American standup comedian Tom Papa, talks about his children. Paraphrasing, he says: “You know, we all say we love our kids the same. But that is utter bullshit! Come on, be honest! We all have that one kid, that if he/she were to get lost in the woods, we would take just a littttttle more time to look for them”
In March 2004, that was my 18 year old son Geoff! In that moment in time, I may have taken a lot more time and for a brief moment, I may not have even reported him missing at all.
My wife and I had for many months, planned a trip with good friends Russ and Sue Wiltsie, to New Zealand and Australia. We would be gone for 3 weeks, leaving our children Trevor, Geoff and Lauren on their own.
Comfortable in knowing that they were mature enough to handle the responsibility and knowing grandparents were nearby if needed – we took the plunge and booked the longest trip we had ever taken without the kids.
We had arrived at that point in our life when your kids are mature enough to handle responsibility.
Or so we thought!
As the departure date neared, Geoff started to drop hints to his mother that he was going to have a party when we were gone. I listened impassively, as his braggadocio wore on his mother’s nerves. Thinking it was all talk, I brushed it off at first.
The drip, drip, drip of his needling continued. Nancy’s nerves were beginning to fray.
Taking things into my own hands, I took Geoff aside and said “look, you are stressing your mom. For gawd sake give it a rest. We can’t stop you from having a party. But if you insist, I will buy plastic to cover the floors and expect you to do whatever you have to do to ensure there is no damage to our home.”
Soon thereafter we got “THE CALL”.
It was just after dinner when the phone rang (back when we actually had a phone attached to the wall). The anonymous woman’s voice simply said “I know you are going away. Not sure if you are aware, but there are posters all over the school and downtown, advertising WOLFAPOLUZZA!! I wanted to warn you.”
WOLFAWHAT??? What the hell is Wolfapoluzza and how do we put a stop to this burgeoning disaster in the making???
I took Geoff aside and read him the riot act. “This has gone far enough. Your mom is losing her mind!”
“Don’t worry dad, its not what it looks like. There will be a few kids from school and Trevor and Lauren will be here. I promise we will keep it under control”
GEEZUS! We are going to be 10000 miles away and I have never felt so helpless.
My mind is on hyperdrive. What to do?
We live in a relatively small town in a lovely, quiet neighbourhood, with great neighbours. I played ball with a couple of the local police officers, so I made a private call to one of them.
What I thought I might need:
“Look, my son is planning on having a party on the Saturday night after we leave. Can you please keep an eye on the house and the neighbourhood? If it gets out of hand, you have my permission to shut it down and do whatever you have to do.”
We left, comfortable in knowing that we had done all we could do.
Enjoying our time in New Zealand, all hell broke loose when we were asked to call home……..300 of Geoff’s “best friends” had shown up to WOLFAPOLUZZA. The word had travelled to London, Ingersoll, St Thomas and seemingly every town in between
We were 12 hours or so ahead of the time back home.
There were cars lined up around the block. People everywhere!
Local police, as requested thankfully showed up and dispersed the crowd.
The aftermath was something to behold!
It was a rainy night. People were in our front yard, back yard, in the house – all over the house! Geoff had lost control as cupboard doors were ripped off, kitchen floor tiles were covered in mud, gas fireplace damaged, people walking out through windows to get outside, damaging window frames – what a freaking disaster!
After being requested to call home, what I would have preferred!!
Lauren, 15 at the time, was terrified. She promptly locked herself in her bedroom, and cried her eyes out. Trevor, 21, was doing his best to control the crowd,
House and car keys, hanging in the laundry room had been taken and thrown outside – later to be discovered (thankfully) in close proximity. Broken beer bottles all over the yard and neighbours lots nearby.
Now this could have been a disaster on a larger scale. Thankfully were were still almost 3 weeks from arriving home. Had we been coming home in the next few days, my reaction may have been much different.
I doubt there was not a judge in the land that would have convicted me for what I might have done.
Instead it became a learning experience for Geoff and in many ways a turning point in how he responded.
For the next 3 weeks, he spent countless hours on his hands and knees scrubbing grout between the kitchen tiles. His grandfather came to help reattach a couple of kitchen cupboards and repair other damage. He ordered a part for the gas fireplace that had been severed. He scoured the neighbourhood for broken beer bottles.
I am sure I am not giving Trevor and Lauren enough credit for helping to clean up the mess.
In short, he matured.
Attaining wisdom, can be complicated. Sometimes it is through gentle reminders over time. Sometimes it is through adversity. Sometimes it is a slap in the face.
Wolfapoluzza taught both Geoff and I some important lessons.
For Geoff, it was about respect of his parents, of others, of property, of learning boundaries.
For me, it was learning to stay calm under pressure and not over react. He had time to make things right and I had time to calm down.
We have laughed about this moment many times since. But back then, if he had been lost in the woods, I doubt I would have looked for him period!
I love all my kids fiercely, but I haven’t always liked them 😊