Peace Like a River

I woke up this morning in the middle of a dream about having a fight with my youngest daughter about using the car. The dream took place in a location I’ve never been before and other people were in the dream but it didn’t make sense that they were. So it wasn’t a completely realistic dream. But as I lay in bed for a few minutes and fully woke, I thought about the argument in my dream—arguing about using the car is a common argument lately—and about how quiet this week has been.

My last blog was about a not-fun morning more than a week ago when my daughter got into trouble. And this week has been quiet, calm, and peaceful. I can’t decide, is it the calm after the storm, or calm before the next storm? Probably both.

I was trying to think of how I would describe this calm when the old gospel song Peace Like a River jumped into my brain and now I can’t get rid of it. The song starts out, “I’ve got peace like a river and love like an ocean.…” I get the “love like an ocean” part—your love is as great as the ocean is large. But what about “peace like a river”? A river is a constantly moving and constantly changing body of water. It never stops. It appears peaceful on the surface, but underneath there are currents that will carry away small fish if they’re not careful. Larger rivers can carry away logs and debris and other things I don’t want to think about. Is “peace like a river” an oxymoron?

When in a parenting battle with one of my daughters, my focus is not on nurturing myself. It’s on trying to guide her through a rough spot or a poor choice. So during these moments of peace, I try to be gentle to myself and I try to remind my husband of how much I love him and how much I appreciate his love for me. If the peace lasts more than a day, my mind begins to relax and other concerns in life wiggle their way into my thoughts. If the peace lasts several days, as in this case, I begin to feel energy slip back into my body and I have thoughts of getting things done and being productive and proactive. I hate that my life as a parent right now is so reactive. By nature I am a planner and a doer and I like to be proactive and plan things in an orderly fashion.

There is nothing orderly about being a parent. Kids get sick in the middle of the night. Ear infections show up just as you’re about to get in the car or on a plane (yikes!) for a long trip. Even childbirth is usually unplanned.

It may be that “peace like a river” is an oxymoron, but it’s an accurate description of life as a parent. Right now we’re floating along in the gentle flows of the water, not being tossed or turned or carried in a direction we don’t want to go. The real challenge is in trying to stay out of the not-so-gentle flows.

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Momma Never Said…

Some people think it is a curse to be a morning person. As I writer and mother of four, it is a blessing. I love starting my day before the rest of the world is awake, before demands are made of me, before noise and chaos and disorder reign. It is my favorite time of day. The house is quiet, the world is quiet. There is peace. And some mornings there is the anticipation that Lennon’s Imagine might come true. Someday.

I woke up yesterday morning, facing away from the clock, and had the sense that it had to be almost morning. Intuitively I knew it was an appropriate time to wake up – which is anything after five. Anything before five is a ridiculous waste of a good night’s sleep. I rolled over and looked at the clock. Ten after five. Immediately all the gears in my brain started up, all the synapses started firing, and at least twenty thoughts roared through my head. My sweet little dog must have sensed a change in my breathing or heard the gears and synapses fire, for I heard the morning shake of her collar as she stretched.

Together we stumbled through the dark and down the stairs to the back door so she could get outside to do her business. So at five thirty, I stood in my kitchen, in the dark, having celebratory thoughts about the fact that it was Friday, when my little dog started to bark nonstop out in the yard. It was her “we’re under attack” bark and it woke up the old black lab sleeping upstairs in our bedroom closet.

I hurried outside in my bathrobe, telling the little dog to be quiet, hoping she hadn’t disturbed any neighbors, but she wouldn’t settle down. As I came back into the house I could hear the big dog at the top of the stairs, barking out her own alarm. The little dog continued to bark facing the door to the garage, so curiosity got the better of me and I opened the door.

Sitting on the trunk of the car my two youngest daughters share, was my youngest daughter, Bri. A serious looking police officer, we’ll call him Bad Cop, stood next to her. Bri said something to me, but I couldn’t hear her because the dogs were still going nuts in the house. It was at that moment that I realized I had heard the doorbell ringing when I brought my little dog in from the yard, but it hadn’t registered in my brain. With some adrenaline flowing through my body, things started to make a bit more sense. I walked through the garage and out to the driveway to let Good Cop at the front door know I was outside. There he was, like a Hollywood scene, shining his mega flashlight into the house, freaking out the old black lab.

Good Cop hurried over to me, apologizing that he had to wake me up so early. “Your daughter isn’t in any trouble,” he said. “We just have a situation.” And the scene at the end of my driveway comes into the focus of my brain.

There is a large Suburban-type vehicle parked halfway in my driveway and halfway in the street. Behind this vehicle are two police cars situated so that no one is going to come or go in our cul de sac for a while. The driver’s door of the Suburban is open and next to it stands a very tall boy, looking to be about nineteen or twenty. In the front passenger seat sits a teenaged boy, slumped down in embarrassment or humiliation or some other unpleasant emotion.

While my brain gathers the visuals, I realize Good Cop is talking to me and Bri is agitated. As if to show discretion, Good Cop quietly tells me that Teenage Boy is intoxicated and that he misunderstood something Bri told him, thinking she was suicidal. So Teenage Boy had his older brother drive him to our house to prevent Bri from leaving and doing something stupid. And while the two boys were driving to our house, Teenage Boy called the police hoping they could get to our house sooner and prevent Bri from harming herself.

I look at Bri, who is laughing now, and anger mixes in with the adrenaline coursing through my blood. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” Bri says loudly. “I’m just sitting here, having a cig, and all these fucking people show up.” Bad Cop stares at her. Good Cop says to me, “Obviously she’s not suicidal. We just need to make sure she’s safe and in someone’s care and we’ll be on our way.” Good Cop walks away to talk to Older Brother, and Bri’s mouth begins to spew forth all kinds of bravado-type words and completely inappropriate statements. That’s when I notice the breathalyzer in Bad Cop’s hand.

“I have rights,” Bri says. “I was just sitting here minding my own business. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

“You’re underage,” Bad Cop says, “and you’ve been drinking.”

“I can do that in my parents’ house and you can’t do anything about it.”

“Is that right?” Bad Cop asks. It’s at that point I see the writing on the wall. I stepped in front of Bri’s face and told her to be quiet and go in the house. And true to form, she doesn’t obey and keeps spewing forth from the mouth. Good Cop must have realized things were going sour because he was back by us. Bad Cop asks Bri if she’ll blow into the machine. She agrees and registers .037. The legal drinking age in our state is twenty-one and we have a zero tolerance law for underage drinkers. Bri is eighteen. The two officers walk down the driveway to their cars and I get into Bri’s face. I explain to her what’s going to happen and I tell her to shut her mouth for her own good.

A couple of minutes later, Bad Cop comes back and hands Bri a ticket for minor consumption. Again she tells him, “I wasn’t driving. You can’t give me a ticket.”

“You are underage and you were drinking.”

“But I wasn’t driving. I’m going to court and I’m going to fight this.”

“I promise you I will be in court and I will tell the judge I gave you this ticket for three reasons. One, you were drinking. Two, you have a bad attitude. And three…” (For the life of me, I cannot recall the third reason now. But I remember that it was at that moment that I wondered when the officer had lost his sense of professionalism.) He looks Bri in the eyes and says, “And this one’s going to stay on your record.” He turns and starts to walk away.

“Yeah, I’ll see your ass in court,” Bri yells as he walks down the driveway.

“Get in the house,” I tell Bri.

“I want to talk to Pete,” she says. So it was Pete in the passenger seat.

“You’re not going to get to talk to Pete. You’re going in the house.”

“No, I’m not done.”

“Yes, you are done. And you’re going to go in the house before the officer changes his mind and comes back to arrest you for disturbing the peace.”

Bri sat on the back of the car and watched the officers talk to Pete. Older Brother got in the car and the two of them rode away. Pete didn’t get a ticket. Now Bri feels she’s been discriminated against. She wants to argue that point, but wisely the two officers get in their cars and drive away. Bri goes up to her room and I pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming all this up.

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, while I think about what in the world I’m going to do with Bri this time.

And then I realize, if I don’t hurry I’m going to be late for work. My mom didn’t live long enough to tell me there’d be days like this.

Powerlessness to the Extreme

I’ve been processing a story in my mind for more than a week trying to figure out how to put it on paper in less than two hundred words. I’ve accepted the fact that this is a three page story even in its most condensed telling. So I wasn’t going to write it, but then I spent some time reading some parenting blogs looking for advice and now I’m even more frustrated.

One blog promised, “You can feel more confident in your parenting by using the helpful advice from this article to better your skills.” Another one declared, “This blog from my colleague has some great parenting ideas.” I didn’t delve any further into these blogs, but I’d put money on the fact that the authors have children aged twelve and under. Small kids, small problems.

This story is about my eighteen year old, whom I’ll call Bri, short for Brianna. Even though the latest challenge happened about ten days ago, this story really began in her formative years, when she was witness to anger and violence on a near daily basis. She is the youngest of my children and, at that time, I naively believed she wouldn’t carry that baggage through life. I did my best to get us out of that trap as quickly as I could, but it took time. Eventually I got divorced and a couple of years later I began a healthy relationship, fell in love, and decided to try marriage again. We all moved to a new town and “lived happily ever after.” Not.

About four years ago, I started to see some changes in Bri’s behavior. Her grades at school started to slip and she started to hang out with a different crowd—one that had more boys than girls. They hung out at our house nearly all the time and, at first, my husband and I were okay with that—I could keep an eye on what was going on. But then movie nights turned into “all nighters” and kids were here 24/7 through the weekend. No parents called me to check in with these kids. I wanted to believe these kids were communicating with their parents by cell phone, but I remember wondering, where are the parents? I truly felt I had become a weekend sitter. Sunday night would come around and I had to take kids home just to get them out of my house! I wanted to speak to parents, but Bri was mortified. “Please don’t embarrass me. Just drop them off.”

Then money began to disappear. Small amounts at first. Five dollars were missing and I figured I’d spent it somewhere and had forgotten. Then my husband’s wallet was a bit lighter and another of my daughters said she couldn’t find the twenty dollars she had received as a gift. And about that time I discovered some vodka had been replaced with water. The house was in a lock down and no kids were allowed. My feet were firmly planted in the middle of Bitchy Parent Road.

And I stayed on that path for many months. It was exhausting, but I knew I had no choice. Bri would ask for something and I would say No before she even finished her sentence. It didn’t take long for her to despise me. She kept telling me I didn’t understand and I didn’t love her anymore. She called my husband and me horrible names, which only caused even greater friction. All that stress drove her right into the arms of a boy who she said loved her and understood her. I have to admit, I liked Roger. He had a sense of humor and nice manners and actually talked to me when he came over. But I didn’t like the choices Bri made when Roger was around. It took me a while, but I finally realized that she didn’t have any self-respect, she didn’t love herself, and she felt she only had value if Roger loved her.

While all of this turmoil was happening, the company I worked for was bought by another company and I lost my job. I was scared. It was the fall of 2008 when everything went to hell in a hurry. My husband and I were overwhelmed with financial worries, and I was spending all my time trying to find another job that I was too exhausted to do the serious parenting I needed to do. Every aspect of my life went into a downspin.

I knew I needed help and so did Bri. It took me a while but I convinced her to try counseling in the hopes that she could talk to another adult since she hated me so much. But that didn’t go too well. Bri went to the first counselor for about eight weeks and then stopped going because “she’s mean.”  The second counselor lasted about six weeks. I took a different approach with the third counselor. Without Bri knowing, I engaged the third counselor on my own for a couple of sessions, explaining what was happening. The counselor agreed to meet with Bri and then touch base with me. Yes, it was totally unethical but I was desperate. And through this process I learned that Bri wasn’t being honest with the counselors. And after a few weeks her story would start to change and there were holes in the lies she had told. The counselors called her on it, which earned them the “mean” and “stupid” declarations. Bri refused to go to any more counselors and I just plain gave up.

During the summer of 2010, things deteriorated. Bri was completely reckless and irresponsible and Roger was showing up at our house drunk. These kids were only sixteen! I had picked up a temporary job so I wasn’t home during the day anymore, which gave Bri and Roger free reign of the house. Roger’s mom and I connected and shared our concerns. We tried to separate them, but that only led each kid to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night. Taking away privileges (car, computer) and “grounding” them only caused them to find more creative ways to get together. I started researching whether it was possible to have an addiction to a person. My daughter truly went into major meltdown and full-blown panic attacks when told she couldn’t spend time with Roger. To say it was a nightmare is an understatement.

Roger’s parents had more resolve (and more money) and decided to take a radical approach. They secretly made arrangements for Roger to get taken from his home in the middle of the night and deposited in a “boot camp” hundreds of miles away. No communication was allowed between them. She only knew he was alive and he would be back someday. He was gone for nine months and Bri pined for him every single day. She went into major depression and just went through the motions of each day. My husband thought it was behind us, but I knew the worst was yet to come.

Bri got word about a week before Roger was coming home, and she was floating on air. I tried to tell her his life had changed, he had changed, and she shouldn’t expect too much of him when he returned. We tried to explain to her that he would have different rules and his parents may not allow her to spend time with him. All of our words fell on deaf ears. And a few days later when Roger showed up at our house, Bri had a huge smile and all her problems melted away. I tried to engage Roger in a conversation, but his sense of humor was gone. He looked dazed and acted befuddled. I wondered if he was being medicated. Within two weeks, Roger was right back to his old ways—drugging and drinking—and he and Bri had a huge fight. It was apparent to us that he didn’t want Bri as his girlfriend anymore, but she desperately clung to his legs as he tried to leave our house. Screaming and hyperventilating at the same time, she begged him to stay. My husband and I broke them apart and sent Roger on his way. We took away her car keys so she couldn’t go after him. Bri was furious. We put her on suicide watch.

Ten days later, she had a new boyfriend. That lasted about a month. Then another boy came on the scene—James. His outward appearance told us we had much to be worried about. One of my older daughters said he looked like he was on meth. Dear God! I prayed that wasn’t the case. At first James didn’t interact with us at all, but over time he began to stop and pet the dogs when he came over and I could engage him in a short conversation. Then I got the two of them to join us for supper about once a week. It was a struggle for my husband and I to maintain a positive outlook on the whole situation, but I strongly believed I needed to keep communication lines open.

Through the process I discovered James had had a rotten childhood and was currently living in a tough situation. His parents had divorced when he was a young boy and his mother had full custody. A few years later she remarried, and the stepfather and James didn’t get along. Now a full-grown teenage boy, James had a little more strength to stand up to his stepfather. They got into arguments and physical fights. Each time, James’s mother took the stepfather’s side. Bri told me she heard the stepfather call James all kinds of derogatory names and regularly told James he was a pile of s – – –  and would never amount to anything. Okay, even I know not to do that.

About a month ago, Bri’s relationship with James began to change. I don’t have the details, but know that James was acting as if he was jealous. The two of them began to argue almost daily. About ten days ago they had a big blowout at our house (I wasn’t home) and my husband asked James to leave. He did, and he went to his own house where he proceeded to get in a physical fight with his stepdad. The police were called and James was taken away to a place where troubled teens are evaluated and given a “plan.” James was there for five days. Bri knew of this place and knew the protocol and on the fifth day she expected to be able to see James. She tried calling him, his house, his mom. She was desperate to see him. She went to school the next day and found out his mom had transferred him to another school. She talked to some of his “guy” friends who told her James is locked in his room with no computer, no phone, and cannot have any interaction with anyone. Yesterday she heard through friends that last week James and his mother had gotten into a physical fight and the mother tried to strangle him. According to these friends, James reported it to teachers at his new school but nothing came of it. My husband and I know this to be hearsay, but our concern was elevated.

All weekend long, Bri has been on me to do something about this situation. Clearly she is in love with James—whether I like it or not. I can’t tell her to get over her feelings. But she’s furious that we won’t contact the parents to ask if she can talk to James and make sure he’s okay. She wants us to go over to his house and ask to see him to know he’s okay. She wants to sneak over there in the middle of the night and knock on his window just to talk to him.

My husband and I have said no to every one of her ideas. And I am scared she’s desperate enough to do something stupid. Her track record is to make more poor choices than good ones. I keep reminding her that she is now eighteen and she will be charged as an adult if she does anything that attracts the attention of the police. We’ve explained to her that being on their property is trespassing. But she’s young and invincible. “I won’t get caught.” I’ve suggested counseling, which caused her to lock herself in her room.

Last night I had a glass of wine before bed in the hopes that I could calm my nerves and get some sleep. It must have helped because I slept. But I can’t keep doing that every night. We’ve been hiding car keys when we go to bed to make it much more difficult for her to sneak out in the middle of the night. We’ve tried to talk through the consequences of any actions at this point, but her heart is aching and she knows only that she needs James to survive.

I tried to get a new counselor involved but was told that now that Bri is eighteen I basically have no rights. Bri will get counseling only if she chooses to. Well, I know where that is going. The last two weeks Bri didn’t go to school—all unexcused absences. She was too full of anxiety and afraid of having a panic attack in front of the other kids. She is supposed to graduate in June but that was already in jeopardy. She’s smart enough to know she’s ruined that chance now.

There comes a point in your child’s life when you have to let go and have to let natural consequences happen. Yet the parent in us still cares, still wants to protect. A child makes poor choices and you try to point out lessons learned and better choices to make in the future. But the fact is, this child is eighteen, an adult in the eyes of the law. I hate that I am so powerless to Bri making poor choices. I fear what will happen if she does something really stupid and ends up in the back seat of a police car. I pray…a lot. I don’t know what else a parent can do.

“This isn’t that minute.”

Over the weekend I was channel surfing and came to the movie While You Were Sleeping starring Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock. At one point in the movie, father and son are talking about life. The father talks about how you go along in life trying to do the best you can and be the best parent/provider you can be and for one minute everything is perfect. And the son, about to drop the bomb that he doesn’t want to continue to be in the family business, says to his dad, “This isn’t that minute.”

I should confess that many of my friends think I’ve had a good life—not perfect, but good—despite a horrible adolescence when both of my parents died by the time I was 16. Looking back I consider it a miracle that I survived it all, but the fact is, I did survive.

I overcame the tumultuous teenage years and I somehow managed to graduate from college. I got married (too young and too naïve) and started to build a family. At age thirty-two, I had four daughters. My then-husband was rarely home and when he was, he was so filled with anger and violence that all of us wished he was somewhere else.

When I was closing in on forty years old, I sat in a therapist’s office confessing what a rotten marriage I had. Every night I was scared to death that harm would come to me or my four children, but I didn’t know how to get out of the trap. I kept telling the therapist that I wanted to believe my spouse would get help and our marriage could be saved. After many months of listening to me, one day my therapist said to me, “You know how you’ve lived the first half of your life. Do you want to live the second half of your life the same way?”

It took my breath away.

Change happened. And now that I’m fifty, I have a (new) husband who loves me, I’ve added two more daughters to my life, and I go to bed at night and sleep with both eyes shut. These things alone make my life grand.

But as I watched that movie and thought about my life, I realized I can count on one hand the number of minutes in my life when things have gone perfect. At fifty my life is at least half over (if not more than that) and all I’ve had is a handful of perfect minutes. Does this mean I haven’t met my quota and the next few years are going to be stellar?

There are too many times when my life as the mother of “four plus two” girls borders on the ridiculous for me to believe that my remaining years will be filled with perfect minutes. But it sure would be nice if when it comes time for me to pass into a different world, that I could say I had two handfuls of perfection.

Lawsuit? Really??

My twenty-year-old daughter attends university in a large metropolitan area. She spent the first year living in a dorm, with access to food service and easy access to the campus. For her second year, she decided she wanted to live independently and off-campus. She chose a duplex about a twenty minute walk from campus. But she has no car, so getting to the grocery store or a doctor appointment or doing other errands is a challenge. But she does have access to the city’s public buses and she does have a bicycle. At least one of her roommates has a car. And she has friends who have cars. She doesn’t have her own car because she chose to take an extraordinary heavy class load, which leaves her no time for a part-time job to pay on a car loan or for car insurance.

It is about a half-hour drive from our house to the university, not awful but not very convenient. Since she is in the city, we have to plan our trips to her around rush hour traffic. What should be an easy thirty minute drive can turn into two hours if there is an accident or a snow storm. Lately she’s had a lot of doctor appointments, and since she has mostly afternoon and evening classes, she’s made those appointments during the day when the rest of us are at work or in school. Her choices have caused great friction for our family, but we’ve done what we can to provide her with a car on those days when she needs to get to her appointments.

About three months ago, my daughter decided this situation wasn’t working out for her. She wanted her own car. I don’t fault her for wanting that. But she didn’t change her course load so that she could get a part-time job and have money to buy a car or to pay for insurance. Instead, she began arguing with us and telling us she is entitled to a car. Entitled??

We told her she made her choices and since they aren’t working for her, she needs to make new choices. She basically told me that because I brought her into this world, I need to provide for her every need.

Well, it’s easy to see this argument has gone nowhere fast.

A week ago, she told me she would be contacting “legal services” to take action against me because I am neglecting her. Evidently she believes that because she has some medical issues and I am not providing her with a car 24/7, that is cause to sue me. I silently laughed about it. One of her older sisters was much more outspoken and basically told this twenty-year-old to grow up.

Last night I received a text message from the twenty-year-old indicating she has contacted “legal services” and will be taking action, and by the way, “I need the car the week of March 12.”