planning not to

I had paid the $50 bail and signed the forms twenty minutes ago.  I sat in a chunky, wooden chair with a pea-green “cushion” that crinkled and reminded me of a swimming pool tarp.  An infomercial played on the small, tube-model TV that was bolted to a swiveling stand high up in one corner of the stark room.  The volume was too low to make anything out, and the hazy picture made it feel more like 3:00Am than just before midnight.  Occasionally, the overly enthusiastic hosts would fold into accordion pleats or blip or roll upward on the screen. Sometimes, I took to watching the thin, red seconds hand on the industrial clock make its steady rounds as I waited.

Finally, John came around the corner, escorted by a middle-aged officer with a quirked mouth and a raised eyebrow, causing me to feel as if I too had done something wrong.  John smiled sheepishly at me.  I smiled back.

I thanked the officer and clerk, then headed outside with John.  “Thanks for doing this,” he said.  I gave his shoulder a quick squeeze.

Once in the car and on our way, I asked the obvious question:  “So what happened?”

John began by explaining that all of the police in the town had made it their sole purpose in life to stalk him and make his life miserable.  But, yes, he admitted, he had been drinking.  And, yes, he’d been in a car with other boys who’d been drinking.  He became more animated as he told the details about how they’d been pulled over, and how panicked they had been, and how the car had been towed.  After his story ended, I let the silence speak for a while.  John seemed to be listening.  “I wasn’t planning to get in trouble,” he said finally.  “It just … happened.

As a mentor, I have had up-close and personal dealings with hundreds of kids over the years.  Maybe even a thousand by now.  And it would be impossible to calculate the number of times I’ve heard this same refrain: “I wasn’t planning to!”

And my reply is always the same.  “You can’t just ‘not plan to’ get in trouble.  You have to plan not to get in trouble.”

Going through life “not planning to get in trouble” usually leaves us … in a lot of trouble.  Trouble is out there.  It’s lurking, waiting to entice the unwary.  Trouble thrives on those who are “not planning to.”

Before you nod in agreement, envisioning your wayward nephew or the kid on your block, this doesn’t apply merely to teens who are sowing their wild oats.

It applies to dieters who are serious about weight loss.

It applies to married adults who just happen to have that cute, younger coworker – one who thinks you are incredibly witty and interesting.

It applies to parents who often go to bed with a knot in their stomach,  wondering again why so many conversations with their teen end in an argument.

Really, it applies to each of us.  Planning not to get in trouble requires being self aware and honest enough to know our weaknesses, and then making the difficult choices to put escape routes in place.

Maybe it will mean asking a parent or responsible friend to call and check in with you frequently that night.

Maybe it will mean telling a confidante what you will eat at that party and asking her to keep you to it.

Maybe it will mean saying no to a certain lunch or phone call with that coworker.

Maybe it will mean initiating a week-long “mutual respect” pact with your son or daughter, admitting that you need as much help with it as they do.

In short, planning not to get in trouble is expecting that trouble will come – because it will – and being ready for it when it does.

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