Two tents sat in my backyard like forgotten pyramids. Next to them, sleeping bags, brand-new camp dishes, even a stack of firewood lay piled, ready and waiting. A paper bag contained stuff for making s’mores. Everything prepared for the “greatest camping trip ever.” All of it a mirage.
We who have loved ones with addiction often watch the best-laid plans evaporate.
As a mom to three of these loved ones, I’ve learned to adapt to last-minute bombs. The sound of the other shoe dropping is too familiar. Yet I never really get used to the sound of pages being ripped from the planner; the blank spots in the photo album; the empty chair at the picnic table. With Middle, whose drug of choice is meth, these penciled-in let-downs feel especially cruel. And this time, I foolishly marked my calendar in permanent marker.
Weeks earlier, when Middle announced the upcoming trip, he’d sounded excited and positive. He couldn’t remember the campground’s name, but his long-time significant other had reserved two days in mid-August—at the time, about a month away. “It’s going to be so much fun,” he told me. “I’ll show off my wilderness skills. It’ll be the greatest.”
I cheered him on. He was planning a vacation, a real honest-to-goodness normal activity. “That’s great,” I said, and meant every word. But some part of me snickered. When had this guy ever gone through with plans?
Before the trip, Middle kept me off balance by staying clean longer than usual. His girlfriend’s boy was celebrating his sixth birthday and Middle devised gifts and games for their vacay in the woods. His binges became so short that two days before they were set to leave, I wondered if he was clean for good.
After a week of Middle’s clean time, it was easy to forget about the abusive ways that switch on whenever meth takes the helm. Instead of snarling a sarcastic remark, he answered questions directly. He looked me in the eyes when he spoke. He even managed to get to an important dental appointment without rescheduling it four times.
I rode that wave, not noticing how cheerful and peppy my moods became as a day became a week. Instead of that prickly cold feeling I get just before he disappears back into using, I lapped up all the help he offered: mowing the lawns, tending the garden, washing my car. I told skeptical me to take a hike. Why couldn’t his weeks of new sobriety blossom into enduring clean? Why would anyone round up enough camping equipment to serve an army if he didn’t mean to use it?
That’s what I told myself. Like a frog who never notices the water getting hotter, I sat in the pot, bathing myself in my expectations. Maybe my son finally learned to value something more than a substance made from Drano. Maybe he could see how much that six-year-old needed a male role model. Maybe the nightmare was over and we could all be a normal family again.
The day before they were set to leave, my son put up the tents in the backyard, telling the boy it was a practice campout. They lit sparklers and told stories before zipping into their tents. Middle really loved that kid. I slept, basking in the glow of being ordinary.
In the morning, he was gone.
My mind played it both ways: He didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I’m hurting. He was just getting what he needed. He needs to be throttled. Why would he follow through with big plans when he hadn’t been able to see small plans to fruition? My heart hurt for him and me. It hurt for all of us who try so hard not to hang our hopes on our loved ones. Disappointment followed me like smoke around a campfire.
I could’ve berated my son for letting everyone down or pointed out that he wrecked a boy’s birthday trip. Somehow, by God’s grace, I kept my mouth shut and changed my perspective.
I’d tried to control plans which weren’t mine. I crashed into their camp site, their vacation, their business. Robert Burns’ poem, “To a Mouse,” says that the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. The best plan I could offer was a hands-off love, even when plans crashed.
I resolved to love from a distance. And when I did, Middle suddenly reappeared just in time to grab the gear and go. As they drove away, I smiled at my son’s efforts to make things right. Maybe it’s true that around a campfire, s’mores taste sweeter than anywhere else.