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. Or sign up for her newsletter.