He had mentioned that a friend’s mom had dragged him to thrift shops, and he found he enjoyed it. Did we know of any, he asked. At the time, we mentioned we knew of a few places. Could he come along next time? Sure, we promised. Then that was that.
Fast forward to last Saturday. I woke up because our 15-yr-old was banging on my bedroom door. She does theater productions and had screwed up the time for the work party on Saturday. Could I take her – she was already 20 minutes late. I got up, tossed on some clothes, then drove her to school. On the way back, after I got coffee, I thought it would be a great day to visit my favorite thrift stores. Why? Well, I wasn’t in the mood to clean house and all – so this seemed like a good distraction. Instead of just going, I decided to come back and see if the kid (aka our foster son) would want to come with me.
He did, so tossed on some clothes and shoes and joined me.
For the next two hours, we went through two of my favorite places. They are more consignment stores than thrift stores meaning people put their stuff on consignment to sell. Their consignees are funky people from different backgrounds. You get burning man attire, professional stuff, antiques, estate clearances, and more. You literally will find African art pieces next to classic books of Little House on the Prairie. It’s eclectic.
After laughing and exploring both stores, we were driving back to the house. I commented aloud that it was 1:30pm, and all I had to eat was coffee. I needed food – was he hungry? He said he wasn’t, but may get something to drink. The kid is a teenage boy. “Not Hungry” is weird to me as most teenage boys I have known (and grew up with) would eat their body weight at every meal. At my house growing up, my dad would say to anyone visiting at dinner time to take all you want because ones the teenage boys would get their chance, there would be no seconds.
I decided to go to a bakery that also had great lunch food (and served breakfast all day because their breakfast food is freaking amazing too). My thought was that I could get a sandwich, and maybe I could convince him to get a pastry. They also specialize in locally sourced food – so I ended up getting a BLT with amazing heirloom tomatoes while he got a breakfast sandwich on one of their amazing buttermilk biscuits.
And I got coffee. I confessed that anyone who says IT and Engineers run on coffee was right because, well, I had more coffee than food. I have to make myself eat food. He laughed as I drank my latte. Then he started talking.
My youngest brother had issues as a teenager with anxiety. When it got too bad, he started looking for ways to help himself because living where we did meant not talking about that stuff. His drug of choice was pot. He smoked some much of it that he started causing issues with his roommates – our other brother being one of them. When shit hit the fan with the family, I said fuck the secrets and laid them on the table for the family to see. Not a gutsy move given I was on the west coast and they were in the midwest. I used that to my advantage to try to get him the help he needed and stop the family drama. It worked – and he got better.
I asked my brother a few days before what we should do about the kid given he was self medicating and lying and generally doing what my brother did. His response: connect with him.
The kid when he started talking after he inhaled half of his sandwich started talking. He told me about the therapy session he had the day before. He told me about his worries. He told me about his struggles – struggles that tell me almost definitively he had anxiety. He told me about his job situation and his fears. He just started talking.
And I listened. I thanked him for the info. I made suggestions about the job situation. I shared my concerns about his anxiety including that I suspected that’s why pot was his numbing drug of choices. I told him how angry I was that his parents did what they did and said what they said. And at one point, I just hugged him as he told me about finally feeling sad about his friend’s passing.
When I looked at my watch, I realized we had spent 2 hours talking at this cafe. I did a double take when I saw the time because it really didn’t feel that long. Towards the end, he was sharing with me how his parents – the ones that adopted him – once exclaimed that they had read all of the books and taken all of the classes and the fact he didn’t fall in line was on him and not them – and I almost lost it.
“It doesn’t fucking matter what they learned and read – they missed the big factor in all of it – YOU. You are your own person – they need to adjust the equations to you. Fuck, if I didn’t get that – we wouldn’t have two kids because I’d still because that all babies cry uncontrollably for 4-5 months like my oldest did. I knew that each kid is different – each kid is going to test boundaries until they realize how things really work.”
He asked me to explain more after I said all of that (and explained that I liked the word “fuck” and I hope that didn’t offend him.)
“Last school year, the 15 year old did not have her phone for most of it. She almost didn’t get to participate in her extracurricular activities. Why? She kept lying to us about homework and such. She would say it was done only for us to find out it was not done. She was failing classes because of her lies. So we put forth consequences. Why? We want her to keep her options open. She wasn’t. She was instead pushing boundaries. So we held the line. We did what she needed us to do even though our oldest never needed it. That’s how parenting works. You don’t take it personally – you do what is right for the kid and parent. “
Hearing him tell me about how much his parents lamented he wasn’t “doing it right” made me sad. I know his brother and I know him – and well, they are totally different people – totally different needs. They were never going to fit the same mold.
And I told him that.
Last Friday, the school counselor and his social work started gushing about how happy they were with his placement in our home. I always feels weird about that because, well, he is the wild card. And we have only had him for like 6 weeks.
After the conversation the kid and I had on Saturday, there is no way the kid will be anywhere else. Hearing how much people have failed him. Hearing how much people have seen him as a burden or seen him as someone who isn’t conforming — it pisses me off. It makes the Momma bear in me rise up and want to go after some people. Why? Because he needed someone to protect him, but instead he got two people who gave him more fuckery. And that pisses me off. He came out of one bad situation, then was put into another until he fled.
A few hours after our lunch, the kid came downstairs and told me how much he enjoyed our day together. He thanked me for it too. I gave him a hug. I don’t feel he gets enough hugs – and give how tight he clings onto me when I give him one …..well, the feeling is mutual.
Since Saturday’s thrift store date, the kid has been on a positive role. He cleaned him room (which I believe was also purging it from anything drug related). He did his laundry and actually unpacked into the dresser. He ate which is huge because eating is a big issue for him. He has stayed engaged. And this week – three days in – he is on top of homework and his sports commitments and has plans to get up to speed on things. Tonight he came home and explained he missed his sports practice because he had homework stuff to do. He is eager to sort it out – to do well – to honor his commitments while still keeping his school work in a good place. Then he inhaled dinner as he laughed at the joked being made …..and avoided the pets trying to take his place.
After talking to his social worker tonight, I went upstairs and told him I was proud of him. I was proud about all that he is doing – his focus – his dedication – he is doing the heavy lifting to get better – and I’m proud of it. He gave me a huge hug and thanked me.
Connect, my brother suggested – connect.
I must admit, I got annoyed with him saying that. But so far, he has been right. Connect is what was necessary – connect has been good so far.
I guess that is reminder for most of us …….kid or adult……having issues with a person — pull them closer. Connect.
I know there will be steps backwards in this process. I’m not stupid – I know there are some things that will force him to resort to old ways. But honestly, the huge steps forward – the trust – the honesty he has been sharing gives me a huge amount of hope that things will be better. That anything from here on out will be more normal than abnormal.
It’s a lesson for life in general…….don’t know what to do? Pull them close in and connect.