The sound of a phone ringing in the middle of the afternoon sounds innocuous. It is usually a telemarketer, a friend sharing news of the previous night’s tv show, or in my case, my grandmother calling to tell me how backed up she is and there isn’t enough prune juice in the world to help that situation. When the phone rings while at work, it is usually a vendor looking for payment, a staff member having an issue or AC calling to ask what’s for supper because he is starving. That call usually happens at 11 am. But when the phone rings in the middle of the night it has a completely different meaning. The ring is a loud shrill scream, it evokes instantaneous anxiety. Trying to answer a phone that is ringing, startlingly loud, in the middle of the night means fumbling to grab it before it stops ringing. Means racing thoughts about why someone would be calling in the dead of night. Dead comes to mind because when the phone rings in the middle of the night, it is almost never good news.
The jarring screech of the phone penetrated the night with startling urgency. I bolted out of bed, momentarily confused by the sound of the phone. Frozen in place, I pause, trying to understand why I am out of bed. The phone. It’s screaming for attention, and I grab it pressing the green accept button on my iPhone as I process the number says “Blocked”. Immediately I am taken by the deep voice that asks to speak to “Mrs. Joyce”. I know it has to do with one of the kids, they have a different name than I do. I tell them it’s Ms. and Brayden, but yes, that’s me. This is the point I wait to find out what happened to JoDee now. Was she finally arrested? Did she harm someone? Is she high? Or dead? The words there is a problem with your son take seconds which feel like minutes before they resonate through my barely awake brain. My son? Isn’t he in bed? Which one? Not JoDee? I’m very confused.
I’m confused because I have spent the better part of 2 plus years focused solely on JoDee’s recovery. Just like addiction, giving any one thing all your attention, all your time and all your energy, everything else gets left behind. The world continues to turn, farms grow crops, malls open and close, The Kardashians still trend set, and other children continue to grow. Even if they have no guidance. Time does not stand still so you can focus on one thing. In fact, the opposite happens. Time goes by so fast, and with such ferocity, the time missed with other family members isn’t even recognized until it is way too late. As JoDee continues to do well, I become more anxious not less. Typically, right after a relapse JoDee completes, or tries to complete, a program or detox and then does well. For a while. Each relapse of Ms. JoDee’s has been right before or during a holiday or milestone for our family. My birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, her own birthday. You name it, she nailed it. And we have a huge milestone coming up very quickly. JoDee should be just days shy of 6 months when Jay J graduates in 6 weeks. This is anxiety provoking for several reasons. Not just because JoDee has never made it to 6 months before, or that my oldest boy, my second born, is turning 18 and graduating high school, but because JoDee lost complete control of her life, and I lost complete control as a parent about 5 minutes after the ink dried on her diploma. It’s terrifying to think, the same thing could happen twice.
So, how do you prevent that? By you, I mean me and really “we” to any parents out there. I clearly missed the mark the first time, so what can I do the second time to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Anything in extremes is bad. If I jerk the wheel, pull a complete U-turn and do the exact opposite with Jay J that won’t be good either. I can’t be a helicopter parent, hovering over his every move. Jay J is a very private, very independent child who has always been rational, reasonable and responsible. If I start treating him like he has made a lot of wrong decisions, something he hasn’t done, it is going to evoke strong feelings of resentment. Of course, doing the exact same thing and expecting different results won’t work either. I tried googling “keeping your kids from going nuts” but that was no help. The reality is that everything in life is about balance and to really have proper balance I have to treat each kid as an individual. Keeping in mind what each child is capable of and the potential of each child in life. Jay J and JoDee are not the same kid. That doesn’t mean that Jay J couldn’t easily become a heroin addict. Anyone could. I could, if I used. Addiction is non-discriminatory. It just means that when embarking on this next phase of Jay J’s life, I need to use the experience of the past with my knowledge of him as individual to pave the pathway. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be bumps in the road, or that we will always see eye to eye. Parenting doesn’t end when the diploma hits his hand, something I think I forgot when JoDee graduated.
Something else that is important to keep in mind is that Jay J is not as impulsive as JoDee. JoDee has been sort of spontaneous on steroids since the second she was born. She was even born fast. First child, born in 2 hours. Jay J, while born prematurely, was born in his own time, quietly, so quietly I thought he wasn’t alive at first. He has always been a loner and completely comfortable with that. He doesn’t particularly like change, or trying a lot of new adventures. He has had the same friends since as long as I can remember, especially one friend since elementary school. If my kids were a season, JoDee would be the blizzard in the middle of winter. Loud, strong, determined, leaving a path of destruction in her wake, and the beauty of fresh snow and sunshine when the dust settles. Jay J would be the dog days of summer. Moving slowly, dragging through the days, at his own pace, soundlessly. But similar to a summer storm, he can be loud and gregarious when he wants to be. So, I guess, I must treat them as I would each season, differently like winter and summer. But, with the same caution and protection regardless of the season but for the storm they are likely to have. It is really the only way to be sure that I am not repeating the same thing again.
And that brings up another point. Birthdays happen each year, and Christmas happens each year, but Jay J will graduate from high school only once. And I intend to pay attention, front and center, present and participating, completely. JoDee just hit 100 days clean. I’m grateful for that. And thankful for that. We have seen 100 days before, and then a relapse. I have chased her recovery to end of the earth and back. I have dragged her to meetings, to detox, to rehab, and finally, to jail to get her clean. I will not be dragging her anywhere. I will be focusing on readying the house and yard for Jay J’s graduation party. I will be sending out invitations, cooking, planning, shopping and preparing for a big day, if not for Jay J, than for me. It’s a big deal for me that my son is graduating. In no way do I want to abandon JoDee or send her the message that I am not willing to support her, because I am. Should she relapse, I will not be chasing her. I will not be helping her, giving her money or time. I will be staying present in the moment with my other child who also needs me; Who deserves to have his mother standing with as much pride as she did with his sister 3 years ago, cheering and crying, while he crosses the podium to get his diploma. I don’t want to choose between my children’s needs. It’s a terrible thing to even think about, but at this point, everything JoDee has done has been the priority. It’s time for her to stand on her own, stay clean, and allow her brother to get the attention he deserves. And that’s what I will be doing, in more ways than one, so I don’t have to keep worrying about waking up to that phone call in the middle of the night. The highlight of that day will be if JoDee is standing with me, cheering and crying, for her brother who needs her, too.