Two days prior to my son’s ninth birthday, I received a text from my son’s father asking what flavor cake he should make for the birthday party he was throwing for him at his mom’s house. This would be a great opportunity to celebrate our son’s birthday with his paternal side of the family. He loves seeing his cousins, whenever he can. So, I responded, “Chocolate”. That was the last I heard from him.
The following day, I had taken off work to chaperone a field trip. Due to the down pour, it had been postponed. Secretly, I was kind of happy about that. Disappointed that I wouldn’t experience the trip with him quite yet, but relieved that I wouldn’t have to get muddy and wet. Instead, it became the perfect opportunity to finish cleaning the house for the party that I was throwing him in two days….but then, I got the phone call.
My son’s paternal grandmother called me sobbing over the phone. My son’s father got arrested on an assault charge. He was held without bail until May 30th. I did not cry, I did not worry at first. I just wanted to simply calm her down and make sure she got home safely as she had drove from the court house to the local grocery store. She was overly apologetic for her son’s actions and for putting us through all of this. She worried for her grandson taking the news. “I will handle telling him. I just need you to calm down”, I responded.
She was confused about whether to continue with the birthday that was supposed to take place the next day. I told her to follow through with it, because I can always find ways to explain why his father is not there compared to cancelling a whole party. Then, we met up at the local grocery store. Because his father was supposed to bake the cake, I just picked up the slack and bought a cake and chips for their party. I don’t want my son to be punished for his father’s actions, so that’s why I contributed to picking up the pieces once again.
Then, on my drive back home, I pondered my next step. I have been calm, forgiving and strong for his mother, but now, I was left with a big decision. What do I tell my son??
Tomorrow is his birthday and birthday party that his father is throwing for him, but however won’t be attending. That would be an awkward situation to walk into for my son. So, I needed to find answers and fast. Even though, it was only 10am, I felt the clock ticking down. I need to have something to tell him by 4pm when I pick him up from school.
I started asking friends and family for advice. Everyone had different opinions. Some told me to tell him that he was away on a job in another state for a while. Some told me to tell him the truth when I picked him up from school, and some told me to tell him the truth after the birthday weekend. With the many opinions and texts rolling in, I began feeling even more overwhelmed. I had to just put my phone on silent and lay it down. I needed a clear head at this point.
I was supposed to clean my house, but that seemed nearly impossible for me to handle at this point. It was hard to focus on which aspect of the house I needed to tackle first, when I was carrying such a heavy load already. I looked back at the clock seeing that I had only two hours left before I had to pick him up. What do I do? What do I say? How do I handle this?
I finally sat myself down to think about what my son needed. Nobody knows him more than I do. So, what would his reaction be? How did I need to tell him? Each word needed to be carefully said. I didn’t want to condole or glorify what his father did, but I don’t want to down his father either. That is still his father after all, and I know that he does love him. This was a truly difficult situation. Unfortunately, I had expected this day to come one day, however I still wasn’t prepared for it…you can never really prepare yourself for it.
If, I tell him the truth before his birthday then it will totally crush him and that memory will remain with him forever. He doesn’t need an emotional celebration, he needs joy and for everyone to embrace his life. So, telling him afterwards seemed like the better choice. So, now what is the excuse? Do I roll with the faux story of him going on a mandatory job in another state? or do I avoid the subject altogether some how? This is where it angers me…I always have to create excuses for his father. It’s quite exhausting, and honestly, it pains me to continue to do so.
On my way to picking my son up from school, I finally let out my sorrows. It was a good cry, one where I could regain my strength again. After making sure I had a clear face, I walked in his daycare. I saw his smiling face, and I muscled a smile back. I gave him a big hug and asked about his day. After driving a little bit down the road, I threw him the warning about his birthday. “Hey bud, so I have something to tell you. I hate to tell you, but your daddy won’t be able to make it to your birthday party tomorrow”, I told him. “Why not?”, he asked. “Well, he has some obligations to be elsewhere. He really does want to be there for your party, and he is very sorry, but unfortunately he has no choice. He just has these obligations that he can’t get out of, where he will be gone for a little while”, I explained. “For how long?”, He asked. “Well, we’re not really sure. We should know soon”, I distracted the situation, “but at least your cousins will still be there and you’ll have so much fun! We got your cake and I’ll be there!”. He lowered his head toward his hand held game, “Okay”. He seemed satisfied with my reasoning and we began discussing the fun that he anticipated having at his birthday parties.
So, technically I didn’t lie…it was the best truth I could come up with. It was only temporary until we got through his birthday events. The truth was that they were obligations that he couldn’t get out of, he really did want to be there for his birthday, and we weren’t sure if he was able to get out sooner or not. His father was trying to get a public defender, so he could get a bond review. He hoped to get out sooner or at least have a bond amount.
During his efforts for a bond review, there were speculations that he might get out within a week or so. Even though it would be difficult for my son to handle the thought of him being in there a long time, I still didn’t want him released that soon. A slap on the wrist was not what this man needed. This was about the only option he had left to wake up from his mistakes. This was the golden opportunity to spend some time away from his family to realize how his actions have hurt them, especially his son. He needs to come out of this as a new man, a better person and a father willing to make the changes to earn the type of father-son relationship that he should have always had. I don’t want him released so early that he thinks that he is a badass now because he went to jail and nothing can be done to him. He doesn’t need to revert back to thinking that doing everything his way is correct anymore. These are not the examples that my son needs to learn from. He actually needs to teach him that his actions weren’t acceptable, and then show him what a respectable individual looks like.
Once, he got denied of his bond review, him and his mother expressed their fears of me telling my son where his father was. I understand their concerns, but I will not lie to him. I refuse. My son is growing into a young man, where he needs all of the right answers or he will start resenting me for keeping the truth from him. That will create a bigger wound where both of his parents have failed him. I am his most truth worthy source and protector, what will that make me if I lie to him about something this serious.
The Monday after my son’s birthday weekend, we were all sitting in the living room. We were getting ready to pop in a movie. He turned to me, “I miss Daddy, when do I see him again”…I shook with fear. This was the time to tell him, but I wasn’t ready. I just wasn’t ready. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t tell him. My anxiety was in full effect, and I felt like my actions were obviously off. “I’m sure you’ll see him soon”, I blurted out. After I said that, I felt the release of my anxiety. My body came to a halt of fear and began self soothing back to normalcy. I just kept rewriting in my mind that I missed the opportunity to release this heavy burden off my shoulders. However, I just knew that my anxiety would have said everything in the worst way. It was better for me to continue to carry the load rather than quickly dumping it onto my son and screwing up my son’s emotions in the process. It needed to come at ease, that way it wasn’t a load for the both of us.
A couple weeks later as we got closer to the month of May, I finally had the strength to tell him. We were walking through a grocery store when he randomly said, “Mommy, where is daddy? I miss him. Do I see him Saturday?”. These were all of the right questions that I couldn’t avoid this time. I said, “We’re going to have to talk about it when we get in the car, because this isn’t the place”. He looked at me with a silly grin, “Why? Is he dead?”, he laughed. I chuckled to the strange and blunt response, and quickly reassured him, “NO! but we just shouldn’t talk about it here”. He started walking forward, “Okay, is it bad?”. I grinned, “Weeeellll, yeah…a little bit”.
After we checked out our groceries and settled into our car seats, I turned to him, “Are you ready to talk about it”. He nodded. “Well, your father made a little bit of a big mistake, so he is in a detention center”. He pulled his head back in confusion, “What’s that?”, he asked. “Well, it’s kind of like jail, except for it’s for those that don’t do as badly of things as those who go to jail. It’s not as scary and bad. He is safe and doing okay”. I waited for his questions and reactions. I could tell that he was trying to process the information. He asked many questions, such as learning what he had in his cell, what it was like for his father living there, and wanting to know whether he can have his car there. “Well baby, he doesn’t need a car, because he can’t go anywhere anyways. He has to stay there”, I responded. He put his head down, “That was a stupid question”. I grabbed his shoulder, “No it isn’t. No question is stupid. You are just confused, and trying to learn everything. I know that it is overwhelming and you just want to know everything. I want you to ask everything that you want to know”. So, he asked, “What did he do?”. This was tricky, but I answered it the best I could, “Well, he kind of lost his temper in front of the police officer”. I think that was the only one of my answers he was unsure of, so I kind of left that up to his father to thoroughly explain. I shouldn’t have to explain that one, his father was the one that acted out and now he needs to face his son with those questions.
He was doing very well with all of the information, until he asked when he would see his father again. “Possibly May 30th, depending if the judge says it’s okay”. I watched as his eyes rolled around trying to figure out the dates in his head, “How long is that?”. I grabbed my phone and pulled up my calendar, “See, here is today. April 24th”, I scrolled my finger down the calendar, “and here is May 30th”. He then began to cry. I pulled him into my arms. His head into my shoulder, I watched the rain fog up the car windows. I could feel his pain, and I was hurting for him. I pulled away, “It’s only about a month”. He started wiping his tears with arms. “What are your biggest fears? What can I help you feel better about in this?”, I asked him. He responded as he sobbed, “Well, it’s three things. One, he doesn’t have a lot of things. Two, because he’s gone for a long time, and three, it’ll be a long time before I see him again”. I put my hand over his shoulder, “Well, he doesn’t have a lot of things, but he has his basics. They pull him out to eat three times a day just like normal. It’s not that bad. He probably even gets to watch tv.” His face began to clear up. “And as for seeing him again, I understand that is hard, but you’ll get to talk to him on the phone all of the time”. He asked, “Can I call him?”. I continued, “No, but he can call you. Remember he called on Easter? He was calling from there. And remember he wasn’t able to come to your birthday party? It was because he was in there. I didn’t want to tell you, because I didn’t want to ruin your birthday, vacation and Easter. Understand?”. His face suddenly showed peace, “Yeah…Thank you, Mommy. You said all of the right answers”.
At that moment, I felt proud of myself, and I completely understand why I was blessed to being his mother. I answered all of his questions in a loving and understanding way. I allowed him the space to cry even though he only cried for about 10 minutes, and I comforted his fears. I thoroughly explained everything that he needed to know. I have remained strong and courageous during this whole incident. Fortunately, I have gained the constant experience to deal with these difficult situations. I understand that every word can predict how he will deal with the situation now and for the future. I don’t want to be blunt, but I don’t want to baby the situation either. He is old enough to understand certain things, and one of them is knowing that jail is a bad place. I needed to find the words, and I did. And in the end, my son thanked me for it. That spoke volumes to me. What a great child that I have here.
I got his teachers and daycare providers involved to look for behavior changes. My family and friends have been there for any support that he may need. However, he is doing very well. The saying is true, it takes a village to raise a child, and I have acquired all of the help that he needs. It is truly a beautiful blessing, and I am extremely proud of him.
He has received several phone calls from his father and even a letter. It is initially sad for my son, but he is handling them very well. He will often say, “It makes me want to cry”. I try to talk him into crying if he wants, but for some reason, he is bottling it all in. So, there still is some concern there. I can relate to how he feels as to when my mom left. Phone calls and holiday cards felt like the wound was constantly being re-opened. It was that part of my life that I didn’t want to keep returning without having it fully. It hurt worse when I only got her in pieces and small doses. So, I understand what that letter and phone calls are doing to him.
Even though it is sad for my son, I think that contact with his father is making him feeling better about the situation also. His father calls him all of the time now, probably three more times than he ever had. I am grateful that he is still in contact, but I can’t help to be irritated by it in a sense. If he had focused on his son as much as he is now, he probably would have thought twice before he got into this type of trouble. He would of thought, I need to calm down before I miss my son’s birthday. He would of thought, I don’t want to miss out on my son’s life. He would of thought, I need to be the example that my son needs. He would of thought, my son is priority and nothing comes in front of him. Then, I wouldn’t have to be in this position that I am to tell my son that his father is in jail. I wouldn’t have to constantly hold my son together. I wouldn’t have to constantly wonder what will happen next. My son wouldn’t have to wonder who is in his corner. My son wouldn’t have to wonder when he’ll see his father. My son wouldn’t have to become this big ball of emotion with many broken pieces to be picked up by his mother. He wouldn’t have to wonder where his is on the list of priority from his own father. He wouldn’t have to be embarrassed that his father is in jail, so other children don’t tear him down for it. He wouldn’t have to wonder about anything…he could just be a kid…