Monday, February 25, 2013

Bloody Legs and Broken Printers

As the parent of an 8th grader, I'm beginning to learn about the occasionally incurable sullenness of teenagers, about the difficulty of finding out anything useful about a teenager's life, and about the pain of watching a child seemingly procrastinate his future away.

I get it. The sullenness comes with the age, not from some grudge he bears against us. I expect, like most of us, he'll grow out of it sooner or later. I think the need for privacy has something to do with a desire to have control over his own life, even if he only controls our access to information. And his procrastination probably won't end the world. Most people procrastinate at some point in their lives, and the world still has plenty of doctors and engineers.

Don't get me wrong, though. Procrastination can cause bodily injury.

In my freshman year of college, I had two roommates in an apartment off campus. During that year I got sick -- not just a sniffle, but full on body-shivering, fevered-delerium, can't-get-out-of-bed sick. I had a roommate to help out, and though he'd never publicly admit it, he's actually a nice guy. He went to the store and got supplies for me, and though he didn't minister to me in the way a nurse or a mom would, he really helped me make it through. And seriously, as a couple of teenagers, it would have been more than a little awkward for him to stand over me taking my temperature or rubbing Vick's Vapo-Rub on my chest. Though the realities of dealing with other people's hygiene habits, sleep patterns, and music volumes can rankle, having other people living with you can provide a safety net you don't get when you live alone. 

I found this out during my sophomore year, when I waited until around 1am one night to finish and print a paper due at 8am the following morning. I had decided, after having a year with two roommates my age, to try living alone. Aside from the inconvenience of moving, nobody was really mad about it. I'm still close with one of them, and I'm pretty cordial Facebook friends with the other (despite the probably unclosable political gap between us). I was young and still figuring things out for myself, so I wanted to try something new. I found myself sitting alone in my apartment, at my computer, a mere seven hours before I would hand in my paper. I clicked "Print" and found out, to my horror, that my printer had stopped working. I don't know what happened. The printer quit working, and the campus computer lab had already closed.

Has ANYBODY ever had a printer you could trust?

I called my old roommate, David. Problem solved. I could print the paper at his apartment. So I saved it to a floppy disk, put on a coat, and walked out to the car. Though the date escapes me now, I assume this must have been early to mid-December, since the temperature was below freezing, and the paper was an end-of-term paper. Of course, because this is how these situations work, the car wouldn't crank. Wouldn't even turn over, in fact. I walked back into the apartment, got my bicycle, wheeled it down to the street, and started pedaling. David didn't own a car, so I still helped him out with transportation, and he also did a lot of walking and riding city buses, so he couldn't pick me up. I had about a mile of uphill bicycle travel in front of me.

I'm not a strong bicycler, and as I started up a hill, I needed to downshift to have any hope of making it to the top. My bike hesitated and threw its chain (probably because the bicycle's wheels weren't moving). I fell off the bike and into the middle of the roadway. Thankfully, at 1:30 am, the road was quiet. I fell on top of the bike, and the handlebars bent under my weight. Even through my jeans, I skinned my leg badly, to the point where I could feel a small trickle of blood. Just to recap, I'm now standing in the middle of the road, blood trickling down my leg, holding a ruined bike in sub-freezing temperatures, now with half a mile to walk to get to a place where I can print a paper. Of course, I'll then have to walk home, since David doesn't have a car in which to drive me home.

By the time I reached David's apartment, I was a shivering, stressed-out mess, but I got the paper printed. I think he gave me a hot drink. I walked home. To my credit, I never even considered asking for an extension on the paper. I HAD to get the paper printed and turned in on time. I would not have even TRIED to make excuses to the professor about my tough night. Even as a sullen teenager, I knew I'd had plenty of opportunities before 1:00am to finish and print my paper, which would have avoided all of my trouble. Sure, I would still have needed to deal with the printer and the car, but not in the middle of the night, bleeding into my jeans.

So when I see my son putting off assignments until the night they're due, I'm not just worried about what will happen if I have to drive to Walmart at midnight to replace a printer. I'm worried about the habits he's building, because I don't want to think about him walking a freezing mile through a rough part of town in the middle of the night, dragging a useless bicycle behind him. But if you asked my parents, I'm sure they'd tell you they wanted the same for me. I still haven't completely learned the procrastination lesson, but because of events like this one or my recent issue with a flash drive, I've learned more about the role of planning and anticipation in our lives. We can't prevent the really big, bad stuff from happening someday, but we can avoid the small stuff.  

I don't expect him to learn the lesson any better than I did until he has to endure his own defeats. I think I might learn a little from him, though.

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