This past weekend was delightful. Mass vaccinations in the US have really transformed our ability to be sociable and thus enhanced our overall quality of life enormously. Friday evening I had happy hour in my backyard, unmasked, with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in months. The weather was perfect. On Saturday, we had dinner with our neighbors in their backyard and then went in their house to share travel slides. We haven’t been inside another person’s house since early March 2020. Literally.
On Sunday morning, I texted E (yes, I still text her occasionally, and briefly, no extended back and forth):
Sometimes it’s just sweet to be alive, to eat farm eggs and listen to old John Denver songs and sing to my husband. I’m so glad I didn’t really die when I thought I wanted to… I have a busy schedule next week and feel stable, so let’s cancel next Wednesday. The mom stuff is important, but I can keep working on some of that on my own. I hope you are having a lovely weekend! See you June 2.
She wrote back maybe ten minutes later:
I’m smiling. 🙂 I’m so happy for you and the sweetness you have created around you. I’ll take you out of the schedule on Wednesday and see you on June 2nd. Soak in the goodness.
All good, yes? Until Tuesday night, that is.
I’m nearly asleep, at 1:30 in the morning, when I hear my phone ping. Oops, forgot to shut off the sound. Who is texting me at this hour?
It’s my older son, Andres, the one with autism, the one who moved back in with us in November 2019.
Hey Mom, are you awake? I need to talk to you.
I want to be receptive, but my eyelids are so heavy.
I’m falling asleep, but you can text me for a couple of minutes.
However, I fell asleep before he texted back. The next thing I knew, it was 5:15, and I woke up when my husband was getting ready to leave for work. As he always does, he brought me a cup of tea, and I picked up my phone. That’s when I saw more messages from my son (which I have paraphrased slightly to protect identities):
I need to sit down and talk to you about this. It has been weighing on me since I moved back home, but I never told you because I thought you would be upset. However, I have been chatting online with a girl now for six days. She’s really great. I told her and also my good friend Amy everything and they say I should tell you too because you love me and care about me.
Mom, Renee [his ex, not her real name] and Mark [her now-husband, also not his real name] have been harrassing me every night. They throw bitch fits at me if I don’t play video games with them whenever they feel like playing and need another person. It has come to the point when I lie to them about why I can’t play. I can’t even sleep when I want to. I am tired of lying, and I’m tired of being harrassed. And some of my old friends from high school stopped talking to me when they found out I’m still in touch with Renee and Mark. They say the relationship is unhealthy and they are tired of hearing me complain but never do anything about it, so they cut me off.
The new girl and Amy encouraged me to tell you the truth. After I moved home, Mark guilted me into paying their bills and buying them food. Renee would get on the phone and cry and plead and ask me for money. If I said no, she said I was being selfish and only thinking of myself. I should think more about other people. And I want to be a good person, so I would give in. But it was a lot, especially when I got my stimulus checks. I’m embarrassed to say it, but last year I think I gave them about $3000.
Also, while I am coming clean about stuff, I should tell you about the injury to my shoulder. You know Mark like to “play fight” me which was ridiculous because he’s really big and a body builder and obviously I am not. And when you found out, you came to get me and bring me home, which was good. But I didn’t tell you that earlier he picked me and threw me and it was so bad I ended up in the ER. They made me lie to everyone and tell the doctors there that I had fallen off the porch when I was taking down Christmas decorations. In reality, Mark had been mad at me and he picked me up over his head and threw me down, hard, onto the ground. The hospital said I had a dislocated shoulder and three torn tendons in my shoulder. They fixed the dislocation but referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. I never went because I didn’t have any money because they were taking all my money.
And that’s why I don’t want to play basketball with the neighbors anymore. It hurts too much to lift my arm.
Anyway, I am sick of being guilt tripped all the time and harrassed. I am tired of Mark cussing me out and putting me down. I am planning to permanently block him and Renee. The new girl and my friend Amy agree I should to this and that I should tell you. They say I am not being selfish. They say I am saving my own future, and I agree.
And I didn’t tell you about the times even before Mark was around, when I was still dating Renee that she would hit me with things and broke this stick on my spine…
Well, you get the idea. There was a lot more about how they were using his PlayStation account, and so the new girl taught him how to get rid of that account and start a new one so they couldn’t find him and also couldn’t use his account anymore. And there was stuff about being hit, being mocked, being manipulated…
I knew they weren’t kind people. That’s why I brought him home. And I knew (didn’t like, but knew) that he still played video games with them and talked to them a lot. I thought it was because he was lonely and isolated and turned to them because he didn’t have a social life. I suspected he had given them a bit of money–it seemed strange how quickly he ran out of money each month–but he denied it when I asked. And I never would have imagined that it was so much money.
I am trying to find the words for my emotional reaction to all of this today. At first I was just shocked and numb. Then I was very sad for Andres–for the way he’s been hurt, but also that he is naïve and easy to manipulate and in some ways very childlike, even though he’s a grown man. The way he has been bullied much of his life, all the way back to elementary school. And of course I was mad at Renee and Mark, and so disappointed in Renee. I’ve been kind to her and given her a lot of second chances. Maybe that says I’m as naïve and easy to manipulate as my son!
A very painful part has been the guilt that has smacked me hard in the face. Why didn’t I protect him better? Why didn’t I fight more against his daily video games and chats with them? I knew they had been abusive, but I guess I thought that they couldn’t hurt him from a distance. I suspected something wasn’t right about the money but didn’t push when my son denied it–even though I know he often says what he thinks I want to hear rather than the truth.
I think it’s just comfortable for me and convenient to let things slide. I don’t want to fight with Andres every day. I don’t want to nag him to not talk to Renee and Mark, to come out of his room, to get some exercise, to eat healthy food. So I don’t, and he just slides deeper and deeper into their clutches. I tell myself, “He’s an adult, I need to respect his autonomy, even if I don’t like his decisions.” But the truth is, apart from his autism there is some kind of cognition problem, and he needs a higher level of protection. And I haven’t ben providing it.
As I started cycling through these emotions, I reached for my phone and started to text E. I thought I would ask her if she had filled the slot for the time I had cancelled today. Maybe I could process this with her.
And then I stopped. I knew if I went in to talk to her, she would talk about boundaries. Not just the boundaries my son needs to have with Renee, but also the boundaries and expectations I need to have with him. She’ll be right, though she’ll also be pushier and more fierce about it than I am, because we are just different kind of people. And then I’ll feel like I’m wimpy. And anyway, I know already that boundaries need to tighten up.
I put my phone down.
I told myself, “I’m upset. I don’t know, right now, how to handle this. I don’t know if this new girl is a good thing or new drama. I don’t know if Andres will change his mind in two days again. I can’t see the path ahead. But there will be one. I have to trust that I will figure out some steps to take.”
I told myself, “I’m feeling crummy right now. I’m ashamed that I haven’t protected him better. I’m also overwhelmed at how much work and attention it takes to protect him. I feel exhausted thinking about what might lie ahead. I’ll try to have some self-compassion for the well-intentioned mother who is confused and agitated. And regardless of the impulses that bubble up, I won’t hurt myself. I can tolerate this distress without harming myself.”
I told myself, “Maybe I’ll just go for a walk with my kind neighbor, who is such a good listener. And I’ll use the wise, kind energy she shares with me and just listen to my son today. No need to figure out anything. I’ll just listen to him and see what other parts of the story I need to know.”
It’s been a hard day. I haven’t been able to concentrate. I didn’t get my work done. The kitchen is a mess–no energy to unload the dishwasher, do up the dinner dishes or sweep the floor. I have had to repeat the messages to myself about self-compassion, about taking my time, about faith that we’ll figure this out.
My neighbor said something wise to me, which I have added to the list of things I keep repeating to myself. She told me, “You have to remember that in a given moment, you are doing the best you can with the information you have. You can’t go and judge your last-month or last-year self for making a decision based on what you know now that you didn’t know then. That’s not fair. All you can do is take the information you now have, which is that Renee and Mark are continuing to abuse and take advantage of Andres.”
So, that was my Wednesday. On the one hand, it sucked. On the other hand, more evidence, I guess, that I’m about done with therapy.