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Opinion & Essays - Dec, 1998 Issue #55

By: Deborah Duke
April 1, 1998
TREX, Inc.
Bend, Oregon

(Deborah is a parent of a struggling teen who has just joined the TREX Inc. staff handling marketing. The following was written while her son was a student at TREX) 

His ninth grade teacher saw it coming and told us in so many words during the parent-teacher conference. “He’s brilliant, a rare talent, truly gifted…and he’s not yet cynical.” “Yet,” I though to myself, and recalled over and over. So when do we run out of “yet”? 

Part of me prayed we never would. Part of me filled with fear as I watched it happening. Part of me went to battle, determined that, no, not my son. Not my teenager. There will be no green hair, no cigarettes, no class-skipping, no pot smoking, no lying, no body-piercing, no baggy pants wearing, no antigovernment thinking, no atheistic attitudes in this family. Not in this family. Piece by piece, puberty fell painfully through a year-long hourglass, its sand transformed to mark instead the tide of adolescence. Life turned the hourglass over and time dropped first as sparks and then as bombs around us. And as each cloud of smoke cleared, our son was standing further away. 

I had never been a boy. A man I never became. And though I had passed wickedly into my own adulthood, this road I had not taken. It was the road I had heard about “other” kids taking. Kids who came from families with “problems”. Kids whose parents didn’t care where they were at night. Kids who weren’t loved. But my kid? Not my kid. 

I did not understand what was happening. This destructive behavior, this disrespect, this depression, this wasting. How did we come to this place? He was loved. He was provided for. He was supported. He was shown interest. He was appreciated. He was wanted. He mattered to us all. What was happening and where would it all lead? Where did we go wrong? What should we do? What can we do? 

How can we help our son? 

Every twelve-step book I ever read would have me “let him go”. The law would have me “let him go”. The school psychologist would have me “let him go”. My husband, who saw my heart and soul bloodied and shredded time and again, would have me “let him go”. My “tough love” self would even have me “let him go”. But the mother in me knew that to these circumstances, to this time and to this place, I would not, COULD NOT, let him go. 

How can I look at my son, whom I have loved for nigh seventeen years, whom I have nurtured and protected, taught and encouraged, admired and respected, learned from and hoped great things for – how could I possibly let him go now, here, like this? Go to jail? To be on some endangered runaway list? To the streets? To drugs? To live every nightmare of every parent who raises a teenager? 

We were approaching his seventeenth birthday. The window of opportunity was closing. Once eighteen he would be out of our reach completely. Letting go would no longer be a choice. So we looked for help. We asked for help. We surrendered our pride about being good parents. We set aside our dreams for our fine upstanding son. And we dispelled our “happy family” myth. We let go of our own stuff – and that’s when we found the help we needed at TREX. I didn’t like leaving him there. The things I knew that he did not. Watching him take instruction as he received his gear. I knew he was leaving on a journey from which he would never return. He would change and our relationship would change. And while our relationship had been stressed and damaged and down right lousy for the past six months and I was far from happy about the person he was becoming – letting him go was not easy. 

And it still isn’t. I knew this time was coming. Don’t all mothers? Sure, the kids grow up and go on to lead their own lives. But think about it as I might. I could never FEEL it. I did not see it as the passage that it is. I kept thinking back to years ago and the field trip I went on with my daughter and third grade class. We went to the Science Center to see a movie about gorillas. I remembered how the oldest male offspring finally fought with the father gorilla, lost and simply left the “family”. That was it. Away he went. Hmmm. OK. That was simple. A fact of life. And I remember, too, being a child of nine or so and visiting Uncle Ray and Aunt Dorothy’s farm. It was time to take the nursing calf from mother cow, and my father was helping. Well, help he did, and ended up with the biggest bruise my eyes ever saw then or now as that mother kicked that person taking her calf from her, and kicked him hard! OK. That was simple too. A fact of life as well. But the matters of my heart are not simple. It is not a simple thing, the love a mother has for her child. It is not a simple thing to understand. But I am learning. And it is good. This is a passage for my son and a passage for me as well. It plays deep and rich music as it tugs on all the strings of my heart. It plays and stays with me as I let go. 

Here is the poem I wrote after returning from the parent workshop at TREX. 

I was a vessel, a ship to bring ashore 
His soul in human form. 
I was his shelter, his garden 
The lantern in his night. 
I tried and tried and tried 
To make everything all right. 
Now from the nest he flies, 
He falters, falls 
And flies again 
Now pushing off back out to sea, 
I Let Go. 

Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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