Our wayward eighteen-year-old son showed up at our door tonight, asking if he could talk to us. Claudia prefers that I do the conversations with Mike since I am more patient and less confrontational. I had literally been in the door five minutes from having been gone all weekend (between church-related meetings out of town and a couple of other things I have been home three of the last fifteen days), but I invited Mike in to our bedroom so we could talk in a relatively quiet space. I asked if he preferred to sit on the bed or on the chair to talk; he chose the bed.
"So what do I have to do to have contact with you guys?" was his opener.
We explored that question at some length as I witnessed one of the most dejected humans I have seen in some time. I reminded him that because of his influence on his younger siblings he could not live in our home, but that we loved him and that we would do whatever we could to support him. Within a few minutes I sat down beside him on the bed so we could have closer psychic space, and I placed my hand on his shoulder. "Mike," I said, "do you remember when you were eight and first came to live with us?" He nodded. "Do you remember how you used to scream and scream and scream, and then I would pick you up and hold you in my arms?" He nodded again. "And how you would push me away nearly every time?" I added, reminding both of us of the reality of those difficult years when his reactive attachment disorder showed up so very clearly. "But I would hold you and force you to stay there because I wanted you to feel secure and know that you were loved."
He was quiet. As was I for a moment.
"So, what are your biggest concerns at this moment, Mike?"
"Well, I really need some place to live. I have been court-ordered to have a job within sixty days and a diploma from high school within ninety days, but it's really hard to do that without a place to live."
"Yeah, you're right about that. So who do you have for resources in your life right now."
"You guys. You are the only ones who can help me."
"But Mike you've been living out of our home for seven months. What about your friends and those you've stayed with during that time."
"Well, I can't be with them because of what they do. If I do one more thing to break the law I'm going to prison for two years. There are no more chances."
A tear had begun to form in my eye, but I kept it at bay, as I said, "Mike that scares the hell out of me. Does it scare you?"
"No, Mike, I mean does it really, really concern you that you're going to screw up one more time and that's it?"
He nodded his head silently. "Some people have told me to just 'execute my time.'"
Picking up that this was probably some jargon from a group of people I don't usually run with, I had to ask him what that meant. "It means just go to prison and sit my time for two years and get it done instead of being on probation for five years, because it's probably going to happen anyway."
"But don't you want to at least try instead of going directly to prison?"
The silent nod one more time.
"Mike, I will try to do all I can do to help you, but you realize there's a lot of water under the bridge and there aren't as many options as there once were. I'll talk to your probation officer with you if you like, and we'll see if we can figure something out. But you'll have to decide if you want me there; you're eighteen now and that has to be your decision."
We talked strategy for a moment. I pointed out how he needed to work like never before with his probation officer because she would be the "key" to his future freedom or to his imprisonment, and that if he worked hard with her she would do her part. I reminded him that at this point in his life parents could do very little for him, that we could support him, but that as an adult our input was not sought by professionals.
Nearly an hour had passed. Placing a pillow on my lap, I said, "Mike, come here." He moved closer to me, and I reached out to draw him into an embrace, resting his head upon the pillow, cradling his shoulders in my arms, taking his hands into mine. "Do you remember when you were eight, and I would hold you like this? It's not quite the same now because you aren't the skinny little red-headed kid you were then, and now you're not pushing me away. Mike I haved loved you since the day I met you, and you know that Mom and I don't give up on our kids. We don't give them back, we are never finished with them. You know that, don't you?"
His eyes were nearly closed, but he nodded his head.
"What are we going to do now, Mike? What are we going to do?" The silence that engulfed the room was not uncomfortable, but pensive. "You know you have been raised in the Christian faith, and in our faith we believe that God helps us. You remember hearing about your Higher Power from treatment, right? Well, now is the time for you to pick up those connections and to realize that like never before God can help you."
It was a decade ago that Mike and his birth brother Kyle joined our family. For the first five years he lived with us I would regularly hold Mike in my arms as he raged and screamed, assuring him of our love and reminding him that we would never leave him behind. In those years he would bite, scratch, kick, thrash and attempt to move from my grasp. I seldom relinquished him until both of us were exhausted, and he had reached a place of calm.
Tonight, though, he didn't fight, he didn't scream, he didn't thrash. He lay in my arms, hearing my words, wondering I am sure, what it might mean for his immediate future, knowing -- I hope -- that despite everything we are still his parents who will never let go. Like ten years ago. But not really.