And I don’t mean that old Styx song…
Tonight was one of the hardest nights of my life. I had to take one of my kids to the regional “behavioral health” centers for what is hopefully a “relatively short” stay. Our son has been having problems over the past few months since he was placed with us. But after this weekends pool activites, his psychologist agreed that it was time to get him more thoroughly checked out.
So after we had all of fifteen minutes notice, we had our son’s bags packed and out the door we went. Our preferred appointment time was from 8:15-8:30. Oh, and we had to let him know what was going on.
Imagine telling your seven year old that he has to go away because of the way he acts. I’ve never seen such pain and anguish in such a small face. He started to cry. Not the “Ow! I stubbed my toe” wail. No, this was a wail that’s only heard when someone loses everything he loves. Oh and times ticking. Gotta leave in five minutes to get him at the hospital ontime.
So we gather up whatever clothes we can and out the door he went. He literally wanted to say goodbye to everyone (since the previous two times this has happened, he has never seen the family again) and off we went.
We tried to small talk, but that only made it more painfully obviously what this was. It’s our last hope. Our son knows this. The next stage would be a long-term hospitalization (i.e. 6 months to a year) which would probably be in a hospital six hours away. You can alaways be surprised by just how much a seven year old knows about his surroundings. I’m trying to be brave, but I’ve never been good at faking it. Everytime he breaks down, it’s impossible not to get a tear in the eye or at least be forced to walk away to compose myself.
We get to the hospital and have to wait for about twenty minutes while they start his new chart. Questions over and over about what he’s been like, what’s wrong, what’s right, how he deals with events, etc. This alone takes over an hour in which our son has to hear all his sins recited note-for-note to a total stranger. If our son ever meets St. Peter, he’s going to swear it’s another therapist visit. Finally another nurse walks in and starts getting our son’s vital signs. Heartrate, high. Blood Pressure, a bit high. Behavior, manic.
Finally around 10:00 we’re led to our son’s area and we are shuffled off to a conference room while our sons belongings are searched for guns, knives, comic books, and box cutters. We blow through the hour long Q&A in about five minutes and go to see our son who is thankfully asleep in his new temporary home.
Normally when my son is asleep, he’s done. You could light off a nuke or a twenty White Castle’s fart right next to him and he won’t budge. But not tonight. We sneak in and make sure he’s covered up. Feebly, he goes “Mom, Dad?”. My wife rushes over to give him his hug and good night kiss, something we won’t be able to do for the next several weeks. At this point, I lost it. I told him to be good, gave him a hug and quickly exited the room to try to waste a box of Kleenex.
I don’t know what to think about crying in front of my son. At a time like this, I think he needs to know that dad is hear and that we are confident that he will get through this; even though I’m scared as hell that I might have to lose him in order to keep my family safe.
If anyone reads this tonight, I just ask two things.
1. Hug your kids. If they have psychological problems, don’t be afraid to face them and get professional help. It’s not your parenting.
2. Push for reform in the healthcare system. Some kids are pushed back out into the real world after three days of observation pronouncing they are “diagnosed and cured/medicated”. At my son’s last placement, the fun revolved around how much they could make the kids in the dorm look like extras in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.

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