Monday, July 24, 2017

J-son: the Village has arrived

Saturday night, I wrote that J-son has moved out.  What's up with that?

I've been trying to figure out how to write this post in an unbiased way, and I finally decided I just can't.  What I'm about to describe is totally the way *I* see the past few months, not the way J-son sees this summer.   Feel free to read between the lines and see my flaws that I can't or won't admit; I'm sure they're there.

J-son has always been a kid who is (a) charming and (b) prone to impulsive mistakes.  Summers, with the lack of school and structure, have been times of woe and hardship for us in the past, most notably in 2013 in a series of events that culminated in what we called "the horrible week", where the follow-up discipline included installing an alarm on his bedroom door, removal of almost all objects from his room, and near-daily searches of all his belongings. That was a bad time.

We got through the horrible week and its follow-ups, and things returned to normal(ish) for a while, but then they got less normal in the fall leading up to New Year's 2016.  More bad things happened, eventually getting bad enough that we (meaning he) were/was on the verge of prison. But at the edge of that cliff, we managed to pull J-son back, and had a cathartic and redemptive glimpse at how to apologize and make restitution.   My husband has been going through counseling since then, since dealing with the fallout has been a bit more than he feels like he can deal with on his own, or even with my help.

This past year, a complication of luxury threw its monkey wrench into the mix when my husband's social security endeavors started spewing unearned money at  J-son. I worried that this money would not help shore up his financial future, but would rather steer him in the wrong direction -- back towards wanting and stealing.  Since I'm the one telling this story, I'll say that my fears were born out by subsequent facts.  (Again, you can disagree with me).

All that is the background that was swirling in my head as I was preparing for this summer, with J-son already 18 years old but still needing to complete his senior year of high school, and with my husband planning to take his long-awaited bicycle trip in Eastern Europe. How do we keep this kid engaged in good ways?  How do we stave off dangerous boredom?

My (I think) reasonable plan was that J-son ought to have a summer job.  After all, he loves spending money, an activity that is demonstrably easier to do when you are actively earning money.  J-son semi-dutifully (although in my mind, half-heartedly) applied for a few jobs this spring and didn't get any.  His boxing coach, on the other hand, assured us that J-son could do work at the boxing gym to keep himself busy, making a small amount of money along the way.  And that -- the boxing gym -- was the plan for J-son's summer when my husband boarded his bike onto the train/plane that would take him to Serbia in June.

Needless to say, this plan didn't work out. From my completely biased viewpoint, J-son committed all the classic teenage sins. In spite of claiming to love boxing above all else, he avoided the gym (both workouts and paid work).  He stayed out with friends all night and then slept all day at home.  He spent all the money he had, and then he returned to bad habits, sneaking money from my wallet, lying about money he'd made, spending it on shoes and snacks or even more nefarious substances.

Fortunately, even with my husband gone, I was not alone. J-son's former foster mom took him away for a week, during which he briefly got his head screwed back on straight. (He texted me saying, "I'ma try to apply for a job to" and "Shes been helping me realize alot of things").  His foster mom told me, "It takes a village to raise a child; well, the village has arrived!"   This has been my favorite line of the summer --- so much so, that I'll repeat it:

The village has arrived.

I've been a fan of the concept "social capital" for a long time, and so I've been encouraged by the fact that whatever J-son lacks in impulse control, he makes up for in agreeableness.  He's been blessed by -- and has been a blessing to -- many others around him, including his friends and their parents and his foster mom and his birth mom and his boxing coach.   If J-son thrives in the future, it's because of this village that has formed (or perhaps, that he has formed) around him.

At any rate, fast-forward to this past Saturday, when J-son returned from (per usual) sleeping over at a friend's house, so he could do his weekly chores.  A dispute arose over missing money from N-son's dresser, and a search of J-son's pockets determined that J-son had taken the money.  I got understandably (to my mind) upset:  I need to make sure that the many people who live in my home are safe.  J-son and I had some serious words about where he lives, and I told him that there was a good chance I was going to take his foster mom up on her offer to have him finish his senior year of his school at her home, 40 miles away from where we live.  He'd be insulated from the many temptations of our city (including the temptations of his "bad" friends).  J-son balked; moving back in with his foster mom would mean leaving behind his boxing and all of his friends, for good or ill.

Later in the day, J-son announced to my husband that he'd moved out.  He'd taken with him his many valuable shoes, and that more than anything else indicated he was serious.  He'd rather live with friends, without money, than with us or his foster mom with money.

That was where I left things Saturday night.

As of today, without knowing for sure where his life is headed in the future, I think I can say that I'm still cautiously optimistic.   For one thing, this kid has serious village wealth.  He's got several places to stay, including at the boxing gym and with kids his age whose parents keep telling me how wonderful he is.  For another thing, he and I are both working to make sure no bridges are burned -- I visited him on Sunday to bring him two weeks worth of ADHD meds, and to encourage him to adult up.  I made a list of things he needs to do:

  1. Finish summer school.
  2. Find a doctor in the city, transfer your medical records there, and get a new prescription for your ADHD meds.
  3. Get a checking account with a debit card, or get a new debit card for your existing account. ***
  4. Call your foster mom and arrange a visit with her.
[*** He cut up his last card after he went on a spending spree that even he decided was over the top. So now he has no way to access the money in his credit union account without visiting the bank in person.  The money in this account currently happens to be only 17¢,
 because having money has meant spending money.  ]

He's already followed through on task #4, and he's promised to follow through on #1 over the course of the next week and a half, and he says (which I reserve judgement on) that he's going to do his best on #2 and #3, both of which I've offered to help him with.  I also reminded him that our other kids who've moved out of the home come back once a week for Family Fun Night, and that he should, too -- and his response was to ask if he could bring his friend.  Cool.  yes.

So we're burning no bridges.  I've told him that I've been hoping he'd be able to move out of the home someday, although I was expecting that "someday" would come after he graduated from high school.   But if this is the way he wants to structure his life, I'll try to figure out a way to work with this, rather than against it.  

And that's where we are with J-son.  It's a saga, and I don't know the end, or even the next chapter, of the saga yet.  But the story isn't over, and I'm still crossing my fingers for a happy ending.


  1. Whew!
    I'm so impressed with your stamina. Sending good thoughts for your family...

  2. Stay strong!
    So instructive to read your parenting accounts (balanced, nurturing).

    1. GK and Tess: thank you!

      Fortunately, all seems to continue to proceed in a friendly way. In fact, when I suggested that J-son might want to invite the friend he's living with to tomorrow's dinner, and also his friend's mom who is housing them both, he readily agreed. The mom chatted with me on the phone; she was a bit worried that J-son might be younger than he said (he's 18) and that we might send the police to get him back from her. I told her truthfully that I'm 100% grateful to her, that I'd be happy to meet her tomorrow, and that we'd be glad to help her help J-son. (She's helping him get a bank account, by the way, so he really is proceeding with the checklist I gave him. Go figure!)

      She has 15 kids in her home. I feel like a parenting wimp by comparison.

  3. I feel like I say this on every post, but I continue to be so impressed with how you work hard to work with your kids instead of against them. I am working to incorporate this idea into life with my three year old (she already has strong feelings!). I see how her behavior plummets when other people are disciplining her in a "standard" way versus my way of time-ins, positive redirection, and lots of attention.

    I feel for J-son and the internal storms he is working to weather. Life is never easy, and he's had many obstacles to work through/against.

    Know that I'm praying for him, you, and your whole family.

    1. Time-ins are both (a) really effective and (b) really hard. Especially on the parent. But the effort is so worth it.

      Thanks for your prayers on the J-son front. Things are going to continue to be a roller-coaster ride for a while there. I want to post updates, but it's seems like any news is immediately counteracted. He's doing great! Nope, fallen off the edge of a cliff! Nope, now we caught him! Now he's off the other cliff! Now we he's found a parachute!

      Eventually, it'll settle down. Hopefully, in a good way.

  4. Љубавница србијаAugust 12, 2017 at 12:08 PM

    I had interesting encounter with your Husband in my beautiful homeland ;(