When a Walk in the Park is Not a Walk in the Park

“A girl from school wrote that she was going to kill herself on Facebook.”

Up until then, the leaves under our feet made swishy, dry sounds. But I stopped moving.

I needed to sit down, but he didn’t want to so I had to keep walking.

“She said goodbye and everything. I didn’t find out about it until after it happened.”

I held my breath as we passed the trees that had turned gold.

Tinker Park. Henrietta, New York. Fall 2012

“Is she okay?” I asked, praying hard for this girl who was suddenly with us like the wind in the trees.

“Her friends contacted her mother or something. She’s in the hospital.”

“Do you know her?” I shoved my hands in my pockets.

“Not really. I found out from a friend.”

We stopped at the water’s edge and found each other’s eyes.

“I want you to promise me something.”

My son looked at me. He knew what I was going to say. But I said it anyway.

“If someone threatens to hurt themselves or someone else on Facebook or in a text or in real life, you have to promise me that you will take it seriously.”

“I will.”

“No matter where I am. You have to contact me. I’ll help you do whatever we need to do.”

My son tilted his chin. “Sometimes you can’t answer your phone.”

He had me there. Because when I am teaching, I can’t take calls. Or answer texts.

The wind blew cool air though my sweater.

“You know what I mean. You can leave me a message. I can check messages. If there is an emergency, I can always make time.”

My son nodded.

The sun was going down as we turned down the mossy path.

As my feet moved, I thought about the girl’s mother. How terrified she had to be.

I thought of a car accident that occurred just a few miles down the road: how a young driver had been speeding through a residential neighborhood and smashed into a bus. They could have all been killed, but they weren’t.

I thought of my son who has been quiet lately. How we don’t connect the way we used to. How I don’t know what he does for most of his day. How he is going on a trip to New York City on a school field-trip in a few weeks.

I won’t be there.

And what if he needs me?

“Mom,” Tech called. He’d stopped to inspect something on the ground. “Come check out this bug carcass.”

I looked at my son. I thought he was going to say thank you. Or run over and hug me. Or tell me how glad he was that we had talked. I thought a lot of things. But he didn’t do or say any of the things he used to do and say so readily.

“Let me take a picture of you,” he said, holding out his hand for the camera.

So I posed for him.

“You okay?” he asked, a line creased his forehead.

I told him that I was fine, but it was a lie.

Because 8th graders shouldn’t be thinking about killing themselves.

They shouldn’t be thinking about dying.

Back at the car, we noticed our shadows.

“My shadow is taller than yours,” my son smiled. “I’m catching up to you.”

I looked at the red and the yellow and the green around me. I looked at my son in his maroon hoodie which will soon be too small for him. A gust blew some leaves off the trees. They soared over our heads and then fell on the grass, quivering.

I know time is passing, but is it so wrong to want things to stay like this for a little while longer?

I’m not ready for winter.

When is the last time you slowed down, unplugged and took a walk with someone you care about? Do me a favor, call someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Or write that person a letter. Do something to show someone you care about them today. What is one beautiful thing you can do to show someone they are important to you? Or (conversely), what do you wish someone would do or say to you today. Let me be that person.

tweet me @rasjacobson

88 responses to “When a Walk in the Park is Not a Walk in the Park

  1. For years and years everyone tells you that moment will come when your kids grow up and don’t quite confide in you like they used to, but it’s still a surprise how suddenly it seems to happen. My oldest seems to have started that transition and it’s a challenge to give them their space but to also keep tuned in.

    • It is amazing how one night I’m tucking in my l’il monkey, and the next day he declares he doesn’t want to be tucked in anyone. He’s fine. He’s got it. He’d just like to read. Wow. Talk about a boot to the head. Or heart. Walks are good. Thanks for coming over, Paul.

  2. First of all – love your hat on mustache girl’s blog
    Second — this was a great post. I too want things to stop sometimes, but they don’t. I too did not want my boys to grow up too fast- but they do–then they start to appreciate you again outwardly–but know that your son appreciates you now, or he would never have gone for a walk with you, told you what he did, or take your pic
    And I love that you volunteered to be here for us if we had no one else–you are a good girl (hugs)

  3. *everything that was just said above* and this – you are a very, very, fine writer.

  4. As a matter of fact, I’m in the “enforced” slowdown right now with shingles. I’ve decided it’s good for my mental health.🙂

  5. This is a powerful message, Renée.

    Your words and pictures are beautiful, full of meaningful allegory, and provoke thought and emotion from your reader. (at least this reader)

    Some of us have had sweet seasons of tender spring and vibrant summer, but the time was cut short. There were no changes in the colors on the trees. There was no hint of what was to come, so I didn’t revel in the early seasons like I could have.

    I’m so happy for you that you have those times. I think it’s touching that Tech wanted to take a picture of you. It says quite a bit about what he was feeling too.

    Enjoy, Renée. And thanks again for the powerful message.

  6. This is a great message to start the day with, and beautifully written. And as much as T.S. is changing, he’s still taking walks with you, and he’s still listening. And, apparently, has some photog skillz (not hard with you as the model)!

  7. {me… going to get the tissues]. In the same spot as you, both kids changing so dramatically as one heads towards teenager-hood and the other heads towards… dare I say… adulthood. Great post, great message. Wish I could slow down more often than I do. Remember, even though he may not say it like he used to, you and Dad are still the most important people in his life, I really believe that.

  8. This one hits hard for me. Last year, two days before New Years, my niece posted on all her friends Facebook walls – things like – “you are amazing, don’t you ever forget it!” and other things such as that. Nobody thought much of it – just thought it was Christmas cheer. She killed herself that night – took a bottle of Percocet and Nyquil. Before she did, she texted her mom, saying I will always love you. Her mom never checks texts – she was always bad about that. She did it when everyone was going to bed – the did not find her till the next morning but she was long gone. There were no signs other than those cryptic texts and Facebook messages.

    We are not past it – at all – she was 17 and we miss her more than words can say. I don’t usually like to comment with another post of mine – but here is a picture of her in this post just days before it happened. http://masalachica.com/2011/12/31/let-there-be-light/

    It’s great that your son talks to you like that – it sounds like you have an amazing relationship.

    Kiran

  9. Great post Renee. I’ve been searching for the pause button the last few years. Beautiful pics!

    • A pause button would be nice. Since I lost so many photos when my computer crashed, I feel like I lost a lot of memories. (If that makes sense.) I started taking pictures furiously again. Tech is quite the photographer, too. So we have that.🙂

  10. When I read something that makes my fingers stutter at the keyboard when I try to comment, I know I’ve read something truly touching.

    My hands are “speechless”. That doesn’t happen much.

    I’m going to go hug the little man now.

    And hugs to you.

  11. You will always have a connection because you are a mom that asks questions and listens. My kids are 20 and 22 and they still confide in me. My son less than my daughter because I think it is in their nature to try to handle everything, but he know we are always there for him.

  12. I remember when he stopped talking to me. He used to tell me everything. It happened later for me. He was about 14 and it lasted about two years. Me: How was school? Him: It was school. (crickets) This is the child that told me everything, even things I didn’t want to know. What happened? Then the magical day came, he wanted to learn how to drive. Oh glory day I was his best friend again😉 It was like those 2 years never happened! We had awesome talks while I was teaching him to drive. (some heart attack moments as he took a turn on 2 wheels) Tech is just going through a phase he will come back full circle, I promise. Love ya sista’

    • He hasn’t completely clammed up. But it’s definitely different. He wants his friends these days. I KNOW I was this way. I get it, I just didn’t realize how cut off I would feel. Meanwhile, I’m terrified of the day that he learns to drive. But I’ll try to look at the whole “teaching him to drive thing” as a rainbow. Maybe. I suppose it could be an opportunity to connect. Unless he goes to his dad. *weep*

  13. I have a student right now who’s on the counselors’ “Watch very closely” radar. He’s connected to me a lot, which is both a great position to be in to make a difference, but also a frightening responsibility.

  14. I’m seeing some of the little changes at nine. Not huge things, but there are days my daughter is more quiet and introspective, not blurting out every thought or running at me full speed for a hug.

    It is beautiful and sad this growing up thing. I never understood what that meant until it happened to me.

  15. Liza Robbins Theuman

    I am normally just a stalker on your blog, read what you write and think in my head my thoughts. This time I needed to post. First thanks for the amazing post. I wish more people would have this talk with their kids. Tis the season for all of this. Unfortunately I see more of the this than I want.
    Yes your son is growing up, there are times when he will not talk but then all of a sudden when you least expect it he will come “home” and share.

    • Liza! OMG! I had no idea you were out there. Thank you for your super kind words. I think we are all terribly, terribly in denial. We all want to believe that our kids are fine fine fine. Sometimes it’s hard to see the darkness creep in. Or sometimes it creeps in so slowly that it starts to feel normal.

      I hope TechSupport will always come and talk to me. Or his dad. We are so here for him. I think I’ll email him this post.

  16. I love you.

    I do.

    You are amazing. Your writing. Your heart.

    I am glad someone took the girls’ cry for help seriously. As you know, many people do not ask for help and then they are gone.

    I look at my children, now 5.5 and three, and cannot recall where the last six years have gone. It isn’t possible. I still believe I am in my twenties, thanks to the blue of these years as the passage of time is warped and skewed.

    I want to freeze time. When my daughter squeals with joy in greeting and chokes me with a hug. When my son still will (sometimes) crawl next to me and snuggle, albeit briefly.

    Although, maybe in a few months would be better. Lil Diva is on the cusp of getting potty trained, and if time is frozen, I could live without diapers.

    Also? I miss fall. If Sandy weren’t visiting, I’d be tempted to hop a plane.

  17. Wowzers. This took my breath away. I just want to go hug my baby.

  18. I appreciated your blog and your evolving relationship with your son. But I must add a comment. If a girl is planning to kill herself, he should not be calling you first. He should call the police or person of authority, that can break into her house, if necessary, to stop and help her. Realistically, what could you, personally, do for her that couldn’t be done faster and more efficiently by an authority figure?

    • Marlene, I appreciate your comment. This was the snapshot of a moment. Later, we talked about things he could do to help. But in the moment, I wanted him to know if he ever saw a status like that, he needed to take it seriously. I would still say he would need to show it to me. Sometimes people say things on FB that are in jest. So we talked about discernment. If possible, I’d want him to show me first. For now. But we talked about 911 and other options. On Facebook, you don’t always know where people live. So there are some great resources that can help. Right on Facebook!

  19. You are not only a gifted writer but a woman with a big heart. You always have had a big heart, or at least sine you were 15. And for the last 13 years you’ve been an amazing mom. While we would all like to freeze time, we can’t. I’m now at the stage where my daughter doesn’t even want to go on spring break vacation with us but wants to go somewhere with her college friends. Ouch! But really, we all want our kids to be independent, so I guess this isn’t as bad as it seems. Keep hugging Tech, although he’ll probably only let you hug him in the house when none of his friends are around.

  20. This is so well written and heart-tugging. Junior high is such a tough time for kids. They have to pull away from their parents – it’s part of the growing up process, but it’s painful for all. Good for you for keeping the lines open with your boy/man.

    • All I cared about in middle school was boys. No joke. Oh, and Bermuda bag covers. But seriously, boys were an obsession. I loved walking in the mall with Dina, Noelle & Eric, playing our crazy games. We were four freaks. I didn’t realize how much some of us were struggling at the time. I can see how kids can feel very alone. I’ve got to remind mine that I’ve got his back. If he needs me. And even when he doesn’t.

  21. “Because 8th graders shouldn’t be thinking about killing themselves.”

    It breaks my heart that this is a conversation even having to be had. As a former teacher, I think back on the kids who no one hugged or said nice things to. So many kids come to school from a broken home where they were never told how special they were. Teaching is important work.

    • Kevin, there are so many kids in the middle place. They aren’t pretty or they aren’t smart, but they do okay. It’s almost impossible to figure out who we are supposed to keep our eyes open for. Even pretty girls get sad and feel alone. Even the football star can be ashamed his father is an alcoholic. They all carry their secrets in invisible backpacks, zipped up tight. It’s a scary responsibility, and you ain’t just whistling Dixie.

  22. This is such a thoughtful post–and what a beautiful picture he took. Really, it captures a nice moment–the shadow one too. You are such a good mom, Renée, and that is one deep boy. Really.

    • Nina, I try. He is changing so much everyday. Today there was no school (thank you, Sandy) and he hung out with 5 friends. He had the best day. And then he fell asleep in the car on the way to fencing. All told, I think I got about 5 words in. Seriously, I miss our together time. That walk will have to hold me for a while.

  23. “Let me be that person.”

    You were for me today, just by asking if you still needed to read.
    Thanks, RAS.❤

  24. Thanks ren’ee You reminded me I needed to call my daughter. I hadn’t spoke to her in about 2 weeks and she always gets a little depressed at this time of year. I was glad to hear her say she is doing ok

    • I know a bunch of people who suffer from Season Affect Disorder. (My mother being one of them.) I’m glad that your daughter is doing well and that you checked in on her. Life can get so hectic, I find I often remember people around midnight. And then it is, of course, too late.

      I don’t want it to ever be “too late” to talk to my son.

  25. Thank you.

  26. Wow. Powerful stuff, Ray. I have two young boys, who love nothing more than positive attention from mom. But sometimes I’m too busy. Or tired. Or cranky. Or….. I spent the entire day with them today, and I’ll do the same tomorrow. It was great. Thanks for reminding me how fast it goes, even though I know, I still forget sometimes. This was a great post, really.

    • With Sandy today, I got to spend a little time with the boy and his friends. But mostly from afar — watching him with his buddies. My heart overflows with so much love for him. And I want him to LOVE his friends. And he does. But when I dropped him off at fencing, I sat in the car and realized today I’d said: “Good morning” and “Either dad or I will get you.”

  27. You write with your head and your heart, Renee. Beautiful piece and my heart goes out to the family who lost their daughter, and to each of the commenters who shared their losses. It’s never something we can understand, and therefore I can only imagine it takes great time to forgive and move forward from. Your son is lucky to have you say those words to him. For so many months in high school I wished my parents would ask me if I was ok, did I need help, was I happy. I managed to get out of my depression through friends and journaling. It was months later I talked with my mom and told her I should’ve gone to counseling. I was mad that she didn’t see it. And it wasn’t her fault.

    I am lucky enough to say the people in my life now are the people who, like you, will be that person. And you’ve reminded me I must say thank you more often.

    And Renee, THANK YOU!

    • Jess! The girl is okay! (Thank goodness!) Everyone is okay this time. But as you point out, teens need to be drawn out of their shells. They need to be asked. They might be smiling on the outside but hurting on the inside. We have to remember all those rejections we experienced and remember they are experiencing them, too. Except they never get a break with all the social media showing them all the things they weren’t invited to.

      I’m so glad you pushed through those dark times. Who would have ever thought Jess Witkins could feel the blues?🙂

  28. Renee, it would be okay for you to say those things to him. He will stammer and tell you ‘it’s okay, he has it.’ He might even say he doesn’t want to talk about it, but it is okay for you to say those things, to invade his space a little bit. I use to with my boys. They hated it then. They tell me now, they didn’t really hate it all that much, even then; that sometimes they were glad I did, even when I embarrassed them.

    • Thanks for the support, Val. I remember how I was in 8th grade: totally boy crazy and into plenty of things that my parents didn’t know about. (And if they are reading, I mean I was a very good girl!) He has a nice group of friends, boys and girls. SO far, he still comes to me. But wow, has it gotten quieter around here. I’ll look forward to the day when he says, “I’m glad that you were there to bug me.”😉

  29. As I read this I sobbed as I write this I am still sobbing. I can understand the feelings this girl has as I have had them and in fleeting moments still do. I am a mother of three now and know that no matter how much I feel useless and overwhelmed I still have to be there for my children. 2 are grown now and out of the house so I must have done okay with them. I worry the most about my youngest, who is a very emotional young lady. She takes everything to heart and holds on to things for days. She is not as tough as I am or as hard as I am either. I am cheering that she is not like me and fearing it all in the same breath. Though Renee I have to let you know I can just about see the ringletted piggy tails in the picture🙂 You still look the same to me. I enjoy reading your writings as you always seem to find a way to reach me. Have faith in yourself and know you have given him the tools to be a caring and smart young man. That is all I can do, take a deep breath and know that no matter how screwy I am, I did better for my kids🙂

    Miss you!
    Lisa

    • Lisa! I told you that I wrote something about you! I’d LOVE to post it. I can’t believe how we have found each other after all these years. It’s just incredible. I can imagine you — worrying about your daughter. I wonder if my parents worried about me. I think there were times they probably could have (should have) asked me if I was okay. I was intense, too and felt things very deeply. My father used to say I made “high sounds” — because I would just ball up my hands and scream for release. I do have faith in myself, but a lot of this is about having faith in the world and in things I can’t control. You just want the world to love your child the way you love your child. I HATE the idea of these young kids hurting inside so much that they think there is no place for them here in the world. I want them to know they will grow out of this. That things get better. So much better. You know? Hugs to you!

      • I would love to see what you wrote, anything! I am not big on seeing things about me, but it is wonderful to know that there were people that thought about me after I moved. I wonder if my parents worried about me, they should have from about 13-15 lol. I was really out there. Heck, I still am a sugar frosted flake🙂 I really think we all need to get together next time you are up this way, Anyone and everyone that would love to hang out! Has the world changed for our kids or has the media made things more visable? I don’t remember things happening like they do now, but we didn’t have cell phones, Ipad’s, computers, or any of the instant media they have now. All we can do is be a good roll model and try out best to instill values in our children. No matter how hard we try some things are beyond our control and that is totally what scares me the most. Keep pointing in the right direction and have faith🙂

  30. Renee: As usual, a powerful message with incredible imagery! My children are still young so I am dreading the “shutting me out” years. I pray that we are building a strong enough foundation over these early years that they will “come back to me.” Lovely. Thank you!

    • Kristal: It is crazy how it happens so quickly. For me, it’s been in the last 3-4 months. And it is happening gradually. But I am so glad for these walks. And I’m so glad when he comes downstairs and says, “I can’t sleep” because I know I am the one who can listen to him and help him figure out what is bothering him so that he can get to sleep soundly. I still have that super power. For now.

  31. What a powerful, beautifully-written post. You painted so many nuances with your words – lovely and terrifying at the same time. I held my breath throughout and love the message you ended with. Well done, mama!

    • I think that is how I view life: wonderful & terrifying. Truly, that has become my new worldview. A man falls in love, and then his lover gets sick and dies. It’s so perfect and then absolutely terrifying. Women deliver stillborn babies or die in childbirth and they have to go and “try again.” It is something making ourselves so vulnerable, that’s for sure. And isn’t that what your post is about a little? How lovely it is for people to see our through our words, but how terrifying it is to be noticed. Which is worse? To be noticed? Or not to be noticed? Wonderful & terrifying. I imagine some kids feel this exact thing. And they feel it so much more intensely as teens.

  32. Oh, and the pictures! So gorgeous – the scenery and you! Love the shadows photo, too!

  33. Liza Robbins Theuman

    Renee, when you think about those folks at midnight and don’t want to call, send them an email or a text. What a wonderful thing to wake up to.

  34. Well hell. I’m totally in tears over this. Because it’s this awful humming that’s always in my body, always. I don’t show it very often, but when I read something like this, the humming rises up and I can hear it, deafening, in my ears. “Whatifwhatifwhatifwhatifwhatifwhatif . . . any tragedy befalls my child.”

    Thanks for the reminder. We can’t keep them in a bubble, we have to let them grow. But we have to keep the communication lines open with them.

  35. Sounds like an intense conversation. It’s so bittersweet to have them grow up. My 16-yr-old son is 6’7″ and sometimes, all in the world I want is to hold my baby and rock him one more time. . . . Many prayers for the girl and her family.

    • It was the opening to an intense conversation. I don’t remember anyone trying to hurt him/herself in 8th grade. I just don’t. It happened later. And now it is just so public. I feel for all of these kids, many of whom are positively baffled. I hope someone is talking to them. Not every parents feels comfortable opening the door to these talks. It’s scary what one might learn.

      PS: How did you give birth to someone who is 6’7″?🙂

  36. Geez, Louise. I am just about to leave the house for the day, but first I must fix my face, wet from tears. Wow, Renee…what a moment, what a bunch of moments, carved onto your heart.

    All of us, as mothers, as parents, neeeded this not-so-gentle reminder that time is fleeting. Off to kiss my sons now, quickly, before they grow up any more.

  37. this summer we moved from a place where my daughter and i walked a lot, san francisco, to a place where walking is foreign, virginia suburbs. we took a walk a few weeks ago and she talked the entire time. i could not get this from her if we were sitting on the couch. i realized we need to walk more, put it in our schedule.

    • It’s true. There is something magical about walking. I saw a documentary about a family once. They left the US and moved to Africa. They walked and reconnected with each other. Who knows, maybe if we all walked a little more…

      Just keep walking. Find the time. Make the time. Nice to meet you!

  38. You are a beauty.

    I love walks, I miss nice weather for that reason. On our walks, is when my sons say the most to me.

    The steps free their minds, or maybe it’s the sky and the breeze, and the nothing else to do but talk: but it’s made us into a walking family.

    xo

    • Hubby golfs.

      But Tech and I walk. It is our thing. And, selfishly, I’m glad to have a thing. I think he’ll remember these walks. Hopefully take them with his own kiddies one day.😉

      Did you check out Le Clown? I sent him for you! He’s a good checker.

  39. I read this last night and I was in tears. I have no words other than powerful and beautiful. So well written, Renee, you’ve basically said everything I feel and hope to impart to my son as he nears his teenager years. Such a delicate and scary time for most kids. You are an incredible mom, you just are.

    • Dar: it is scary. I wonder if my parents felt this fear. I don’t think they did. I think they just had so much less fear. I have faith we are doing the best we can – but Tech got a cellphone on Sunday. And now I feel cut off ever more. I don’t want us to be reduced to a series of misspelled words and emoticons. This. Is. Rough.

  40. Pingback: The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . Toilet Bowl Doubles as Soccer Goalie « Bayard & Holmes

  41. That was so beautiful…I felt like I was there with you both. It is so hard letting them grow up…my kids are grown up, married and gone… so I can assure you those walks in the park will pay off and though he’s pulling away now, he’ll come back just enough when he’s found himself. Hang in there, mom.

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