It should be pretty clear to anyone who has even a passing familiarity with me that a major purpose in my life is to help others, especially teenagers, wherever I can. I grew up in a wholly unstable household; I know what it means to be frightened and alone and bordering on desperate. If there’s anything I can do to make even one person’s journey even a little easier, then I’m going to do that.
Apparently, my children have picked up on this energy. Yesterday, as we were driving to meet Daddy for lunch, Punk told me about a friend of hers at school who’s been having a really rough time at home. It seems that this boy’s situation is similar to what Punk knows about my own upbringing (though I haven’t told my children any of the gory details, they know enough to know that it was bad). He’s been threatened with expulsion from his home more than once, and Punk is worried that conditions are deteriorating to the point where the parents are eventually going to follow through with that threat.
“I hope it’s okay, Mummy, but I told him that if that happens, he needs to call me. I told him that he can stay with us. I know you say that no one should ever spend a night alone and scared, so I thought you’d be okay with taking him in for however long it would take him to find another safe place to be.”
As I drove down the road, listening to my 16-year-old in the passenger seat telling me about the assurances she gave to her friend, I found myself feeling a swirl of different emotions. My first was rage; who threatens a 16-year-old like that? What could they possibly hope to gain with that behavior? Punk assures me that the boy is a good kid; quiet, studious, doesn’t get into trouble with the law, doesn’t hang with the rough kids, has no involvement in the drug culture (just like me when I was that age). I didn’t ask if the boy is gay – that’s often an excuse for parents to distance themselves from their children – but none of that matters; unless the kid poses a real and direct threat to the family, there’s no excuse for adults to threaten to kick their kids out of the house. It’s not hard for me to imagine it actually happening, though, because it happened to me. I can recall, with startling clarity, the threats my own parents made: “The only reason your shit isn’t on the front lawn right now, Young Lady, is that it would be illegal for us to throw you out. Rest assured, though, that you’ll come home from school on your 18th birthday to find everything thrown out and all the locks changed.”
They never got the satisfaction; I hired a lawyer and got myself emancipated 6 months before my 18th birthday.
When I managed to get past the seething rage (and the PTSD flashbacks), I felt pride, both in my daughter for making the offer and in myself for being the kind of example that would lead her to do it. Of course, I assured her, we would take the boy in (though I told her on no uncertain terms that, were that to happen, the first thing we’ll do after making sure he was healthy and safe will be to call social services and make sure that he’s being cared for by people whose job it is to see to the safety and welfare of minor children in untenable situations. I’m good at loving kids, but I’m not willing to put myself in a situation where I might get sued doing it). As long as I draw breath, I will stand up to help anyone who needs something I can give them. I know how to love hurting teenagers. I know how to mother, and I welcome any opportunity I encounter that lets me give some of that good energy to someone who needs it.
I hope, for the boy’s sake, that he never has to take Punk up on her offer. I hope that he can manage to make it through the next year or so without having to resort to the kinds of measures I did at that age (and I hope that the adults in his life stop abusing their power and control and don’t make good on their threats to throw him out). I stand at the ready if it all goes to hell, though; I may not be able to save all the unloved kids in the world, but I will damned sure save the ones I can.