When I got the call every mother dreads, I was in my dressing gown.
It was my husband, telling me our 20-year-old son had driven his car through a neighbour’s brick fence. He was unhurt. There was structural damage to the house. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.11.
I listened until I had reached my capacity for bad news.
Before breaking it to my younger son and daughter, I had to digest what I had heard. I got dressed and went for a long walk, replaying the information I had managed to take in. I was trying to keep it together, formulate a plan, keep the massive wave of self-doubt at bay. How had I allowed this to happen?
I didn’t let myself be weighed down by that thought for long. It was an automatic response born of maternal guilt. My son was no longer part of me: his bad decisions were his own. Besides I had other more pressing concerns. Like whether he could be charged with a criminal offence. Panicked, I rang my sister – an ex-lawyer – and cried down the phone, heedless of my surroundings. I was past caring.
My sister assured me it wasn’t a crime, adding:
This doesn’t alter the fact that he is a wonderful human being.
Somehow over the past hour I had lost sight of that.
I returned to the house calmer and more resolute. No one had died. Almost everything could be fixed: the fence, the house – not the car – it was a write off. And not, for now, my son’s spirit. He was inconsolable.
Over the next three days he was also unreachable. Too ashamed to speak to me, he simply wouldn’t pick up. When I finally met him face-to-face, I just held him. I didn’t need to chastise him. He had been doing nothing else since the crash. It was time to make a plan.
It’s heartening to witness how people rally round in times of crisis.
Mere acquaintances rose to the occasion by offering free legal advice. Friends and former school teachers were generous listeners and character referees. It was almost worth all the grief to read of the high esteem in which he was held by them. Almost.
One valuable piece of advice we received was a recommendation to sit in on a session at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, in order to become familiar with proceedings and protocol. A friend had been through the whole court process with her own son. Her boy had been so overwhelmed on the day of his court case, he spent the entire time in the courtroom crying quietly. Unlikely as that seemed, knowing my ebullient son, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. He was in agreement that a practice run was a good idea, even if only to time our train journey and familiarise ourselves with the route.
The trial run (no pun intended) was very valuable.
It gave us insight into court proceedings and etiquette, including the compulsory bow to the magistrate expected of anyone leaving the room. I really sweated on that bow. And on the fact that the people sitting either side of us were called to answer charges. I zipped up my handbag and kept it close.
On the way home in the train, we resolved to make an appointment with a lawyer as soon as possible. Sitting side by side, watching the suburban landscape flash past us, my son broke the companionable silence that had settled over both of us.
If I could have chosen anyone to be my mother, I would have chosen you.
What’s a girl to do? I mumbled something and buried my shining eyes behind a newspaper. One thing I had learned in my twenty years of motherhood was the value of understatement. Never make a spectacle of yourself in public. The kids don’t like it.
My son made total reparation for his mistake over the next few years. He lost his license for 17 months and in that time, saved enough to make a significant dent in his debt for the damage to the neighbour’s property and legal fees. He voluntarily did an advanced driving course and spoke on the radio about his experience to discourage others from making the same mistake.
It’s now over a decade since the accident.
With the passing of the years comes a fuzziness; a readiness to believe my recollection of its importance might be exaggerated. At my birthday celebrations earlier this year, my son – now living interstate – made a surprise appearance. In an impromptu speech he spoke unflinchingly about that time in our lives. He even quoted his little speech in the train, word for word as I remembered it. This time he cried.
He is now the father of an eight-week-old girl, and about to embark on the most exciting, painful, rewarding journey of his life. Since her birth, he has made no secret of his growing appreciation of mothers in general, and me in particular. My job here is done.
Last week’s post ‘Staying connected to young adult children’ touched a nerve with readers. This is the first in ‘Young Adults’ – a subcategory of Relationships – written in response to your enthusiasm. It was written with the permission of my son. If you have enjoyed reading it, I would love you to subscribe to DIY Woman: you will receive weekly email notification of the latest post. Nothing else. Diywoman.net is a commercial-free zone.