actually happens to you – it’s one of those rites of passage that every parent goes through at some point, and I have come to one very definite conclusion that I’d like to share.

We spend eighteen years or so preparing our children to go out on their own, teaching them how to tell good from bad and right from wrong, and hoping we can pass along at least some of the experiences we’ve had so they won’t be quite so naive as we were when we left home. I didn’t listen to half of what my parents tried to warn me about, and I learned it the hard way. Only then did I realize what they were trying to tell me, and I vowed to not let my children make the same mistakes.

Now that I’ve seen it from both sides, I’ve come to the conclusion that a parent’s attempts to pass along those experiences to their teenage children is mostly a lost cause; try as we might to help them avoid it, they’re still going to make similar mistakes, and they’re going to have to deal with the consequences just as we did. All we can do in the meantime is take a deep breath and say a small prayer that they will use at least a little bit of what we tried to teach them.

One of those teachings we hope our daughter will remember is the one that says she should call her mother on Mothers Day. And if your mother is still around, I hope you will remember to call or visit her this weekend as well.

Happy Mothers Day to all you moms out there!


19 and (Still) Growing

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 19th birthday. It’s the first year she will be celebrating it away from my home and the rest of our family. She will be with friends, who I’m certain will make sure she has an enjoyable day, and there is a remotely possible chance that her mother and I may get to speak to her for a few minutes.

This occasion has given me mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am sorrowful she will not be around to celebrate the day with us; on the other, I am proud to see her trying to move forward and trying to be more like the adult she has become. But, being proud of her doesn’t mean I have to like all of her choices; in fact, I’m not pleased with most of the ones she has made over the past six months or so (on which I will not elaborate here, other than to say she has chosen to take up permanent residence elsewhere). However, I do respect the fact that she is being the independent young woman we tried to raise, and she is making her own choices.

As a result, she is also learning what it truly means to live with the consequences of her actions. Because she has chosen to live elsewhere she is no longer considered a member of my household; among other things, this makes her ineligible for medical coverage through my employer’s health plan, and she must get her own policy. The same is true with her car insurance (she doesn’t own a car, but she is both licensed and living in a household that has one, and under Texas law she must have coverage or she gets points put on her driving record). On top of it all, at last word she did not have a job, so it’s uncertain to me how she plans to pay for any of that. It’s hard for me to know whether or not she has taken care of all these things; she has communicated very little with any of us in the last few months. But, from what I do know about her character as I watched her grow up, I am certain she will stick with it until she has everything worked out.

There have also been changes in the rest of my family as a result of her decisions. One of my sons spends a lot of his time in her old bedroom, where his computer is now set up on her old desk. Financially, I have one less mouth to feed (although my sons are quickly filling that gap), and there will be one less dependent to claim when my wife and I file our taxes next year (this is a fairly fresh one on my mind since yesterday was Tax Day). It’s also one less person for me to worry about taking to the doctor when she’s sick, or the dentist when she has a cavity, the eyeglass shop when she needs new contacts, or the pharmacy when she needs medicine. All of that burden is on her now.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, all of this change has hurt me greatly. I’ve tried my best to put it all in perspective by looking back at when I was her age, but the comparisons aren’t quite the same. Aside from the obvious difference in gender, when I was 19 I was living away from home as well, but my parents had been divorced for about 18 months and my three brothers were split up living with one parent or the other; my family today is intact and all living under one roof. She has had tremendous financial support for her college education; I was working two jobs and paying for my college classes out of my own pocket. Any way I cut it, it’s just not the same situation.

I don’t know if she will ever read this blog, but if she does I hope she comes to realize how difficult it is for me to watch as she heads down this road, knowing what lies ahead but unable to get her to believe, or even listen, to my experience-filled voice. It had been my hope that I could have helped her avoid going through the School of Hard Knocks, but it appears she decided to go there anyway. I have come to conclude that it must be a rite of passage for all of us at one time or another, and the cycle will likely repeat itself when she becomes a parent and her children head out into the world.

I do know that she’s very bright and very deep-minded, and I believe someday she’ll figure out what I was trying to tell her now, and come back and say “you were right.” I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

Happy Birthday Michelle!