Thursday, March 04, 2004

Long Non-Knitting Post Ahead -- Skip If So Inclined. Heck, I Would.
It was just over 2 weeks ago (February 17th, to be exact) that I was waxing ecstatic over RockStar's progress and how proud we were of him. I got a lot of wonderful "atta-girl" comments from readers, and was feeling pretty doggone good about my budding parenting skills. Funny how life has a way of slapping you upside the head if you get too smug …

On the evening of February 19th, RockStar revealed to us that he had been planning to run away. His plan, a very detailed and granular one, involved stealing my car, driving to Tucson, ditching the car, and taking a bus to San Antonio, Texas, to live in the basement of an 18-year old AOL Instant Messenger buddy whom he has never met. Also helping him hatch this scheme was another online buddy (in Sweden, no less). He received additional helpful hints from these two online enablers such as, "Don't forget to take one of (your parent's) credit cards, so you'll have money." The ultimate goal in Texas was for RockStar and his buddy, who is living in the basement of his aunt's house and is still in high school himself, to start a rock band and "make a difference in the world, 'cuz all the music that's out there sucks, and school is keeping me from practicing 14 hours a day like I want to."

I cannot begin to describe the shock, fear, anger, and hurt that this confession brought up for DH and myself. To say we were caught absolutely flatfooted doesn't begin to describe it. I know teenagers can put on a mask to hide their feelings; I used to be one myself and I remember very well how it's done.

But this scheme of RockStar's was so far below our radar that it went virtually undetected until 2 days before his scheduled departure date, when he started exhibiting vague physical complaints with no discernable cause. I've always recognized this behavior as a stress signal for him, and on Thursday morning, I gently confronted him before dropping him off at school. I told him I knew he wasn't truly sick, since he was eating large and healthy dinners but acting all Victorian and vaporish the rest of the time. He acknowledged that something was bothering him that involved school and music, but he needed to figure it out for himself. I reminded him that his father and I couldn't help him if he didn't talk to us, and left it at that. After dropping him off, I got on the phone to DH and said, "Tag -- you're it." That night, DH also pressed RockStar about it. RockStar put DH off, saying it was something he needed to handle himself. But less than 15 minutes after that, RockStar came into DH's home office and 'fessed up that he had planned on running away at 2:00 am Sunday morning (Saturday night).

The details came out piece by piece over the next few days. I was on the phone to RockStar's counselor the morning after the confession (Friday). His immediate assessment was both reassuring and frightening. Reassuring in that RockStar told us of his decision not to execute his plan, and frightening in his assessment that RockStar's depth of planning meant he might someday carry out another plan (leaving DH and I to wonder, what would that plan be? robbing a bank? or?) I scheduled the next available appointment, which wasn't until Tuesday, March 2nd.

DH and I immediately cut off RockStar's internet access, which he was not at all happy about. RockStar was pissed because he believed that since he 'fessed up, he'd get an appropriate punishment and life would go on as normal, la-di-da, as has occurred in past transgressions. Instead, he's finally realizing that, like not joking about having a gun in an airport, you can't confess an elaborate runaway scheme to your parents, especially one that involves criminal elements (car theft, credit card fraud, harboring a runaway), without major reaction and repercussions. Needless to say, it's been, at times, a tense 2 weeks.

We tried to make very clear to RockStar that his plan, despite being very detailed and workable in his mind, had little chance of succeeding in the real world. Did he really think that a grown woman (the aunt of the kid in Texas) would not notice a strange kid with no visible means of support living in her home week after week, eating her food, using her shower, washer and dryer, etc. Did he understand that cell phones could be traced? That credit card transactions could be traced? That he'd never driven a stick-shift car in his entire life? (no, no, no and no) We asked him, why steal my car? Why drive to Tucson, and take a bus the rest of the way? Because he didn't know how else to get to the bus station (which, if it weren't so tragic it'd be laughable -- but we weren't about to remind him about the purpose of a taxicab at that point). We asked, how did RockStar plan to support himself at 15 years old, with no high school diploma? Oh, he had that figured out, too: His Texas buddy assured him that "tons of kids" would be clamoring to take music theory lessons from RockStar. We reminded RockStar that his guitar teacher is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of California who possesses 3 degrees and is nearly finished with his doctorate, while RockStar has been taking lessons for a total of 18 months. How, exactly, did he think he was qualified to teach?

What it all boiled down to was that he admitted to us that he really didn't want to leave, that it was a fantasy that got out of hand; that when push came to shove, he couldn't go through with it. Then why, DH and I asked, did he make these elaborate plans? Because they made me feel good, like I had control of my life, he answered. We stressed to him that there were healthier ways to feel in control besides making plans to run away. He made it very clear to us (and later, his counselor) that despite his excellent grades, just how much he hates school, and the pointlessness of the work involved (the usual adolescent argument of, "I'll never use this stuff in real life"). We tried to make him understand that while yes, we know he's eager to get out there and grab hold of life and shake it by the tail, it's just not his time, yet.

Fast forward to present. Tuesday's counseling session was good. RockStar's counselor drilled down to the core issues and exposed the problems. RockStar is scheduled for as many sessions as it takes, and DH and I are working with the counselor on our level of involvement in the counseling process. We're investigating the possibility of transferring RockStar to a Performing Arts High School next year, where he'll have many more classmates with similar creative drives and won't have to drive to Texas to be in a band.

Bottom line: We're exhausted. DH and I knew we were getting damaged goods with this kid, but we had no idea just how deep it ran. What if I hadn't paid attention to his squirminess a few days before his planned departure date? Are DH and I waiting for some future "shoe" to drop with this kid? After yesterday's counseling session, DH voiced something I'd been feeling for awhile: "I hope he's retrievable." I say in all truth that if his mother were to appear before me, I cannot be held responsible for what I'd do to her.

Say a little prayer for this family.

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