I WROTE THIS COLUMN JUST A DAY AFTER I HAD TO HAVE MY SON SENT AWAY AT 4:00 IN THE MORNING TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS, 2003. HE WAS 16. IT’S TEN YEARS LATER AND HE HAS TURNED OUT TO BE A WONDERFUL, CARING, POWERFUL MAN, HUSBAND AND FATHER. I’M SO PROUD OF HIM. JUST GOES TO SHOW THAT IF US PARENTS DO WHAT WE HAVE TO IN ORDER TO SAVE OUR KIDS…THERE IS HOPE.
I’ve been writing these “Exhausted Parent” columns for a long time now. Each week I try to share a glimpse of my life with the reader, hoping that he or she will relate on some level with the roller coaster journey we as parents ride on a daily basis. I always found it amusing that some of my friends who are regular column readers don’t call me as often because they feel they already know what’s going on in my life. Why waste a good long distance call when they can read all about me in black and white?
I’m about to share a story that most of my friends knew nothing about. It has to do with denial, enabling and guilt but most of all it has to do with love; the toughest love I’ve ever had to possess in order to save my child. Everyone close to me who knew the suffering that went on has told me I did the right thing, the only thing left to do. I know deep in my heart that they are right…that what I did will hopefully turn my son around and give him that “second chance” he always fought for over and over again. How many second chances did I give him? Too many. I always hoped and believed that the lie he told last week or the week before that or the ones he told two weeks before that would be his last lie ever. I hoped that somehow he would wake up from himself and realize that he was headed down the wrong path and begin to make good choices, not bad ones. But most of all, I always hoped that my love for him would somehow save him. I guess in a roundabout way, maybe it has.
I’d like to go back almost 17 years. It was mid-January in 1987 when my oldest made his presence known. His father and I named him and loved him and immediately began to wonder what kind of person he would grow up to be. He turned out to be determined, stubborn and kind. He would be the first to stop on the ski slope if he saw someone take a tumble to make sure they were alright and he would be the first to call his grandmother to wish her a happy birthday. He made friends easily and always fought for the underdog. Sometimes he could be a little too bossy but at the end of the day, it was me he wanted by his side when he said his goodnights. He was good to his brother; he was nasty to his brother – typical sibling stuff. He was good in school as well as having his dramas about homework and responsibility. He had a terrific sense of humor, always wanting to make others laugh but he also had a temper. When he passed the age of 15 his temper would sometimes escalate. I attributed it to hormones and the other stresses of what his life had to endure by witnessing a divorce and relocation. I got him into therapy. I got us all into therapy. I had hoped it would help.
Oh, how easy it is to ignore the signs. I’ve come to realize that it is so easy to ignore everything. The hard part comes when we start to pay attention. And how absurd is it that there are those of us who continue to play the ignore game even when the dark part of someone we gave life to is standing at our front door, in our living room and staring back at us from the bathroom mirror.
We plow through our grown-up ways and adultness. We ignore what we assume are “phases” our kid is going through as we continue to struggle for the legal tender, collapsing at the end of a work-week, wanting to be left alone to recover. And then some of us start to pay attention. We start to wonder about the midnight phone calls when our kid takes the phone into the bathroom and starts to whisper. We wonder why he locks himself in the bathroom, opens the window and turns on the shower and then moments later steps out of the bathroom dry as a bone. We wonder why he no longer wants to get up and look for a job but instead sleeps until noon. We notice things bought from the store that were not on the grocery list: mouthwash, lighters, cranberry extract pills and zip-loc baggies. We see the glazed expression, we are on the receiving end of the defiant attitude and we are worried sick when our child doesn’t come home until four in the morning.
Things go missing. Appointments are missed. Homework is not turned in and all of the sudden there are new people in the life of your child. They are the type of people who don’t look you in the eye when they say hello and who feel as uncomfortable in your house as they probably do in their own skin. He stops talking with you because the sound of your voice “pisses him off” and he doesn’t return the call he got from his grandmother who wanted to take him shopping and to lunch.
And then something happens which can be labeled as “the last straw.” Maybe we find drugs in the bedroom or hidden up in the rafters of the garage. Maybe the school calls to say your kid has been truant when all this time he was telling you he was doing great in history. Maybe his anger got so out of control one night that he hurts someone he loves. Or maybe, if we are lucky, he collapses in your arms and asks for help. Maybe, but not likely.
The last thing my son said to me as he was being taken away to attend a special boarding school out of state was, “I hate you and I will never forgive you for this, ever.” Every parent dreads those words but I’m told that the odds of him not only forgiving me one day but thanking me are very high indeed. I can handle the words which came from him that early morning which were said in despair and momentary hatred. If I didn’t do something right away, the possibility of my receiving a phone call from a jailhouse or worse yet, the morgue could have been just around the corner. That, I could not handle.
Parents get over the “I hate you” thing. Parents never get over something they knew deep in their hearts they could have tried to prevent.
All I can say is that there is still hope for my son. I believe in my heart he will do the right thing. I believe that the web he allowed himself to become entangled in will somehow loosen its grip so he will be able to see, acknowledge, forgive and then move on and into a new life for himself. We have to have hope. We have to have faith. But most of all we have to have so much love for our kids that we would do anything to save them. Anything at all.