Pot ruined my son's life

If you want to keep your kids, don't let the authorities know you smoke

Published June 6, 2010 11:01PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

You wanted to know how marijuana has hurt or helped. Here is my story.

I am a mother of three sons and one daughter, all grown up now, at least physically.

My youngest son became hooked on marijuana. When he was 17, he had a short-term relationship with another 17-year-old girl. She became pregnant. The girl's mother insisted she quit school and have her baby. She also wanted my son to quit school, but I said no. My son was working at an oil-change place when X gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. My son claimed paternity though no tests were ever done. (Why would she lie?) My son graduated from high school, barely, but never managed to hold a job for long. (Those darn drug tests!)

With the help of the welfare system, single mom, X, got an apartment in a housing project and started attending cosmetology classes at a local trade school. Life was looking better for her, but it didn't last. Her mother thought that X was just having it too good and reported her to the Children's Bureau. The Children's Bureau made X take a drug test and marijuana showed up. X lost custody of her 2-year-old. The Children's Bureau called my son and asked him if he wanted his child. Of course he said yes. I really thought it was crazy to take a child from her mother, a pothead, and give her to her father, another pothead.

The child wasn't abused or neglected with her mother. But it wasn't my call, so I could do nothing but pick up the pieces later.

Three years pass. X sees her daughter about once a month. My son has a girlfriend who mothers the child, at least until she decides she doesn't want that job and leaves.

My son and his child move in with me. My son finds another girlfriend who also has a small child, and they move into the apartment across the hall from me. X finds a boyfriend and has another baby, a boy this time. She and her boyfriend must take parenting classes to obtain custody of her baby. They do this.

My son gets in an argument with a neighbor and is reported to the Children's Bureau. He and his girlfriend undergo drug testing. The substance they buy at the Magikal Garden doesn't work, and they fail this test. Marijuana again. My son's child is given to me to take care of. His girlfriend's child is given to her mother. The Children's Bureau call X and ask her if she'd like her daughter back. X is thrilled. Of course she wants her! A meeting is arranged with my son and our family and X and her relatives. She is so happy to be getting her daughter back!

The child is now in kindergarten, so we ask the Children's Bureau to leave her with me until the end of the school year, which is only a few weeks away. As I am her grandmother, that is denied. They claim I have already had her too long and she needs to be with a birth parent. There is nothing I can do. The court date is set and we go. I am prepared to fight to keep this child I have had for so long. It doesn't matter, as X doesn't show up. Her boyfriend has found her unconscious and rushed her to the hospital. Tests show that she has had a massive heart attack. She dies a few days later, never regaining consciousness. She is dead at the age of 23.

Tests show that she died from taking a street drug known as Special K. No one thinks she took this drug on purpose. Most believe that her boyfriend did not want her to regain custody of her child, as it would have strained their already tight resources. I don't suppose we'll ever know. X was just a "pothead" like my son.

Once again, I have custody of my grandchild. My son's girlfriend was not so lucky. She has lost custody of her child and will need a lawyer and hasn't the funds or a job either. I guess she's a good match for my son. He's been trying hard and so far -- three months down the road -- he's stayed away from the pot.

He wants to regain custody of his daughter. He lives for the day it will be legal and he will be happy once more. Pot has pretty much ruined my son's life, and his child is motherless. It's just too sad. He's young, though, and I have hope he'll turn out.

As it now stands, I have his child. His girlfriend resents the fact that he sees his kid more than she sees hers, and they fight constantly. She lost her only source of income, which was child support. X didn't work long enough to pay into the system, so her child doesn't qualify for survivor benefits. The reduction in their household size has led to a large decrease in the food stamp benefits that they do get. Yes, I get to feed them, too. They live on $500 a month, which my son collects in unemployment. He's been out of work close to two years now. I help them all I can, but it's rough.

So Cary, I have to say pot is perilous to those who have children and want to keep them. I'd like to fault the Children's Bureau, but I suppose they were only doing their job.

Mother of a Pothead

Dear Mother of a Pothead,

There are so many sad angles to this sad tale, so many fingers to be pointed, so many scapegoats to be burned, so many ideas to be bandied about, that I want first to pause a minute and honor the human loss. A woman, a mother, a lover, died before her time because she had a problem with drugs. She had a problem with drugs and she did not get the help she needed. Help was available and perhaps she got some help, but she did not get enough help, but then again maybe no help would have been enough, because when we are in the chaos of untreated addiction, no drug is enough and no consequence is enough and no voice of caution is loud enough and no punishment is dire enough. Nothing is enough. People reach out to us and we encounter consequences, but no consequences are enough and no substances are enough. Life is tragic. We cannot wipe tragedy from the earth. Sad, cruel, heartless, shattering loss falls on us like dark rain from an unyielding sky, and we do not understand it and we beseech the gods for mercy, but that is how it is. Life is tragic. So we mourn. First we mourn.

Her death was tragic. It will ripple and reverberate for a thousand years through all those who are affected, her child, her child's children, those children, on and on, until the distant flashpoint of sadness is unknown and all that is left in the psyche of her distant future descendant is some vague sense that something is wrong, something is missing, something is tragic.

So we mourn, and we mourn quickly, because just as quickly people will turn from the sadness to the blaming and the justifying and the pointing of fingers. They will say, But pot did not kill her! They will say, It's the state! It's the laws! It's our puritanical society! It's our punitive drug laws! People will also say, It's our lazy, welfare-grubbing social parasites who are at fault! It's our irresponsible young mothers who want kids but don't want to care for them and our irresponsible young fathers who can't keep their dicks in their pants!

People will say all these things, and the atmosphere will become like that on the Jerry Springer show. Therefore I first want to be sure we honor the dead. I want to be sure we honor the victims, who are many.

Then I've done my part. Then I want to say to you who have witnessed this and have done the best you can, that if you can do anything, perhaps you can work even harder to strengthen your community and your family ties. If I can help you do that, perhaps I have done a little good. Perhaps the future can be a little better. You are doing what you can. You may feel that your help is unappreciated and futile. It is not. It may be the only thing that stands between your son and greater tragedy. And it is the one thing you can do that transforms this sad tale into something useful.

You cannot wipe tragedy from the earth. No mother can do that. But you can take strength from this sad tale, and you can take caution. The state will come down hard. We live under onerous and uncaring laws but we owe it to ourselves to take caution amid these laws. The state has arrogated to itself an array of awesome powers and odious policies. We cannot change that overnight. We must take care of our own. Family and community must come together. Perhaps you can talk to others in your circle and strengthen your ties with neighbors and let this awful loss be a constant reminder that where individuals are too weak to stand on their own, and where the state will only punish, those nearby who see the sad mother with her burdensome life every day, who see how on the edge she is, who see how she is eating and how her kids are doing, knowing how such a situation may end, can find the courage to risk stepping in and helping and being there and making a strong statement.

We have to take care of each other when we can. The state will never be perfected. There are limits to what we can do. But we can try.

May you live in peace with all this.

p.s. For more on the role of the state in this, see Stephannie's blog on the Children's Bureau and Child Protective Services.

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By Cary Tennis

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