Claire knew all about helicopter moms. Luncheons with friends were filled with their parental exploits. These crazy women were SO involved with their children, even well past high school. Highly scheduled, highly praised, highly encouraged and highly dysfunctional child-adults. She even knew a mom that went with her 20-something college student to a job interview!
Claire, on the other hand, found parenting to be easy. It took her several years to realize that she was very blessed to have an amazing ability. She fondly remembered her mom always saying, “I have eyes in the back of my head.” She too, had the tickling. She always sensed what was going on.
When Savannah was in preschool, Claire just needed to hug her four-year-old when she picked her up at noon. The knowing was there, somehow more a feeling than a thought.
“Hey Savvy-girl, Mommy missed you,” she would sing-song as she buckled her into the car seat. Then she would lean in and hug her and plant the loudest kiss on her perfectly smooth cherub cheek. This always made Savvy giggle. And Claire instantly knew whether her beautiful, happy child had fun that day, experienced exciting moments, or whether she was lonely or sad.
“I’ve got an idea! Let’s go get some ice cream at that new Orange Leaf place,” she finished buckling Savvy in her pink plush seat, shut the door and came around to slide in the driver’s seat.
As she looked back over her seat, Savvy was picking at the edges of a Band-Aid on her left arm while her purple bedazzled sneakers kicked the back of the front passenger seat.
“Savvy, do you want to get some ice cream?”
“Ok,” a whisper.
“What’s wrong honey? Where’d you get that Band-Aid?” But Claire knew, she just knew. That new girl, who should be in kindergarten and not Pre-K anyway, was a bully. The skin on her neck tightened and she knew. She knew, without a doubt, that girl had something to do with poor Savvy being so quiet.
“Brittany pushed me off the monkey bars,” she sobbed, while big tear drops rained down her face to water her favorite lovey strapped in with her.
“Oh, honey I’m so sorry. I’m sure it was an accident, she didn’t mean to,” she soothed. But inside, her inner voice was screaming that this other child was so mean, at such a young age. Because she knew, with her sixth sense, that it wasn’t an accident.
By the time Savannah was seven, their connection was forged even tighter. Like a bungee cord that always springs back, Claire and Savvy were bound. Like the time that she returned to school to leave money for Savvy at the office, just as her daughter turned the hall corner headed to the same place.
“Mommy! I was coming to see if Mrs. Clark would call you. I need money for lunch!” Savvy rushed to hug her.
“Awesome! I must have heard you, cause here I am.” And they both laughed.
At ten, Savvy broke her arm during gym while her mom was folding laundry at home. A chill went through Claire, as if the back door had flown open during winter. Except it was September and 78 degrees outside. She shivered, then felt her pulse pounding in her throat and her mouth went dry. She walked to the kitchen for a drink, taking deep breaths to calm herself. The phone rang as she filled her glass, and she already knew it was bad.
At thirteen, Savvy was stretching, pushing on the boundaries, testing the waters. “Mom, I’m not Savvy anymore. I want to be called Savannah,” she proudly announced.
While Claire’s friends cataloged their struggles with teenagers, Claire quietly basked in the knowledge that she had a stronger than usual connection with her own daughter. Claire could read her so well, and things were fine as long as she caught her at an approachable moment.
At fifteen, Savannah was allowed to go to the movies with friends. Parents took turns leaving the girls at the theatre and coming back to pick them up. Claire was busy between work and her two younger children, so she started missing some of the clues that were so ingrained in her daily life. The little thoughts that would creep in fell to a lower priority, the sudden knowing drowned out by too many demands. After a while, it would take a major jolt to get her attention.
One Friday night, it was her turn to pick up the gaggle of girls. She finally had some quiet time to reflect on her hectic week since she was the seventh car parked in line. Claire relaxed her body and mind as she used this moment to meditate. But her thoughts wouldn’t calm, and she allowed them to wander in their own direction, free-thinking for clarity. And that’s when she realized, Claire was up to something. Wait, she thought, I gave her money on Monday, and then she asked for more tonight. But I had far less than I should in my wallet. Could Savannah have taken some money?
About the same time that Claire was questioning that maybe, just maybe, Savannah wasn’t perfect, she saw the four friends laughing, linked arm in arm, swaying together like seaweed drifting to shore. There was her daughter, with her newly black-streaked previously blonde hair flying in the wind, and…what? Is that a cigarette? Are you KIDDING me? She watched as Savannah dropped the cigarette and ground it into the sidewalk with the experience of a COPD patient.
The four girls huddled together while waiting for Claire’s turn to pull up, tight as only teenage girls can be. Savannah slid into the passenger seat up front, while her three friends crammed on to the backseat. Their constant chatter kept Claire quiet without seeming ‘off.’
But she sure let Savannah have it when they dropped the last girl off. And once again, Claire quietly marveled at her own ability to always have her intuition be spot-on. She would never again allow herself to squelch this amazing blessing. And from that moment on, Claire made sure to stay tuned in to her little perceptive gut feelings. She didn’t try to analyze this ability, she assumed she was subconsciously picking up on subtle clues that other mom’s ignore.
Life continued. The children continued to grow too fast. Savannah and Claire survived the more tumultuous years of teenage hood. Claire leaned on her powers of intuition in many areas of her life by then, with the other kids as well. She realized with a bit of smugness, that she was in a much better place than the other parents who were struggling with the tornadic maelstrom of high school.
When Savannah was nineteen, and a sophomore at University, Savannah tried to stay close. It was more difficult because her little girl, wanting and needing to expand and experience her world, had moved to a dorm.
After ten long months, Savannah came home for the summer. Although Savannah had
reading to complete, she was always on the go. Savannah and Claire had to actually schedule time together or an entire week would be history without spending any quality time.
One evening, when dishes were finished and the other kids were at the football game, Claire was suddenly sidelined by the old familiar pounding in her head, beating out her heart rhythm in perfect synchrony. Her mouth became parched, dry like bedsheets after the spin cycle. Beads of perspiration speckled her worried skin when she raised her trembling hand to her forehead. She tried to blink this away, to stifle it by sheer determination, but she knew. She knew to listen to the feeling, to allow her innate ability to guide her. Her quaking body increased her fear. She knew it was bad.
Claire put herself in motion. She moved off the couch, she found her purse and keys in the bedroom, climbed in her car, and backed out of the driveway. She would find Savannah. Something was wrong. This felt so much worse than when she caught her smoking so many years ago. She thought about how Savannah was focused on not gaining the freshman fifteen, that she was constantly on a diet and squeezing in workouts whenever she could. She cringed when she remembered commenting how nice it was that Savannah was staying so thin now without having to deprive herself. But now. Now, she wondered if her daughter was too thin? Somehow, she knew that she must find her. She must stop what was happening. Maybe she had missed the signs after all. The thought slammed into her so suddenly that her chest spasmed. No! Oh no, not my girl, not my Savvy! She was on drugs. She knew.
She drove around town for an hour but was unable to find Savannah at any familiar locations. She panicked at the thought of her daughter being mixed up in drugs, but the news was prevalent with the addiction problem and now her daughter personalized those statistics. Had she pushed her daughter too much? Was Savannah an overachiever that found a way to calm her stress? Claire had to save her and was at a loss of where to go.
After another half hour, her phone lit up. Savannah texting “Home, Mom. Where are you? Going to bed now, just exhausted. See you in morning.”
Claire let out the breath she had been holding all evening. Her baby was ok. For now. She turned the car around at the next intersection and headed home herself. She would get the proof she needed to confront her.
But the next night, Savannah came out of her room with her purse on her shoulder.
“Bye Mom, I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
“Wait, where are you going?”
“Just meeting some friends, going to a reading. Bye, Mom love ya.” The door scraped shut behind her.
Claire was up and grabbed her purse right after her daughter. She had planned all day how she would leave within one minute of Savannah and follow her the next time she left the house. She knew that catching her in the act was the best way to handle this.
She followed Savannah’s car from a safe distance and meandered through some rarely traveled streets until Savannah pulled into a parking lot. Tufts of yellow, dry grass grew in scattered patches through the cracked pavement. A strip-center of nearly abandoned shops stood in various stages of disrepair.
Claire watched from the side of the road while her daughter got out of the car and walked into an abandoned store front. Only then did Claire pull forward to park, carefully avoiding the potholes. She sat there planning how she was going to do this, and watched the small group of people gathering outside, smoking their cigarettes, stomping them out, shoving their hands in pockets, and going inside one at a time. They all wore the same uniform, ripped jeans, old t-shirts. The smell of tobacco seeped through her open window.
She waited for the last straggler to go in. Waited another five minutes, and forced herself to appear stronger, taller, and braver than she actually felt.
The interior was so dim that it took a minute for her eyes to adjust. Small groups of people sat clustered in chairs, while a few stood at a table getting drinks. A single light was suspended at the head of the room where an easel was placed off to the side of a table. Her daughter leaned on the edge of the table, absentmindedly twirling her long blonde hair as she read from a folder.
Claire stood suspended in the moment, listening while the fear and panic gave way to confusion, then realization, and then inward shame. Her eyes searched the room for understanding. Savannah continued to read, and Claire recognized her daughter’s poems.
She glanced back to the easel, and the handwritten announcement.
“Welcome, GED English Class. Guest instructor, SAVVY”