Chester phoned and asked what I knew about Toughlove. I told him I’d look over a book somebody’d loaned me, call the person I got it from. Find out all I could, and get back to him. I’d heard the term “toughlove” kicked around. Usually with the accent on the first syllable.
I’d heard it used to explain why Chester’s daughter’s pal got snatched away to a treatment facility in Utah and to justify a fellow refusing his drug addict brother a glass of water. I’ve heard a people call slugging their kids toughlove.
Around 1890 in northern Texas, my great-grandfather allowed his 16-year-old daughter to attend a dance. A few minutes past her curfew, he locked the house. Though she pounded, pleaded, and wept, he stopped her mother and brothers from letting the girl in. During the night, she vanished, forever.
So was my ancestor practicing toughlove or being a mulish German?
The next day I called Chester and told him that according to the book, Toughlove avoids blame and seals with the here and now. When our kids are in trouble, when somebody's afflicting us or himself or herself with violence or lies, when a loved one is caught in a pattern of irresponsibility - at these times, we don't have the leisure to rethink the past. Even if we did, we couldn't change it. So Toughlove advocates putting aside the faultfinding, concentrating on the action we'll take now.
"Toughlove," I recited, "insists that our children take responsibility for their behavior, whether it means paying a fine, going to juvenile hall, getting a car or allowance or privilege taken away. Parents using Toughlove will quit acting sympathetic, quit running interference for their kids, quit bailing them out."
"Like Jim Backus?" Chester asked. "Remember him playing James Dean's father in Rebel without a Cause? The kid gets popped, the old man packs up the family and flees. Bails him out every time - only that's not what the kid wanted. He wanted his old man to stand up to something, anything, anybody. Oh, God, do you think I'm like that guy?"
Chester has a son and a daughter. He's a single parent. His daughter is a pretty, creative 17-year-old. Vivacious and compassionate, she collects friends effortlessly.
Her parents divorced when she was ten. Until eighth grade things seemed workable, until Amber suspected she was losing her mother to the mother's boyfriend. Rather than depend upon someone she feared losing, she tried to create her own life by acting out her version of how adults should behave. Smoking cigarettes. Shoplifting. Ditching classes whenever she felt the call.
About the middle of her eighth-grade year, she and her best friend ran away. They stayed with a 22-year-old man they'd met at the roller rink.
Since elementary school, Amber's grades had been gradually falling. Her freshman year in high school, she failed four out of six classes each semester. The winter her mother began to remodel their house, and the stress on them both led to battles and bitterness.
Amber transferred to another public high school for her sophomore year. There she met Rene, who had recently suffered a sever trauma. Rene and her friend Lisa were crossing a busy road when a car hit and killed Lisa.
Like Amber, Rene wanted to define her own life and live it accordingly. Whenever she and her mother disagreed, Rene would defy her. Anger and disrespect are contagious. On one night in January of their sophomore year, Rene and Amber fought with their mothers. The next morning they ran away to the downtown San Diego apartment of Rene's friend Steve, a 19-year-old Navy man. It took almost two weeks for their parents to track them down.
Rene's mother sent her to a wilderness academy. Amber returned to school, made up the work she'd missed, and finished that year successfully, largely because Chester had promised to buy her a car when she turned 16 if she got a B average.
Amber's birthday fell at the end of the school year, the same week Rene returned home and Amber went to stay with her mother, when she lived the second half of each year. In Amber's old blue Chevy, usually packed with friends who'd contribute gas money, they headed for the beach and hung out with the skaters around Belmont Park most every day and evening.
Rene still battled her mother - over curfew, money, cleaning her room. Soon she began to find clues that her mother intended to send her away again. One September day, Rene, convinced that her liberty was up, ran to Amber's home to hide out. Her mother caught her there and took her home.
The first day of their junior year, Amber phoned Rene to ask why she wasn't at school. Rene yelled, "Help! Please! They're taking me away!"
To reach her car, Amber had to outrun a trio of narcs. She sped to Rene's and found her being dragged to a van by a man and a woman, whom Amber attacked. She was thrown to the ground, from where she watched the van carry her best friend away, to arrive the next day at a treatment facility in Utah.
Amber refused to go back to school. Blaming her mother for Rene's abduction - she believed her mom and Rene's had acted in cahoots - Amber and her mother fought bitterly. After one of the fights, Amber bolted.
She was reported to authorities as a runaway. Both her parents made efforts to locate her, but she'd covered her trail. Finally, after three weeks, sick and depressed, she arrived at Chester's place and announced that if she was going to stay with any parent, it would be with him, not her mom.
Before, Amber had been wild and headstrong, but something had changed. Now she'd fallen prey to fits and mood swings. She could be effervescent, dancing and laughing about everything. Minutes later she might attack viciously, cussing like the patient of an exorcist. Then she'd descend into a sullen funk and sleep for 15 hours.
It's summer again. Rene's home with her mother after nine months at Provo Canyon School. Now she attends a day-treatment center.
Amber picked up a few credits through home study, but she has no goals. Doesn't want to return to school. Sees no future. Nothing except her friends seems enjoyable. She's obsessed with excitement, prefers wild companions, the wilder the better. Once every couple of weeks, it seems, another of her crowd goes to juvenile hall or jail. Nothing but her friends makes her happy. She's given up art projects. The first day of summer school she fled, claiming that school made her literally nauseated. She talks about a job but rarely looks. She's on juvenile probation for being a runaway, the last time after a two-week period during which she failed to come home four separate nights. She likes her counselor but doesn't feel she's gained anything from therapy. A psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant, Prozac, but neither her moods nor her behavior improved remarkably.
Maybe she's using street drugs regularly. Her parents aren't sure. The only time she was tested, she was clean.
Wyatt is Amber's younger brother. He recently turned 14. Until sixth grade, he was a gentle, loving boy, sensitive, enough of a loner so that even in primary grades he would've rather stayed home than gone to school. Yet, except one year when he got headaches and stomach aches from just thinking about the way the teacher yelled at kids, he adapted. Most of his teachers were kind and interesting. He got all As and Bs until middle school.
Feeling out of place and on trial because he'd always been tall for his age, Wyatt seemed to grow obsessed with fitting in. Big and strong as he was, the easiest way was to act tough.
In spring of that school year, during his last season in Little League, his mom's home was disrupted by the remodeling. He also found himself expected to be the star on a last-place Little League team Chester managed. A couple of teachers he considered gruff and mean. Many times during that spring he got into spats with his mother about his attitude toward the remodel. Each time his attitude worsened. And gradually the enemy became not the house but his mother. He spent most of spring at Chester's home, where there was less tension. But he still felt pressured to carry the baseball team singlehandedly. His shoulders tightened like bowstrings. If his dad tried to rub them, even gently, Wyatt would yowl from the pain.
One week, because of bronchitis, he stayed out of school at the home of his grandma and grandpa, his refuge. He ate better and more regularly, got his feet rubbed, listened to stories about his grandpa's days as a cowboy. On Saturday, he pitched five shutout innings, hit a double, a single, and two home runs.
Then he got thrown back into the world. By the end of school and baseball season, all he wanted was to flee. He gave up his spot on the All-Star team for the chance to go to Mexico with a neighbor and his family. The neighbor boy had been Wyatt's friend for as long as he could remember. He was two years older and probably the one who introduced Wyatt to cigarettes during that three weeks in San Felipe.
The next school year he began to fail classes. After a number of occasions when his mother asked then ordered him to get ready for school and he refused, the school referred him to their attendance review board, where he and his parents were threatened with fines, court orders, and foster home placement. That spring, though he led his Senior Little League team in batting averages, he didn't seem to care if they won or lost or even if he got to play. Many practices and games he begged out of claiming headaches or exhaustion.
Sometimes that spring or summer, he discovered marijuana. And he and his sister, who only used to snarl at each other, became allies.
So when Rene was sent to Utah and Amber ran away, Amber's brother probably suffered as much as she or her parents did. But he kept it inside, at least until some teacher would rebuke him for sleeping in class, which he did because of boredom, sleepless nights, and to escape his troubling mind.
If a teacher snapped at him, he snapped back. The suspensions he earned looked to him like reprieves.
Though Amber and Wyatt were supposed to live with their dad the first six months of the year and with their mom the next, when Amber ran off from her mom's and her dad took her in, Mom and Dad agreed that Wyatt might fare better away from his angry and depressed sister.
In December, Wyatt and his dad talked about where he would go when the new year began. They agreed that because his mom only had him left at home, he should probably stay with her. But, increasingly, he wanted to be with Amber. Feeling trapped, more depressed and furious every day, he commonly vented his feelings on his mother. Finally, when he became afraid of hurting someone or himself, he requested that his therapist admit him to a treatment facility. He wanted that badly to get away.
The counselor referred to a psychiatrist, who declined the request. Instead, she prescribed Prozac.
The drug seemed to raise his spirits a little, but it also agitated him, and when his mother caught him with marijuana, he claimed to use it because it soothed him. His mother, believing he was getting the marijuana from his sister's friends, tried to keep him at home and especially away from his sister, which made him furious. One afternoon his mother refused to drop him at Chester's house. Cussing and threatening, he jumped out of the car and ran.
Now both kids were back with Chester. He was desperate. Exhausted. Over the past few years he's tried yelling, restricting, lecturing, listening, manipulating, bribing, praying, sympathizing. He'd invested in family and individual therapists, altered custody arrangements. Every move had seemed to backfire.
"You want to go along to a "Toughlove meeting?" Chester asked. "Or do you think your kids are angels?"
Chester called the Toughlove number in the phone book, was referred to Debbie Bronstein. When he phoned to tell me what time to set aside for the meeting, he said, "Her pitch is about how Toughlove teaches that all of us - children, teenagers, parents and the rest - need to accept responsibility for our own behavior."
That evening I asked myself, Where did I learn responsibility?
When I was seven years old, I stole a Coke from a vending machine. That night, waking up terrified by a nightmare, I ran to my father and confessed. He advised that If I'd earn the nickel and take it to the owner of the gas station, admit to my wrongdoing, probably I'd cure the nightmares.
For my ninth birthday I got a BB gun. After a couple of hours knocking down cans, my friend and I sought higher adventure. Across the street lived an old lady with a large front window in which a cat always lay on the back of a sofa. My friend drew a bead on the cat. BBs don't fly as fast as you expect. It took so long, I'd already sighed with relief, thinking it had fallen short, when it cracked the window.
The old lady called my mom, who told my dad, who snatched away my BB gun and returned it to the store. Six weeks of my allowance paid for the window.
At age 14 I got lucky. My first and only trip to juvenile hall occurred on a Friday night when my dad was in the hospital following a heart attack. Though my mom was generally a pushover, she left me at the hall for two days while she attended to my dad.
I got smart with a counselor, landed in solitary. The perfect setting to confront my guilt and shame. If hell's that bad, dear God, show me the way out.
What you do at a Toughlove meeting, once you've gotten the introductory briefing, is check in, decide upon a bottom line, and take notes while Debbie or another leader exhibits the new resources. The resources include books, tapes, evaluations of treatment facilities, lists of drug testing labs, insurance information, names of cooperative policemen.
What the meeting's all about is the bottom line - the decision you're going to make, what stand you're going to take, no matter what. How you're going to step on the kid or take charge of yourself, this week.
During check-in, you tell what's up with your kid. The whole story in brief, if it's your first meeting. If you're returning, you're allowed five minutes for a play-by-play of the latest battles.
"My kids are out of town until the end of the summer," Terry said, "so everything's going great for me."
Next round the circle came Brenda. "Well, so far, for the past two weeks, everything's been going okay. I panicked because I was supposed to go to Mexico this week, and I was supposed to cook a lasagna, and I left everything on the counter with written instructions, and my son finished it. When I got home, he had vacuumed the floor, cleaned my dining room table. I said, 'What happened to you?' He said, 'Ma, I've been thinking, and I know I've been hanging around with the wrong kids.'
"Once when he'd snuck out of the house, I took the door off his room. He said, 'I want my door back, I want my door back. I need privacy.' I said, 'No, you've got to earn that and I haven't seen it yet.' He snuck out of the house again and got picked up by a police officer. He was with some other kids. The other kids went to juvenile hall. That was the first time they gave him a citation. He started to see a lot of things going on, the other kids getting into trouble, and I asked if he thought it was worth it. Maybe he's opened up his eyes, seen that things aren't going to work, the hard way.
"I told him, 'You do right, you get your allowance, you go places, get to do things. You do wrong, you get nothing.'"
"My turn?" Corinne said nervously. "Okay, then - our first meeting was the week before last. I come here with a friend. We're in a very similar situation.
"My daughter has been running away for a couple of years. Drugs. She's 16 now. She was out again this weekend, and we found out through the grapevine that she was at a drug house. She spent the night there. We didn't know exactly where it was. Finally, my son found her. He dropped her off Sunday morning. She'd been gone since Friday afternoon, and we finally laid the law down - we'd been reading the Toughlove manual. We took her music away, No money. We're not taking her anywhere. No rides. We're just starting now to get a grip on what we have to do
"The telephone rang - I'd told my husband, if any boys call, or girls, tell them we're having problems with Denise. We know she's doing drugs, we don't trust anybody, don't call anymore. Well, the phone rang. I picked it up, Denise picked it up. I said, 'Who's this?' He said, 'Mark.' Denise said, 'I'm on the phone, get off the phone, it's for me.'
"I said, 'Wait a minute. Mark who?'
"'Mark Peterson, Mom,'
"'What can I do for you, Mark?' I said. He asked for my son's number at work. So I hung up the phone and let Denise give him the information.
"When she gets off, she storms into the room and says, 'What did you do that for? Who gives you the right to blah-blah-blah?' I tried to interject why I did it. She kept going on and on, wouldn't give me a chance to talk.
"'Wait a minute,' I said. 'You asked me a question. Let me finish.' I told her that I'm not going to let anybody call anymore, I don't trust anybody. They're all doing drugs, she's doing drugs, and I want it stopped. She gave me the finger. I told her to do it a hundred more times if it pleased her.
"She turned around and said, 'And if you think you're getting my ass to therapy, you're crazy.' She's been diagnosed recently by psychiatrists as having a core depression. So we've been treading gingerly. Probably some of it's brought on by the drug use. She's going to have a psychological evaluation done, hopefully this week. It's a very extensive examination. Once my husband and I find out for sure that it's nothing more than drugs, if indeed that happens to be the case, then we're going to put the screws to her even more.
"But that's where it stands right now. We have no alternative. I'm almost finished with the Toughlove manual, and I thought, with the situation we are in and with as determined as my daughter is, I don't think this Toughlove is going to be able to help us - until I got toward the end of the book. Then I thought, 'Wait a minute, I can really do that legally? I can do that?'
"So I feel more confident now, but time will tell, after this evaluation.
"The drugs, that's what scares me the most - besides that they fry their brains, you can't tell what else they're doing. We would get Denise tested. She tested positive for crystal, but the other night when she ran away, we had the sheriff come over and fill out another report, and he said the big thing now is that a lot of them are doing acid, and you can't detect acid in the urine or the blood."
Roxanne, an eloquent Toughlove veteran, asked, "What did the sheriff say you could do with her, you know, when she tested positive?"
"Well, Corinne said, "we put her into Vista Hill a few weeks ago. For nine days. And we were trying to get her into a six-month, open-door institution at Vista Hill - we're working on that with the insurance company - but until the psychological evaluation comes through and they find out if their suspicion proves true, that she has a deep depression and it's not drug related, they won't pay."
Marilou asked, "What if it is drug related? The insurance won't cover it?" Marilou's single, has three boys. After a year of Toughlove, she's a wry comic and a resource who knows angles.
"Well, yeah. Vista Hill has a drug program too. But Denise is so...She does not want to live in the house, does not want to answer to us, hates living at home - she's so defiant, even at Vista Hill, she didn't respond to the treatment there."
"If she doesn't want to live at home," Marilou asked, "where does she think she's going to live? Communes are hard to find these days."
"They have drug houses, though," Corinne said. "They rent these old apartments and have a bunch of kids living there and they're all doing drugs."
"Where do they get the money?"
George grumbled sarcastically, "They call up my daughter, who thinks she's Robin Hood, and she steals money from her mother and gives it to them."
After a group chuckle, Corinne said, "I don't mean to hog all the time here - but with my daughter, my concern is that when she comes home - she's been gone several days, she sits in the chair and starts crying, sincerely crying and wailing. 'I cannot live here. I can't.' It makes us feel like if we make her stay at home she's going to kill herself."
For a moment ponderous silence reigned. Terry broke it. "You know, if I were sitting in your place, and I were telling your story, and it was my child who comes home sobbing and threatening to kill herself, my heart would go out to her too. But, sitting over here, detached, my sense is that probably she's trying to get the focus off what she's done so she doesn't have to deal with you or the consequences."
George suggested, "You might want to observe, see if she talks about killing herself anytime when she's not in trouble, when she hasn't broken the rules."
"The mother heart is what's hardest," Roxanne said. "Oops, make that the father heart too. The parent heart we have gets us off track, so that we can't see the real issues. Things keep coming and we keep saying, 'I can do this. I can fix this.'
"Terry added, "And we don't give our kids credit for how intelligent they really are. How shrewd, I guess. I have this thing I've been telling to my friends when they talk about their problems - 'You know,' I say, 'our kids may be smarter than we are, but we have to remember we are more experienced. Just think how good it'll be when they're as old as we are and they have all those brains and experience too.'"
"If they've got any brains left," George grumbled, "after taking all those drugs."
Marilou said, "I just want to live long enough to see them with 15-year-olds too. Then it'll be, like, 'I can die now.' I'll walk into their place and say, 'Having trouble? Haw, haw, haw, haw!'
"Even the newcomers laughed at that one. Roxanne, sensing our misgivings about levity in the midst of these grim tales, said, "You know, when I first came here I couldn't laugh like I'm laughing now. I just sat here stone faced, listening to things. I couldn't make light of the heaviness of what was going on." Marilou added. "Us old timers laugh because we feel like crying. I cry every day. Every day I cry because I don't know what to do."
"It's a lot of relief going to work," Roxanne said. "Just getting out of the home. I never thought it would be that way."
The Bottom Line
Debbie had to monitor the time, ask a few people to cut to the summary so we could work on our bottom lines. Because everybody has such stories that need to get told, you could stay there all week. Terry said, "A while back, my 15-year-old stepson walked by the TV where my 12-year-old son was lying on the floor watching. The 15-year-old, Rick, kicked the 12-year-old in the head. This kind of thing had been happening, but the 12-year-old, who's my son by a previous marriage, didn't want to tell us.
"When I finally found out about it, first of all I was so stunned I didn't know what to do. I was outraged.
"The next time I overreacted. When I caught Rick abusing the 12-year-old, I pinned Rick up against the wall and yelled. I wanted to hurt him, very badly.
"So these are the kinds of things I'm facing that I know I need to change. Because I hate violence. I've got to do something different.
"When these boys come back from their summers with their mom and dad, we're going to have a clearly defined set of rules, exactly what's expected of them.
"I can sit down and say, 'This will be accepted and this won't,' but the trouble is, I don't know if my husband and I can act in accord. You notice he's not here. He came the first week, then hasn't come back. He doesn't really think we have a problem. But I say anytime you've got somebody physically abusing a person half his size, you've got a problem. Not only that, it's lying, stealing, acting out in school. It's temper tantrums. I really, really love Rick. But I don't like him, not the way he's been acting.
"I think part of the problem with his dad is he feels if he comes down too hard with the boy, he'll run off, go live with his mother, who is very lenient. Which takes us to my bottom line for this week - Rick's mother is down here visiting, and I told her I'd like to schedule a time with her to talk about how Rick's doing this summer with her and how he was doing before he came down and make her very aware of what's happening during the school year. Try to at least communicate to her so that maybe there can be more agreement, so Rick can't use the threat, or implied threat, of running to his mom to hold his dad hostage."
When Vicki's turn came, she thanked the group, because Toughlove seemed to be working already, after only two meetings. "We had a pretty peaceful week," she said cheerily. "It is working - staying home and just really sticking to the consequences. He's starting to settle in.
"He'd been stealing, sneaking out of the house. He'd been verbally abusing, threatening. I removed the television and the stereo speakers. I had a confrontation with him, and he would not remove the speakers himself, or the stereo. I said, 'You've lost it because you're not cooperating, you're not part of this family if you refuse to do any chores at all, and then I'm not paying for the electricity for you to listen to your music. So, I said, 'unplug it.'
"He refused. I went toward him, he wanted to shove me, so I decided, I'll just wait. I waited until the next morning, took them while he was at work, locked them up. I had decided that, rather than fight with force, I would wait for the appropriate time.
"He took a day or two to calm down. I just let him go into his room and sleep it off or whatever. Now he's starting to help a little. He'll get his speakers back when I see consistency in that. It's working. I'm just being tough, and he knows what the score is.
"My bottom line is to keep it up. When things get peaceful, it's easy to let down your guard, ease off on the consequences too quickly. I'm going to hold firm. If I need to, I'll call somebody else from the group for support."
A dozen people gave their bottom lines - about setting boundaries that can't be violated without specific consequences; about holding consistently to their discipline or letting go of unenforceable rules. Several people vowed to give themselves time to rest and recuperate. A new man declared he's refuse to set punishments until he calmed down, after a confrontation.
That was Chester.
On our way home, he said, "No big deal, my bottom line. But you've got to start somewhere, right?"
The next day Chester called Debbie Bronstein to inquire about treatment facilities, just in case. Debbie said, "API's good. That's where Stephanie went after Lisa died."
It happens that Stephanie had shared a best friend with Amber's friend Rene. Lisa, who got run down.
Chester called me and mused, "John Donne, wasn't it - 'Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.' I mean, this kid Lisa gets whacked, Rene goes off halfway to the deep end, gets shipped to Utah, which busts up Amber and her mom. Meanwhile, wait till you read about Debbie's girl's plunge after Lisa died. She wrote an essay about it. Debbie's going to pass it along."
Stephanie wrote: The summer I turned 13 years old I must've suffered from a hormone imbalance because I had an attitude like nobody's business, which my mom later called "mental pause," which she attributed to the fact that all my brains dropped to my breasts, in subtle terms, I became a bitch.
At 13 though, all we did was argue, Mom and I. Nothing serious happened until I turned 14. On August third of that year, my best friend Lisa was killed by a car. I was in L.A. visiting my father. Within the first week of coming home, I stole (borrowed) a friend's mom's car and disowned my father. The Friday after the funeral, my mom took me to API for an evaluation and I didn't walk out for 23 days. They worked on my emotional coping skills and behaviors due to the lack of them. Absolutely fabulous program. Except when I got out, the first weekend, I went down to a friend's house and got drunk. Go figure.
For the next two months my mom and I fought about everything all over again and by this time i was into running away and stealing. Things were so bad I moved in with my grandfather. His rules were so relaxed and he trusted me enough so I could stay out all night, by lying, and do drugs. My first drug was "shrooms", then I did tabs. The only thing I had ever done before was drink and smoke a cigarette. I've done acid about twice since then and smoked out many more times than I can count.
On All Hallows Eve I stayed out till six a.m. - because my mom said I had to be home by nine p.m. I was frying all night. Was I afraid of being caught? Not at all. Cops I could handle. My mom I could not.
I think I was more responsible when I was ten years old. My mother had recently become a member of Toughlove. She found where I had slept half the night, marched over there at six a.m. and dragged me home. Literally. At home, her boyfriend stood by the locked door so I could not escape. After I took a shower, I could not go in my room and close the door. I was allowed no privacy. And my room itself was almost completely bare. I had a bed, a mirror, windows - only because they couldn't bolt them shut. I wasn't allowed to open them. Before when I used to complain about having no freedom, I had no idea what freedom really was. Before, I was allowed to walk outside my house and turn left, right or go forward. Now I wasn't even allowed to walk outside. Everything I owned - clothes, shoes, makeup, etc. - was all taken away from me and placed in large trash bags. My mother took me to school. Took me to about two classes, then I was so tired I couldn't even keep my eyes open.
My mom got me into this program called opportunity school. It's a dropout prevention program, and I was a highly potential dropout. Through this program I learned a lot about working with other people and learning to get along with people regardless of small discrepancies. Being in this class was probably one of the most enriching experiences in my life. And I owe great thanks to Sandee Torres, the woman who teaches it. She'd call my mom whenever I did something good, and eventually I'd earned my stuff back, sock by sock. Literally.
I did mess up enormously once or twice. Both times with the same girl. We got caught shoplifting together, for the second time. And we overdosed on Disipheamine. She ended up having seizures and had to be taken to the hospital for the whole stomach pump procedure.
Eventually, it became easier to be good and do what they classified as "the right thing," but my motives were still selfish. But around January third I just woke up and decided to do better. I have no idea why or how I came to this decision, but I did. Then on January 23 my mother went to have her tubes tied on an outpatient basis and ended up hemorrhaging during surgery, in two places. I was so scared she was going to leave me before I could show her I could be good.
Things had to change. And they did. It took all of six months, and I had earned total trust from her.
Back when she used to trust me, I thought keeping her trust was the hardest thing to ever do, but I was wrong. Earning it back, after I blew it in the summer of 1992, was way harder.
The difference between my mistakes then and now is that this time I think about them and I don't repeat the same mistake twice. Yes, we still fight, yes we disagree, but now - I don't walk out the front door and become a runaway, because I appreciate what I have. I appreciate having a warm blanket and food. I have never gone without food while under my mother's roof. Both these things you just don't have when you're a runaway
I am so grateful I don't have a mom who can't stick to what she says anymore. It feels great to know someone cares. Toughlove did all that and a little bit more.
Roxanne and The Girls
Between meetings, I met Roxanne for coffee and she told me the story of her daughter's fall from grace. The longer version, which Toughlove meeting time limits wouldn't allow.
"Sixth grade, my daughter Vanessa graduated top of the class. She had the presidential academic award, the presidential physical fitness award, straight As. A beautiful child, compliant, obedient. Then she hit junior high.
"There was a girl that I took to the bus stop, whom I never allowed Vanessa to play with because her mother let her run wild. She was always on her own, and I thought that would be trouble because she would bring her worldly and undisciplined point of view to my daughter. The two of them were going to go to junior high together, so I told the mother that I'd take the girl with me. She and my daughter would hang around together at school, and within three months my daughter was sent home from school because she was fighting with a girl who tripped her. Anger or something was starting to build, but I didn't know what it was.
"At this point, for the first time, she was defiant. So I sent her to her room. I told her that she had to be obedient, don't hit back, we could be sued if she broke somebody's arm or a leg.
"She went back to school and the attitudes started to build. Could be the age. Could be she didn't want recognition for all her abilities. Still, through seventh grade, she did pretty well.
"Summer came, we moved just before school ended, to a completely different neighborhood. We went from a two-bedroom one-bath apartment into a new home that has four bedrooms, two baths, a family room, garage, front yard, back yard, in a cul-de-sac. Wonderful neighbors. A dream come true. I arranged a transfer so my daughters could stay in their same school, because the school didn't seem to be the problem, or kids - it hadn't built up to the point that I'll get to.
"That summer, she went to YMCA teen camp. Every day I would take her to Mission Valley. I would come after working all say, and the counselor would tell me Vanessa did this or did that. Vanessa would be fussing with me. And if they went on an overnight and she was tired because they weren't sleeping much, then she would be especially argumentative. Her attitude was slowly changing over the summer.
"By the time she hit eighth grade, in September just last year, because we'd moved now, she had to walk home or catch the bus partway then walk through the neighborhood. The very first day, she got lost and took the bus or trolley the wrong way. The second day, she didn't come home for several hours. So Melody, her sister who's three years older - Melody and I had to go out scouting around the neighborhood for several hours. We found her at the trolley station. She had gone the wrong way, but she wouldn't ask anybody - she's a little independent person.
"So I was getting concerned about this, because of her age and being out on the streets and being new to the neighborhood and her not having experienced much of the world. I called the school and asked if there were any other kids from our neighborhood she might ride with, but there weren't any.
"I saw a big attitude change. She would start to come unglued when going face to face with something she'd done wrong, or I'd be a mediator between her and her sister and she'd take it wrong. One incident - I'd put some of her clothes into her sister's room. It was my error. Vanessa became upset that Melody was in her room. I said, 'Don't blame it on your sister. It was my fault.' She kept going on and on. So, I have this thing - when one of my daughters starts fussing at me, I get real close, nose to nose, pointing my finger at her face.
"'It's no big deal,' I said, 'This is Thanksgiving. Let it go.' I had my finger up, not touching. Just up. So she grabbed my finger and started twisting. We got into this scuffle, which lasted several minutes. I didn't hurt her. Not that I know all these karate moves or that I could just pound on her and beat her up. But the surprise of physical confrontation - you've got to stop your kid from hitting you. I mean, you don't go and beat them up. I called Melody in to hold her down.
"We held her down for about an hour. The whole time she was trying to get loose and profanities were coming out of her mouth and threats how she was going to kill us in our sleep and all this stuff. Where it came from I had no clue. It was a complete surprise.
"So I prayed, because I felt this was an evil thing going on and I didn't know what else to do but call upon the Lord, and every time I did she would get more irate, like there was a demon in her. Every time I started to pray.
"She wanted me to get off - I was sitting on her now - so I told her, 'I'll get off if you stop. There's no reason for you to hit. Just stop.' One time I started to get off and her arms and legs started going all over and she started hitting again, so i sat on her. Eventually she calmed down and went to sleep.
"We were trying to make Thanksgiving dinner. It was the first Thanksgiving in our new home. That was hurtful. I called a couple of friends to pray, but I didn't want to tell them what went on because I didn't want to cry.
"Well, it was a couple weeks later that I came home from work, about six, in the dark, and the light was off in the living room. I came into the living room and saw that chairs and stuff were thrown around. First I saw Melody, then Vanessa. I looked more carefully and saw the knives. Vanessa had two long kitchen knives.
"I looked at Melody. She had, I think, a top on. It was bloody. They were just standing there, but Vanessa's eyes were glazed over, and she was mad, obviously. I walked in and looked around. I put my purse down, then I went right between them. They were facing each other. I stood right between them and said, 'Somebody want to tell me what's going on?' Not thinking she might use the knives on me.
"Melody was trying to tell me that they were playing, like wrestling, and it got out of hand and Vanessa ran into the kitchen and got knives and started threatening. She did cut Melody on the chest.
"Vanessa was using profanity and saying she was going to kill us both, and she wants to see us in a pool of blood. I'm standing there - where I got calmness, I don't know. Well, from the Lord. I'm trying to figure out what's going on - why did she want to see us in a pool of blood?
"You couldn't reason with her. I looked at Melody. I couldn't move from the living room, because I didn't know what Vanessa was going to do yet. So we stood there for about a half hour, and I wanted her to give me the knives. She says, 'Yeah, I'll give you the knife. I'll stab you with it.'
"When I'd got between her and Melody, that left Melody free. It was a standoff, to where she was not going to give me the knife. She couldn't calm down. She looked just like a maniac. So I asked Melody to call somebody, or maybe it was Melody's idea. I don't even know. Anyway, she called one of our friends, asked them to come over. When I thought Vanessa was calmed down enough, I went into the room to get a phone number, and Vanessa started to go into her bedroom, to lock herself off from the world.
"Well, that would've been fine except she still had the knives, and I didn't want her in her bedroom putting stuff in front of her door so we'd have to destroy her door in order to get to her. So I quickly went to the door and put my foot in the doorway. My foot did suffer. And I would not let her close the door, so of course every obscenity was coming through. 'Get out, get out,' she'd yell and open the door and slam it on my foot again. Well, when she'd open it a little, I'd put my body there so I was more of a wedge. She couldn't close the door. I told her I would be glad to leave her alone as long as she'd hand over those knives. But she just stood there, staring, kind of swaying.
"Never did I think that drugs were involved. Didn't have a clue. I did not know what was wrong. I thought she was just emotionally distraught, beyond reason, but I didn't think that drugs were involved.
"At one point, she took the knife and ran the blade across my hand. I had told her I was going to be calling the police if she didn't give the knives to me. When she did that on my hand - she didn't break the skin - then I told Vanessa to bring the phone to me. Fortunately, it had one of those long cords. I dialed 911 and told them the situation. They kept me on the line until the police got there.
"They had to physically take those knives from her, she still would not give them up. By this time some friends had come over. Our pastor's wife, and other friends.
"The police got the knives and talked to her for a few minutes, they they handcuffed her and took her away. And we were all standing there.
"We called about an hour later. They had taken her to County Mental Health. They found cocaine in her system. And we thought, well, that certainly explains it.
"From then on it was a shock, you know, my daughter - whom I'd raised as Christian, single parenting for all those years - is now using cocaine and attacking her sister. She did cut Melody and drew blood, but it wasn't enough to go to the doctor. The police came back and took pictures of Melody's chest for evidence.
"They kept Vanessa in juvenile hall for two weeks. When I went to visit her, she was very angry. It wasn't until the fourth visit that she started saying how Melody had bullied her and all this stuff that I did not know was going on when I wasn't around. I said, 'She's been bullying you and you didn't tell me and you let it get to this point? When I see you girls interact, you seem to be fine. Nothing goes on when I'm there to give me any indication that she's bullying you.'
"She told me some stuff that made sense, with Melody's personality type and Vanessa being the younger sister.
"So, she was gone out of the house for two weeks. The court case came up and they released her back to home. What I decided, because school was back in session after Christmas vacation, was that they would never be alone in the house. So, friends, started helping me out. One family picked up one daughter after school and took her to their home until I got out.
"For one month and a half I kept them apart. On Sunday afternoons, if I wanted to take a nap, I'd take one of them to my friends' for a couple hours. I would go home, take my nap, wake up, take the other one over, bring the first one home. So they were never alone. If I'd go to the store, one of them would go with me. Never alone. They were not allowed in each others' rooms. They couldn't be in the bathroom together. The only place they could visit was in the living room. Sometimes they could be in the family room but I worried because it's a smaller room. I wanted them to have plenty of space. They couldn't sit directly behind each other in the car. If one was in the front seat, the other had to sit on opposite sides of the car, so that when the one wanted to lean the seat back, they wouldn't fuss. I controlled the radio in the car, because they'd fuss about which station they wanted.
"That's how we lived. The rules were, they couldn't say anything demeaning to each other, they couldn't put each other down. Every time they did - especially the older one, if she was putting the little one down in front of me, she got one more day restriction, and one more day, until we built up a month. That's how bad she was doing it. So they learned not to say negative things to each other.
"The little one was the victim now, even though she did a crime. I was on to Melody, and how she was trying to manipulate situations to make it look like her sister did it, but the young one never told me the truth about certain things that went on - she would take the brunt of it. And the older one would intimidate her, keep her in her place.
"At the time, I thought I was being strict, but I wasn't, because there were situations I didn't follow up. I would try, but they saw me as Mom - I don't know how they saw me, but I wasn't a father, or male figure, or six foot two, so they still tried to take advantage, and the younger one still tried to have physical confrontations with me. And it was always, 'Don't. Stop. Back off. You can't do this. I'm your mother.' It always shocked me. It wasn't real. I'd say, 'You can't do this. You can't say that.'
"By now she had picked up habits, of thinking she could intimidate me, telling me that I couldn't say certain things to her or argue with her because she'll fight back. Or if I touch her when she doesn't want to be touched, she'll fight back. And even bumping into her, she'd turn around and slug. She was uncontrollable in that way.
"Well, several things happened over those months. First of all, I was still in contact with the arresting officer, and he told me about the Toughlove group. But by then, we were court ordered to go into counseling, and the counseling sessions were on the same night as Toughlove. The counselor also knew about Toughlove and really wanted me to go for parent support, so eventually we arranged our schedules so I could get to Toughlove on Mondays. But it took a couple of months when we were in the thick of it before I could leave them alone and go to Toughlove, because I would not leave them alone at any time.
"Before I went to Toughlove, Vanessa was arrested again, at school. I would go out to get things for her science projects, because she really excelled at science and she won all these first places in Science Fair. This year her project was about the effects of Roundup on the heartbeat of Daphnia. Roundup being herbicide. Daphnia's a water flea. Essentially it was about the effects of herbicides in our environment, especially in our water. She studied the heartbeat of the Daphnia to the millionth of a milliliter of a solution of Roundup in water and found that the eventual effect on the Daphnia still is death. It won her a San Diego County award. They publicly recognized her research in herbicides. They gave her $50 and she got to go to the state fair up in L.A.
"So I'm running back and forth getting things she needs for her science project and getting things copied and having the book bound. Come to find out, there's a guy in our neighborhood....
"The school called and told me Vanessa had taken drugs. The night before she'd taken crack cocaine, and that day she had a bad reaction at school. Her girlfriends took her to the nurse's office where she confessed that she'd taken drugs the night before. I'd been running around getting things for her science project, and when I came home, she'd given up on her science and was curled up on her bed. She said, 'Oh, Mom, I don't feel good. I'm so tired.' Because she was stoned. But I didn't realize it until the school called me.
"I'm the one who called the probation officer and reported that she'd broken probation. So they took her away, and I told her that she was not coming home until she told me what was going on, where she was getting the stuff and all this. So she told me there was a guy in the neighborhood who, when she first started walking, had been trying to be her friend. He was 17 or 18, from what I understand. She even had gone to his house and taken drugs there. He hit her a couple times, and he was trying to get her to be his prostitute. There were more girls.
"He knew when I would leave. He knows her schedule, where she goes to school. And by that time I had her going to the Boys and Girls Club. He found out, went to the Boys and Girls Club one day, gave her some pills. He had intimidated her enough so she took them, so when I went to pick her up, she was loony tunes. We had to call the paramedics.
"Still to this day, when I leave I close all the windows and I tell Vanessa, 'What do you do if someone comes to the door? Do you open the door? No.' She was opening the door.
"So by now I was paranoid that whenever I left the home somebody was watching and stalking my daughter. I called the juvenile detectives and the narcotics division and the gang division and I told them whatever little description she gave me. Even the probation department, to see if there was anything that could match up, and I had a lot of neighbors watching my home, but nothing turned up.
"After she got out the second time, then she was put on probation, around the time I first went to Toughlove. My first meetings, it was difficult to tell people the bad things that had been going on, because you're so used to telling the good things to your friends and neighbors and church. I listened to everybody tell their stories and laugh and joke about their kids in awful situations, and I sat there thinking, how could you joke about this stuff - life is too serious. I was so intense that if somebody had snapped a twig behind me I'd probably have found myself plastered on the ceiling. I thought, how could I tell them the bad things. Because I didn't accept it as my reality yet, that my child was this way, the one I gave birth to, the one that I love, the one that I was so proud of. How could this chain of events have just turned everything around? She became a criminal. How can you laugh?
"When it came my turn to talk, that first night, I already had a headache, from the intensity. I gave then the facts. I needed a bottom line. They offered me a lot of suggestions, but I felt that they were things I couldn't do. A lot of good constructive things, but I wasn't seeing straight, because I hadn't accepted the reality, and I didn't know how far I had to go. Because I didn't realize that I hadn't accepted the reality of what was happening, I couldn't act on either changing my behavior or helping to control the situation. It was just out of hand.
"I would go to the Toughlove meeting week after week and observe and listen to people talk, and that was important because they had solutions - things that had worked for them. I knew what hadn't worked for me. So while I sat there listening I was sifting through my own situation. But several weeks went by and I still didn't have the determination to follow through.
"At this point, Vanessa was still being physically and verbally abusive, threatening, just off the wall, something I never grew up with or had to deal with before. It totally threw me. I would think, how did my parents handle us kids when we misbehaved? Well, my father had his iron hand, and my parents were together, and we did what we were told. If not, we got a spanking. All this grounding or yelling just didn't exist. If you had a bad attitude, you were checked on it right then. Sent to your room. But nothing happened like what Vanessa was throwing out at me.
"I didn't have a method. I was reacting to whatever situation came up. The school was called every other day - 'Come get your child, because she's acting like she's on drugs.' I'd have to leave work. Between January and February I never worked a full week. I was gone two to three times a week. My boss was ready to ask if I wanted a leave of absence, so that he could get somebody in there full time. I never knew when emergencies would come up.
"At Toughlove - the headaches never went away, I was still so intense. But eventually I was able to finally say, yes, I could do that, I realized, if I started small, like telling Vanessa, 'You're going to make your bed, in the next ten minutes. If you're not finished by then, this will be your consequence.' I used a time when I was rested and I could be home, without having to run to a meeting or work or anything. I stayed there and followed through.
"Before, I didn't know how to act, so I wasn't doing a whole lot. Then one day she was having an attitude problem, and i decided I had to send her to her room. I knew I had to be firm about it, and I thought, what if she says no? She was still physically abusive. If she said no, what was I going to do? I didn't know. But I went ahead, and as mother, as parent, I said, 'Go to your room.' She refused.
"Oh, darn, I thought. Now what?
"So, I got closer to her, and I said, 'Go to your room!' She still said no. And I got real close, just inches, and I said again, 'Go to your room.' You know, the voice becomes real deep, and I felt like I was 15 feet tall, telling this girl who is actually taller than I am to go to her room.
"She did. I just stood there after she left, sweat pouring off, relieved because she didn't get physically abusive.
"I'd found it difficult to read books on self-help and parenting and how to get your kid to do this or that. I was usually too upset or worn out to read, to concentrate. There was one book, though, called Back in Control, the arresting officer had recommended a long time ago. It was the first book I read when I knew I was in a crisis situation. The theme was that there are mandatory and discretionary rules, and the parent has to decide if this is mandatory or discretionary, am I going to hold it to the letter of the law or am I going to let it go if she doesn't obey.
"So that was the first step, deciding if I was going to make this mandatory or discretionary. Then, if it's mandatory, I have to be on the scene to make sure it's obeyed. I have to be willing to encourage and help, even stand firm against the threat of violence. And there has to be consequences.
"I can't just wish for my daughter to act like an angel anymore because she's just not.
"So, I started using mandatory rules instead of discretionary, because I realized that I had been using discretionary rules, or even if they were mandatory, not following up. I'd been wishy-washy. Marilou called me wimp. That's how I was. I'd kept going to the group, kept listening but thinking certain things would not work because of the threat of violence.
"Finally I realized that violence was an issue I had to deal with. To realize I was afraid, in particular, of being hit in the face. That had happened with my father. So I had that fear, of being hit and beaten up, because I had been. And here now my daughter is acting this way, and it's not even an adult, it's my own child, I realized that even with her attitude, even with whatever else at school, I had to address the physical abuse. Once I got a hold on that, things began to turn around. Because I'd had this fear that I couldn't say this or do that or she'd hit me and because I'd been beaten and intimidated for so many years. There had been problems with the girl's father, too.
"He lives in Sacramento. For several summers, the girls went up to visit him for a week. Not this summer. But he hasn't been in their lives, or very little, since we separated. He didn't send any money. We used to live on almost nothing. I was sewing up the girls' panties, socks, patching up their shoes and jeans, making little heart patches, you know, doing what I could. We lived off of $20 a week. That included food and household items. I always kept up on rent and child care. The other things, sometimes I'd have to call the gas and electric, the phone company, and tell them, 'It's going to take a while.' Eventually the Lord blessed, people gave us food. We'd find sacks of food by our car when we got out of church. The Lord helped me to use what resources I did have, and it worked. We're very healthy. Somewhat happy.
"Now I find all these frustrations coming out in the girls. To some degree it's sad, wondering if I had to do it over, could I do it differently? Could I have been a different person? I couldn't give them all the love they wanted because I was living with being abandoned, being rejected, no self-esteem, and here I had two little girls. I could be there physically, I could read stories. We played every morning and every night, we went to church, but the emotional support, I really couldn't give them that much. They'd go off to bed early, which was just fine because by them I'd be a zombie. I'd sit there and do nothing. Nobody from church really wanted to talk to me because all I would do was cry. The depression went on for five or six years. I lost track of how to communicate.
"The Lord healed that part of my life in '86 and wanted me to start using music as a ministry in the church again. So I picked up a piece of music. Things got better.
"Now, the emotional support from a group like Toughlove is incredible. Solutions. Ideas. Being able to talk about the real garbage stuff that goes on and being accepted and not judged in any way by your peers. Instead everybody's nodding in agreement and offering, this is what I did or didn't do in that situation. Nobody judges one another. I don't think anybody feels condemned.
"I would go for the support. Through the tough times I kept going, knowing that when I got home I might face that the girls had got into a fight. Awful things kept happening, and every week I'd report back. Finally it got to the point where - and I attribute this to Toughlove - I was able to first accept reality and then determine to follow through, to keep this kid on the right road, not to give up and say, 'Woe is me, just get out, just leave, just let me call the police and have them take you away because I don;t want to deal with it.'
"None of us want to deal with it, but yet we love our kids so much, and that's why we keep coming back and meeting in Toughlove. Because we still want the best for our kids.
"We're trying to keep our kids on the right road, and it takes a Toughlove idea, when your kid is on probation like Vanessa is and they violate probation and you know it, to make that call and tattletale, if you will. To say, like I had to do once, 'My daughter violated probation. Come pick her up.'
"She had violated the drug portion of her probation. I had to watch them handcuff her and take her away. From school. That was really tough. Deep, deep down in my heart, I knew it was the right thing to do because no good would come if I let her get away with it this time and said, 'Tsk, tsk, don't do it again or I'll call the police,' and then when it came again, 'Don't do that again or I'll call the police.' You have to just call. Or do whatever is necessary to stop that particular situation. Until your kids know you'll really do that, what's to restrain them. And deep, deep down in them, they want to be restrained.
"I had to call the police a couple other times, when she was missing from the after-school supervision I had arranged. The last threat of violence - maybe two months I had been going to Toughlove - she was threatening again, with that attitude that she can hit or kick and I can't tell her anything. My heart was beating fast. I said, 'Well, if you won't listen to me I'll find somebody you will listen to, and it happens to be the law, and you don't have a say. It's either your freedom or being locked up.' And I added, with my finger up in the air and in her face, calmly though, 'If you ever touch me again, I will pick up that phone and you will be put away for the rest of your sentence.' If ever she breaks probation between now and February, she will be put away for eight months for her violence and drugs from last December and January.
"She has never touched me since that time. But it took three or four months of abuse, two months of Toughlove meetings before I was willing to say, 'You can't lay a hand on me.'
"My mother never called the police on my father. I didn't know that you could really do that. It just wasn't part of my experience. If my mother had, maybe I would've realized that even though Vanessa's my daughter - it's still wrong, for a child to hit the parent. I just couldn't put that together. But I finally realized that my rights as a human being were being violated, because I was having to cover up bruises. I still have dark spots from the bruises. They were so bad, they haven't left yet. This is August, and I guess the last time she kicked me was April. Still they're on my thighs and my shins and ankles. They just don't go away. This summer I'm not wearing shorts at all. It looks terrible. Maybe someday they'll go away. I never really hit her back. I pulled her hair, socked her in the stomach in self-defense, but nothing compared to what I would liked to have done, just beat her to a pulp, I was so outraged.
"Anyway, she started changing. Every time I'd come up against her and call the police. One time I called and they said, 'You want us to come to your home just because your child has an attitude?
"'That's right,' I said. 'My child has an attitude and maybe she's on drugs and maybe she will get violent, and I want somebody here right now.' They were there in five minutes.
"I only called them once for an attitude. A juvenile officer talked to her and took her downtown. Another time, she had been missing from the Boys and Girls Club. When she came back, I couldn't tell if she was on drugs. Because of her attitude, I couldn't even get close enough to look at her eyes. I wasn't going to put her in my car. So I called the police. She had hit one of the people there, and they called the police but didn't want to press charges, so the police had said, 'Just let the mom come and pick her up.'
"But I told the police, 'I'm not putting her in my car. You'd better come here and talk to this girl.' They were there in five minutes.
All this interrupts your life. It's like when you have a baby. Life stops for the mother. When you have a kid that's a misfit, life stops while you deal with that situation to the best of your ability, then you try to go on.
"They talked to her until she calmed down. And they put her on what they call a hot sheet, because I told them that she was on probation. The hot sheet means she can sneeze wrong at somebody and they'll pick her up and take her to juvenile hall.
"Lately, she's been trying very hard. She's stopped being verbally abusive and swearing - mainly because I charge her for obscenity. She's been earning some money. She got invited to a science camp at UCSD, and they pay her for attending. I charge her five dollars, and three chores, then if she doesn't do the chores she gets fined another three bucks. It's only happened once. She keeps her mouth in check now, and her attitude. She's compliant, and life has been generally okay. Much, much better than it was.
"I still go to Toughlove. I don't have many problems to contribute, but now I'm contributing victories. I say, 'This is what's worked. This is what I've found out. This is what I've lived through.' To encourage the new people. Because there are points where they haven't accepted reality, just like I hadn't. So I come as encouragement to other people but also to still receive support. Even though for weeks now things have been going well. And all the episodes that do happen - there's a consequence for every one and there's a follow up for every one. But they're few and far between now. And I try to be less emotional, not to fly off the handle. I try to think before I speak. If I'm too angry I won't say anything yet.
"One time I sent her to her room and kept going to the door, because I was going to tell her what her consequences was, and then I'd walk away, thinking, I don't want to deal with this yet. And then I'd go back, and come back again, until Melody started laughing at me. She knew I didn't want to deal with Vanessa because if she didn't accept the consequences it would go on and on. Finally I took a breath and went in and said, 'This is the consequence for your action.' There were two consequences. I don't just stop with one now.
"Okay, Mom,' she said.
"I'll keep going to Toughlove. Maybe not every week, but I'll still go. I still need to know that I can be strong, lest I get weak and wimpy as Marilou calls me. And at the meetings I remember that people love us and accept us in spite of the garbage."
Chester's Bottom Line
"First, most of all," Chester told me, "I'm going to cooperate with the kid's mom. No matter what. Even if she annoys me. Even if she attacks me. That way, playing mom against dad will be so hard, the kids'll give up one of these days.
"Then we're going to start small, like Roxanne said. See, I'm a lousy disciplinarian. I never have lived in a household where anybody got tough. So, first I have to get my feet wet. Pick battles I can win. Figure which are mandatory rules, about the most urgent, dangerous stuff - drugs, curfew, like that. And before I set consequences, I've got to think them through, make sure I can enforce them.
"I've got to quit dreaming that my kids will suddenly open their eyes and see that it's a swamp they're reeling into. Sure, that'll happen someday, but by then it might be too late. Meantime, they've got to learn, you pull the cat's tail, you're going to bleed." Chester sighed. Pinched his eyes closed. I worried he'd smack into the pickup truck ahead. "I hate this," he muttered. "I'd much rather chase the damned cat away."
"But you can't," I said.
"You've done that long enough."
"Too long," he said.