45: I Miss Groovy Dude

M never needed an excuse like Halloween to put on a costume. His first trip to a barbershop, he was Batman.  His second trip…Batman again.  Most trips to the grocery store between ages 4 and 5…he wore his bald cap.  He also wore wigs…not “girl” wigs, just funny wigs.

     Many mornings, after excruciatingly painful homework battles, I would be tricked into a smile…he had left his silly, brown wig at the homework table.  You see, M didn’t need a destination outside the house to “get into character.” Some nights I was tutoring Napolean Dynamite, some nights it was some groovy dude, other nights it was just M wearing his Harry Pottter glasses.  
      Night after night we worked together on school work at the dining room table. These homework showdowns were agonizing…for both of us.  M was so easily distracted, and he was always moving – physically and mentally.  If I was lucky, I could get 3 math problems out of him before he’d announce, “Wait.  I have to go get something,”  Or, “Mom, can I just go shoot hoops for 15 minutes?”  
The poor kid struggled so much with school, and tonight I wish I cold talk to him about it.  If I could, I would tell him that I love how many nights we spent at that dining room table together.  I would thank him for trying to teach me how to spin a pencil around my knuckles.  I would thank him for tricking me so many times with fake dead bugs.  And I would thank him for making me smile. I miss him.

44: Battle Themes and War Cries

I miss M.  But this separation was necessary.

     For months, we were living in crisis mode. Each day meant another battle, and battle theme songs seemed to be on a continuous loop: “Please Clean-Up Your Facebook,” “You Are Flunking Most of Your Classes,” “How Much Did You Drink Last Night?” “I Thought You Said You Were Going to _ _ _ _ _ _’s House,” “”Stop Talking to Your Brother That Way,” and the ever playing, “We Found This In Your Room Last Night.”

   Luckily, our separation has induced an automatic cease-fire, and it came in just the nick of time because the more tired I grew, the more battles he won…The more battles he won, the harder it was for me to be the strong, firm parent he needed.  It was a vicious cycle, and I couldn’t see clearly enough to uncover confidence in my own maternal instincts.

This reprieve has helped me re-gain a little of that confidence. A stronger backbone is mandatory as I am certain that there are more battles ahead of us. My Mother Bear confidence is on a come-back.  The war isn’t over yet.

43: Restoring the Parental Force Field

                              “You’re taking my high school years away from me!”

His verbal artillery has been heavy this year, and my weak spots have been exposed. He has mastered the art of Hitting Mom Where it Hurts – and he knows it.
     Now…my parental force field is getting stronger – but M is brilliant at arguing.  He is persistent, strong-willed, and tenacious when he is pleading his case.  But up until recently, the stakes were never so high.

     No topic was ever safe from his relentless line of questioning.  He would argue for 5 friends to sleep over, instead of 1.  He needed the $100 pair of basketball shoes instead of the, still quite expensive, $50 pair we had intended to purchase.  If he still hadn’t worked on his homework and it was already Sunday night, he still insisted on just 30 more minutes (so he and his friends could finish the football game in the backyard.)  Chores took forever to accomplish, homework was incomplete, room was always a mess…and I grew tired.
     As a teacher and one who has filled our family book shelves with titles pertaining to raising children – I knew that “giving in” was not good.  How could I be so weak? Why do I give-in to him so often? Can’t I practice what I preach?  

We have been separated now for over 6 weeks, and the peace in the house has given me the opportunity to refresh my parental control panel.  My heart is ready for his silent treatment – He answers emails…just not mine. My head is ready for his guilt trips – Yes, I’m taking away the high school life he wants – but I’m giving him a future. 

Mom isn’t tired anymore, M. 

42: Almost Like Old Times

Three young men showed up at our house last night…And it seems like just yesterday that these three, silly boys were knocking on our door to play with M.  

M spent all but two years at the same grade school, and our school community friends became our weekend companions too. From sleep-overs to sporting events, M’s friends not only fill our family photo albums, but they also fill our hearts. For years, these boys played hard and laughed hard, but I think it was the summer before M’s freshman year that I started to notice a little separation from the pack.  M seemed to be seeking out new friends, which in high school is expected and healthy (most of the time.)  But if I asked M about his old friends, I sensed sadness in his voice. They had drifted apart.

     So, there stood M, J, and J, “Hi, Mrs. S.”
     I quickly wrapped my arms around each of these tall boys, “What brings you by?”
     “We wanted to tell you that we were sorry to hear about Winnie,” M explained.

     I invited these sweet boys in to look at something I had just found on Facebook – then I added quickly, “Don’t worry – it’s not bad.”  (They knew about my Facebook escapades last month.) On the screen, I played a video of M’s soccer team at the military academy in a shootout. We watched as his teammate scored the winning goal; the boys ran onto the field, formed a circle, and jumped up and down cheering.
     Even though his back was to the camera, they easily spotted M.  Big smiles on their faces turned into the sweet old laughter that used to come from our basement – just a little deeper.  It was as if M had just told them something funny, or made a ridiculous face, or impersonated someone.  We played it again, and their reaction was just as great.
     Smiling wide, one of them added that M had sent him a message this week.  It read, “I just scored my first soccer goal since 1st grade.”  More laughter erupted, and they were in their own little world together.

     As we reminisced a little bit more about the many ways that M makes us laugh, it was obvious that I wasn’t the only one in the kitchen who missed him.  That made me smile too…Thank you B, N, and K for raising such nice young men.

41: Starting To See What Was in Front of Me

  If you see what’s in front of you, that means you have to do something about it…
                                 And what are you willing to do about it?

Oprah just asked me this question from the television in the corner of my kitchen. How did she know that at that very moment, I was daydreaming about what we were going through with M a year ago today.

The school day began like most: drink a cup of coffee, read the paper, hop in shower.  But it was during Step 4…wake boys, when things began to get strange. My husband returned from making sure M was up and moving, and said, “I think there’s something wrong with him.  He looks different and he says he feels strange.” Seconds later, I found him sitting erect on the couch in the basement, television blaring, while he was playing his PSP.  This is exactly where he was when I said “Goodnight” to him before bed.
     M blurted, “Mom, there’s something wrong with me – I haven’t slept yet – my heart is going so fast.”  His movements were foreign to me, his eyes were darting everywhere, and his words were desperate, “What’s wrong with me, mom?”
     His answers to my questions weren’t getting me anywhere – What did you eat last night?  Nothing.  How long have you been feeling like this? All night. Did you take something? No. Did you try to sleep? I tried. 

We were in the doctor’s office at 8:00 – And we were on our way to the hospital by 9:00.  His heart rate was through the roof, his pupils were dilated, he was jumpy and paranoid too.  We arrived at the hospital, but he could not walk, so I ran in and found a wheelchair.  As we waited together to be seen, he began to moan, then cried out that he was dying.  At that point, a nurse wheeled him into a room, and soon we were shuffled through different phases of the hospital’s lab.  Blood was drawn, urine was collected, eyes were tested, everything was examined, but nobody could tell me what was wrong with him.
     Hours later, his vitals began to look more “normal,” and we were told that we could bring him home. As we neared our house, my phone rang.  It was the nurse from our pediatrician’s office asking us to bring him back to their office.  It was almost 5:00. With fear racing through my body, I maneuvered the car to Dr. K’s office.
     The blood results came back with extremely high levels of amphetamines.

In private, M admitted to his doctor that he had found his old bottle of ADD medicine in a kitchen cabinet the night before. He decided to take a few because “kids at school do it and he wanted to see what it felt like.”

Experimentation, denial, and a complete lack of concern for his health  – This was the beginning of something that would be repeated many times, over the course of the next year.

     I’m fairly certain that this was the beginning of seeing what was in front of me. I didn’t know it yet, but the journey was starting to kick into high gear.

40: A Difficult Message to Send

Dear Lieutenant P, M’s dog, Winnie, died this morning.  She was at her veterinarian’s office with my husband.  Please pass this on to him for us, and let him know that she was not in any pain.  Tell him how sorry we are for him, and that we love him. Sincerely, J

     I just spoke to him ma’am.

Thank you so very much.

39: Dear Anonymous

During weak moments, I doubt my instincts.  Last night I had one such, fleeting moment of doubt.  It arrived after reading a note from “Anonymous;” my instincts started to quiver. The comment read,

Hate to break it to you momma, but that is just part of growing up. Seems to me like you have a little bit of that to do. You seem like an emotional mess and you need to learn how to let your son grow on his own. 
Ouch.  Delete that quickly…
Go into trash and read again.
It still hurts.
Delete again and try to go to bed.  
     My brain stirred like a big bowl of wimpy mush, then suddenly my husband’s helpful words pulled me out of my thick, lumpy funk.  He said, “You’ve known for a while that some doubt the decisions made, so why let it bring you down now?”
     Like a flash, my sadness turned to strength.  If only I could call my cynic and explain that I do feel like an “emotional mess” at times.  I’m a mess when my brain flashes the upsetting images I found on his phone. Or if, out of nowhere, I get a whiff of the way he smelled after sneaking out of the house and getting sick all over the bathroom. Another thing that makes me sad is when I remember the way he glared at me and sputtered, “You are such a wuss,” right after I insisted that smoking pot was dangerous.  Visualizing the drugs he’s tried, or will try, when he’s among his “friends” makes me scared too. So, yes, I suppose you could call me a mess at times.
     Raising M to adulthood has been difficult. And according to recent wisdom spoken into my eager ear, it seems that he does not fit the mold of a typical teen who experiments with alcohol and drugs while maintaining a relatively normal school and social life. I realize this is difficult for some to understand, and some may consider the steps we have taken as drastic, but when you fear your child’s life is spiraling down a treacherous path, your choices are limited.
To my Anonymous reader, thank you for challenging me.  Reflecting on the responsibilities I have to gently, but sometimes firmly, guide M to adulthood is helpful. I just wish you could walk in my shoes for a bit.  I am curious to see if you would still feel the same way.

38: Where Did He Go?

I’m fairly certain that the version of him we lived with during the last year, was mostly a chemically-altered version. During the ugly days of summer, I couldn’t find my M anywhere – and believe me, I searched hard.
My child is missing, and  I can’t find him anywhere. His name is M, and he is

  • extremely funny and has the ability to make you laugh…hard.
  • an amazing artist.  It’s fascinating to watch him draw a picture – he can create beautiful pencil sketches so quickly.
  • skilled at hitting tennis balls against the garage door; he knows all the sweet spots.
  • a genius at creating artwork out of simple desserts.  (This became a friendly – but heated – competition between K and him occasionally.)
  • an amazing impersonator.  (I know, sometimes it was at the expense of his teachers.  I’m sorry about that, by the way.)
  • an energetic, hilarious dancer in the passenger seat…could watch him forever – so, so funny.
  • the kid who always organizes the neighborhood football games, baseball games, and excursions to TCBY.  

Some may say the description of the boy who has gone missing, simply turned into a teenager and that’s why I didn’t recognize him anymore…but I beg to differ. The thing that took over my son’s body left him withdrawn, insolent, and disagreeable; he had became a shell of the person we had known for his entire life. We want  him back.  He’s only sixteen.

37: A Tough Visit

M walked around me, straight to Winnie – but it wasn’t the sweet, tear-jerker picture I had running in my head all week. It was more like – Mom, you’re in my way, move… Where’s Winnie? And in an instant he said he wanted to go to McDonalds. But first he had to get something from his room.  He walked out with his backpack, and I wondered, What could he possibly have in there – Is it bad?  Should I check its contents? No, I’m just paranoid.

After ordering first, he walked to the back of the restaurant, sat at a small table that held 2-3 people, and opened up his laptop.  He was trying to download songs from iTunes.

We sat at a bigger table and asked him to join us; he came over and ate his meal quietly.  Then he spoke…Can I come home today?

It was the beginning of the conversation that had to happen.  And soon it was confirmed that we have a different image of what his “visit” home would look like compared to his image. (In his image, he flees the house and goes out with “friends,” the toxic ones.) Desperately, we tried to explain the difference between his dangerous behavior and a more typical, healthier version of teen behavior that can balance “fun” with life.

We explained our version of his dangerous lifestyle: a new group of “friends,” secrecy all the time, failing grades, completely ignoring his family, extremely augmentative about everything and anything, and  new clothes picked up from the second-hand store that all came from the brand I refer to as “I Like to Do Drugs” clothing line. (I thought we explained ourselves brilliantly – certainly he’ll understand our point.)

After he realized that he wasn’t driving home with us, his eyes became glassy.  But his words were angry…
You guys are ridiculous – everybody does what I was doing.  I never drank or got high before school…okay, maybe I did a couple times, but everybody does this.  The difference is they have parents who are normal and don’t freak out about everything.  You guys are taking my high school years away from me. And I am sick of it.

Well, that was the end of lunch.
But as we drove back to the academy, from the backseat of the car, in a soft voice, we heard,
     I’m sorry…but you have to understand that I’m angry.  You gave me a 20 minute warning, and then the next think I knew, I was here. I hate it here.

Turning around, I noticed that his eyes were red.  Oh, my sweet boy.  I love him so much. I worry about him so much. How do we prevent him from getting stuck on this horrible, evil, monstrous path of addiction?

After sitting in silence in the parking lot for a while, I found myself in a trance walking into the Assistant Commandant’s office to check M back in. Providentially, the wisdom of this man came to me like a lifeboat,   “Be strong, someday he’ll thank you.”

With my eyes red, I joined them outside.  He was cradling Winnie, kissing her, and whispering something in her ear.  I asked if we could take a picture – we took a dozen.

It was now time for us to go back home; I reached up to hug and kiss him goodbye, I whispered forever in his ear because for the first time, I felt his hand on my back as we hugged….
     I love you, you’re my baby, I love you…It’s not easy up here, and we know it…We are proud of you… Oh, M, I love you more than anything in the world…

It was a tough day – it hurt.

36: A Sweet Treat at the End of a Roller Coaster

Last night, I was frustrated because he hadn’t written back yet about visiting with Winnie on Saturday. (Grrr.)

Upon waking,I discovered  my cell phone was blinking with a message from him! (Yeah.)

At breakfast, I read the fifteen word email…“can i just come home like everyone else who lives less than 2 hours away?”  (Oh boy.)

As I drove to school, my husband called with news that he too had received an email from M, and it was sweet.  In the note he received, M wrote that during yesterday’s soccer game, the team won 5-0 and he had scored the last goal.  He also told him that his name was announced at the school assembly because he was earning a B+ average. For that, he gets to sleep in an extra hour today. (Oh, my heart.)

There’s more…my parents called me early this morning; they received an email from him too.  He wrote a note similar to the one B received, but it had one more delicious and satisfying line…
          …tell Nene the fudge was really good and everyone loved it.  (Awww.)