Under a torrential downpour at 2:30 this morning Claudia and I sat in our van, watching our fourteen-year-old daughter being frisked by a police officer outside the home of one of her friends. We had been awakened an hour earlier by our nineteen-year-old son who rapped on our bedroom door and said, "I think [she] has the car." Claudia was the first to stumble groggily from sleep to investigate. Sure enough, our car was gone and she and her friend who was staying overnight with her were gone into the night.
Claudia texted Salinda who assured us that things were just fine. "The police have already pulled us over and said all we needed was a licensed driver." Claudia reported the news to me, and I could hardly believe what I heard. In the continuing conversation, our daughter unraveled the yarn of her escapade. Yes, she had taken the car from our house. Yes, she knew that she had no permission to do so. (She is only fourteen, never had driver's ed, nor to our knowledge has ever been behind the wheel of a car). She had received a call from one of her friends whose friend was in desparate need, so she simply had to take the vehicle to help them out.
I have learned from past experience that it is best if I keep an emotional distance from our daughter. For me to become too engaged will only result in false accusations of some kind of physical abuse, so I purposely have chosen to stay clear of her for the past couple of years. And no, in case you're thinking it, it is not a lack of paternal attention or affection that is causing her to act the way she does. So Claudia braved the situation, told me the plan (she would pick up our daughter at the friend's house and we'd sort it all out a little later). Claudia was especially considerate since it is very early Sunday morning, and the most important day of my work week begins at 8:00 AM and doesn't really quiet down until at least noon. As I blog these words it is with the recognition that I will preach two different sermons in two different worship services and be expected to greet by name nearly 300 people this morning ... all on only 3.5 hours of sleep.
Of course by this time even though Claudia was taking the primary responsibility, I couldn't sleep, so I wandered around the house, had some water to drink and waited for the call to update me. Eventually Claudia and I connected. The car was at the friend's house, and Claudia was returning home to bring me over so that I could drive it back.
I won't belabor the details, but the summation is this: by the time she and I returned, Salinda was not there, the car was not there, but we met a police officer who attempted to locate our daughter. She was not in the trailer house in question, so after a wait we decided to head home. Seconds after pulling away from the home, our daughter and her friend appeared, walking, drenched from the sporadic rain showers. We pulled up to Salinda and asked her to get in the van so we could be done with it all. She refused to do so, sullenly walking into the friend's house.
We were able to quickly connect with the police officer who had been there seconds earlier, and while he was speaking with us, our daughter stomped out of the friend's house and got into our van. As the officer walked back to open the door she locked it in his face. This, of course, disturbed our law enforcement friend, so that by the time I unlocked the door he had taken Salinda with force (gently, however) into the lawn to speak with her. She was rude, disrespectful and refused to cooperate, so he marched her to his car, frisked her and assisted her into the backseat.
"Looks like this might require a trip to [the juvenile delinquency center]," he said. I smiled to myself, because we had spent the previous thirty minutes explaining to him that she was in a state of mind that would not be cooperative, nor would her attitude be ameliorated by the presence of law enforcement. In those few minutes he had with her, he seemed to understand what we had been trying to explain earlier.
We met him at the police station minutes later, where there ensued a considerable delay due to jurisdictional issues. The community in which we live is divided by a river which separates county lines. This means that the officers (eventually three of them showed up to sort it out) had to decide which county had authorization to proceed. As it turns out because our car was stolen from two locations at separate times, there may be charges brought in both counties.
As the hours ticked away into minutes I began to realize that my Sunday morning was going to start a lot earlier than I had hoped. I am a morning person by habit, and on Sundays I am usually awaken between 6:00 and 6:30. But today's "work" began at 1:30 AM. We were not able to leave the police station until nearly 6:15, just an hour ago as I blog these words.
I am ambivalent about the situation. Our daughter has been trying for some time, with increasing intensity, to find herself in this situation. She has made intentional for months now her desire to be taken to JDC because she hates living with us, we are awful parents, and she wants out. She has parroted words she heard from her older birth brother and older brother for years, so it's really kind of old news for me by now. I am disappointed that she is choosing this path. She is too bright and has too much going for her, but the draw of the dark side is so strong for her. In some twisted way she is earning a badge of honor amongst her questionable peer group because now she can say with them, "Oh, yeah, I've been to [JDC], too."
I recognize once again in humility that there is a limit to what parents can do. We can provide nurture, support, a stable home environment, some of the niceties of life, boundaries and consequences, but ulitmately each child chooses what he or she will do and become. I have not given up hope that she can and may move in a new direction, but right now it's hard for me to see that. She will always have a home, always have parents who love her, but she will have to decide how she's going to live her life. There is only so much we can on that front.
It was a dark and rainy night. I only wish it had been a little longer.