My friend, Lisa, who knows of the sitution with our son Jack asked me if I had read “Imperfect Birds” by Anne Lamott. This book is about a successful, beautiful teenager named Rosie who is on a dangerous path with drugs and alcohol. Interested but wary, I asked: does it have a hopeful ending? She said it did and so I decided to see how my experience would stack up to Anne Lamott’s version of things.
Immediately I began to settle into this book. I loved this early line: “Life with most teenagers was like having a low-grade bladder infection. It hurt, but you had to tough it out.”
Of course there are many differences in the story Anne tells of the character Rosie Ferguson and the real life story we are living with Jack. But there is one universal truth to all difficult decisions. As parents, you want to give your teenagers enough rope to learn from their mistakes but not enough rope to let them get into major trouble. When is that line crossed? When do you have to pull rank and take over? For me, it was when the fear of the harm he could do to himself or others became GREATER than the sadness I would feel by his departure.
And let’s face it, these kids can be charming. In the novel, Rosie would get in trouble and call her mother “Mommy” or “Mama” and try to make it up to her and be especially loving. I used to say that Jack could be very “charming.” And so with my newfound experience, I would read these parts and say to myself: “Elizabeth….wake up! Can’t you see through this?” Now as I look back I realized that what can be considered charming can also be considered manipulation.
I read for pages and pages as Rosie’s parents Elizabeth and James looked the other way and hoped that she was improving. They snooped around to find clues that they didn’t want to find. I did the same thing until I realized that most parents don’t check their kid’s backpacks, drawers and twitter accounts with the same level of diligence I did. I had turned in an FBI agent watching a single suspect: my son.
In the novel Elizabeth continues to hope that everything is getting better until she gets some really good advice. A good friend asked her “Who is running the show in your home. You or your teenager?” It was at this point in the novel that Elizabeth realized that the next time she caught Rosie, she would have to put her in treatment. I remember my husband and I finally admitting we needed help and that “hoping for the best” is not really a plan.
Rosie’s parents finally take action and send her to a wilderness camp in Utah. Toward the end the book details many parts of Rosie’s treatment. There are many similiarities as it relates to the treatment but also many parts are different. For example, Rosie’s entire program lasted 90 days and she talked to her parents at 30 days. Our program is longer and my husband and I are looking forward to talking to our son this week, which will be right around the 90 day mark.
Near the end of the book, the therapists are preparing Elizabeth and James for that first visit. Their words to them are good words for my husband and me. “There will be anger and there will be extraordinary healing. There’s no way around it being one of the toughest things you’ll ever do. This is parenthood on steroids.”
I am still very emotional about Jack and miss him very much. But my experience these last 3 months have prepared me well as did this book. I realize that as much as I want to be Jack’s friend, it is more important that I be Jack’s mother. After all Jack has many, many friends. But he only has one mother. That’s me.
I’m glad Lisa recommended this book to me, even though it was a difficult read since it hit so close to home. And for those of you wanting to understand what it is like, I would recommend this book as being fairly true to life.