When the Flashing Lights Fail.

I am a Helicopter Mom. No shame here, no self-deprecating humor, there is really no other option for this child tornado of mine. Maybe helicopter isn’t the right word, I think I’m more like the car with the flashing lights that travels behind the Wide Load truck on the freeway. You know when some brave soul picks their flipping house up, places it on a truck, and moves it across country? The other drivers can see the trailer coming with a freaking house on it, it’s unexpected and a tad out of the ordinary, but there is always a car with flashing lights following this freeway-speeding house as if to say, “Don’t worry, I know this is a bit precarious, but I got this.”  That’s me with Jax. He’s the house barreling down the freeway and I’m the car with the flashing lights. 

All this to say that there are eyes on my kid all the time. He doesn’t go to the bathroom by himself in public places, he does not leave my side in the grocery aisle, he has an adult by his side at all times in school. If he is out front playing with the neighbor kids, someone is out front with him playing with the neighbor kids. Wanna ride your bike, Jax? Great, off we go. He is thirteen years old and he is never unsupervised. Never.

Jax has many, many gifts. Impulse control and emotional regulation are not among them. Recently, I was discussing Jax’s progress with his gifted occupational therapist. “Progress” is a poor word choice because we were actually discussing Jax’s permanent limitations and the long-term game plan to keep him in his few comfort zones. I get this, I’m fine with this, I preach this to the choir all day every day. “My goal is for Jax to be happy,” I said. She wholeheartedly agreed, but her normally cheerful voice took a turn to very serious as she added, “And safe, Rebecca. Keep him safe.”

Keep him safe. I hung up the phone and there it was. Jax is vulnerable. Jax is always going to be vulnerable. Happy, yes, but safe. 

I could be fancy and say that the timing of this call was prescient. But really, it just makes me want to throw up. Because despite all the eyes and all the adults and all the safe places and comfort zones, Jax was being hurt.

My flashing lights failed Jax. They failed him repeatedly and for months. They failed him in a safe place, surrounded by trained adults. This wasn’t a sketchy public restroom at the MiniMart, I didn’t take my eyes off of him at a public park, he didn’t jump into a rusty van advertising fidget spinners and free wifi. This was a background-checked, experienced and supervised adult – and this person inflicted pain on my son. Taunted him, held him down, and hurt him. Over and over and over. 

Now what, guys? I’m asking, truly, I’m asking. Now what? How do you protect a child who is already as protected as Jax? What do you do when all the cars with the flashing lights fail?


Rebecca Masterson is a writer, speaker, and an advocate for children. For more from Rebecca, follow her on Instagram.

10 Comments

  1. Deirdre

    Stumped. Thinking. Worried.

    Reply
  2. Annemarie

    Oh Becca, this is something I struggle with every single day. The reason I have kept Drew in the same school system since day one (and drive an hour one way to get him there everyday) he’s known there, I’m known there I wanted him safe & a new school system meant too many unknowns too much vulnerability. He is approaching 21 & his time at this school will end. He will move on to possibly a day group care system which is a whole other set of issues, or do I keep him at home wrapped in a cotton cocoon? Neither is a route without potential safety concerns. Yes I want him happy, yes I want him safe, but I also want him to live to his highest potential (whatever that definition is for him) & they only way that comes is with trust & follow up & accountability. I believe that you have to be the bad guy, & never, “let it go”or say “next time I’ll catch it” or “maybe my kid got it wrong”. Where my special needs child is concerned the burden of proof is on you to prove me wrong. You are guilty, until proven innocent. And when my time on this earth ends, I have someone to step into my shoes as his biggest champion. I think that’s the best we can do. Drew & I send our love to you all.

    Reply
  3. Dana Zazueta

    Oh my god, this makes me sick. I am sorry, sad, horrified and angry that this happened to Jax. Pretty much this made me feel all of the bad emotions. I hope he heals and that you heal. I also hope for horrible things to happen to the person that did this to him.

    Reply
  4. Mary N Marcos Soto

    Can i get 5 minutes eith the POS THAT HURT JAX

    Reply
  5. Debbie J Casey

    I am hurting for you. I wish I had an answer for you. I have nothing. This has always been one of my fears. Will someone mess with Ben? Fortunately I have harassed him enough to teach him how to tell me to “Stop bothering me”.

    Reply
  6. Ann Thompson

    Hello dear Rebecca, how I wish I could give you a big hug right now, and then a nice long massage. Well, as you know, I’m not a psychologist but since you asked I would say first don’t beat yourself up. At all, in any way, shape, or form. I know how you turn yourself inside out to protect your son. Maybe some role-playing with him in anticipation of anything like this ever happening again? blessings to you both ❤️

    Reply
  7. Ginger Jerzak

    This is my greatest concern/fear as well. My daughter has no sense or fear of danger. I, too, am a helicopter mom. Other family members, including her father, are not as protective or watchful as I am, and I am terrified to leave her with one of them. The older she gets (she is 14 now working on about an 8 year old level), they are beginning to see the disabilities and don’t want to spend as much time with her now which is getting more and more sad, but in some ways a relief as well. I don’t have any solutions either. Just determined to keep myself healthy so I can take care of her for a very long time.

    Reply
    • Carol Coghlan Carter

      Ginger – It is uncanny, in your description of your daughter, you are describing my situation with my 14 year old daughter, as well.

      Reply
  8. Janine Loomis

    My heart hurts with you. I too experienced this last year with a daughter I took in when she was 5. I listened to the schools and she was never supposed to be alone. And when she turned 19 and in school for a few months I noticed she was acting different and I wasn’t prepared to hear what words came out of her mouth. But there it was and then a trip to the ER and the examination with a SANE nurse. It all became a reality that someone was hurting her.

    I know how you are feeling. I know the pain….and I know the set backs. And it all sucks. This child that I swore to protect…. wasn’t protected and I felt like a complete failure. But you have to remember that you didn’t do this and you put everything into making him safe. The system failed. Just breathe and work to making him feel safe again. It might take time….but it will happen. Hugs!!

    Reply
  9. Gina

    I am so mad & sad that this has happened. There is evil everywhere. I pray you & your family can heal from this & keep being the good.

    Reply

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