It was bad enough when Z and her mother got in their biggest fight ever on Sunday night. At least then I still felt like she and I had pretty good lines of communication. Then Wednesday afternoon I get a call that a friend had reported to a teacher that she was running away with Z that afternoon. Luckily we got the report early enough to head them off at the pass.
Obviously this brings up a lot of issues, and I’m not going to go into them here. I just need to vent some frustration that despite my confidence in our relationship she never communicated a word of this to me. It’s become clear that this was not a spur of the moment event. Weeks earlier her friend had suggested running away and Z had nixed the idea because her Mom would freak out. Then the big Sunday fight happened. Monday and Tuesday there was no school due to Veteran’s day, but Tuesday night Z packed food into her backpack in preparation for taking off after school with her friend.
I’ve talked with Z at least a dozen times about the possibility of her running away (this wasn’t exactly difficult to forsee) and we’ve always talked about how she has it lucky because she has so many different adults/households in her life that she could “run” to instead of heading “into the wild”. She promised me, repeatedly, that if she was considering running away she’d talk to me about it first. Neither of those things occurred. Her excuse was that she was afraid if she went somewhere familiar they’d call her Mom who’d show up pissed and drag her home. This despite tons of prior assurances that I’d keep her away from her Mom if that’s what she wanted. The good news is that the chaos finally managed me to get Z her own counselor, so now she has a knowledgeable and safe adult to talk to who can’t repeat her thoughts to her parents.
X came up with this plan to show Z what life is like in the streets – take her to talk to some runaways in San Jose. No problem, I could do that. However, she also insisted that I not tell Z where we were going or what we were doing until we got there. I decided to try things X’s way and did exactly what she asked. Not really surprisingly, I got the same response that she normally gets: flat out refusal to participate. That’s the first time I’ve received that from Z, despite X constantly reporting it. Turns out it’s not a result of which parent is asking what, but rather how she’s being “asked” to do things. Again, not too surprising, but X seemed to completely miss that point.
So, when we returned to my house I took a different route and gave Z exactly what she’s been asking for all along: complete autonomy. I drew a square in my upstairs hallway, left her clothes on her back and he rschool books and told her that was now her space. I also told her she could have whatever she wanted, all she had to do was ask for it, just as she thought life should be. This was our first dialogue-
Z: Can I have a pencil?
A: Why should I give you a pencil?
Z: Because I need it to make use of the school books.
A: Not my problem. You’re on your own in the world now, you need to find a way to get that pencil on your own or motivate someone to supply it for you.
When she asked to use the rest room I reminded her that she needed no one’s permission to void her waste, but that she did need such permission to use my bathroom. Afterall, no one supplies plumbing for free. Of course, I gave her permission. When she got around to asking if she could go back to her mom’s house I assured her that she could, but I was curious how she was going to do so without taking advantage of me or her mother. Of course, this left her stranded since she had neither cash to pay for the bus, nor permission to cross my property (the stairs) or open my door.
It took a few hours, but she finally managed to get it and realized that she wasn’t nearly as ready to be on her own as she first thought. or at least she said and acted like she got it. She’s a bright girl, so it’s equally as possible she just figured out that’s what I wanted to see/hear.
As a father, what can I be but hopeful…