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Take the Road North, to Cline's

We met at Dilworth Coffee at 9 am. I was thankful they agreed to meeting “that” early considering it was a Saturday morning. For teenagers, Saturday mornings are sacred. It seems to me from 9th grade in high school until “freshman” year in the real world, the entire population of young people sleeps in as if it’s a governmental mandate. They arrived with a palpable animation and we each ordered our fancy, whipped-topped coffee drink. While we waited for our coffee our plan came to order. “We’ll drive separate and follow you” Catherine said. I knew what this comment was about: A real live road trip experience. Teenagers love the euphoria of being in a scene from a movie, road-tripping down westbound highways for miles with nothing in sight, no care in the world. These two girls wanted the freedom, wind blowing through the car, music pounding the pavement under their car and no adult within at least a mile in front of them. I could appreciate that. And more brilliantly, I could help them justify what seemed like an unnecessary waste of gas. We were going to “Cline’s Antiques,” or better described, “Cline’s Junkheap.” What if we found multiple bulky bookshelves, old signs, tables we had to buy or even a chair that was life-changing? What if we each found so may pieces of worthless junk that we needed the space of both cars? There, justified. These two girls are twins, long red hair, creative, grateful for the ordinary slices of life, effortless to be around. Not entitled, not indulgent, not self-absorbed. They are rare, to say the least. We headed out for the hour-long drive to Mt. Pleasant, North Carolina, their Honda trailed behind me. Windows down, feet hanging out the passenger’s side, carefree. I knew their plan: one would drive on the way to our destination, feel the road curve and the rush of speed, the other would kick back, control the tunes and appreciate the fields and farms along highway 49. For the trek back, they would switch responsibilities. Perfect plan. We tramped through the dust-floored barns, got struck across the face with cobwebs. We picked out some old windows and tried to ignore a few random toilets sitting in the middle of the fields. There was a magic hovering and spinning around us as we turned over tables and crept back into corners to find the treasures we each took home. Both cars were packed, our hands were brown with dirt, sweat on our foreheads and contentment all over us like a glow. These experiences carve out permanent designs on our development as human beings. Nothing else works quite the same way. Too often we say no to the side trails because they seem like a waste of time or not productive. But it’s Cline’s that we remember; it’s Cline’s that turns us into explorers. The fear the pumps blood at rapid speed through adults splashes stress all over our kids, “If you don’t start taking school more seriously you’ll be working at McDonald’s!” This all-too-typical statement is injurious. Adults become the tiller of some dangerous soil if we don’t keep on high alert. Our mantra is to remind them to study, check their grades online, make sure they are building their resumes, study more, sell their souls to the coach, take as many AP classes as they can squeeze into their schedule, study again and finally, to make a priority to be perfect in every area of their adolescent lives. Without realizing it, we have strapped ten thousand pounds to their backs and asked them to carry it until they land on the doorstep of “Secure Job and happy life” after college. The reality is, these are formidable years. The ten thousand pounds becomes familiar and remains strapped on well into adulthood. It’s weight bears down heavier and heavier unless we show them how to live without it. We need to redefine what is essential to a satisfying life. A good job, large paycheck and perfect house have not seemed to deliver a package of contentment to most mailboxes in America. For some reason, we keep pining for it. Our kids now believe this false formula works: perfect grades + perfect resume + perfect teams + perfect records + perfect connections = picture perfect lives and guaranteed happiness. This has been the all-consuming new and upgraded goal for our children. As adults, we can warn them that the meaningful and satisfying moments in life often come through smaller cracks in their days, unexpected surprises that lift the spirit above the stress and intensity of performance.

The most glorious memories they have are in dusty barns where there is no grade attached to “How well can you pick out a piece of junk that looks cool in your room.”

The most glorious memories they have are in dusty barns where there is no grade attached to “How well can you pick out a piece of junk that looks cool in your room.”