When our son entered junior high we knew he would be dealing with the challenges that puberty brings. We had been through it already with our daughter, and she managed with a minimum of stress, or so we thought.
The local public elementary school was very good, but the junior high did not have a good reputation. Our daughter completed grades seven, eight and nine there. She had told us about “fights with blood” at school and we knew the mother of one of her friends was in jail. Students who did well academically were mocked in school award assemblies. She played saxophone in the jazz band and did well academically, so that was what we paid attention to.
Things were different for our son. He was not a member of the majority ethnic group and, with blond hair and blue eyes, he stood out. He got on a drum squad in seventh grade and our daughter told us that that made him cool. He didn’t tell us much about what was going on, but we were in the clueless parent stage of his adolescence and we didn’t push.
He went to summer school after seventh grade. I picked him up one day and he was upset to the point of tears. A classmate of his had been shot and killed on the way home from school by another classmate the day before. We went to the wake together and my heart broke to see a child in a casket. My son was devastated.
We sent him back there for eight-grade. In the middle of the year, my husband got a call from the vice principal telling him that our son was beaten up. My husband took him to urgent care because one eye was swollen shut and he worried about a head injury. At a meeting we requested a few days later, the vice principal passed it off as normal junior high male behavior and, since it did not take place on school grounds, assumed no responsibility.
It was a young teacher’s aide who came to our home and gave us an education on gang behavior. He told us that the attack was most likely done by a gang. The murder of our son’s classmate the summer before was probably a gang initiation. We finally got the message and our son never went back to that school.
We tightened our belts and paid for a private school on the other side of town. My husband drove our son to a bus stop outside of our neighborhood because the teacher’s aide said he might be retaliated against if he waited for the city bus in our neighborhood. Years later when I told a police officer this story she told me we probably saved our son’s life.
Both my husband and I still feel guilty for not acting sooner to protect our son. Our first responsibility as parents is to keep our children safe. Our son is now married with two children of his own. He assures us that he has forgiven us, but I don’t know if we’ll ever forgive ourselves.
It is this story that provided the impetus for this book and inspired the title: What Were We Thinking? Parents Confess Their Biggest Mistakes so You Can Avoid Them. Our goal is to share stories that will help other parents in a positive way.
Kathleen Vallee Stein