Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Appreciating Life’s Firsts

First Love…First Kiss…First Day of School…First Car…First Impressions…Life is full of “firsts!” Have you ever watched little kids when they experience things for the first time? I once observed a two year old boy discovering a caterpillar for the first time. He was truly fascinated! He got right down on his belly to lie on the cement and get a better look. The caterpillar was inching his way along the cement to nowhere in particular. He put his nose right up to it and examined everything about it. As he looked at it very closely, I could tell that he was taking in every little thing about the caterpillar; how it wiggled, how slowly it moved, its light green color and bumpy body, all of the many little legs wiggling so quickly yet moving so slowly along the cement. He was truly fascinated!

The child had forgotten about everything else going on around him. He was totally caught up in the moment and having a great time. The next time he saw a caterpillar, he was still very excited, but he did not get right down on his belly to watch it. He simply bent over, looked at it for a few seconds, and then went on his way.

I was going through a box of old pictures the other day and I found a picture of me holding my firstborn son, Jeremy. It was his first moments of life. He had been wrapped up tightly in a warm blanket by the nurse. Then, I had wrapped him up tightly in my arms as I held him for the first time.

As I looked at my face in the picture of me and Jeremy, I noticed how truly wrapped up” in the moment I appeared to be. In fact, as I looked at the picture, I was taken back to how I felt in that moment. I remember being nervous because I was a young, first-time father. I was afraid that I would not hold him correctly and hurt him in some way. As I had settled back into the chair to continue holding him, I began to calm down and start taking in everything about the moment. It was definitely as if everything else around me had faded away…and, it was just me and Jeremy.

As the surrounding of the hospital room around me faded away, I started to take in everything about this little guy… His little nose, mouth, and ears…his little fingers as they wrapped around my fingers and of course how good he felt and smelled to me… There is nothing quite like that moment for a parent. I am so glad that I was there to experience that moment. It was a “first” moment that would never be the same. Each time I held the next of my other four children, there was something about each one and their entrance into the world that was special and unique to them. From this experience, I have learned to be more like the child with the caterpillar and to take the time to appreciate the “firsts” in my life.

My son Nick and his wife are expecting their first child. I will be a grandpa to one of my children’s children for the very first time...Another important first in life for me. I can’t wait to take it all in and enjoy each moment.

To Nick and Cayce --- I watched you buy your first new car together a few weeks ago. It was so fun to watch you experience this “first” together as a couple. Now, I get to watch you enjoy a more important life-changing first and I am very happy for you. This is one of the firsts in life that is BIG!

My wish for you is that you will enjoy every single moment of parenthood, because as I am writing this, I realize how it goes by much too fast that your kids are grown and gone making their own way. I also want you to know that if this little one brings you half as much joy and excitement as my children have ---you are in for the first time ride of your life!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bad Luck Comes in Threes

I’ve heard that bad luck comes in threes. For example, if your cat Fluffy dies an untimely death, then, you will have two other kinds of bad to follow.

I have never taken too much stock in this superstition, but last week was the kind of week that just may make me a believer. Yup…Doug’s got a tale to tell!!!

Last Thursday, I was working at home…totally absorbed in what I was doing…when my cell phone rang and I heard the familiar ringtone for my twenty-one year old son, Nick. I talk to Nick often, so it was no big surprise that he was calling.

Do you know how parents just know when something is wrong with their child – no matter how old they are? I had that feeling before I even heard Nick’s voice on the phone.

As soon as he did speak, I was positive that something bad had happened. Sure enough, Nick had been in an accident in his work truck. Nick installs cable, so he is on the road driving all day long. Another driver making a left hand turn in the intersection hit him head on as he was going through the intersection.

Of course, I immediately felt my adrenaline start to rush through my veins. I began to consider all of the possible scenarios and ramifications of him having an accident. Was he all right? Was the accident his fault? What would that mean to his job if he was at fault? How bad was his truck damaged? How much would it cost to repair? You know – all the usual questions…

While I had Nick on the phone, I could tell that he was downplaying the situation. In fact, he sounded quite a bit like he was in shock.

Sure enough, when I arrived at the scene of the accident, I was amazed that Nick had survived the crash. The entire front end of his truck was crushed all the way into the driver’s side of the cab. The truck was a total loss.

Nick was walking and talking. His leg hurt and it looked as if he may have broken nose. I took him to the hospital rather than in the ambulance. We were in the emergency room for several hours listening to Spanish and broken English. Why? I have no idea why there were so many Spanish speakers there, but it just added to the surreal situation in which I had found myself that day. It was almost dreamlike.
Each member of the family arrived one by one or in small groups. So, I had to repeat what had happened to Nick over and over again.

Nick had called his wife, Cayce and she had come to the scene of the accident. It was difficult to see the fear on her face as she looked at the totaled truck and as she looked at her husband for signs of injury.

The previous morning, I had heard on the news about a fatal accident. I had thought to myself, “How terrible that in a few minutes, someone will have a Highway Patrolman on their doorstep to give them the devastating news that would change their lives forever. Nick and our family were very lucky –even though it was bad luck that he had been in an accident.

When the crisis was over, I was relieved and had a grateful heart that, “all’s well that ends well.” That thought was short-lived.

A couple of days after Nick’s accident, I was driving my old van on the freeway. My destination was about an hour and a half away.

I had my nine year old daughter, Kenna with me. We were having a nice drive together – and then, without warning – my tire blew out! When it blew, the van immediately began to bounce and heave violently. We came very close to rolling – as we had been traveling at about seventy to seventy-five miles per hour.

The look on my daughter’s face, and her screaming in fear, and grabbing for me was difficult to deal with. It took me a while to calm her down after I had safely pulled over to the emergency shoulder of the road.

As the fast-paced traffic continued to whiz by the van, I told Kenna that everything was going to be alright – that I just needed to change the tire. Then, we would be on our way again.

She looked at me as if I was absolutely crazy to even talk about continuing to drive in our possessed vehicle. I must admit, I was pretty shaken and rattled myself – Literally!!

As I stepped out onto the pavement, I noticed the large black skid-mark that the van had made while I was trying to control it as it pulled left and right and I wrestled with the brake and the steering wheel to gain control. A big black mark to show what had happened. How many times had I seen this kind of mark on the road and wondered who had made it and if they were in a terrible accident as they skidded across the freeway? Now, the mark was mine. I wanted to hurl!

I composed myself and quickly took a picture of the black skid-mark with my cell phone. Then, I began the process of changing my blown out tire.

“This will be no big deal!” I had thought to myself. I went through the process that I had learned way back long ago in driver’s education at Roy High School. (Yes, they had cars back then children.) “I’ve changed tires before. I’ll be on the road again in no time.” I affirmed in my mind.

I hopped back in the van when I was done and assured Kenna that all would be okay. I was very close to my destination when the blow out occurred. I knew when I arrived I would have a legitimate reason for being late and a good story to tell – with pictures!

After our visit, Kenna and I jumped back into our beast of a van and started heading back home. We hadn’t been on the road for very long before I could feel that the beast was riding very rough. “What now?” I thought.

Then it happened – No, not another blown out tire! – The entire wheel came right off and flew to the side of the road while we continued going forward. Poor Kenna! She must have thought her dad was trying to kill both of us as we almost rolled over in the old van for the second time in one day.

It was now after ten o’clock at night. I called a tow truck to take the van. I called my son Jeremy to pick us up.

Now the van is in a repair shop and will cost me $279 to fix. I am driving a small rental car. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’ll admit to you that I was at fault for not fastened and tightening the lug nuts well enough. As embarrassing as it was, I went back to the freeway the next day to find my wheel and save a little money on the cost of repair.

One piece of luck I had was that I did find the wheel. But, of course, the biggest piece of luck was that my family did not have a highway patrolman on their doorstep telling them that two members of their family were gone. Whew! What a relief!

After those two close calls, one would think that the drama was over. Not in the crazy and unpredictable world of Doug Johnston. Oh no!!!

Just a few short days later I received a call from another son, Riley. Riley had been saving all summer long to purchase a car when it was time to go back to school in the fall for his junior year.

Riley was thrilled with his new car. I was proud of him for earning the money for it and pleased to see the joy of him getting his first car. I remember that feeling from when I was sixteen and purchased my little red ride – a VW Beetle – What great times I had in my bug!

Riley had not owned the car for more than two weeks when he was traveling on the winding road of the Ogden Canyon and a deer ran right out in front of his car. Riley had a quick decision to make of two awful choices – a true dilemma. He could hit the deer – risking killing or hurting both him and the deer or swerve to miss the deer and take his chances. Of course, he chose the latter. He avoided hitting the deer but as he swerved to miss it, he lost control of his new most prized possession. He crashed onto the side of the canyon road. His front bumper was destroyed and the front end of his new car was damaged.

Once again, I realized – and I believe Riley did too – how quickly things can change and how lucky we were that nothing more than property was severely hurt. It could have been so much more tragic.

He will earn the money he needs to fix his car and in the mean time I will be his chauffeur in my rental car or Nick will drive him in his borrowed truck from work.
I truly hope that our bad luck on the road has come to an end at three because we are running out of our own vehicles fast!!

Even though I had experienced these three moments of bad luck, I know at the same time how they were also three moments of good luck. All four lives had been spared and that is pretty good odds. Three times we had been close to disaster and all three times we had come out unharmed even though our poor vehicles had not.

Someday maybe I will know the reason why we were all graced with good luck when we faced such bad luck. And hey – thinking positively – I think it may just be time for a new car! I think poor Kenna will be truly grateful for that bit of good news!