Monday, June 12, 2006

My Son, My Son

Our oldest son, 3M, was a very cute little kid. He was precociously bright, cheerful, friendly, and funny. When he was in 2nd grade, he memorized most of a book of Shel Silverstein poems, several of which he recited for a school talent show. One of the school moms played in a band that had regular night-club gigs, and she got him hired for a 20-minute bit between sets of the band, for which he made $20, plus all the fries he could eat.

In school, 3M always craved the elusive elixir of 'coolness' - more than anything else, he wanted to be 'popular'. It never happened for him, at least not to anything like the degree that he wanted, so he started acting more and more outrageously, in a vain attempt to win social status. When the other kids still wouldn't give him what he wanted, he just raised the level of outrageousness, until finally, in 7th grade, the Catholic school we sent him to told him to find another school for 8th grade.

That summer, between 7th and 8th grades (2001), he met a girl, and went completely ape-shit nuts over her. I won't rehash all the gory details, except to say that, all through that summer, he would regularly run away from home, for days at a time, to go see the girl.

He told the girl's parents how abusive and violent we were, and that I would "probably shoot" him if he showed up at home. Thus, a police officer appeared at our door asking me if I owned a gun (I didn't, and never have). A few days after that, a State of Michigan social worker came to our house and spent several hours trying to catch us acting abusive and violent (she didn't; in fact, we have documentation on file with the State of Michigan that we are a stable, loving family - how many of you can say that?). For a few days we didn't know for sure whether our other kids would be taken from us or not.

That fall, the situation came to enough of a head that he was admitted to a 'halfway house' program for troubled teens; he physically lived in the 'halfway house' for two weeks, and we had counseling sessions every other evening. At the end of the time, we gave him a choice - either come home and live under our authority, of find another place to live. He chose to come home (I actually have no idea what would have happened if he had chosen otherwise; he was only 13, and the State of Michigan doesn't allow teens to be 'liberated' until they're 16)

From then until he graduated from high school (by the very thinnest possible skin of his teeth), things were never as bad as they were that summer, but they were never good, either. Somewhere along the line, he developed a real problem with authority. He was oppositional, defiant, and disrespectful. He lied and stole seemingly without conscience, always managing to stay one step shy of getting his ass thrown to the curb. Sort of an ongoing, slow-motion train wreck.

Now, you can imagine that all that was plenty to deal with, if he were our only child, but we had seven others besides him. We were constantly forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy dealing with the 3M-fires, while the other kids (who might actually pay attention to what we said) got less than their share of our scarce resources.

The saddest part of the whole thing was the 'ripple effect' that spread out from 3M's misbehavior. In some ways, we really 'found out who our friends were'. Several folks sort of withdrew from us - either they didn't want our wicked kid to 'contaminate' their kid (which, honestly, I understand), or they started to have doubts about us, for not being able to do better at raising our son. I can't bring myself to be angry about it - I understand their misgivings - but it was very hurtful, and disillusioning.

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