Tuesday, March 17, 2015

When You’re Not There

I am devastated. I have been for a while now. I’d like to say that I handled the news with maturity when I first read it, but I did not. I called PurDude (what I call my son, if you’re new here) and what I said was:

WHAT.  THE.  FUCK.

Sadly, I said it twice.

My son, my wonderful, intelligent, honorable, hardworking son is caught up in a heartbreaking situation.

This is his first year of college and he’s hundreds of miles away. He worked hard to get into a good school, chose a fraternity that requires high grades to stay a member in good standing and focuses on community service. That’s the kind of man he’s becoming and these are the values of the people he’s sought out to associate himself with.

PurDude lived in a dorm first semester. His roommate was foreign. Although there was not animosity, there wasn’t a connection either. Some people just don’t click. PurDude made lots of friends both in classes and in his dorm. He and 2 other boys formed “The Jew Crew”.  Despite the discomfort in his room, it was a fun time for him.

When You're Not There | www.Bakinginatornado.com | #parenting #coping

his side of his dorm room

When rush started, PurDude attended a number of functions. From the start he knew that there was a connection with one particular frat. They offered my son one of their first bids and although he checked out other fraternities, PurDude knew this was the right fit for him.

Once he was a Brother, we decided that PurDude would move into the frat for 2nd semester. He’d be taking some extremely difficult required classes that make or break Computer Science majors. I felt that it would be best for him to be in a more comfortable environment, and he would have a private room at the frat. We jumped through all kinds of hoops with the school, which required us not only to pay 60% of the dorm fee for a room he wouldn’t be living in, but 60% of the food he would not be eating. Absurd, but the frat deducted it from his room and board and ultimately we felt that this would be the best stress-free living environment for him. He moved in one week before coming home for winter break.

When You're Not There | www.Bakinginatornado.com | #parenting #coping
setting up his private room in the frat

While home, I reveled in the pride I saw in him for his association with this school, this frat and these friends. Especially with him so far away, to see him embraced, to see him thrive, I can’t even express how that feels as a parent.

About a week after returning to school, spring rush had begun and there was a party at his fraternity. Because PurDude is underage and because I had driven his car 700 miles up to him in October, he chose to work the party as a Sober Driver. These brothers are available throughout the night to drive anyone who’s been drinking at the party wherever they need to go.

A week after the party, a brother, a good friend of my son’s, was removed from the frat, banned from the school, taken away, arrested for rape.

Yes, you read that right.

The alleged incident took place the night of the party.

The frat was shut down by the university pending an investigation into an unsanctioned party and underage drinking (not the alleged rape, that is in the hands of the city police and prosecutor). Until further notice they were no longer a frat. Spring rush was over, the lights went out and these boys were left to come to terms with a devastating explosion in their lives.

 Obviously there’s much I can’t discuss here and now. What I am able to express is the frustration, the sheer helplessness a parent can feel when their child is caught up in something out of his control. When he’s hurt, when he’s distressed at what the alleged victim and her family are going through, when he’s questioning his ability to judge character in friendships, when his reputation is on the line, when he doesn’t know if his school will support or judge him harshly, when he’s grappling with how to take responsibility for what may have gone on in his home.

When you know that your child will forever be profoundly changed by what has, is, and will continue to happen. When he could very well be collateral damage.

And you are just plain not there.

I don’t want you to misconstrue what I’m not addressing here as my diminishing the gravity of the legal charges. Hardly. I’m crushed by the thought of it. What I know of the incident and the aftermath is haunting me. But I'm not going to publicly comment on these elements of this specific incident and this is why: 
 
*Rape: because there’s nothing to discuss. It’s not an issue with sides where you take one or the other. It’s wrong. Earth shattering wrong.
*Allegations of rape: because it’s not my place. I hope everyone directly involved gets the legal, medical and emotional help they deserve. But the bottom line is that although I’ve read stories, the media does not get everything right. Although I’ve heard stories, word of mouth is not the absolute truth either. The police will continue to investigate, there may or may not be a trial. This is how our system works and it’s not fair to anyone involved for me to publicly speculate.
*Underage drinking, whether or not it does happen on college campuses and did or did not happen in this in this instance will be determined  by people other than me.

In that first phone call there were so many things I wanted to say to my son, so much I wanted him to know and to understand. It is beyond frustrating that I’m not able to have these conversations face-to-face. That he’s so damn far away the first time that life really seriously kicks him in the face.

Shattered.

All of us.

Like most parents of teenagers, we’ve had conversations about alcohol and how it impairs judgment. About how it impairs your ability to see that you’re impaired. This is true whether you’re underage or of age.

We’ve also discussed rape. Many people think that these are difficult conversation. To me they’re not. They’re actually easy because there’s no grey area, it’s a simple matter of right and wrong.

But when you take rape out of the realm of the hypothetical and into an actual allegation, an actual arrest; when it involves friends on both sides of the equation, what the hell do you say then? This is something, as a parent, that you have to acknowledge that you will never, ever make right. On any level.

That day one of the things I wanted him to know was that the friendship he had with this boy was real. I personally met this boy and his family and found them all to be friendly and fun and personable. Now he’s accused of rape. How could my son wrap his head around this when I can’t? I wanted PurDude to know that people are complex, not all good or all bad. Whatever happened here, good people can do bad things, even horrendous things that can change the course of their lives. And others’ lives. That doesn’t mean that the friendship wasn’t real. I needed to validate my son’s period of mourning. Because he truly is mourning the loss of a friendship.

Of course my son grew up knowing about consequences. If I had a penny for every time I’ve said “there are consequences to your behavior” I’d be rich.

If there was a rape, there will be consequences. If there was underage drinking, there will be consequences. If the party wasn’t sanctioned, there will be consequences. Many of these charges are disputable but, again, I’m not going there.

Consequences are not always fair. There’s collateral damage too, and my son and his friends could well be just that. They could end up not being a fraternity. They could end up without a place to live. Their personal reputations could be called into question. They will forever be associated with this incident. The way they felt about their school, their frat, their friendships and themselves has changed. How do I help him make sense of this?

I can’t. I can only tell him that when you’re caught up in circumstances beyond your control, what you do from then on is who you are. Your understanding of how to negotiate life, your character, your strength, all are built on the foundation of these hardships.


There have been many conversations since that first one, we’ve video chatted in order to see his face as we try to support him through this time. There are texts and calls as he continues to try to: focus on class work, interview with the campus investigator and with the attorney hired for the frat, come to terms with the loss of a friendship, actively support the family of the alleged victim, as he goes through the university trial and sanctions, struggles with the details as they become public, deals with the media presence at his front door, the limbo that is his life for the forseeable future.

But all through that first night, as I grappled with that to say to him next, how to best help him pick up the pieces and try to form his life and his self image into some semblance of a whole picture again; as I decided to fly down there, then acknowledged that this instinct had to be suppressed, I came to terms with a truth. This is his to deal with. He can and he will because he is equipped.

Much later that night, just as I was putting my head down to try to catch a minute of sleep, I picked up my phone and, with tears in my eyes, texted my son:

I love you. I’m very proud of you. Always.


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78 comments:

  1. Oh my. I cannot even fathom this yet -- not being right there. But you are obviously doing what you can, and YOU being available in ANY way possible right now is certainly comforting for him. I wish I had more and better words to comfort you and your family.

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    1. There are no words. There just are no words.I appreciate the support, Lydia.

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  2. I cannot imagine the stress and worry you've been living with all of these months. I just hope that writing it out can bring you even a very small measure of peace. From what I know of Purdue he will rise above this and be a better man for it. Life is so hard for these kids these days, but you have taught him well I have faith in him. What he is dealing with is unimaginable and the fact that he is associated just by being in the same fraternity just isn't fair. I can imagine how he is second guessing his own judgment and I hate that for him. The other day when we were talking about this in a roundabout way and I mentioned there were things I can't write about I never realized we were basically telling the same story but from a different point of view. Be thankful you don't have a daughter in all of this...

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    1. I am comforted by the fact that the boys in the house area all going through this together and have each other for support.
      I'm going to contact you privately about the rest.

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  3. What a devastating, earth-shattering situation to be in. My heart hurts for all of you... truly.

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  4. Oh, Karen! Watching your children go through trials is one of the hardest parts of parenting. Having to watch from afar must be horrifying. My heart goes out to you all right now.

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    1. Thank you, Rabia. We're going to have to find a way to live with all of this. Little by little.

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  5. There's not much to say that we haven't already talked about. Having been in a sorority and at many frat parties, I can remember how out-of-control some of the students got (men and women). And, this was in the day before these type of things were really "talked" about...very hush-hush, and very wrong. And now, as an adult, I so see both sides of the story--how this can happen in a blink of an eye, and how wrong it is. And how devastating to the ones that are on-lookers and by-standers. And I'm so sorry that your child has gotten caught up in this. You know, being a parent of a grown child kind of sucks from time-to-time. Where are the days where we picked them up, held them and were able to kiss away most of the hurt? Yeah. Please know that I'm thinking about all of you.

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    1. Thank you, Julie. I so wish I could just kiss away the hurt. But I'm so glad to finally have him home this week, to have conversations face-to-face, to watch him just rest and relax and visit with friends and put it all on the back burner for a short time.

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  6. What a terrible turn, this took, Karen. I am so very sorry. I hope the discussions really take root because something good must come of such an awful thing.

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    1. There's no question that the issue is huge, hurtful, profoundly impacts lives. But there are those on the sidelines too, and they struggle as well.

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  7. (((HUGS))), because there are no words Karen...

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  8. Could not read this for the tears....hope life gets a little easier for all concerned....x

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  9. Oh shooooot :-(
    When I read 'Jew Crew' I first thought your son was a victim of hate. I'm glad it's not that.
    I am sorry he and your whole family have to experience this. It all started out so nice. You said one crucialnthing though: he is equipped for this. Every discussion, every situation you have role modeled your values - he has everything

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    1. He is coping, without a doubt. It's just so hard, as a mom, to wish he had never been caught up in this, especially when he's so far away. I'm so glad to have him home this week.

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  10. He has internalized everything. With your loving support he will work through this. As parents we want to protect our kids from the ugly sides of life, but we can't. Much love and strenght from my corner!

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    1. Thank you for the support. It means so much.

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  11. And with that text, you handled it perfectly. The only perfect aspect of this whole sad scenario. There is nothing that makes you feel more helpless than when your adult children have to face adult situations. You want to keep them close to you and be able to protect them from everything. But you are right. Then they wouldn't grow. Thinking of you and your son today. And praying for all those who are hurting.

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    1. Sometimes "I love you" is really all you can say, isn't it?

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    2. So sorry your family is going through this. Another thing not included in the parenting manual (which we didn't get) is how to handle when our kids reach various milestones.....high school graduation, turning 18, going to college...and are 'adults'. Mine are in their 40's now, and I'm still looking for that switch to turn off so I don't worry about them. I doubt that when your son first told you about the situation that your first thought was "He's an adult, he can take care of this himself." You didn't see or hear an adult, you saw and heard your baby, confused and hurt and needing his mom. And in that moment, you were his mom, confused and hurt for him, and needing your baby. That doesn't take away from his growth or accomplishments, or from your parenting. It just is. Take advantage of your time together this week to appreciate each other, and family. There are always people who love and trust you, and whom you can love and trust. A soft place to land. Home. Some day this will be just a crazy memory, but will have been part of the education, too. Part of the building of the man he will become. And he will remember you were there for him. God bless you all.

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    3. So very well said. In the highest points of life and in the lowest, we're still mother and son at the core of it all.

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  12. This rang too close to home for me. My son was accused of rape and we went through Hell. In the end we discovered that she had been raped by HER FATHER and needed to blame someone. It hurt my son for many years because people remember the accusation, not the outcome. Like you, we protected him, believed him and in the end he came out stronger.

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    1. What a devastating experience. I can't even imagine being accused. You're so lucky the truth came out eventually, although I certainly can see how much harm was done in the meantime.

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  13. I am so sorry for your sweet family but also for everyone in this situation.
    What a horrible mess.
    Poor PurDude. What a crummy life challenge to have to work through. Luckily he is blessed to have a fabulous mama with a whole lot of unconditional love and support to help him weather this storm. I can only imagine how hard this must have been.
    That couldn't have been a more perfect text to send him. <3
    Huge hugs to you! xo

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    1. Yes, Meg, this truly is such a horrible mess. And there are, without a doubt, people way more hurt by all of this than we are. We haven't forgotten that.

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  14. Karen...Praying for you and your family. I think I mentioned to you that my son also attended Purdue LaFayette.

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  15. Oh, my. I can't even imagine. How horrible. You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

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    1. Thank you, Stacy.Appreciate the thoughts and prayers.

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  16. Oh Karen. My heart breaks reading this. As a mother, I can't imagine what you are going through. PurDude, however, is such an amazing young man. I know that you and he will come out of this stronger. My prayers are with you both. I love ya and if ya need me, I'm here. You know that though. PurDude, keep your head up, kid. And remember that you are your own person. And an awesome one at that.

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    1. Thank you, Sarah, he's a great kid and he's dealing with this with so much maturity. I'm really proud of him.

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  17. I do think the "good people do bad things" sentiment is one of the ultimate truths that people have to learn and I say that as both a rape victim and someone who has contact with accused murderers on a regular basis. It really is one of the harder lessons in life, and I hope it is one your son learns. We cant always spot bad guys by looking at them and we certainly cant predict that otherwise decent folks will make a slew of bad decisions that alters life for ao many people. I hope he can move past the bit of guilt he seems to feel that calls his character judgment into question and uses this as an opportunity to grow and to maybe use his experience to help stop this from happening to other people .

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    1. I'm so sorry for what you've been through, Jenniy. I cannot even imagine. And I do hope that you understand that I am not ignoring the gravity of the issue by coming at this from the perspective that I have. I do think that people don't think, when they say things like "just close the place down" that there could be other innocent people there who are hurting and profoundly changed too.
      Not only has my son learned from this, but so have I.

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  18. Karen what a crazy experience, one that I doubt you'd ever think your son, your family or friends you would have to go through.

    I am sorry that this has happened to your PurDude. I have faith that although it is rough that he will persevere with the support of his family. Unfortunately he definitely got this rude crash course that has taught him you never know where life will take you.

    In a situation where it can be hard to search for the right words to say I think you said the perfect thing to him.

    Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers ❤

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    1. Thank you, Jenn, for the kind thoughts and the support. I've really been overwhelmed with the outpouring of kindness today.

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  19. My heart just wanted to reach out and give you a hug, while tears running down my cheeks. Blessings to your son and your family as you travel through this rough patch. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. I've been feeling all of the virtual hugs today and they are heartwarming. Thank you.

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  20. Karen, I can't say anything more uplifting to you than what your friends have already said. But from my vantage point, I see an amazingly strong and loving mother (and dad, too, although you haven't written much about him in your blog.) You've raised two honorable, intelligent young men. This will test PurDude's mettle and he will work through this in the only way he was taught: with honor, intelligence, strength, kindness and understanding. It is the "Blessing"way. And with his family's support, he will thrive through the rest of his college career. Sending love and hugs to my Nebraska family.

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    1. Thank you so much, Reisa, for adding your support. I know that my son will be changed by this, but I also know he'll get through it.

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  21. Oh Karen, so sorry you and your son are going through this. He will be fine-he has you as a Mother and direction.

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    1. He will be fine, but it's much more him than me. He really is a great kid.

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  22. I think the only thing we can do is offer our support and love when we're too far away to give a hug. My son has been a U.S. Marine since before 9/11 and he's suffered a lot of pain for a variety of reasons. I have wanted to board a plane and fly to wherever he was stationed, but I couldn't. I had to assure myself that he knew I loved him and supported him and I can tell by the way you write about your son that he knows you love and support him too.

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    1. Sounds like you and I learned the same hard lesson. We cannot always be there, we have to trust them to handle whatever life throws at them. We're always available, just not physically there.

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  23. Yes, your son will be changed by this. My son also went thru something horrific, something I was powerless to help him with or 'fix.'. It was devastating. He got thru it. He got serious about life. He also never forgot who was there for him...who loved him..no matter what. Continue to be that Good Mom you are and just love your son. Love Conquers All. Peace be with you. xoxo ~Jennie

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    1. I'm sorry for what you and your son went through, Jennie, but I'm comforted by the fact that he got through it and learned from it and grew because of it. Thank you for sharing this with me.

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  24. Oh my goodness! What an ordeal to have to go through. I'm so sorry that this happened. ..as you said, there's no point in speculating about the incident but whatever the reason, it is obviously devastating for your son and your family. I'm sure he's handling it well but how awful to have to live with this knowledge of being involved in any way. Much love to you and I hope things are sorted quickly so there is at least closure!

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    1. Thank you, Roshni. The sanctions for the boys are in place and they're all trying to cope and move forward. It's one of those instances where you cannot impact the outcome, you just have to get through it.

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  25. "what you do from then on is who you are."
    Such a simple yet profound statement.
    I hope the outcome is favourable for your son.

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    1. Thank you, Melinda. It's one of those situations that you just have to get through. The boys are trying to do just that.

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  26. Completely shattering, i can't imagine what you and your son and all those involved are going through. It must be so hard not to be there with him. I hope this is resolved quickly so that all concerned can start to rebuild their lives and begin to look to the future.

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    1. Yes, that truly need to be the focus, moving on and working towards the future.

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  27. Karen I can only imagine what you and your family are going through now. This whole story is just totally heartbreaking. Whatever happens, this will all pass eventually, and you're all going to survive it. I know it's hard watching your child have to suffer through tough times on their own, it doesn't matter how old they are, they're still your babies. Sending you lots of love and support from across the pond.

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    1. Thank you for the love and support. It's truly been heartwarming.

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  28. Dear God. What can I say? That I've been there? That I know how this is? That someday it will not be the first and last thing on your mind each day? That it will bring your family closer together? That it's not fair? That life is sloppy? That the media is almost always inaccurate?... I used to tell my children that all it takes is 5 seconds to change your life forever because that's all it takes to go left, instead of right. You are all in my prayers for peace and closure. Bless you.

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    1. You're right, there's little that can be said, it's the kind of situation you just make your way through as best you can.
      One of the most frightening thing that goes through my mind about my kids is exactly what you said, it takes seconds to make a bad choice. And sometimes they are choices that you have to live with forever.

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    2. Mother to Mother my heart is aching for you. You are in my thoughts. Xxoo

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    3. I appreciate the support more than I can even say right now. I'm just so overwhelmed,

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  29. Parenting love. Big topic. I've been on a side of this.

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    1. Whatever side of this you've been on, I know you worked it through in the best way possible, Libby.

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  30. I can't imagine the helplessness and hurt you must feel on behalf of your son and as his mother. Gosh, what a tough situation.

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    1. When you consider all of the scenarios that could come up as you send your child off to college, never ever would I imagine him going through something like this.

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  31. I am so sorry for what your son is going through. It has to be tough. Some lessons in life are not always easy, but I am sure that he will grow through this experience and will come out a stronger young man. Hang in there.

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    1. Thank you, Dawn, I hope that all of these boys come out of this stronger and wiser.

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  32. Karen I am heart broken with you as I read this. yes there are consequences and no it's not easy but your son will be stronger on the other side of this and the one thing he will always remember is that you support him, love him and are there no matter what. I do pray that all this works out. I can't imagine. I've had difficult situations with my middle son being 500 miles away and unable to reach him, it is the hardest thing ever, but we did it. You will too. Love you my friend and just continue being who you are, a great mom who loves, encourages and holds up the standard.

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    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement. It does help.

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  33. I'm so sorry to hear that you're going through this. When our children hurt, we hurt, too. I'm going through some rough stuff with my youngest son, so I can relate in a way. This parenting thing sure doesn't get any easier.

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    1. No, it really doesn't. I'm hope whatever you're going through with your youngest resolves well.

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  34. Wow...what a mess. Poor kid. You're right to be proud of him though. He'll get through it having learned a hard lesson.

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    1. Yes, I'm so glad to just have had him home for a week. These conversations are so much more meaningful to me as a parent when I can look him in the eye and better gauge how he's really doing.

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  35. I've read this four times. I've been silently supporting and praying for your family. I'm not sure my head is fully wrapped around this yet. It's just so heartbreaking. I'm so truly sorry this is happening. I think you are handling and addressing it perfectly. It's situations like this, that drove me away from law school and make me worry about Whit's college days. Alcohol is a yummy evil. It doesn't have to be evil, but it can be, and all too often seems to be. I worry Whit will get in over her head. I guess that's one of the negatives of parenting- all the worrying. I'm so sorry that worrying is so prominent for you currently. I hope this passes quickly. I also pray PurDude is as unscathed as possible. This is just a truly heartbreaking situation, no matter which side you fall on. Please know... I love and adore you. I fully support you. I'm here for you. Trust me, PurDude knows you're there for him, even if not physically. That's what matters most. Yes, hugs are great, but the support you're giving is much more important. You're a great mom, even from a distance.

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    1. I'm so grateful for all of the support, it helps to know that so many are praying for us.

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  36. I'm just so sorry your son and so many others are dealing with this. I really have no words to make any of it better. Please know, as always, that I hold you in my heart. You have taught your son strength and resilience. He will get through this with new life lessons. Your last text is everything a child in any situation needs to hear. I love you.

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    1. ❤ you back. I know you're there for me and you have been since the day we "met' almost three years ago. The blogosphere is not the same without you in it.

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  37. Just finally got around to catching up on my blog reading. So sorry to hear that your son has to go through this. You have raised a fine young man who will get through this with your love, trust, and support. He did nothing wrong and nothing out of the ordinary that we all did when in college - parties, drinking, etc. He is just caught up in a bad situation with his frat brothers that will hopefully work itself out. The bad choice of one has made a mess for all. Just stand by your son as he goes through this. I'm rooting for him.

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    1. Thank you, Phil. It's a wonderful feeling to know that we are supported by so many.

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