141: Beacons #2, #3, and #4

Never underestimate the power of a few kind words. For when you throw an oar in at just the right moment, you could be the perfect push to help a worried mom ride a happy, peaceful, and holy wave.

And that’s exactly what happened Saturday with the arrival of the first beacon – a few, kind, simple words from a friend. With a strange, new confidence inspired by B’s Facebook message, I proclaimed my Mother’s Love Decree to M in the car. And it just got better from there.

We allowed him to visit a friend for a couple hours while we headed to Saturday evening mass. Driving into our church parking lot, I noticed a comment notification on my phone. KB had written me a note – and it was another beacon. Her words were honest and kind. (Those wonderful words also introduced me to my new friend.)

Sitting in church, I spotted another beacon. R and her family sat several pews away. We hadn’t seen each other since we moved out of the old neighborhood a year ago. As I scanned the pew for the taller, bigger versions of her triplets, I realized something nice. We were somehow closer today than we were when she lived just one yard away.

And then, another beacon. L had been sitting a few pews in front of us. At the end of mass she approached me kindly and leaned in to deliver these 3 words…

Row and pray.

Hmmm? So I leaned in this time, and questioned what she whispered. To that she instructed me to keep my oars in the water, keep rowing forward, and pray, pray, pray.

Got it.


We picked up M, and the four of us headed to his favorite burger place…and it was nice. Then we headed to the theater to watch my sweet step-daughter and her wonderful husband in their latest performance…and it was nice. We drove home…and it was nice, too.

In the morning, M and hung out together for a bit while M packed to return to the academy. They chatted about video games, I think.

I kissed him Goodbye, I told him I love you,” and then I got in the car and prayed. It was nice.


140: Beacon #1

It’s no fun thinking about how much your child hates you. And yes, I am so very, well aware of the evolution of such hatred…but, my goodness – It hurts. I stayed numb, tired, lazy, and useless for most of the day Saturday. My headache, neck ache, and stomach ache kept me on the couch in the den. And No, these symptoms were not related to being sick. They were absolutely related to being tired.

If you haven’t read between the lines here yet and figured out that I had a major pity-party somewhere between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, then let me be more clear…I had a large, volcanic moment.

The beginning of the eruption unfortunately spewed all over my sweet husband, B. And I hate to admit this, but I’m certain that sweet, little K was splattered a bit too.

But then, my former adversary delivered the first beacon.

Slumping into my car and pulling out of the garage to pick up M from the church, I noticed a message on my phone. It was a Facebook message from a friend. B’s message was simple and kind. It read,

“Love reading your blog, Major Momma! Hang in there. You are amazing…”

Oskee Wow Wow, B. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your 12 encouraging words put the lid on the volcano, and then opened up the essential rain clouds. (That’s code for “I cried all the way to the church”…and, “Boy, did I need that.”)


I arrived at the church, and now it was M’s turn to slump into the car. He answered my hopeful and routine questions with a “Fine,” “No,” and “No.” To which I responded with a straightforward, 5 minute string of words. And it went something like this…

M, I know you hate me right now and probably want to poke my eyes out. (I don’t know where that eye-thing came from; what a stupid thing to say. I got back on track.) Believe it or not, I am quite certain that you won’t hate me forever. In fact, in 10 years you may even like me again. And it is important for you to know that I will love you through it all; I’ll be waiting on the other side of these tough years to keep on loving you. I really miss the way we used to talk to each other; you are a funny, intelligent, and wonderful person. I look forward to the day that we are close again. But in the meantime, I have to lay down one simple rule. When you are in our home, when I am within ear-shot, and when the people who love you are near, you must be respectful.

No magic there, but there was a rainbow that began to appear in my still-intact, happy eyes.

There were more beacons to come on this day; B’s was just the beginning. (But more on those other great beacons another day. It’s time to go outside and soak in some sunshine.)

139: Yesterday’s Mail

Yesterday, spur of the moment plans were made to bring him home for the weekend. A wave of excitement, followed by another wave of concern flowed through me.

A local church was holding a day-long retreat, and he was given an opportunity to earn service hours by setting up chairs, registering participants, and serving meals. We thought that this would be a great opportunity, especially since the retreat was geared towards being the best man you can be.

Within the first 20 minutes of his arrival, he had begun the exhaustive dialogue of “Why do I have to do this?” and “Why can’t I go out with my friends tonight?”

To those questions, my strength came from many sources…Consistent support from friends, family, and strangers, growing older and wiser, my faith, and yesterday’s mail.

Just hours before he came home, the letter from the Assistant District Attorney arrived. Now, some may ask, “Why would a child’s own mother let the world know of such letter?”

Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s because we are not alone. Hundreds of parents in my little community receive a version of this letter each and every month. And thousands of parents in the Midwest receive this letter each month, too. This is not a secret. It’s just reality. Teenagers today are participating in dangerous activities. The laws our police officers enforce are legal eye-openers for those who are ready to see.

At 16, his decisions are driven by the teenage brain. Someday, his decisions will be driven by his mature, adult brain. It is our job to keep him safe until that glorious day arrives. (Legally, I’d prefer that to be by the time he reaches the age of 18.)

As an adult-brained person, something is driving me to face this challenge with honesty and humility. And even as M was badgering us and whining last night about the fact that no one will ever want to come to our house because of how “nuts” he thinks we are, a calm was washing over me…

This is a child, my child. He needs love, support, and strong parenting just like he did when he was little. And when he was little, the moms on park benches from whom I learned the most, were honest, humble, and helpful. And they were not worried about what others might think.

I don’t have any answers, and I don’t claim that “my way is the best way.” All I know is that The District Court of _______ County is trying to help my son open his eyes a little. I don’t see how sharing that could be a bad thing.

138: Grand-Parental Chicago Love

My parents are loving, wise, and so perfectly in love with their grandchildren.

M’s Nene and Papa have been friends forever. (Their journey began when they made their First Communion together in 2nd grade.) They’ve been partners, comrades, and companions through years of life’s twists and turns.

Growing up with the duo meant lots of great road-trips. Whether we were traveling back to the town in which their love memories took root, or driving to our favorite campground in Wisconsin, my sister K and I built some of our favorite and craziest memories. You see, we had the best road-trip mobile a kid could ever want…A Volkswagen Camp Mobile.

We called it the Green Machine. It had white hubcaps, green plaid curtains, and a roof that popped up 6 feet – when parked. Inside it had a table for playing rounds of UNO, a mini-kitchen, chairs that turned into a bed, and dozens of secret compartments.

Since the engine was in the back and mom and dad’s seats were so far away, we could never hear what they were talking about – which was perfectly fine with us. But when I think about the hours the twosome spent side-by-side, looking down the road, I wonder what they said to each other.


At the end of lunch yesterday, I gave the pair a call. They announced that they were about to hop in the car and go on a road-trip…to visit M and watch his basketball game.

For the remainder of the afternoon, I wondered and speculated about their road-trip conversations on their way to visit their 16 year old grandson…whom they love and miss so much.

When my husband and I make the trip, we take the book with us. (It’s the book that keeps me strong, gives us guidance, gives us words to say to him, and gives us hope.) I read a section or two, and then we talk. It’s sometimes similar to the talk a boxing coach would give his fighter before the bell rings. But sometimes it’s just like the sweet and hopeful conversations Dorothy had with her companions on the way to Oz.


My dad called on the drive home from the game…

“J, it was like walking into a Bulls game to watch Jordan play.”

Having grown up in Chicago – I knew exactly what he meant. And now, I also knew exactly what their conversations were like before and after the game.

137: The Uncomplicated Days

I was home by 4:15 today. After playing with the dog in the backyard, dinner preparation began. Tonight would be an easy dinner because we still had leftovers from last night’s crock-pot special.

K came flying through the door at 5:15 with a big smile on his face after basketball practice, “Mom, I have good news and bad news about some test grades. What do you want first?”

After the test discussion, we settled into our seats at the kitchen table, where one chair always sits empty these days. K suggested I enter my new side dish into a food contest, “Mom, you would definitely win. This is so good.”

Then K excused himself and headed to the piano. He needed to prepare for his 7:00 lesson, and I headed to the basement to start laundry. On the way up, I heard K asking, “Mom, did Mr. R email you back yet? I really hope I can get on his baseball team.”

Next, he sat back down at the kitchen table to do homework. He did his math without asking any questions, but I did get to help him through some vocabulary practice. Then suddenly, “Mom, today I found my good copy of the Harry Potter book we are reading!” (You see, the copy he’s been reading has pages falling out, is tattered, torn, and discolored due to a big coffee spill.)

At 6:50, we hopped in the van and headed to his lesson. The car ride was quick…but sweet. Nothing spectacular, just perfectly ordinary. “Mom, are you going to stay for my lesson?”

I sat on the floor and read my book; it was nice and it was easy.


It’s so uncomplicated when they are younger. Mothering M through his teenage years has not been easy and it certainly has not come naturally for me. I second-guess myself, I get sad, I get frustrated, and I get scared.

I pray this all turns out okay.

136: Holy Card Relief

“How is he doing?”

A simple question… that leads to a labyrinth of answers.

And so it begins…

I think he’s doing well…He’s safe…He has a lot of great people around him…I love that he’s playing basketball, and now he’s gearing-up for tennis…

And that leads to…

But I think we still have a long road ahead of us…Still not sure what we are going to do for spring break…This summer is a big question mark…I don’t know if he’s willing to follow our rules yet…He’s still only 16.

And finally…

And so I just keep on loving and keep on praying. (Because that’s what my St. Therese prayer card reminds me to do.”

“…to the heart that loves, all is well.”

135: A Road Trip With Mom

Is it crazy that I still believe that a good, old-fashioned road trip with M will solve everything? In my dreams, we hop in the van and head…somewhere.

Hours of silence would begin the voyage, but even the silence would feel nice. And something would break it – maybe it would be a song he’d want me to hear on his iPod, or a story about a ridiculous thing he and his friends had done at school. The icebreaker would come from him, and then it would lead to what is really on his mind.

This is the point at which my M would begin to return.

M is intelligent, sensitive, and kind.

Is it possible to drive and drive until he returns to me? Is it possible to take a road trip that would shake and remove his impulsive teenage decisions? Is it possible to take a road trip that would span the duration of the development of his frontal lobe?

I am convinced that I am not crazy for wondering or dreaming. I’m just his mom.

134: Who Is In Charge Here?

Last Saturday’s candid lunch was enlightening, effectual, timely, and…excuse me if this sounds a little exaggerated, but it did seem a bit … life-changing.

Sitting in a cozy Panera booth, my friend, N, shook me to the core. Her shocking news hit me and began to rock my world, brought tears to my eyes, and – here’s the best part – gave me permission to breathe. She simply said…

“J…God is in charge here…Not you. God has the wheel…Not you. Thank Him every morning for another day. Tell M every day that you love him, and live your life.”

Thank you, N, for your simple and marvelous words.

133: At the Top of the Hole

Years ago, I would have considered marching into the District Attorney’s office and arguing…

What do you mean that my son doesn’t qualify for the “Diversion” program? Everybody’s kid at that party got “Diversion. So now he’s the only one that has to wait for a court appointed attorney to contact him, then he will have to stand before a judge, he’ll probably get a parole officer, and then to top it off…it will always be on his record. This is not right!

But today, my march is different.

The letter we received in the mail is just another step in this journey. Maybe this will get his attention.

Probably not, but maybe.

Dear Sweet M,

Society really does have rules you need to follow. As you continue to fight the system, you will need to prepare yourself for some excruciating lessons. It is hard for me to watch you go through this, but it will never change my feelings towards you, Sweet M –  I love you, and I always will. Certainly, someday you will tire of this stubborn fight you seem to be having with the society. My prayer for you is that you will wave the flag soon. But in the meantime know that my hand is right there at the the top of this stupid hole you seem to be digging.

Love you, Mom

132: Once There Was A Mother Camel

This is the story of the straw that broke the mother camel’s back.


Occasionally, you reach a breaking point. My most recent collapse occurred just today moments after my last class.

At 2:15, I was erasing the white board and waving “Goodbye” to my final round of students when the display on my classroom phone caught my eye. I had missed three messages. This was surprising, as our phones are used so rarely.

Honestly, my first inclination was to leave the messages for Monday, but instead I dropped the straw and pushed “play.”

The insistent woman leaving me messages over the last two days was the scheduler from the breast center. (You see, after my heart check on Wednesday, I meandered by the Walk-In Breast Center in one of the hospital’s corridors. Since I still had the recent mammogram script in my purse from my December doctor visit, I thought…”Why not get this one over with too?”)

Apparently she needed to get in touch with me to schedule a re-check because Wednesday’s mammogram had “shown an area which requires additional imaging.”

It’s Friday. It’s 2:30.

I scrambled to my cell phone, dialed the number as quickly as I could and tried to get through to someone.

The dazed and confused expression on my face was correctly read by my friend K, and we stood together in the hallway while my appointment was made for next Wednesday. Hanging up, I filled K in on what had stolen the life out of the usual Friday afternoon smiles. And that is when my sweet friend sat in my room and gave me a little reality check…This “recheck” call has happened to her too…it happens all the time to women…it’s going to be nothing…we throw ourselves into a tizzy too quickly…it’s better that they look carefully at everything…and, again – Chances are, it’s nothing.

She’s right.

We headed back to our Friday afternoon routines, and I began to water my plants. As I was staring out the window, probably over watering my plump aloe vera – the flood gates broke… And I mean really broke. It was a double-fisted, tissue-grabbing sob.

Deep down, I know what caused the niagara. It wasn’t worry about the mammogram, it wasn’t worry about the heart monitor waiting for me at home, and it wasn’t worry related to the fact that M was coming home in a few hours…It was just all those things together – I needed a good cry. (That mission was certainly accomplished today.)

I have always been a “glass is half-full” kind of girl. And today, I still feel that way. My zen friend K is probably correct – the mammogram will be fine. And my sweet husband B is probably correct, too – my heart thing will most likely turn out to be fine too.

And M, I’m going to make sure that he is better than fine.