Friday, June 20, 2014

I am big enough to be a man

This afternoon, my son, my S, my precious child who was beaten down and destroyed for the first 15 years of his precious life, called his second mother.  When he could take it no longer, he fought back against his abusers, and there was a local family that was instrumental at getting him out and to freedom.  His second mother is that woman.  She and I are tremendous friends, and he calls her when he feels lonely and like he wants to have some contact with his past.  She's far safer than calling the abusive woman who called herself mother and never was a mother to him.

Anyway, S was trying to convince his second mother to come visit us when we go camping in July to mark Micah's second anniversary.  They cannot come, but she has promised they are going to try to come next year when S turns 18.

In this conversation, S declared, "I am big enough to be a man."

A man.

Such a strong, yet bittersweet concept for this child of mine.  He is only now safe to fully being a child (and boy does he show it sometimes such as his favorite Disney movies). 

For ten years of his precious life, he was in a war zone.  There was no place to be a child.  This child of mine actually used to run away from the orphanage and was part of a street gang.  I'm familiar with his orphanage.  I'm familiar with the information that the directors at that time were selling aid food in restaurants that marketed to Westerners in Liberia, leaving the children with next to nothing to eat.  For as long as he could survive, he was part of the orphanage blackmarket system.  Tough children would fight, and the other children would bet their food wages on the winner of the fight.  The winner got a take of the bets.  Eventually, that was not enough for him, and that is when he joined a street gang.

The first American family used this history to condemn him.  They actually informed him he was not a "real" Christian because of this history.  It makes my blood boil to remember both what he had to do to survive, and what they called him for doing it.  He was never a child soldier. Somehow, that was a fate that he escaped.  It might have been that he was from Monrovia and typically it was rural boys that were conscripted as child soldiers.  I don't know what it was, but I am grateful that the hand of fate that saved him from that additional trauma.

Then, he spent four years in the absolute worst environment he could have found in the U.S.  The only benefits he found here was no war, no gangs, and marginally more food, but most of that was not accessible to him.  However, the verbal and physical abuse escalated dramatically there.  He spent four years fighting to survive in a world where he did not understand the rules, and where any attempt to learn to be a child was used as a weapon to hurt him further.

Two years and two months ago, my baby got his freedom.  And he has struggled mightily to understand what that freedom means.  Weekly therapy for two years has helped him slowly and surely blossom.  He is getting there.

Yet, when we moved the first of this year, he had this mental block that when he turned 18, it meant he was able to simply leave and didn't have to care about us.  As a child who is fighting tooth and nail to recover his education, who legimately needs about six more years of covering under our wings before he launches into adulthood safely, it terrified me to worry that he might disappear in the night and not able to find him.  I let his second mom know, if he shows up at her house, please let us know.  I then began grilling him.  If he goes, don't sneak out.  Say good-bye, take your cell phone, take your medications and check in.  We cannot make you stay.  But, we are still your family, we still love you, and we will worry about it.

He did one spectacular episode of running away.  We tried for over an hour to get him home, but the low that night was 20 degrees and ultimately we were forced to call the police.  When we got him home, a police officer lectured him for half an  hour, telling him so many things I have thought but cannot say to him. 

That experience was LIFE CHANGING for my son.  He no longer fantasizes about leaving the moment he is 18.  Instead, he has become focused on what it will actually take for him to become an adult, with a job, and able to care for himself.  He has been very clear that his intention when he is done with schooling is to return to New England.  I don't know if that will change, but I certainly understand his desire to go back there.

S felt safe for the first time in his life, and made real friends for the first time in his life in New England.  He wants to live there as an adult.  He wants to be back in that place where he felt safe and free.  He wants to be near those friends who taught him how to be human. 

He knows we aren't going to move back there.  However, he also knows we understand and are totally okay with him moving there as an adult.  We simply asked him to consider staying here with us while he finishes his education.  Right now, he's pretty determine that this is a good idea and he will do this.

Today, S's dream, and his goal, is to finish his high school diploma, something he still has to fight for and cannot take for granted after his history and the damage that first U.S. family did to him.  However, he has advocates from us, to his teachers, to his high administration, all the way to the Superintendent of schools when we discovered this month that New England completely messed up his education and left him NO transfer credits for his freshman year that can be credited to his diploma efforts.  He's now in summer school, fees waived, with a personal tutor, to earn the two credits he must have to be a sophomore, all because the superintendent has heard how hard HE has fought for his education and has declared that she will not leave him without the resources.  In fact, she has told us she intends to be there to watch him graduate WITH his class in three years. 

So, he's going to finish his education, even though this means he gets up at 5:30 every weekday this summer (since he must go do his football weight training before he goes to class as  he is playing football this fall as well).   When he's done, he intends to earn an Associates degree in Criminal Justice at the local community college.  He has the brains to earn a Bachelor's, but he has decided that is just too many years for him at this point.   We expect it will take him three years to earn that degree, as he will still be battling some deficiencies, sometimes we don't find them until he's already lost in his education they are so deep for him.

Then, he intends to find a job as a corrections officer, a police officer, a parole officer or a probation officer.  One of the ones he is most interested in is becoming a Juvenile Probation Officer.  He wants to help others who stood on the precipice he stood on and made the wrong choice, by showing them by example and by tough love that he made the right choices, and he wants to make a difference in their lives because having someone in his corner is how he has turned it around.

So when I hear S declare he is big enough to be a man, I also hear him acknowledging that he's close....but he's not quite there yet.  He knows.  He knows how close he came to losing everything.  He knows being an adult is not that magic 18 years that the first family taught him.  He knows maturity and growth and making realistic plans for being an adult are what it requires now.  I hear a child so close to truly being a man he doesn't even realize it.  Because I remember the scared 14 year old who was dumped at my house, and I know better than probably how far he has come to make a statement like that so casually. 

I smile and I realize....he's going to be okay, even if I have to keep winter gear to visit him at his home and see my Liberian-American grandbabies for the rest of my life.

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