Growing Up Hard


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:


23 responses to “Growing Up Hard

  1. Silvia – that is a heartbreaking story so well-written. You are doing all the right things to protect your son. We never know what’s really going on inside the walls of other homes, and I ache for that young boy. And for your feeling of helplessness at the timing of his move.
    Resilience runs strong in many children who come from abuse or neglect, and it was encouraging that he wanted to be with your son enough to venture to your neighborhood. I pray that he will find a guardian angel in his new home.

    • Thank you, Sammy. It was very hard watching this unfold. Kids don’t ask to be born and should not be put through this, but we all know it happens all the time, unfortunately.

  2. You’re a good mother, Sylvia. We had two different boys living with us (not at the same time) when my son was in high school – both with serious family troubles. You want to help all of these children, but it’s just not possible.

  3. Amen.

  4. Silvia, I hear your pain. I constantly hear these stories as I volunteer for an organization that helps homeless kids and kids in Max’s position… needing a healthy environment. I DO pray that Max has some healthy family in Kansas, some good teachers, and loving friends. He is going to need them.

  5. Wow, that’s rough. You want to do something for the Maxs of the world, but what? Can you report the family? Is there something one can do?

  6. Oh… I forgot to add. Read the book, BOYS IN THE BOAT, by Daniel James Brown. It will rip your heart out! However, it is NOT a depressing book but it will give you perspective as to what other kids experience.

  7. hmm yeah,it is a situation for that age to coup up.But i hope he soon come to know that people come and go,but the friendship stays on.

  8. Thanks for the story, one which is probably more common than not, Silvia. I bet he never forgets your kindness of driving him home.

  9. So sad, Silvia…it’s hard to know what to do in those situations. Heartbreaking…

  10. My heart goes out to Max – may he find his inner strength to get him through this all. What a burden for one so young – for anyone really. Maybe you could drop him a note – or your son could? Let him know someone is thinking of him? I know this is just my own projection saying this Silvia … it’s just a thought …

  11. Hi Silvia .. Max’s life enters our hearts … so sad, so difficult to deal with … I’m glad you were able to help albeit briefly .. and like you I hope he found that he found many loving friends and family for him to be a part of, to grow into the strong man I hope he will become.

    Sadly a lesson for your son and you .. but one worth learning …and good for us to be reminded of others’ lives – Hilary

  12. It’s so sad when we think about the lives some children live. Broken homes, homes destroyed by drugs and booze. Thank you for sharing this story. It’s tough to teach our kids about staying safe, while our hearts break for those kids hurting from homes that are anything but happy.

  13. My daughter had a couple children in her classes over the years whose parents and home lives were challenging, to put it kindly. It breaks your heart every time, doesn’t it? I hope his mother gets her act together–it *can* happen, I’ve seen it happen. That would be the best possible outcome, even if it isn’t the most likely…

  14. My partner and I don’t have kids, but plenty of kids like Max have passed through our lives–some at the periphery and others pretty close to the center. We’ve never felt that we’ve been able to do enough, but I do think that any kindness makes some small difference. And if Max is keeping in touch, he must feel the same way.

  15. That is a sad story but a compelling read. Like you, all I can fell is hope. One of the sad things is how much this child knows and has experienced that most children won’t have to face until they are older and perhaps able to understand. Your son also grew up a little more than planned during this visit. Thanks for sharing this.

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