On one side of the room, in the kind of garb that vaguely resembles scrubs, but is recognized everywhere as the garments of incarceration stood my son. Handcuffed and shackled. Behind his raised bench, set off center to the right of center at the front of the room, angled to see all sides, the magistrate (or judge? who remembers anymore) peered over his glasses as I stood, alone and shaking. We could not afford for my husband to miss work for this when I could handle it. I knew and even agreed, but resented it anyway.
My boy, the darling of my life, or at least one of them, was in trouble again. And this time, I had him arrested. He had stolen my car. He stood there waiting for what was surely going to be an order releasing him. Resentful of the whole thing as only an idiotic fifteen year old can be. Resenting me for pressing the issue. Yeah, well kid, get over it. I resented the whole thing too.
What the hell was I doing in court? I had always followed the laws, even the speed laws. Even stupid laws. I was a certifiable goody-goody. I never wanted to be in trouble. I hated dealings with the police. I hated even more dealings with the courts. I kept thinking to myself, I don't belong here.
The judge saw my boy glaring at me and said, "I can't let you go home when you are looking at your mother that way. I'm not sure she would be safe." I would have been safe enough, but I knew what my son did not. That he had lessons to be learned and this is one of them. His spoiled brat thing had to stop. Heaven knows I had done everything I knew to stop it.
Then the judge turned to me, "What do you want, Mrs. B."
"I want to wake up and find Wally Cleaver in my basement." I thought. The quickly hidden look of amusement on the judges face and the titters from the people sitting there listening in told me I had spoken my thought aloud.
I would have other encounters with this judge and one other. I refused to let this be a "family matter" as some thought I should. We weren't making any headway with our son and I refused to allow him to become what I saw him turning into. I needed the help of the courts and of social services, and even the snotty police officers, still wet behind the ears, fresh from some seminar training on how to deal with the parents of troubled teens who tried to tell me the obvious. One of the precious baby cops stood in my entryway and said, "You need to take away his phone, his TV, his computer and his stereo." I marched his baby butt down the stairs and pointed through the entry to my son's room. He had a mattress on the floor and we had even taken his door off the hinges to prevent him hiding things, locking the door and climbing out the window or otherwise sneaking around. "What else would you like me to take?" I asked unnecessarily. He just looked at me. "You're not dealing with an amateur here." I said calmly. "It just isn't working. And I can't and won't be his jailer, and I won't beat on him. I don't know what else to do."
He just took the report. I hope he learned a lesson that even when you do everything "right" it doesn't always work. Sometimes a kid just is bound and determined to do whatever the hell they want to do.
Another time the judge asked me what my son's curfew was. "Curfew?!?" I snorted. "He's grounded 'til he's dead!"
You have to understand. This is not how I respond to authority figures. I am the most polite, respectful, courteous person you know. But I was stressed and tired and worried that nothing was going to work and that my son was going to wind up in jail--not just the juvenile facility that he managed to get himself into for extreme truancy, and for stealing my car, but into real adult jail.
You are never sure if you are doing the right thing with teenagers. No one tells you that. No matter what you do you wonder if you are too lenient or too tough, if you are paying too much attention or not enough. You wonder if your kid will hate you forever or if your life will some day revolve around prison visiting schedules.
Or maybe you worry that your daughter will become pregnant or will skip out on college and marry the first bum who comes along. You worry that you aren't teaching them enough, or that you are saying too much and just annoying the hell out of them.
My daily routine was to get up, get the kids off to their respective buses, wait until about half an hour after school started, then to call the vice principal and ask if he had shown up to class. More often than not, he was reported absent, even though he had gotten on the bus in the morning. So I would get in the car, drive downtown and scour the parks until I located him at which point I would march him into the vice principal's office. She would give him the lecture or the pass to class, and I would say thank you and head out. More often than not, he would head right back out the door again. So I decided that he simply needed more help. I walked him from class to class, sitting outside the door during class. It probably was embarrassing and humiliating, though that certainly wasn't my point, it was just a side benefit. I read the entire Left Behind series (at least all that had been published to that date) in the hallways of P.H.S., while waiting to walk my son to class.
I can tell you that despite all of my doubts and misgivings, my second thoughts and my worries, my son turned out okay. He is a good young man. He served two tours in Iraq, came back, worked hard, got his dream job and despite being laid off, is making it. I'm very proud of him.
I refused to give up on my son. I knew this was possible. When things started to change it was when I told him clearly over and over and over again that I had no doubt he could do this if he would put his mind to it. That it was up to him. That no, I did not think he was a failure.
I knew that much of his troubles came from his learning disabilities, but I was unwilling to allow him to excuse himself. No one else in life was going to give him a pass. "That just means you have to work harder than most people to do this," I told him. "Everybody has something that is harder for them. Most of the time you just can't see it."
See, sometimes I am surprised by what I say. Sometimes I even get it right.