I came home from work to see a piece of metal sticking out from below the rhododendrons and my heart sank. I pulled it out and saw that it was a muffler, partially chewed. I’d had a long day at work and this was not what I wanted to deal with at the moment. But that’s what being a father is all about.
I found Lawrence in his room, lying on his bed. His eyes were red from crying and I felt so bad for him in that moment and so powerless. He’d been doing so well, I’d been so proud of him. I wasn’t mad, I just wanted to make everything better for him.
“Hey there,” I said, trying to keep my tone light.
He covered his face with his pillow, ashamed. “Dad, I did it again. I’m so sorry. I ate another car.”
“I know,” I said. “I saw the muffler. Come on, sit up.” He finally did and I gave him a hug, although inwardly I recoiled at the smell of motor oil on his breath. “What kind was it?” I asked.
“Does it matter?”
“I’m just curious.”
“It was Corolla,” he said finally, looking at the floor. “I was walking from the mall when I saw it there and, I don’t know, there was something about the look of the headlights that looked so inviting. The next thing I knew, I was chewing on the bumper. I should have given up then, but I knew I couldn’t hide the teeth marks and I was so ashamed and embarrassed, I just gave up and ate the whole thing.”
I gave him another hug. “Don’t worry, we’ll get through this phase. At least you’re off transport trucks, right? And you haven’t eaten a car in months. You’re doing really well.”
He looked up at me and my heart ached at the pain and confusion I saw in his eyes. “It’s just so hard,” he said. “I try, I really do.”
“I know,” I said. “Do you think it would help to get a couple old bicycles, or maybe a motorcycle now and then . . . ?” He looked down and shrugged.
I wanted to say more to comfort him but inwardly, I was dreading the upcoming battle: finding the owner, dealing with insurance companies, trying to explain the whole humiliating situation to unsympathetic insurance agents and police officers. Trying to make it all go away as quickly as possible and protect my boy as much as I could.
He was getting better, it was true, but for the first time, it occurred to me that maybe this was not a phase Lawrence would ever get through. Maybe he would struggle with eating cars his whole life. It was a scary thought, but I knew more than anything that I would love him, no matter what.
“Look,” I said slowly. “Your mother and I talked about this. I wasn’t sure about it before, but maybe I could talk to a scrap yard owner and see if you can go in there sometimes, if you get hungry. They’d be old cars, but it would be better than eating cars out of the parking lot while their owners are in shopping.”
Lawrence looked up and smiled. “You mean it? You’re not mad?”
“Well, this hasn’t been easy on any of us, but I love you and I’ll do what I can for you.”
My son eats cars. It’s not what I signed up for when I became a parent, but you don’t get to choose the challenges that come your way. Like everything else in life, we’ll take this one step at a time, together.