I kept looking at him in the rearview mirror during the endless drive back to Port Clinton. He was finally asleep.
From the time we’d left the hospital, he’d screamed and thrashed up a storm, ceaselessly kicking the back of my seat and beating his fists against the window. How could a six-year-old child have so much anger? Anger toward me. For not being there when he’d needed me the most? I’m here now, son.
Seeing him now, relaxed and peaceful in the comfort of sleep, I realized this was perhaps the only place he truly felt safe anymore.
“What he had gone through the past few days, even before his mother had disappeared with him, was unthinkable.”
I couldn’t help but feel responsible. I’d gone to her apartment just the week before to pick him up for our weekend together. He was filthy. His clothes looked as though they hadn’t been washed in days and he obviously hadn’t bathed in at least as long. The apartment was a mess. His mother? Gone–nowhere to be found.
I quickly packed a bag and got him out of there, leaving a message on his mother’s phone that I was filing for sole custody. Then, the following Monday when I went to pick him up from school, she had already come for him.
A week later, they were found. She was barely responsive in a restroom stall after shooting up a heavy does of heroin. My son was sweaty and scared, locked in a hot car in the parking lot.
Over the next month, following the incident, I was repeatedly called to his school. He wouldn’t listen to his teachers, had regular outbursts during class and needed to be separated from the other children during recess.
With his mother in rehab and her parental rights terminated by the state, I was a newly dedicated, sole parent of this young child. I often felt helpless and unsure of what to do. Then, I was introduced to Champions for Children, Port Clinton School District’s after-school program.
Although initially a rough start, soon my son began showing real progress. The close attention he was receiving through the programs support seemed to really be helping. His behaviors showed signs of improvement, he was more socially engaged with the other children and he was showing a new, positive attitude in the classroom.
Better yet, I was able to get some much needed support, too…
“Tonight, when it’s time for bed, tell him a story,” advised the program leader one day. “Your son loves a good story. It doesn’t have to be true or from a book. Just tell him a story.”
“A story?” I said, in somewhat disbelief. “That’s the secret?”
She laughed. “The secret is you sitting next to him. Putting your arm around him. Letting him know you’re there for him.”
Not wanting to wait until that night, I decided to test it out during our car ride home. Looking back at my son in the rearview mirror, I started a funny story about my day. It wasn’t a very good story, but you could tell he was interested to hear what I had to say.
I finished the story as we pulled into our driveway. When we got out of the car I lifted him up and hugged him.
In that moment, it hit me; I couldn’t remember the last time I had hugged my son. He smiled, so I hugged him tighter.
I didn’t ever want to let him go. And I finally realized I wasn’t alone–together, with the support of our community and Champions for Children, I knew we could move forward.
That was the day I stopped reflecting on the past. That was the day I was ready for our future.
*This blog post is fictional but based on a real success story submitted by Champions for Children. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s personal successes and struggles.