Sunday, June 26, 2011

Thrown For A Loop

As I type this, at 2:45 in the morning, I am angry. Enraged. Also confused, sad, discouraged and conflicted. I am shaking, I am teary-eyed, my stomach hurts and my heart is pounding. I've been thrown for a loop.

Have you ever wondered what that actually means? I tried to check it out. It seems to be an idiom that is primarily used in the United States and rarely heard elsewhere, and I ran across a few vague statements that it may have origins in the sport of boxing. As far as where it came from, that was about the best I could figure out. What it means, though, according to (who seemed to offer the simplest and most on-point definition) is this: "to confuse or disorient, to throw off, to mix up." That does seem to sum it up. So yes, I've definitely been thrown for a loop. And it's been going on for some time now - I live constantly with the pounding heart, the feeling of lost bearings, the confusion. And it only gets worse as time goes by.

So who did this? Who threw me for a loop (or two or three)? My foster son. The boy I took in as a teenager, loved and raised as my own, got off of drugs and out of a life of crime and into college. The young man who became not only part of our family, but a deeply integral part of it. So entrenched with our home, household and family that when he left a couple of months ago, we were all thrown for a loop. As were all of his friends, and my friends, and our friends' friends, and pretty much everyone who knew him.

It wasn't just that he left, though. I've had kids grow up and leave. That's not earth-shattering news, especially since he was 21 years old by then. No, it was much more complicated than that. For context, let me explain that this young man, over the years, had become extremely close to our whole family (my father and my aunt even helped pay for items he needed for school, and he was included on the Christmas lists of even my more distant relatives). He sung our praises at every opportunity to everyone he knew. He regarded me as not only his "mom", but as his best friend and "the only person that I can talk to about absolutely anything". He credited me for having turned his life around and for being "the person who has influenced [him] most in [his] life". These sorts of statements had been coming out of his mouth for years, and continued even as close as two weeks before he left. To be even more specific, three weeks before he left he approached me and pointed out that he believed I needed more "support", as my son had been in and out of hospitals for months and I was beside myself with strain. He said he wanted to be the one to help - he wanted to take me on nature hikes and to museums, expressing that he thought I needed to get out more. He said he wanted to be a friend to me when I needed one, he said that he thought I had too much on my plate, and he wanted to help. He asked me if I would please trust him. He was a grown-up now. He could be my friend. That's what he wanted, he said.

And then, within a matter of days, something happened. I do not know what it was and I may never know. I only know that he started making comments that he wished to move out of the house. I argued with him gently, being concerned that he would not be able to finish school (he was, at that point, at the end of his sophomore year at Arizona State University). But then he took things a step further and told me that he not only wanted to move out, but he wanted nothing to do with this family any more. He actually said that he would rather live in a car than in this house. He told me, "This family is not the center of my life anymore. This family isn't even close to the center of my life. This family is a tiny, little side issue in my life." We just weren't important to him anymore, he said. I was, of course, stunned. I pressed for an explanation - anything that would make some sense of what was happening with him - and I got none. He simply stated that he had "changed his mind" and I should just "deal with that" and gave very vague responses to any questions. When I pressed, he became angry. I'd never seen him angry at me, not ever. I was shocked, couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing. When I finally pressed him enough on the issue, just trying to understand, he grew very angry and stormed out of our house with no explanation, no apology, no "thank you very much for taking care of me for five years", nothing.

So I cried for days. On Easter, which came just after he left, I did not get out of bed and join my family. On Mother's Day I stayed in bed as well. I could not face family events without this person who I consider my son - at least without him and lacking any understanding of why.

Okay, enough context.

So, I didn't hear from him at all for a while, and then over the last couple of months there have been occasional encounters (although I have not seen him in person). A few text messages, an e-mail, a few phone conversations. Never, though, an apology or even a gentler tone of voice. No, quite the opposite in fact. With each communication he becomes angrier, more rude and demanding, more disrespectful. It has reached the point where it seems he is literally going out of his way to be hateful to us and hurt our feelings. The whole family - thrown for a loop. A series of loops, actually, because each new contact feels like a brand new punch in the gut. Each time I don't think it's possible - I think I will hear my old son and buddy on the phone - and then I am subjected to shouting and cursing and rudeness and blatant disrespect. What follows is that gut-churning, surreal, this-can't-be-happening feeling that hurts every bit as much as a sucker punch. Even worse is when I meet up with cold, cold indifference. "I don't care about you anymore. Sorry." Said as flatly as if he were telling me that the freeway is closed this morning, too bad.

Don't think that I tolerate being mistreated. No, I end those phone calls when he gets that way and I don't answer rude text messages and I've e-mailed him - just in case he didn't "get it" - that I will not tolerate being spoken to in that manner. I got no response to that and didn't hear from him for about a month. When I did, it was as hateful as ever. More so, actually.

That last time that he was so rude to me and I ended the call, he did later apologize and say, "I'm just not myself right now." Whether he was referring to our current conversation or his behavior over the last few months, I didn't know and I didn't ask. But since he apologized, I helped him with the issue he'd called about. I sent him some things and I sent him some money.

Now before you jump all over me for doing that, let me explain myself: I am trying as hard as I can to make it easier for him to come back and apologize whenever he pulls his head out of his proverbial backside. I realize this could be years, but I am a patient person. My approach is this: I will not respond to disrespect, but I will reward even the smallest "progress" or "good behavior" (i.e. an apology) because I do not want him to dig his own hole so deep that he burns this bridge entirely. I guess I am protecting him from himself in a sense, but I have been living with the hope that one day he would come to his senses, and when that day comes, I don't want him to think his relationship with me is beyond repair. So, when he behaves like a respectful son, I respond by behaving like a mom. The message? "I am your mom and I love you unconditionally, even though I'm hurt and angry. In that light, while I won't accept disrespect, I will be there for you when you're ready to behave appropriately." I hope that makes sense to y'all. I could expand upon it and clarify further, but I'm not trying to write War and Peace here.

So... Why am I so upset tonight? Because once again he's reared his ugly attitude and it just seems to get worse and worse. My daughter saw him somewhere tonight, and his behavior toward her was childish and rude and deplorable. She was so shocked and taken aback by this stranger who was once part of her family that she had to step outside and call me on the phone. She was in tears. I offered to come and get her, but she declined.

Now as I sit here, I am struggling. Struggling with my anger toward him while I still love him as a son, and with the conflict that comes with those competing emotions. Furious that he would treat my daughter this way. Gritting my teeth and tightening my jaw and clamping down with my teeth on that last thread of the belief I hold in loving our children unconditionally, biological children or not. Wondering who this person is, where the boy I raised into adulthood is hiding, or if he exists at all and whether this stranger has taken his place. Struggling to understand how that can happen. Frustrated at having pieces of information with which to try and put this puzzle together - information that could only come from him, and he won't share.

Prior to these events I had never gone more than 48 hours without seeing him in the five years he lived in our home. Even those times were only when he took a weekend to go visit his grandmother in Mexico, and even on those trips he would call me at least once - of not twice - every day. And now I have not seen him in months, don't even know where he is or where he sleeps. And as far as I am concerned, I haven't spoken to him at all. I've spoken to the pod person who now seems to occupy his body and speak with his mouth, but after the events when things went downhill I would say I've never spoken to my actual son again.

I hope he's not gone. I hope this new person isn't who he is. I hope, I hope, I hope. I cannot wrap my brain around it. And so tonight, as yet one more incident has occurred where he has shown himself to now be a hateful, selfish and unkind person, the struggle becomes harder. I have never, ever turned my back on one of my kids, cut them out of my life, dis-owned them or any other such nonsense. This includes ALL my kids, not must my biological ones. I don't believe in that - or I didn't used to. I believe that family is always there for you, even when you screw up or behave badly. I believe that a mother loves unconditionally, even if she doesn't accept or tolerate bad behavior. And I have always believed very strongly that I need to model this especially well for the kids who come to me from families who could not be trusted. I always know they'll test me, and I always pass that test. You can trust me, I will be here always, I will not reject you no matter what.

But this one... His tests (if that's what they are) are stretching me to limits I've never seen before. I love him so much that I'm heartbroken to see him going through something - whatever it is - and not be able to reach out to him. Yet I'm so angry at him that I feel I could scratch his eyes out. And so, when a new incident occurs, I shake and cry and pound my fists and clench my jaw and feel like utter confusion could cause me to jump right out of my skin. Then come the questions , the doubt. Am I really a good mom? Does this happen to a mom who has done the right things, or did I make some terrible mistake? Or, even worse, should I reconsider my very deepest beliefs about the human race - that people are worth helping, that there is good in everyone if we can just help them reach down and find it, that making sacrifices for the good of others is a worthwhile investment in the good of the human race. If this is what people are capable of, if this is common (I don't know - is it?), then is it all worth it?

Thrown for a loop. And then another and another and another, each one making it harder and harder for me to hold firmly onto my belief in unconditional love for our children. I am clinging, really clinging. But stretched nearly to the breaking point.

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