What I Said...


Many of you have heard or read this story. But it bears repeating.

Here is the story I packed into 5 minutes on the Moth stage:

A few years ago, I found myself in the most unlikely of places: a pawn shop. I had never visited a pawn shop, and I can safely say, I don’t think I ever want to do it again. 

Don’t get me wrong. This shop was a much more pleasant experience than I had expected. It was clean, well lit; the items were really beautifully displayed. 

It’s just that going to a pawn shop was not part of my vision of what a Good Mother does. I was a good mother. Which means I adored my children beyond words. I showed that love by doing things like cooking for them, packing their lunches, helping with homework, driving carpool, and showing up for classroom parties and teacher conferences.

I can tell you exactly when I stopped being that good mom. It was the day my husband and I kicked our 18-year-old son, David, out of the house. We had had enough; David’s drug use over the past few years had completely upended our whole family. We said stop using drugs, go to treatment, or get out. And to our surprise, he left. 

So begins the most excruciating time in my life. For three weeks we had no idea where he was. If he was dead or alive. And I honestly felt as if I were made out of glass. I would think, “This is it. I am falling apart. I am going to break up into a million little pieces, and blow away. One more piece of bad news, and they would be sweeping me up off the floor.”

Without thinking about it, I became a new definition of the Good Mom. Because I had learned after months of pleading, crying, manipulating, shaming, and gnashing of teeth, this kid was never going to be persuaded to give up his drugs. I finally figured out that my son would not get well as long as I kept rescuing him.

This new Good Mom was not made out of glass, in fact, she found out she was made out of steel. Or at least I could act that way, even if my heart was breaking inside. 

I still look back at what this new Good Mom did, or didn’t do. She kicked her child out of the house. She refused to give him money. She even refused to bail him out of jail in Waterloo, Iowa.

But there was one thing I could do. Get that darn watch back. The one David had traded in for some quick cash. David had saved for this watch for months. It was such an essential part of him. I wanted to get that watch back. I told myself I would hold on to it until he got back home. Things could get back to the way they used to be. Sadly, I was not able to find the watch. So, I bought another one. One which had obviously been owned by some other young man. Someone else whose mother was wondering where he was.

Not too long after that, David drove a car into a utility pole, almost killing himself and his friend, knocking out the power to a big St. Paul neighborhood, and he ended up in the emergency room, at which point this mother said, “I don’t know where you’re going. But you’re not coming home.” Can you believe I said that? See what I mean? I had truly become the new Good Mom. One who cared enough about her son, one who loved her son so fiercely, she was not going to do what 99% of the good mothers out there would do: I was not going to tuck him into his childhood bed and tell him everything was going to be OK. I walked away. 

And, guess what? He got sober. He went to the Union Gospel Mission in St. Paul, and he got sober. Surrounded by middle age men who had been homeless and addicted for years, my little 18-year-old boy got sober. It has been almost 5 years.

It turns out I had gone to the wrong pawn shop. I am happy to say that just as we got our David back, he was able to get his watch back from the right pawn shop.

And I still have this young man’s watch. I pray his mother knows what a good mom she is.

I am a Good Mom. I am the new unbreakable Mom.

(Read more in my book, “Dear David: Dealing With my Son’s Addiction One Letter at a Time”.)