Telling James

by adustyframe ~ December 3rd, 2007

When Lee first left our home to check in just over 3 years ago, we did not tell James where Lee was.

If James asked, I’d just say, “We’ll see Daddy tomorrow.”

In the beginning, Lee had work release and would care for James at home in the afternoons. James was barely 4 years old and this seemed to work.

I was not dealing well with this at the time. I had not told my parents yet. Only people at church knew. My friends didn’t know. My employees didn’t know. My customers certainly did not know.

I worried how hearing the words “Dad is in jail” would affect my son. He and Lee were inseparable buddies. I didn’t want Lee to be tarnished in James’ eyes. I prayed about the decision on a regular basis and felt that we’d play it by ear.

Sometimes we called it “The place Dad can’t leave.”

I paid close attention to James, listening for questions or comments about Lee. He seemed content with the answers I gave him.

One day this past winter, James and I were driving home. We drove past a bar. For some reason, he was very interested in bars at the time.

He said, “If people drink beer and fight in beer bars, do they go to jail? Or do they go where Dad is?”

I felt my chest tighten. I knew this was “it”. I hadn’t imagined explaining it all in the car on a cold wintry day, but here was the opportunity.

I said, “Honey, the place where Dad can’t leave is called jail.”

He said, “No I mean do they go to jail or where DAD is?”

The lump in my throat seemed to be choking off my airways. I didn’t want to do it like this. I wanted to be cuddled on the couch or be able to look him in the eye.

Now that I had told him his Dad was in jail, we couldn’t end this conversation without him truly understanding where his beloved Daddy-Poppa was.

“James, honey. Your Daddy is in jail.”

The back seat was quiet. Tears streamed down my face and I wondered if I’d ever again be able to breathe without this weight on my chest.

We got home shortly thereafter. The night was crisp and the sky was bright with stars. When we got out of the car, I hugged him.

As only a child can do, he chattered about the stars and his friends.

That night, we cuddled. I asked him what he wanted to know. He asked me when Dad could come home. I said that we didn’t know yet. (We were still waiting for the appeal to be decided.) He asked about judges and what they wear and if they really hit the desk with that “thing”. I answered his questions the best I could. He wanted to know all the names for the place Dad was. So I listed some.




*Correctional Institution

*The Clink

*The Hoosgow

Hoosgow made him giggle. Crazy the things that we laugh at in this new life of ours.

He asked if he could tell everybody. I told him he could tell his friends if he needed to.That was hard to say. Pastor told me it wasn’t fair to ask him not to tell. I agreed, but that was not easy.

James told his friend during Sunday School the next Sunday. His friend shouted to the class, “Hey everybody! James’ Daddy is in jail.”

His friend is little too. He had no intent to hurt James. He was just sharing some BIG news. I asked James about it. He said, “I wished I didn’t tell him. I didn’t want him to tell everybody.”

We did more cuddling and praying together. It was a hard lesson for a little boy. It’s a hard lesson for a mom too. It’s hard to know who can be trusted with this BIG news.

There have been a lot of questions since then. The other day it was,
“Can we send Dad a box of vitamins and things he needs to be healthy?”

“No, hon, we can’t send Daddy vitamins. He has what he needs there.”

I wish we could send Lee vitamins. There are nasty diseases in prison. Medical services are only very basic.Visiting the nurse carries a fee. He really doesn’t have what he needs to be healthy, but that knowledge is not a burden a little boy needs to carry.

Did I do the right thing by not telling him right away? I don’t know. Maybe not, but that’s the decision I made. I am thankful though that when he knew where Dad was, he was older and better able to understand that Dad is safe. We don’t like that he is there, but we know he is safe and he can’t wait to come home to us.


8 Thoughts Shared to Telling James

  1. Ame

    Thank you for sharing this. Knowing what and when to tell our children is SO hard.

    Would you consider sharing this on The Covering?

    Sure;) If I remember to!

  2. Lisa

    You handled it all well. He was very little at the start and isn’t much older now. Will James be allowed to visit him in prison? Is that allowed? Maybe that would be too hard for your husband.

    Just like the little guy busting out with “His Daddy’s in Jail,” I am watching my Squad to see if they change the way they treat the girl who’s Dad is in prison now that they know. I wonder if, when they bring it up at home, their parents will be as decent about it in the privacy of their homes or not. None have responded saying they will chip in for a gift for an angel tree child. I expected to pay for this myself, but since it was potentially tax deductible I thought maybe…..

    I will pray extra for you both tonight. I, too, have to answer “big” questions–about my kids’ birth mother and why? why? God gives us the strength to answer them and does put the words into our mouths if we listen and trust him.

    Thank you, Lisa. Visiting his daddy… we are still waiting on the warden to decide. We sent in the paperwork so we are praying praying.

  3. Christy

    Thank you for sharing this, Lizzie. I really don’t know what to say. I know there aren’t words to describe what you are going through in this experience. Sharing stories like this give us a piercing glimpse, though. My fellow mother-heart aches for you and James. Praying for you … and so thankful for the leading of the Spirit. You are obviously keeping yourself open to it.

    Thanks, Christy. Thanks for your prayers.

  4. Saralyn

    Oh, dear heart, how hard this must have been. One consolation–it should make the birds and the bees discussion a walk in the park. And aren’t you glad that nothing thwarts God’s plans, whether we get the discussion perfect or not?

    Thank you, Saralyn. I never thought about the birds and the bees talk being easier;) haha!

  5. Pam

    One thing never changes no matter the age of our children….when they hurt we hurt…I’m sure that the Lord hurts when we hurt too…I pray for you to feel His comfort as you and James climb into the Lord’s lap and cuddle with Him.Pam, South Bend

    Thank you, Pam!

  6. Joy

    You told me this before but I was crying when I read this. Praying for you guys. Good talking to you today!

    Thanks for your prayers. It was good to talk to you today too!

  7. Jenn

    Sheesh Lizzie, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard telling James must have been, but I think you handled it very well. Waiting until he was a little older and able to understand more was very wise, IMHO. You are such a great mom to that precious boy!

    Thank you, Jenn. I don’t know if waiting was the right answer? But that’s just the way it happened.

  8. Janean

    I remember telling mine about it. I drove them by the jail and showed them where he was. We smelled the “jail food” aroma and one of them told me she was surprised…she didn’t think they FED him.
    The funny ideas kids get.
    This was the same one who was angry at me for a Looong time, thinking I had just LEFT him at work and not gone to pick him up; that I hand abandoned HIM. WOW.
    One thought for a long time that he was out of jail and had gotten his own apartment…choosing not to come home.
    Sometimes the truth is easier than the wondering for them, I guess. 😀
    I’m sorry his friend had to make the “announcement” though. That hurts.
    You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    Janean, AWW! That made me sad that your children thought you just got rid of him! Thank you for sharing your story.

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