It Takes a Village
By Senior Master Sgt Haisshia Havens, 940th Aerospace Medicine Squadron
/ Published March 22, 2013
BEALE AIR FORCE BASE Calif --
"Hey, Mom, guess what!"
It was an innocent start to a recent conversation with my son that served as a real wake-up call for me.
When my 10-year-old told me someone had asked him if he wanted to get high, my first reaction was to begin interrogating him with a barrage of who, what, where, and how's. But he was looking at me to see my reaction, so I had to make myself take a deep breath. I invited him to sit down next to me on the couch and tell his the story.
That afternoon, he'd been outside playing in the neighborhood when two classmates approached him with chalk dust and hand sanitizer, suggesting he could get high with the items.
He said it scared him; he wasn't expecting it. Frankly, neither was I. He's only 10. We live in a safe neighborhood, and my sons attend a good school just down the street. At that moment, I was so thankful we'd already had "the talk" about drugs and alcohol. And he had listened!
After hearing his story about the encounter, I suggested we have a snack. I was buying myself time to gather my thoughts and carefully formulate the questions I had to ask so that I could understand the whole situation. I asked him to tell me the story again, then I reassured him he had done the right thing.
I called my 11-year-old son in and asked if he had ever been approached. I learned he had been - a few days earlier, by the same children, in the school cafeteria. He too had turned down the invitation to get high with hand sanitizer and chalk dust.
I was thankful my sons were not accepting to the invitation to get high, but I dreaded telling the parents of the children who had approached them. Still, I knew they needed to know. I would want to know.
As a former Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent, I had worked cases of drug and alcohol interdiction with families. As an Air Force Reservist in the medical field, part of my duty involves educating military members and their families about the dangers of drugs. I needed to gather answers to the questions I was sure the other parents would ask.
I turned to the Internet to do further research. I couldn't find anything on chalk, but I learned that hand sanitizer contains alcohol. Consuming one bottle is the equivalent of drinking two shots of vodka - enough to kill a child.
That was all I needed to know. I immediately got on social media and sent the information out to other parents in the neighborhood. Without revealing specifics of my sons' experiences, I alerted others to the potential that their children may have been approached, and I provided details about the dangerous content of the items, along with the symptoms of the abuse. I urged them to take the time to talk with their children about this real and present danger.
Within minutes of my posting, parents were commenting and sending me private messages. I sent an email to the school's principal and asked to meet with her.
The following afternoon, I gathered my courage and knocked on the doors of the families whose children had been involved in both my sons' incidences. I didn't know how they would react, but I knew they needed to hear what I had to tell them. Their children's lives and the lives of other children were at stake.
The parents were very surprised and saddened at the news, but they were appreciative I'd come to talk privately with them. Obviously, this isn't something any parent wants to hear, but the sooner the truth is revealed, the better - before something tragic could happen.
The school principal was also responsive when I met with her the next day; I could hear genuine concern in her voice. She immediately took action to meet with the involved families to provide guidance and resources to help them address the problem. She took the opportunity to meet with classes to re-emphasize the school's anti-drug teachings, encouraging students not to give in to peer pressure when confronted with drugs and alcohol.
The school had a health fair scheduled, and the principal allowed my unit, the 940th AMDS, to set up a booth educating parents and students about drug and alcohol abuse prevention. We were able to talk with several families at the fair.
I'm a real advocate for open communication, not only with my own children, but with other parents and our schools. I'm the mom that volunteers for everything at school - from tutoring math and English to chaperoning field trips to volunteering with the recycle program.
I also believe in getting involved with our neighbors and communities. Building strong community ties will help keep our children safe. As they say, it takes a village - especially these days.