All’s Quiet (today) on the Southwestern Front

He took the bus from work and met me on the 16th Street Mall, a well-known shopping and dining area. He’d suggested the restaurant and texted the directions. His sister and her roommate would meet us as well, after they returned from Whole Foods and put away their groceries.

The last time I saw him looking this sharp was, ironically, on Christmas Eve of the broken arm and percocet haze. He was crisp in a white button down shirt, a light blue patterned tie and khaki pants. He was beautifully, casually professional with a two to three-day beard and, for the first time, the haircut of a Colorado businessman, down around the collar.

I wrapped my arms around his neck and squeezed hard; he planted that familiar kiss right on my lips. He’s been a head-on kisser since he was a toddler, and doesn’t hold back when it comes to his mama. I love that about him.

He could have been anybody’s polished young kid starting out at an ad agency or a dot-com. So striking, that had I seen him earlier on the mall, I would have done a double take. The blonde waitress, who later approached our table, seemed to notice, too. The fresh, hip restaurant was buzzing with the energy of weekday patrons. I was surprised and taken with his choice; we ordered our beverages and waited for the girls to arrive.

Our party of four enjoyed a delightful adult exchange for an hour and a half. Inherently funny and today loaded with a healthier dialogue; he spoke with a lilting cadenceAbsent was the reactive personality of the past. We had a balanced conversation. He was telling stories, but was just as intent to listen to ours and ask relevant questions. He was decidedly present and shared details of his job and impressive information about the city, which he’d come to love.

For so long, he’d been mired in his own problems; today he was engaging with the world around him, offering his sister business leads, sure of the goings on about town, like any young professional. Taking an interest in the route that his sister had driven from Virginia – by herself, I might add – he checked on her the entire way.

I couldn’t imagine a time in the past fifteen years that he might have joined us at a Thanksgiving meal to sit and shoot the breeze. Always fidgety, he popped up and down from the table, checking his cell phone, distracted. His uniform was a hoodie and baggy khakis – a little grungy – and that recognizable glaze in his eyes.

To the casual observer, today would have offered no indication of a struggle with addiction, much less chronic incarceration.

He had to be back at the halfway house by nine, so we said goodnight to the girls and walked back to my rental car. My hotel was nearby; I dropped him off on the way. Conversation on our drive centered around his imminent release from this facility. He explained to me that because of overcrowding, non-violent offenders may find themselves on an unexpected fast track. As his mother, my fear was that he was moving through the system too quickly.  My hope was that prison would slow him down, get him in front of medical care and counseling. Because he never got past the transitional diagnostic center, he never fell into that rhythm. I worried that he might not take the initiative towards consistent care once he was in charge of his own life.

Pat’s words washed over me, leaving a newly adopted sense of calm. “Let go – don’t create the story – he’s a grown man – it’s his journey”.

We pulled up to the entrance of his cinder block home. We planned to meet again the following evening after work. For the first time, in forever, I looked forward to our next visit.


Even the most outgoing parent of an addict may find herself dreading those ubiquitous holiday social events. For the most part, I’m an extrovert and LOVE a good party. But, some years I’ve wanted to ignore every f…ing invitation and go underground until all of the festiveness and fellowship is over. Even though I have a pure and profound interest, it’s hard to hear the litany of accomplishments of everyone else’s child when yours is holding on for dear life.

Somehow, the show must go on. And it does, by the grace of the season and every ounce of energy you can muster.

Christmas 2012 could be described as controlled chaos. That, I can celebrate.

Shopping, buying, wrapping, delivering, decorating, dressing, socializing, unwrapping, worshipping, undressing, sleeping, grocery shopping, cooking, eating, cleaning … repeating. And a  little yoga in between.

Blended family, extended family, keeping in touch with out-of-town immediate family and communion with friends. Through this whirlwind, two unexpected gifts emerged.

(1) My son was transferred from the permanent housing unit into a sober living/halfway house. He will remain under the umbrella of the State Prison System for the duration of his parole. The halfway house will give him more freedom and flexibility within walls of accountability. He can take advantage of two meals a day and hold down a full time job. A percentage of what he earns goes towards sustenance for the house.

(2) He now has a full time sales job, a huge boost for all of us, especially for him.

Halfway houses can provide a much-needed support system for offenders so they are able to readjust to the demands of daily life. With monitoring and aftercare, the hope is to reduce relapse/recidivism.  A halfway house can also be a viable solution for the addict who has not been incarcerated but is in search of a neutral zone in which to live, regroup and redirect.

Here’s to:
early mornings of peace and quiet…
positive transitions…

Happy 2013 !!!

Mixed Blessings

One of my favorite songs is “Blessed”, by Martina McBride.  The lyrics are a mantra to me and I have been known to belt them out in front of the bathroom mirror.       (I love to sing, although some might say I need lessons.)

During the holidays, a lot of emphasis is placed on counting our blessings and I consider my son to be one of my greatest…  

On the other hand, holidays with an addict can suck.  Plain and simple.
Stress is high enough under normal circumstances.  Add a heaping helping of unpredictability and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Four years ago, his arm was broken in a drug-related altercation with a friend.
I never heard the whole truth, but it sounded like they were both to blame. 
Whatever.  By the time the story got to me, it was full of holes.  He spent
half a day in the ER having his arm set and the rest of the holiday in and out of a percocet haze.  We did make it to the 5:00 Christmas Eve service at church; 
he looked like a million dollars in his coat and tie and slept through most of it.

He spent Thanksgiving and Christmas 2011 in jail, was out for a while and will be in jail again this year.  Some consistency.  
At least I know where he is and that he’s safe.

Last week, the Denver facility prepared a special Thanksgiving meal.  On the phone that afternoon, he said “Mom, it wasn’t exactly your spread, but it was OK”. Knowing that his South Carolina grandparents would be in Virginia for the weekend, he wrote to them individually and mailed the letters to our house.
My mother’s birthday was Thanksgiving Day and he wished her Happy Birthday and told her that he was sorry that they couldn’t be together to celebrate.
My father’s letter had the same thoughtful tone.

The third letter was to me:
I just wanted to tell you that I love you.  Thanks so much for being there for me through this difficult time.  I promise that I am working hard to better myself so that the next 50 years for me are worth living.  I have reached the end of the road for this disease.  I miss you and love you more than you know !  Love, your son.”    
I ordered his Christmas presents online thru a Holiday Package Program.  
A $75 maximum order for canteen items from Louisiana sardines to moisturizing soap. These are luxury items that cost extra and can be purchased if the inmate has money on his books or through this program.  I’ll also order a few more books through the internet to arrive by December 25.

I have learned not to look too far into the future.  
I am thankful for the gift of perspective.  

For today, all is calm ……

Change in Temperament

In the fall of my son’s Kindergarten year, a shift occurred.

He was a typical rough and tumble little boy, and seemingly overnight, there was a noticeable change in his temperament – and it wasn’t for the better.  

As first time Kindergarten parents, his father and I were plugged in and excited about what lay ahead in his new school community. He started Kindergarten with established pre-school friends, he was meeting new friends, teachers were excellent, etc.  
It was sure to be a positive experience for all of us, right?   
Age-wise, he was in the middle of the pack.  We never considered that he might not be ready for Kindergarten, but with more structure in his days, attentional issues began to emerge.  If his teacher gave the class a 3-4 part assignment, he usually completed the first task, maybe the second and almost never closed the circle on the remaining two instructions.  In addition to not being able to complete his own work, he became a distraction to others in the classroom.

Mrs. W. worked tirelessly with us throughout the year to come up with creative ways to channel his focus.  Talk about pushing a boulder uphill…
and it was only Kindergarten. By spring, we decided that he should go back to Kindergarten for a second year, in hopes that with some maturity, he might outgrow some of the inattentiveness and impulsivity.

Mrs. W. was the lucky one who delivered the news to him.  His father and I held our breath, waiting for the eruption.  The eruption came in the form of total denial. According to Mrs. W., he listened respectfully and seemed to hear her message. However, when we broached the subject at home that evening, he simply acted as though he was headed right on to first grade with his friends.  

He did, in fact, go back to Kindergarten the next year.  He had another amazing teacher who did everything in her power to help him acclimate to a new group.  A few of these boys had also been with him in Nursery School, so there was some re-connection. Mrs. S., his new teacher, tried to give him small leadership roles to build self-esteem.  

Overall, it was a pretty good year, thanks to all hands on deck …. 

The next year didn’t go so well.