My mom called the Jones Beach State Police on me when I was seventeen years old. Maybe on me isn’t the correct term…more like about me. I was mortified. My boyfriend, Seth, and I had fallen asleep at the after-prom celebration on Gilgo Beach, a remote Long Island strand of sand on the Atlantic Ocean that you may have heard of thanks to the multitude of bodies that were sadly found there. Back then it was not known as a homicide dumping ground, but was simply the place we headed to for a bonfire (and probably beers, though I never drank in high school; too terrified of getting caught). My mother had called all the other parents to see if their kids were home. Everyone else had returned sometime before dawn, but Seth and I slumbered peacefully until arriving fishermen woke us up. (After I got over the embarrassment of my mom calling all of my friends’ houses and then the police, it did make for a good story…especially once I was an adult.)
This was before we all were attached to cell phones, of course. My mom could not track me on “Find My Friends.” She could not call me to see if I was okay, or if I was “dead in a ditch somewhere,” the imagery most often invoked if I didn’t get home on time. Of course, as a parent I understand the fear now, and the impetus to call the authorities. You see, I have officially turned into my mother. You know all the times your parents would say, “Just wait until your child does this to you.” Well, that may have been the only time I warranted that…and let me tell you, karma is a bitch.
I may have overreacted recently. I may have panicked just a bit unnecessarily when I called the police to check on my son in the lot where he parks for school (which is not on school grounds, but in a community park down the street and across a main road). But, let me give some background before you judge for yourself. Just walk a bit in my shoes, and then you can decide if I’m being too hard on myself…
Right after dropping his brother at school and parking the car, my son texted me that he hadn’t taken his anxiety medication for two days (turns out it was really three). That is a long time to skip anxiety meds. Stopping that medication for that long, without tapering is incredibly dangerous, both for the physical side effects (“brain zaps;” dizziness; headaches; tingling; weakness; general illness and more) and the fact that if one does not take very much needed anxiety meds, anxiety goes through the roof, making it harder to take those much needed meds, creating a vicious cycle. And of course, anxiety induced behaviors—like self-harming—that are tamped down by the medication can rear their ugly heads, even if they are not usually present.
I also knew that my son, who battles emetophobia and Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, hadn’t been eating enough, because I had found his uneaten lunch in his backpack from the day before. And I noticed after he left for school that morning that his breakfast was unfinished, as well. He had told me that he made another sandwich when he got home the day before, but I didn’t see him do that, so I couldn’t be sure it was true. So, now that you have the background on what made me panic; here’s the story…
My oldest son had been battling a health crisis (Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss—a very scary condition) for the preceding week and a half. And I was getting ready to drive into Manhattan to NYU Langone Health Center to take him to see neurotologist—a specialty I had never even heard of before my crash course in hearing disorders. So, I was already stressed. My husband was out of town, and the morning was hectic. I answered my son’s first few texts about his medication, but because I was rushing to get ready, I did not answer his last text, stating that he wanted to come home. I didn’t even see it until twenty minutes after it arrived. I texted back immediately that I would call the school and say that he needed to leave to take his medication.
When I didn’t receive a reply, I checked my son’s location and saw that he was still in the parking lot. I texted again, asking why he never went to school, as he was quite late at that point. My first thought was that he simply left his phone in the car and was actually in school. When I received an alert on my phone that he was absent from second period, I panicked. I asked the attendance secretary if a security guard could go to the park to check on my son.
Instead of a security guard, my son’s amazing guidance counselor and assistant principal went to check themselves. I called my son twice and texted him three more times saying that if I didn’t hear back, I would call the police. First text said five minutes, and I’d call. Second text said three minutes, and I’d call. No answer. My oldest son even said he’d go to the park with me, and he’s normally the least alarmist person I know. So, the fact that he was worried enough to insist on going with me, convinced me that I was not overreacting. That was when I texted, I’m calling the police now and dialed 911.
Before this episode, I had called 911 about my kids three times, all well over a decade ago. The first time, my oldest, who was a bit shy of three, locked his eight month old brother in my bedroom. The baby was in his crib, but he was crying, gasping and “crowing,” thanks to a breathing disorder, and I didn’t know how to get into my room. We had been living in the house for less than a year, and I didn’t even realize my bedroom door had a lock on it! (Before you judge that, I was a young mother of a toddler and an infant—I was too tired to need to use a lock for anything.) The police came and broke into the room, at which point, my son had already cried himself to sleep and was breathing normally.
A little less than two years later, the same son who was locked in the room locked himself in my car. I had buckled him in his car seat, threw my keys on the front seat, and turned to close the garage door. In that split second, he locked the doors from inside. To this day, I don’t know how he reached the lock while buckled in his car seat in the back. It wasn’t roasting hot, but it certainly wasn’t cool. I think a neighbor managed to break into the car before the police got there.
The third time my youngest son was two years old, and he had what seemed to be a seizure. He stared into space for a few moments and then his eyes rolled back in his head. He kind of flopped in my arms. Again, by the time help arrived he was fine, playing with wrapping paper rolls on the floor, since I had been wrapping Chanukah presents when it happened. He had a skull fracture at a day old (you can read about that in Forgiving Myself), and I’m sure I panicked that it was some residual damage that was rearing its ugly head. It was a decade later, almost exactly, before he started doing the “eyes rolling into the back of his head” thing again. The doctor said it was a tic.
So all of those times, even though my kids were fine by the time the police or ambulance arrived, were warranted. I was not embarrassed. This time, I was embarrassed beyond belief, especially since the final time I tried calling my son while we were on the way to the park, he answered his phone, with, “I’m okay. I’m okay.” I answered, “Why the #*&! didn’t you answer my calls and texts then?” I never curse at my kids or in front of my kids, even though at twenty, eighteen and fourteen they have heard it all before—that was the first time. I was thrilled he was okay, but not very happy he didn’t answer his phone, and he didn’t go to school. The reason: he was so tired, he decided to take a nap in the car.
I hung up and called 911 again to cancel the first call. They canceled the ambulance, but apparently the police still had to go. They obviously had to question my son, but according to him they said it was “ridiculous.” I don’t know if they were talking about his nap or my call…most likely my call. But, I never in a million years thought that my son would think, “Hmm, maybe instead of going to school, I’ll take a nap.”
After the furor calmed down, I sent a lengthy email to the guidance counselor and the vice principal apologizing for any inconvenience I caused in making them go to the park. They each graciously replied that being proactive is important, and it is a priority for them, as well. They even erased my son’s cuts from that day. A week later my son’s therapist concurred that it was smart to call, because he really could have passed out from Zoloft withdrawal symptoms. That made me feel better, but the whole episode shed a light on my tendency to worry about the worst possible outcome of any situation, mostly when it comes to my kids’ safety: I hear sirens when they are out driving, I check Find My Friends to make sure the car is moving. My youngest son doesn’t come home on the bus, and was not supposed to stay late and is not answering his phone, because it’s dead (which I know when I can’t find his location)…he’s definitely been abducted walking home and the abductor took his phone and turned it off. (My mom may have put this thought in my head when I couldn’t get in touch with him once when she was with me, but I’m pretty sure it was there already…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) You get the picture—I don’t need to keep giving examples of my neuroses.
So, there you have it—have I turned into my mom? Probably. But, the good thing is that now, two weeks later, I can laugh about it. And I think it will turn into family lore, much like the Jones Beach story did. And the story gets better, which will only add to it’s patina as it ages, and perhaps my son shares it with his own children…
Just two days after the “incident,” my son won the prestigious “Principal’s Award” at Senior Awards Night. The principal explained to the audience of family and friends and to the students on the stage with him that he chose nine students out of three-hundred and sixty-three for his personal award. It was the last award of the night, and my son had just texted me from the stage that he thought it was a mistake that he was invited, because he hadn’t received an award, and the night was just about over.
As soon as the principal explained the award though, I knew the invite was no mistake. The principal said that he specifically chose students who have persevered under tough circumstances and still show up at school every day ready to learn and take advantage of all the school has to offer. He added that the students he chose are especially kind and make others feel good about themselves. This describes Joshua perfectly (and explains why it never occurred to me that he would nap in his car, instead of going to school). After the crowd dissipated and the last congratulations were doled out, we sought out his amazing principal to thank him. I took a photo of my son with him, and we told him how much he appreciated the generous award. He said he was so happy to give it to him, but without missing a beat added, “Please just don’t nap in your car anymore.” And that makes for a way better story than my Jones Beach one.