One morning, my son asked if Max, a school friend, can come hang out because he’s moving to Kansas and they won’t see each other again. I’ve heard Max’s name before, but never met him. I said, “Have his mom contact me and we’ll set something up since Grandma is here, watching.”
When I got home that evening, Max was playing with the neighborhood kids. My son had shown him our house on their walk home from school, and a few hours later Max simply showed up to play.
Something didn’t sit right with me about the whole story. I know the parents of all my son’s friends, we text prior to our kids getting together, parents drop off their kid at my house, and we have a plan as to the pick-up hour. In short, we know the parents and they know us. Best way to understand your kid’s friends — his early life entourage — is to know the families. But I knew nothing about Max.
When I asked where he lived, Max described an apartment complex twenty minutes away. And no, he didn’t think his mom knew where he was. She didn’t feel well; was asleep when he left home.
It was getting dark by now, kids were going inside, and Max was ready to say goodbye and leave. I told him to use the phone, call his mom and have her pick him up. He politely declined, and said he’ll walk.
I couldn’t, in good conscience, let him walk alone in the dark, so Max, my son and I piled into the car and drove him home. He’d mentioned his mom was sick, so I asked if she had a cold. “No,” he said, “she went to a party last night and got drunk.”
My heart broke for this soft-spoken boy with eyes full of something beyond my grasp — hope, perhaps. Sorrow. He’d walked twenty minutes to be with friends — maybe to escape the mess at home?
“What about your father?” I asked. There is no stifling a mother’s curiosity, and at this point my need to know had grown in bounds. Max said only that his father left. It took serious self-discipline not to meet his eyes in the rear-view mirror, where I’d likely see the sadness heard in his voice. Later, I learned the father had left the family and soon after committed suicide. Drugs had been involved.
I wanted to do something for Max — pull him from under the weight of this sorrow he lived with, address the sadness in his voice, shake up the mother who was too hungover to know where he was, erase a past he carried bravely on his young shoulders. I didn’t detect abuse, so I didn’t investigate further, and consoled myself with the belief he’d join an extended family in Kansas.
Max had since moved away, and all I can do is hope he’d found normalcy — a healthy routine, nurturing love. A grandmother, aunt, someone embracing him. Watching after him.
When the dust settled, I had a long conversation with my son about inviting friends over without permission. He learned a quick lesson from Max’s story — an unsupervised child could be susceptible to bad behavior, and as a result influence his friends.
Still, today I’m heartbroken for the ten-year old with eyes full of hope, in search of a friend. I pray he will be strong enough to reach adulthood intact, and maybe, just maybe, this phase of his life will make him a stronger man.
—– Photo: www.parentdish.co.uk