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.
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.