A Phone Call Fret

Having children means having fears.  Some are rational, some are wacky and most parental fears will turn all-consuming at one point or another.  But sadly, most parental fretting does no good at all because often the thing you fear is merely a distraction from what is really waiting in the wings to bite you in the ass.

During my first marriage my fears were usually focused on my then-stepson because he was a bit of a reckless soul and drew other such types to him like flies to dung.

So, after the call about the accident that totaled my car but only injured his passenger minimally (naturally leaving the stepson who was driving unscathed), I always feared the worst. For years, I feared picking up the phone after 8:00pm trembling as I lifted the receiver for fear that a stranger would bear heartbreaking news.  How long could his luck hold out?  I stared at the receiver many nights, after tucking in my younger stepson, before going to sleep, as if I could will it not to ring thus insuring the safety of my family.

Funny, this life is, THE call I’d feared came from a familiar voice on a bright, weekend day.

Just when I thought I’d made lemonade from the lemons of life, just when I started to look forward to calls later in the evening because they were often from my now-husband-then-new-boyfriend, life threw me a curve ball.

“Justin is dead,” my ex said.  I dropped to my knees – stereotypes are rooted in truth – and went to tell his younger brother – my souvenir gift item, my son despite a lack of biological or legal connection – that his father needed to speak to him because his brother was dead.

My son was not as stunned as I was by that fateful call.  Maybe despite the tension that had always existed between the boys – they were never close or so I thought – he knew Justin better than I did.

For years I had only feared nighttime calls from strangers. Turns out I was scared of the wrong thing.  And this is true of a lot of parental fears.

Go ahead and keep fretting, because you will, it’s human – especially parental – nature.  But try not to worry about what you’ll hear but what you should do.  Should I have sent Justin to the therapeutic boarding school after all? Shoulda, coulda, woulda – these are all for naught because as much as I would like to, I cannot rewrite this history.  But I have younger children, too, and perhaps the lessons I learned from trying to parent Justin will make me a wiser parent to them.  And perhaps you too can benefit. You might be able to write a happier future if you listen to what is going on in your child (ren)’s life/lives — that is, if you can turn down the volume of your fears and really listen.

I recommend making an inventory of what you are fretting about … you might be pacing up the wrong tree. Do listen to that tingling nausea that bubbles up when your child mentions a specific person – you might have to be impolite and eliminate him or her from your child’s social universe until your child is able to enjoy the other person’s positive traits and not just his drugs.

It’s been 13 years since that May morning and yet I still mourn the fact that Justin no longer walks on this earth.  Occasionally, when my mind is still, it meanders to what might’ve been had he not overdosed on the tragic trifecta of methadone, valium and ketamine.  He was a Navy Seaman; a Gunner’s Mate to be specific, and likely would’ve been deployed to Iraq.   Might he have died anyway in a far away war instead of in the courtyard of an apartment building with ‘friends’?  I don’t know.  No one will ever know.

I do know that he was born in April and died in May. Only 253 months separate the two dates and that all of these numbers add up to something that is too short.

So, hug your little ones, take the time – even if you, or they are running late – to share that extra bit of love.  And, as they grow into teenagers and adults, listen to those fears screaming inside your head but don’t allow them to take over your relationship, because if you do you’ll never listen well enough to hear the possibly that will allow you to help prevent a drug problem from turning into a death spiral — that is if the child wants to be saved from themselves and their drug(s) of choice.  You cannot save someone – even if he’s your child – if he isn’t willing to work with you toward salvation.  And isn’t that the biggest parental fear of all?  That your child will not know that they are mortal and might need salvation?

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