This is the next installation in what is based on a true story.
Names have been changed.
As winter turned to spring in 2018 and I got to understand more of Jonah’s plight, I realized I might be in over my head.
In his young life:
He had watched the tearing apart of his family. :
An oldest brother who was profoundly autistic and needed round-the-clock care.
Divorced parents at nine.
At age 13, watching his second oldest brother’s leaving his father’s home, also at age 18 to never return.
Being taken away from his mother’s care because of her own substance abuse.
And then, estrangement from his dad at 18.
Each night, I had a hard time sleeping thinking about all that trauma he had yet to process. There are many I know who have taken in shelter dogs who suffered abuse. Here I was, with no education, psychology or social work background, thinking about taking in a human. A rescue human.
Now, looking back, when I feel like a failure, I have to repeat to myself: I, and others, about six other families before me, in fact – we did all we could. Every time I feel that I failed him I circle back and repeat to myself: we could not undo in three or four months what had been damaged over the course of at least 10 years of abuse and neglect.
But we sure did try.
“Why should we wait until the end of the school year? If he is not happy in his current situation, let’s get him out of there now, let’s help him.”
Enter my helper. Sabrina.* My co-grizzly bear mamma. My … well, we had another nickname for each other, another term, I’m not sharing that.
We had met up at the Riverfront on a shivering cold but sunny March morning. With about 10,000 other protesters. March for Our Lives. The shock of the Parkland shootings were so fresh in all our minds. The wanting and need to embrace all our terrified teenagers by doing something en mass.
Sabrina is tall. Tells it like it is and straight to the point. Spiky short hair and bright blue eyes that shine out behind a collection of the most colorful, cool, mod, rad spectacles you could ever hope to pull off the look yourself but you know you wouldn’t get away with it.
I only had heart and Google at my resources. She was a licensed social worker, had worked serving her community for years in the non-profit world and knew who to call and what to do. Her son was also friends with Jonah. For years, when Jonah would ask for a ride home, Sabrina always noticed, no matter the time of day or night, Jonah would always let himself into a dark, seemingly empty home.
Before the March headed out along the river and Hart Plaza, we shot ourselves in a selfie the best two middle-aged ladies knew how. We texted it to Jonah.
“Hi Jonah. We have a plan. Let’s get together soon.”
Over the next several months, she was my partner in all this. God bless my husband for none of this would have happened, but there was enough upheaval at work for him to invest his time and increase his stress load.
So, it was Sabrina and I who were on the phone on an almost daily basis for weeks at a time, arranging meetings with social workers, school principals and administrators. Making doctors and dentist appointments. Two Jewish moms sometimes tripping over each other to help a kid who for so long had no mom at all to go to bat for him.
As it turned out, Sabrina’s family had also offered Jonah a place to live. They had a
little more room, a lot more room and food wise, did not keep a kosher home like we did.
A crash course in keeping kosher. Now there are levels of keeping kosher. Though my family is not the most strict, we do have separate dishes, pots silverware for meat and dairy. We do not mix meat and dairy. No cheeseburgers or Parmesan anything here.
We do not bring non-kosher meat into the house. There is a way to prepare food, to clean up from the food, that keeps the kitchen kosher.
Now, what non-Jewish kid who up until a few years ago had no Jewish friends would want to put up with that on a daily basis?
Not to mention access to a car.
A car. An 18-year-old teen-aged boy and access to a car. So he could get to his job as a summer camp counselor, go out with friends, have that freedom that only a car can give you.
What 18-year-old boy is going to turn that down?
Forget it, kid. I’ll still be here, but you got offered a car? Good for you.
There is no way Jonah is going to live with us after an offer like that, I thought to myself, about a week after March for our Lives.
I was getting used to the idea of having him come to live with us. More than used to. I was starting to get attached.
I had just finished an afternoon workout at the JCC. In the shower, I told myself, this is not about YOU. This cannot be taken as a personal rejection. He has to do what is best for him.
This is not a competition.
Let him go. You’ve got enough going on.
Let him go where he wants to go.
After towelling off, I checked my phone to see there was a text from my son.
“Mom, when will you be home? We have something waiting for you, it’s a big surprise!”
As I write this, my oldest child, an adult in the legal sense now at 18, is safely away at her summer job as a counselor at an overnight camp.
She will not be behind the wheel of a car, or maybe will hardly even be in a car, for the next 8 weeks. And the weeks of the summer, according to the American Automobile Association, are the deadliest for teenagers.
This is the tale of me, a mom, who went against the grain and put her foot down because she did not want her daughter or her friends to become another summer statistic.
Late to the game in the car-crazed culture of the Metro Detroit Area, my daughter got her license nearly a good two years after most teens get theirs.
I was completely fine with that. Even though sometimes I could feel my very bottom turning to mush at the amount of time I spent behind the wheel picking up and driving her to and from sports and band rehearsals.
So, come prom time, my daugher assured me that when it came to transportation to and from the prom, she and her friends – all sweet, all good and smart, and all drivers – “had this” in terms of the driving.
“Had this?” What did “Had this” mean? Was there a known limo vendor the school works with to get kids to the prom destination – which was a Downtown Detroit nightclub? Had the school chartered some luxury busses to whisk them to and from the night of their lives? Was it included in the price of the ticket?
No. Turns out, they planned to drive themselves to prom.
Now, maybe it was the fact that I grew up in New York City, where everything is different, but no one drove themselves to prom. There was just too much risk of someone getting into an alcohol-related accident.
Plus, who among us in working-class Staten Island had their license, plus their own car, by Senior Year, let alone sophomore year? I didn’t.
It was just too easy to take the bus or the train or bum a ride from the one or two friends who had a car. (Thanks for the many rides, old friends, and you know who you are!)
And when it came to prom, it was a sure thing you were going in a limo.
Because the prom wasn’t really about being at the prom, it was about that limo. Should it be black? White? Stretch? And how many couples can we squeeze in to make it as cheap as possible?
Because the prom part of prom was not the main event. It was leaving the cheesy banquet hall of the Sheraton in Jersey, piling into the limo, which you had saved up for for about a year with your after school job or selling candy bars, and heading into New York City. To the nightclubs. And the carriage ride in Central Park.
Pity to the teens who do not grow up in the Metro area who don’t get a NYC prom.
But back to the present, in Metro Detroit.
Like many of you who have been following my blog know, I am a transplant to Metro Detroit by only two years. So, in the social circles of the high school parents, I am a complete outsider. Nope, I didn’t grow up here or go to high school here, and I didn’t move here when my kids were babies. So contact with parents for me has been all but minimal.
So when my daughter, working so hard to fit in and not make waves and play it cool, told me that she could not ask her loosely formed group of about 22 kids all planning to leave for prom from the same house to spend ANOTHER PENNY on prom, I didn’t push it. After all, I was not familiar with many of these kids’ parents, and didn’t want to impose my views of getting a limo.
I tried to play it cool. These were good kids. Smart kids. Kids who were going to attend some of the country’s best colleges in the fall.
I was actually starting to come around to this plan when I asked the son of a friend of mine, who had already gone to his prom, how his big night was.
“Oh, it was interesting.”
Interesting? How so?
“A friend of the family offered to do us a favor and drove us to prom,” he calmly told me. “He seemed a bit out of it when he picked us up, but no one said anything. He was on his cell phone the whole drive. We got in an accident on the way to prom. We made it there alright, but we had an adult drive us and HE got in an accident.”
So there you go. Is that ironic or what? So they had an adult drive them and even then they got in an accident. So who’s to say they wouldn’t be safer driving themselves.
It would be dark when they were coming home.
And they’d be wired and tired from a night of dancing.
And excited and way distracted.
And they’d be driving at night on unfamiliar streets and highways.
And not to mention those statistics.
So, I put my foot down. From my trusty high school directory, I looked up phone numbers and emails and expressed my plea to keep our kids safe and fork out the cash to find a driver. It didn’t have to be a fancy limo. It could be car service or an airport towncar.
I got mixed surprised responses. Each parent said they would be okay with the kids driving themselves, yet no parent said they wanted their kid to be responsible for driving.
Some parents balked at the extra expense.
Some parents got eye rolls from their children at the thought of hiring a driver.
Let ’em roll, I say. Roll the eyes at me all you want. I’ve been eyerolled. I can take it.
Another parent said they were greatly relieved that another parent had the guts to take the initiative to find a professional driver.
All 22 people in the prom party and their parents, were invited to a pre-prom party at the home of one of the kids. Luxury cars parked in the driveway. Original art hung on the walls. I did so appreciate the catered hors D’oeuvres and wheatgrass apple ginger shots and mini smoothies served with wedges of lime. But I could not see how these same families could not spend “another penny” on hiring drivers for peace of mind, according to my daughter.
As the pre-party went on, the parents who were in on our car, settled up.
Then another parent approached me. Her son was not a senior but an underclassman from another school, the guest of a senior. She only found out that there indeed WERE no limos, and her son would be driven to prom by a kid unknown to her. She was a wreck.
“There’s room in my daughter’s car for one more couple…” I just put it out there. She said she would gladly pay – as well as the date of the other girl’s mom. They nearly kissed my hand in gratitude.
In the end, all the kids, driven or not driven by a professional driver, all got to and from prom safe and sound. They all looked fabulous and had a wonderful time. There was no drinking going on at the actual prom. Yet still, there was plenty of texting and chatting as the night wore on of how much drinking was going on at all the “after prom” parties. It’s a good thing most of these parties were sleepovers.
So, in the end, and keep this in mind for next year if you’ve got a rising senior – when your independence-seeking have-it-all-together-teen says “they are handling” transportation for prom, don’t let them handle it.
Step up. Be an intrusive parent. Butt in. Make calls. Hire a driver. And savor that peace of mind.