Reflections on a safe home for children of a heroin addict

rick-jacobs-mugshot-2017I write this column on Sunday mornings, usually long before the sun rises. My house is quiet and that makes it much easier to concentrate.

My coffee is hot and I sit in front of the computer, alone with my thoughts.

Sometimes I’m able to type immediately and the 700 or so words I’m allowed come way too easily. There are times I have to end it before I’m ready.

Usually, though, I stare at the blank screen and have to make a decision. Do I attempt to make it light and funny? Or is this a time where I want to leave my readers feeling thoughtful and reflective?

My grandkids usually make it easy to find amusing things to write about.

Take Caleb.

I was driving him and Izzy to Pre-K recently and he mentioned he wanted a toy gun for Christmas. I told him that wouldn’t happen.

“Why, Papa?” he, of course, asked.

“Because,” I explained, “guns aren’t toys. I don’t want you thinking of them that way. Guns are good things and I believe every grownup should have one. But guns are for protection and not to play with,”

I was talking to a wall. “But I want a gun!”

“Caleb,” I said in a voice I hoped convinced him there was no arguing, “I don’t like toy guns!”

“But you’re not little!” he countered.

Classic toddler logic. He just may get that toy gun after all.

But being a custodial grandparent also means you find yourself having to explain very adult things to very young minds. And in a way that, hopefully, they’ll understand.

Izzy and Caleb’s mother, my daughter, is an addict who fights demons every single day that non-addicts, and especially children, could never understand. Some would argue that she alone made the decision to introduce her brain to the world of overwhelming bliss that is heroin.

And they would be right.

But, normally, one bad decision doesn’t define an existence. We all make mistakes. The majority of the time we learn from them and move on.

Heroin, however, cannot be labeled a “mistake.” It is a life-changing, perhaps life-ending, opiate that instantly monopolizes the brain and envelopes the unwary first-time user in a cocoon that only a precious few can successfully shed.

Heroin is selfish. It wants to be your only love. You soon discover that this “mistake” has cost you everything you used to love. Your family and friends just can’t compete.

And finally, even your own children.

Still, my daughter keeps battling. But it isn’t a fair fight. It’s like a tiger against a kitten. King Kong versus Curious George.

Yet, that maternal instinct is just powerful enough to keep her, and hope, alive.

Just a few days ago she checked herself into another long-term treatment center. I drove over with the kids to see her before a month-long, mandated patient isolation inside the facility began. Not even a phone call is allowed. She hugged her children, shed some tears and then was gone.

On the way back, Izzy, who is nearly 5 but seems much older sometimes, began to ask questions.

“Papa, why is Mommy in the hospital again?”

Now, Susie and I have had legal custody of these kids going on 20 months now, and they lived with us full-time at least a year before that. That equals most of Caleb’s life and a good portion of Izzy’s. During this time I’ve tried to explain the difference between “good drugs” and “bad drugs.”

“She’s trying to get better, Izzy,” I said. “She wants to stop taking the bad drugs again.”


“Well,” I answered, trying to form my words carefully, “she hopes one day she can be your mommy again.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, maybe, one day, she’ll live in a house and you and Caleb can live with her. She’ll be able to take care of you.”

Izzy thought about that for a time, perhaps remembering what used to be, then said, “Well, maybe we can just visit her there and still come home to our house with you and Nana.”

Our house. Our home. Where she feels safe and unconditionally loved. Where nothing is more important than her and Caleb.

Not even bad drugs.

Your reflection begins now.

RICK JACOBS is a local author, columnist, process server and family man who lives in Bartlett with his wife and grandchildren. Contact him at