So, I totally thought I knew what I was going to write about this weekend -New Year, New You and all that is encompassed in that phrase as a grieving parent. But I went back through my past blogs to see what I had shared this time last year and realized it was the *Froggir* entry. Not only was this one of my most emotional blogs to write (by the amount of crying I do over these offerings, my husband would argue that is true of EVERY blog), it was also the one that prompted more people to reach out and share the struggles they were having accepting their child for who he/she is. It was powerful stuff and as I reread it today it immediately sparked a memory of Luke and I that will go down in my heart as a moment I felt utterly helpless as a mother.
It was November and Luke was a freshman in high school. I believe I have mentioned once or one million times, that at this age, Luke was not a fan of school. Beginning high school turned out to be more tumultuous than any of us saw coming. Within the first few weeks of September Luke was well acquainted with administration and detentions. Turns out Luke had decided to go the *tough guy* route and engaged in arguments with his teachers pretty much every day. Or he would think he was being funny (and you know the damn kids were laughing – that was the draw) and say something fresh and piss off said teachers. Regardless of how it started it would always end up in the office and we would get the phone call and each evening of every day John and I would start with the yelling about how Luke needed to get his act together and that we didn’t raise him to be disrespectful, blah, blah, blah. It was like a video on a loop that wouldn’t quit.
There were consequences to all of this, of course. I can’t pretend to understand his motivation, or lack there of, but Luke didn’t do any work. Not a bit. Including homework. So then he was failing everything and if you didn’t know already there is a rule about grades and sports at Wachusett. Turns out if you aren’t passing classes you can’t even try out for a team which I get, really I do. Schools are trying to instill good character traits and making sports a privilege. The only problem is for someone like Luke, who doesn’t have the success with school, now they don’t have it with the sports either. Football was out of the question. He made snide comments about not really wanting to play anyway, but only he knows what his true feelings on the matter were. So – no smartypants, no jock.
A couple of other factors were at play that fall. Luke’s self-esteem was taking a hit emotionally and physically. When puberty hit, Luke was one of those kids that had pretty severe acne on his face. He hated it and we tried everything recommended to try and heal it, but nothing really worked well. Luke was very self-conscious about this AND about his body type. Luke was not built like most of his peers – he wasn’t a string bean and could thank his momma for his big ole butt and calves. He hated all of this and had spent many a summer with Pop Warner trying to watch his weight. The group that Luke rolled with are sharp- tongued and I am not convinced that comments weren’t made about Luke being fat. On top of all this, Luke had ended up in a therapy group made up of troubled teens that Luke admitted scared the shit out of him they were so messed up. And yet he was there. What did that make him think about who he was as a human being?
Back to November and Luke has just realized he won’t be able to try-out for basketball. No grades. No tryout. He is crushed and I come home to find him on his bed in the basement curled up and teary. When I ask him what the matter is he cries,
“I don’t know who I am anymore.”
And with those words my heart breaks. He had been the shy kid, the sweet kid, the smart kid, the funny kid, the popular kid, the handsome kid, the football player, and the basketball player, but at this moment in time NONE of these things are him. I don’t think there is anything harder than watching your child struggle in life. I couldn’t fix this for him because, honestly, I didn’t know who he was anymore, either. My boy of old was gone and I was not a fan of who he was evolving into. I had no words. What was I going to say – Maybe try harder in school? Maybe be nicer to your teachers? He would certainly tell me to f#$% off so I stayed silent. I rubbed his back and told him how sorry I was he was feeling that way and asked what I could do to help. But he didn’t say anything and I didn’t do anything. And just like that, I failed him.
So here’s what I need you to know: I know, I know, you are sitting there reading this thinking “Patty, you did the best you could”. The old me would have agreed with you. Oprah says, “When you know better, you do better.” and I know better now. Everything Luke was going through was a huge cry for help. Getting a slew of detentions the first month of school is a sign, failing multiple subjects is a sign, dropping activities that you love is a sign, losing your identity is a sign – any or all of these are warnings that something is amiss in the mental health department. We tried to deal with each event as it happened and so did the school, but it was all triage so to speak. We tried to stop the bleeding, but we never once said what caused the cut? If we had looked for the hurting and tried to find solutions instead of Consequencing the shit out of him, well, we will never know, will we?
The moral of the story is if your child is having an experience that seems outside of what you would expect it needs to be addressed. Don’t ignore it at home, don’t ignore it at school. Not sure? Ask someone – your family doctor, a therapist, the teachers, a coach for their opinion or advice on what you are concerned about. Mental health issues are sneaky, friends, and it will take all of us working together to identify the children at risk. What Losing Luke taught me was pain runs deep in even our youngest citizens and children don’t always have the words to let us know. We must use our words to ask, comfort, help find joy, heal. No more band-aids. #NotOneMore