This evening, some kids in my neighborhood pulled a ding-dong ditch. For those unacquainted with the term, it’s when you ring someone’s doorbell and run away. It’s a moderate inconvenience to stop in the middle of writing a code statement to answer the door, exacerbated by a dog who thinks it’s the end of the world each time the bells chime.
Gavin beat me to the door and said, “I guess someone did a ding-dong ditch.” Of course, that irritated me just a little. So, I opened the door to see who was outside. No one, although Stephanie said she saw a group of kids outside from the upstairs window. I decided to enjoy a few deep breaths of the rainy, cool fall air before heading back inside to resume coding my upcoming release.
From behind my car pops a kid in a hoodie. I’m pretty sure he didn’t think I was standing there. So I ask, “Is there a problem?” “No,” the kid replies dryly, but with a hint of attitude. “So why’d you ring my doorbell?” I queried further. “I didn’t,” he says, with a little more attitude. Then I asked, “Why were you hiding behind my car?” His answer: “Because other kids were doing it.”
I thought to myself, “That sounds like something Gavin would say.” And I remembered that this was a kid I was dealing with, not an adult, and obviously his “friends” had left him to the wolves, as it were. Instantly, I softened. “So you didn’t ring my doorbell?” “No,” he said. “Then I think you should be moving along and stay out of trouble.” That was the best stern adult thing I could think to say. I wasn’t mean, I didn’t raise my voice, I was just firm. It reminded me of how adults would scold me as a child. The young man walked away, looking back. I stayed on my porch until he had moved on.
Almost immediately, I wished I would have handled it differently. Here’s the thing: at 5:15 pm, it’s nearly dark in my neighborhood. And today, it’s rainy and cold. So, why was this kid running around in these conditions, ringing doorbells for entertainment? And my heart broke for that kid. He didn’t know better, and had no one to tell him. He deserves a second chance. I’m sure some would offer the argument that some kids are just troublemakers. I agree that some kids (and adults) have a greater propensity for causing mischief than others, but I don’t think it’s something that can’t be improved upon. I wish I would have instead asked him what he had planned to do for the evening or if he was locked out of his house or something – anything – to show that I cared about him. I wanted him to know that I didn’t think he was a bad kid, just a kid who made a bad decision.
So, today’s score: Life 1, Seth 0. I’ll remember next time that not everyone grows up as I did, and not everyone grows up as my children do. And if I see him around the neighborhood again, as I’m sure I will, I’ll remind him that he has the power to make better choices. Who knows? That might be the thing he needs to hear to go from ditching doorbells to being a geneticist searching for a cure for cancer.
Our words are powerful, friends. Think before you use them.
As always, thanks for reading.