Monday, March 6, 2017

Parenting the adult "child" ~ Leah St. James

My older son is celebrating a birthday this week, and of course I’ve been spending time looking back at the years–not just the many instances of joys and wonder, but also those moments of sheer terror and anguish. 

It got me thinking about an adage I read at some point–something like the bigger the kid, the bigger the problems. So true.

For example, a toddler might stuff a Pop Tart in your in-laws’ 8-track tape player, then turn it on. You rush in to clean up the mess, replace the unit if needed, and do your best to keep the little tyke occupied while at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s. (Not that I speak from personal experience...)

If your 5-year-old son is caught “relieving himself” against a tree during recess, in full view of a half dozen third-grade girls, you can spend your 15 minutes in the principal’s office apologizing, then take your son home to impress on him that just because Daddy might have taught him it’s okay to do that in the woods doesn’t mean it’s okay in public. (Not that I speak from personal experience...) 

But when they’re older, even the “child’s” most seemingly innocuous error in judgement can turn bad, quickly. And when you can’t help, it’s hard to sit back and watch.

Case in point: When my son was a senior in high school, he borrowed my car one Friday night to drive over to a friend’s house to hang out. Around 11 p.m., as I was heading for bed, the phone rang. It was the local police, wanting to know who was driving my car.

Instantly visions of twisted metal, flipped cars and spinning wheels filled my head, and as my heart galloped, I answered, “That would be my son. Why?”

Officer: “You need to contact him and bring him into the station. Now.”

Turns out my son was driving around with a car full of other kids (which was very much against our rules), and while stopped at a red light, one of the boys rolled down the window and shot Silly String at the car next to it. That car happened to be a brand-new, sporty Mercedes, owned by one of the town’s big-shot attorneys. 

When the attorney rolled down his window, started yelling and waving his arms at the potential damage to his expensive ride, my son, being an 18-year-old “adult,” decided the best course of action would be to make a run for it. Thus began a car chase through the rolling hills of central New Jersey. 

Image courtesy of tomekkno via
Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

Apparently the attorney got tired of torturing his fancy car with the winding, gravel-lined roads in that area and returned to the police station to file a report, and  I had to drive my son to the police station to answer for his actions. 

I’ll never forget my fear and helplessness as I watched the officer lead him to a room in the back of the police station for questioning. In the end, no charges were filed, but the attorney had a full year to change his mind. At the time, my son had won a full scholarship to the college of his choice and had about a month left before graduating high school with honors. I worried for a solid year.

Now, almost 15 years later, I can look back with some perspective.

First, what the heck was that attorney thinking, chasing a car full of kids like that? Maybe he should have been given a ticket!

But mainly I realize how lucky we were that it wasn’t worse. There were no injuries to people or property....although my car did achieve legendary status among my son’s friends and classmates. Yay.

We’re so lucky that as much as that experience grayed some of my hair, it scared the you-know-what out of my son as well. I’m not saying he never again pulled a bone-headed act, but he did graduate and go on to college. In fact, he is now in the final stages of earning his Ph.D.

Has my heart ached for him over one thing or another over these years? Of course, there have been hard times and problems. But at this point, like then, all I can do is pray, lend an ear, or a hand–when asked!–to help him over the bumps in the road.

If you are one of those parents whose “kids” are going through a tough time right now, my heart aches for you as you sit and watch, and feel for them.

Parenting, even for the “experienced,” is not for the faint at heart.


Leah writes stories of mystery and suspense, good and evil, and the power of love. She loves exploring different love relationships -- like between husband and wife, parent and child. In her Christmas Dance, she looks at marriage after the Happy Ever After.


Alexandra Anderson has a loving husband who provides for her every need, a beautiful home in the suburbs, and money to fulfill her slightest whim.  But after a lonely childhood, what she wants more than anything is a baby, a family of her own.

Sam Herrmann is married to his college sweetheart, and together they have three healthy, boisterous boys. Sam spends his days running numbers as a government accountant, and his nights and weekends trying to keep up with the grueling family schedule set by his wife – a wife he can barely remember.

What happens when two married people take a look at the perfect lives they've created and decide it's not enough? What happens when those same two people catch the eye of a stranger, and like what they see?

Christmas Dance
A story of love and marriage.
A story of hope. 


Jannine Gallant said...

Some hilarious stuff here, Leah...well, except for the joyride. Yeah, we don't stop worrying as they grow up. There's just more to worry about. More decisions and heartache for them. That's how life works, and you hope the good times balance it out.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Awesome post, Leah. I could relate to every word. Believe me! My "babies" are in their mid to late forties and, yeah, Mom still worries. Mom still does little things--just because. I don't pry. The kids seem to like it that way. What they want me to know, they tell me. I listen. I also listen to the tone of his or her voice. Sometimes I send a little something in the form of a check with a note to "spoil yourself on Mom." The need to nurture never leaves.

Alison Henderson said...

PO & O is thirty now, but neither of us has recovered from her one brush with the law. She was sixteen and driving my car to a friend's house to work on a school project one Sunday afternoon. Long story short, she decided it was safe to turn left across a busy street because she couldn't see anyone coming toward her. However, there was a little hill she couldn't see over. A doctor in a Mercedes convertible sped up to make the light and smashed into the passenger-side door, knocking her across the intersection and into another car. No one was hurt, but my three-month-old car and the one she hit were totaled. She was deemed to be at fault and ordered to appear in juvenile court. My baby in juvenile court!!!! We were both terrified. I hired a lawyer, who got the whole thing basically dismissed, but we were both scarred by the experience. She's never had another ticket or accident, and I doubt she ever will.

Andrea Downing said...

I remember a friend telling me when my daughter, Cristal, was a baby that you never stop worrying, the problems get bigger. I replied I couldn't imagine worrying more than about whether the baby was breathing or not! Of course, I've lived to eat my words. With Cristal it isn't so much incidents like you describe, but rather the things she has taken upon herself--working for three months in a Bolivian prison, treking for a day through the jungle to meet with Colombian guerrillas--that sort of thing. Part of her forthcoming honeymoon is in Mozambique. I'm already worrying...

Diane Burton said...

What a great post, Leah. Our son gave us a lot of grief (over mostly small, but stupid, stuff) as he grew up. But the worst were the many trips to the ER for asthma attacks. Last Thursday night (after we got home from AZ), he & his wife took Toddler Girl to the ER--rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing. The doc said virus, put her on breathing treatments, and sent her home. When son texted us what happened he thanked us for all the times we took him to the ER, adding that it was a lot easier being the patient than the parent. I never wanted him to go through what we did, but I'm glad he now understands how scary it was for us. We worry about our kids no matter what the age. He's just learning.

Leah St. James said...

Hi, Jannine - What got me thinking about this was your comment on one of Donna's posts (January?) where your daughter had fallen and broken both elbows! (I think...if I remember correctly.) I remember thinking how awful that must have been for you and your husband with your daughter off at school! (BTW, hope she's all healed by now!)

Leah St. James said...

Wow, Vonnie, you've given me some great ideas. Son No. 1 (which is how I refer to the older one...our prototype model :-)) says he wants NOTHING for his birthday. No cake, no dinner out, nothing. Of course I can't do NOTHING. I might have to sneak a few things... :-)

Leah St. James said...

Alison - that is such an easy driving mistake to make, especially for the younger, driver. (Not that I speak from experience!! Ha!) I'm so glad there were no injuries in your daughter's accident, but going to court must have been terrifying for you both.

Leah St. James said...

I thought the same thing when my firstborn was an infant, Andi. I was one of those parents who used to creep up to the crib and oh-so-gently place my hand on the baby's back to make sure he was breathing! Let's face it--there's no "era" of parenthood that doesn't have its terrors, and luckily its joys. :-)

Leah St. James said...

Oh Diane, there's nothing worse than a sick child, no matter the age. I can't imagine watching your child unable to breathe. And how nice...sort of (you know what I mean) that your son can now appreciate what you went through.

Jannine Gallant said...

Leah, Tara's elbows are basically healed though not 100% for a while, according to the doctor. She did race in a triathlon yesterday and got 7th place, so I'd say they're close enough! I'm glad I inspired such a great post!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Whew! Since my husband and I don't have kids, I'm vicariously living through your amazing wonder you have a lot to write about...and the conflict! Through the roof!

Leah St. James said...

So glad to hear Tara is on the mend, Jannine! (Wow, she's some athlete.)

Leah St. James said...

Thanks, Rolynn! I never really thought about parenting from the conflict perspective, but you're so right! And yes, there is much fodder for stories. :-)

Brenda Whiteside said...

First, Leah, your blurb intrigued me and I've ordered it. Secondly, oh how I know. My son provided more than a few restless nights for me. He's good to the core, but he pushed the envelope so many times. I remember when he was in middle school I said to my father something about breathing easier once he got past 18. My dad chuckled and told me the worry never goes away.

Leah St. James said...

Thanks so much, Brenda! I hope you enjoy the story. And yes, kids have a real knack for knowing just what buttons to push to get a reaction, don't they? The principal at my sons' high school told me that boys have a need to act out as they get ready to go out on their own. In their minds, they have to make home so miserable and unlivable, they have no choice but to leave. I don't know if that's true, it seemed to explain quite a bit! :-)

Alicia Dean said...

Oh my gosh, what a moving and amusing post. I love the way you tell stories. :) I guess if we didn't have such trying times with our kids, we wouldn't enjoy the good times so much. LOL.