Thursday, January 22, 2009

Figuring It Out On His Own

The letter (which I reference in a previous blog post) has not yet reached Mike, but today's frantic phone call from him foretells, as expected, continuing difficult water. He called first about an hour ago to see if I "had come up with anything yet" concerning his impending release from prison.

I said, "Well, Mike, I'm not really sure what to tell you. I just sent you a letter explaining that there wasn't too much we could do to help you at this point."

After a silence. "So, I'm on my own, then? That's the way it is? OK, then." And the call disconnected. I am no longer (after thirteen years of working with difficult kids) bothered by abrupt ends to telephone calls, so I stepped back into my work.

More than an hour later it is Mike again on the phone. "So, did you hang up on me last time?" is his opening salvo.

"Um, no. I thought you disconnected from me."

"Oh. So there's nothing you can do to help me, huh?"

"Like I said, Mike, I don't know what it would be. We've pretty much exhausted our options on this end."

"So, I get sent to prison and then you're all done. Is it like the straw that broke the camel's back or something?"

"It's like this, Mike. Everything I've been doing for you over the past few months and the years before that was to prevent you ending up in prison. And nothing worked. It doesn't seem like any of it really mattered too much."

Long pause, but the tension in the air is thick enough to slice. I respond, "Mike, I don't think it is really in your best interest to return to [our community]. You mentioned in your letter to me that you need to get away from bad influences, and that's all you know here."

"But what am I supposed to do, then? I don't have anywhere else to go. I should never have come to [our community] in the first place."

I bite my tongue. What I want to say is that on more than one occasion we have set up situations that allow him to start fresh in a new place with new people, but that each time he has refused to cooperate with whatever stipulations have been placed upon him. So I say simply, "You're right."

He begins to move down the blame-the-parents road by saying that his downfall in our community was the school that he enrolled in after he came to this community (following our family's move nearly three years ago) following his release from a Department of Corrections program. He was not yet eighteen at the time, and we felt that we had a moral obligation to at least let him try something new in a new community. But he is no longer a child, at least by legal standards.

"So I guess this going to be my life, then." Since the blaming game didn't work it's time to apply guilt, evidently.

"Mike, you're only twenty years old. You have your whole life ahead of you."

"Yeah, but this life in the system is all I really know, sine the time I've been thirteen. It's where I've been."

"You're right," I offer, mentally reminding myself that for the four years before that time Claudia and I did everything in our power to prevent his decisions that we knew would one day lead to this conversation. I feel Claudia and I could have done nothing more than we have done, but I know Mike cannot understand that, and rather than starting an argument over something that matters so little, I become more directive.

"You don't have any friends you've met inside that live in another part of the state who can put you up for a while until you get a job and stuff?"

"Not really. It's not like I can just go to another town and find a place to live and stuff. And I really don't want to return to [our community], but I don't really have much choice."

"And what are you going to do when you get here, Mike?"

"I don't know. People have offered me some jobs and stuff."

I interrupt. "Are these legal jobs, Mike?"

"Um, no. Not really. But I don't have any other choice. It's all I know."

Blame hasn't worked. Guilt hasn't moved me. So now it's time to play the victim card. I don't buy into the conversational plan.

"I'm sorry, Mike. I don't know what else I can do for you at this moment. I've checked into some things, but there just isn't anything available for someone in your situation."

I hear his expulsion of frustrated breath. "Just forget it, then." Blame, nope. Guilty, nope. Pity-the-victim, nope. Let's just get right down to anger, then. "I'll figure out someone on my own without your help. I'll take care of it myself."

"OK, Mike. I love you."

"Yeah. Whatever."

The conversation ends, and while I am conflicted because I do love my son, I sincerely, honestly know that there is nothing more I can at this time. He has made a progressive series of bad choices for seven years (throughout which we have intervened time and time again in many ways) that bring us to this point. I will pray for Mike, I will keep the doors of communication open with him, but I have reached the limit of what I will do for an individual who has been unwilling to better himself. I have had a long-standing personal, internal debate about what is "unable" and what is "unwilling," but there comes a point when a parent trying to "rescue" a kid who is "unable" must accept the reality of "unwilling." If for no other reason than because the laws and codes of society begin to hold that child, now an adult, responsible for his or her actions.

Mike will need, like all of us who navigate the churning waters of adulthood, to figure it out on his own. Every other attempt to assist him has only turned into entitlement and enablement, and I will not be held hostage any longer.


Corey said...

I haven't written anything in response to your posts about Mike, Bart, but I have prayed for you and Claudia consistently, and will continue to do so.

Gary Zimmerli said...

Yeah, it's hard, Bart. It's tough love.

You all remain in my prayers.

Hopewell said...

Your blog has helped me get much better at conversations like this with my own son. Each "card" played gets the same "null" response. Love/Logic. FYI--I came home last night and son had cleaned the living room and taken out the trash without being asked [should I say "Forced to]. You can, I imagine, relate to the "behind-closed-doors" my daughter and I had trying to decide if the school or the cops would call first!

Don said...

For what it's worth, I think you're handling this situation with Mike brilliantly, Bart. You've done all you know how to do to direct him toward a different life, but he resisted that direction and must deal with the natural and obvious consequences of his choices. Your family remains in my prayers, as you continue to give me a glimpse of what the future with my own (16 year-old) son might look like.