A few years ago I was in the habit of walking my dog just before dusk closed in. On one particular late afternoon we walked past our local baseball park and I noticed that far beyond the field in the grassy back corner under trees a half dozen portly men were sitting at a picnic table. It seemed they were all dressed in black. It was autumn, and the sky was darkening and they looked like silhouettes perhaps playing cards.
This became a daily scene, and more young boys on skateboards showed up. I was uncomfortable. I notified the local law enforcement agencies. They promised to do a drive by but did not seem to be concerned: there was no law against gathering in a public park in daylight.
My arthritic spine ended my dog walks, and I turned my mind to other things. During which time my 15 year old grandson, who attended school in my neighborhood, began asking if I would bring him a sandwich and some juice a big jug so he could share. His parents both work odd hours and the kids are left alone in the mornings to get themselves dressed, pack a lunch and off to school. So I did this, never EVER considering that they might be pouring a liter of vodka in it. My grand-daughter enlightened me of that scheme. I’m from the 57 Chevy days, I guess. All my boyfriends and both husbands had a 57.
One day my daughter stopped by on the way home from work, concerned about the fall in her son’s grades. They had never been great, but now they were a disaster. I said I could help, if he could come over to my house after school, have a snack and do his homework. He had always loved to come to my house, but now he only came a few times.
He said he preferred to do his homework at home, as his house in a cul de sac undisturbed by street noises, and he quit coming.
My spinal issues got worse and I stopped walking with my dog as I was having a hard time remaining vertical. l forgot about the picnic table in the park for several months.
Grandson got consistently poor grades. He cut school. There was nobody at home until evening. And he was suddenly an angry child.
I spoke with my daughter a number of times, reminding her I had taken a 60% cut in salary just so I could have access to the school: my boss allowed me to take lunch any time I wanted to. I was likely to show up at 9:00 am, noon, or 3:15 pm, carrying a sweater, book, some cough drops or a hanky that I “thought” they forgot.
Of course I was checking up on them. And I sacrificed: I worked locally for 1/3 the wages I could have made had I continued working in San Francisco. I was not going to let them snow me like I did my mom!
I took the salary cut, my kids were worth it to me, and the results prove my decision.
What was very different from the ‘80s, when my children were in junior high and high school is that fewer parents know enough to make themselves “unexpectedly available.”
Too often a common reason is they feel compelled to keep their jobs are fear of losing a great paying position or just unwilling to sacrifice. It’s important to note that during my parenting time employers were a lot more flexible with allowing parents “parenting” time.
These are days requiring a different set of values for child rearing, and I am first to admit that my big-fat-watchful eye did not catch one of my children before they got in a very precarious “predicament”. This is no perfect plan: perhaps because of this, I was more watchful.
Well, despite my efforts to keep grandson in line, I was not up to today’s standards: not alert enough to begin questioning the middle school kid about drugs & alcohol.
Hence, the purpose of this blog.
The grandson I knew “disappeared”.
Nobody knew where he was, or if they did they didn’t tell me. He was picked up by the police, wandering in the dark as a minor, (several times.) There were physical altercations at home, and he was now a surly and disobedient child, very tall child, and way too brawny.
Finally he disappeared. Parents had given up: he was violent, and he refused to follow family rules. The cops had been called and it looked like he was heading for Juvenile Detention. To his father’s credit, he did everything he could and more to keep grandson from going to Juvy. And then he disappeared.
So it was Grandma, going places nobody wants to go.
I started with the Vice Principal of the High School, who was pleased to see me proactively searching for a solution to a terrible problem.
His hope was to have Grandson back in school, and on track to college. Instead Grandson ran away.
His parents were worried, the police couldn’t find him and I was terrified.
So, I worked from home: I had already made him dependent on me and my wheels, and there was a method behind it: “in case of emergency….”
I now knew who grandson’s friends were, and who their parents and sometimes neighbors were: I got their addresses and cell phone numbers from him… because he asked me to cart him around in my car & gave me all my phone numbers which I promptly put In my address book under G for Grandson.
So I started my searching: I drove from Tom’s house to Jim’s house to Kevin’s and Damon’s asking the same questions of the parents: When did you last see him? Do you know where he went? Do you know of other friends that I might not know? And can you give me addresses/phone numbers please. They gave it all to me.
I searched for a couple of days. Then came the evening, a dark and rainy night, when I was driving down a street near home. It was nearing midnight, and I recognized that long lanky frame. No umbrella, no jacket, wearing only a soaking wet hoody for warmth.
I pulled over and asked if he wanted to come home with me and warm up with something to eat and some hot chocolate. He snarled at me asking me why I was bothering all his friends.
What was I doing! I said I was finding him, of course, so do you want something to eat?
I was unwilling to engage in a battle with him.
When we got to my house, I explained I wanted him to do an online search for me, feigning Elder Web Idiocy. I led him to the office and sat him down, saying nothing. And when he snarled at me again, asking what I wanted him to look up, I said the name of Jeffery Dahmer.
I spelled Dahmer’s name for him, and he quickly typed it in, gasped and fell into horrified silence.
Finally he breathed “..He, he ATE THEM?” He looked at me, a really tall little boy now.
“You bet Grandson that is what he did: he searched or shall we say “shopped” for troubled young men wandering the night and invited them to his home, literally for a meal. Get it?”
He nodded his head, shaken and pale.
We talked about growing up and the things one needs to learn, and how for a while longer he was going to have to check in with family or friends parents when he had questions, doubts and problems.
“It’s all about your brain growing up, you know. You’re plain risky when you don’t have an adult brain!”
Today he is working only two jobs, he dumped the third. He wants to buy a car and stashes most of his paychecks in the bank; and he is busy working on his GED.
I can tell by his voice and demeanor he likes the man he is turning into and that light-hearted bond between loving parents and child is definitely improved. He is no longer angry with me.