“Happy Mother’s Day, Ladies”, Mrs. G’s voice rang out strong and southern in the cavernous prison unit, where two hundred women were waking up far away from their babies.

Her voice hit me hard in the chest and I thought of my brown haired boy. His second birthday a month away and there was nothing I could do to get back to him. This is an unimaginable kind of powerlessness. Even when it’s happening to you.

As I type out this memory this Sunday morning in May, my now eight year old boy tucked away in his bedroom watching cartoons, I feel the same feeling in my chest. Constricted, hot, complex.

Even now, I’m acutely aware of the stigma, the judgments, the knee-jerk reaction that occurs when people are faced with the opportunity to be compassionate towards a group of people deemed unworthy for integration in our “polite society.” As if needing to separate ourselves is inherently human. Perhaps, it is. The need to create our own identity construct that is pleasing to the world, a construct that meets our desperate need for acceptance rather than exclusion.

It continues to take a high level of honesty and challenging conversation to guide my son through his increasing awareness of my prison time. Explaining addiction, the drug war and the justice system to a four year old (which is how old he was when he realized I hadn’t just taken an extended vacation to Texas) is a conversation that goes a little beyond the scope of what you expect you may ever have to discuss with your child.

I yearn to help him understand what happened without shame. To offer him the possibility of being able to judge his fellow human beings with a more open mind to individual circumstance and connection rather than harsh light and aversion.

The no shame part is really something when, as a first grader, and starting halfway into the year at a new school, his teacher makes an announcement about some charity work she has done with the local jail and my sweet, innocent little boy, aching to connect to his new classmates, raises his hand and announces that he’s visited a jail as well. When his mother was in one. For dealing drugs. This was his first day there.

I had to schedule a parent teacher meeting the next day. Not exactly the family secrets you hope to use as a lead-in with your new community and the PTA.

Not a Mother’s Day goes by that I don’t think of all the Mothers who can’t be with their children, and the children who don’t understand why. It’s a complicated issue and there is so much more to say, the layers are sometimes so dense it makes me turn away from the writing altogether. This is a story that doesn’t just tell itself.

Today, the flowers, the hand-made card, and the delighted look on his face, that I get to witness – is a blessing that I don’t take for granted.  I am humbled and deeply aware of the depth and breadth of what it means to be here, what it means to be a parent, a human and a “member of polite society”.

And that definition is far more expansive than I could have ever imagined.

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Meg Worden is a mother, master of complications and manifestor of abundance. She has been a columnist for the Lovely County Citizen in Eureka Springs AR and placed first for Ascent Magazine’s text writing contest in 2008. Meg believes a sense of humor is far more important than a sense of direction and knows for a fact she can laugh wildly amidst severest woe. Currently Meg is living in Portland, OR where she stays up late at night working on her memoir project about the two years she spent in Federal Prison. Find her at megworden.com

31 responses to “Explaining Addiction to My Four 
Year Old”

  1. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

    Wow, touching and sweet.

    This makes me want to forget about “mommy quiet time” today and go cuddle with my little man for while. That’s exactly what I’m going to do…

  2. Meg Worden says:

    Thanks so much for reading, Ashley. Enjoy that sweet cuddling and Happy Mom’s Day to you. XO

  3. Zara Potts says:

    Dearest Meg,
    I really felt this piece – Particularly this:
    “…my sweet, innocent little boy, aching to connect to his new classmates, raises his hand and announces that he’s visited a jail as well. When his mother was in one. For dealing drugs. This was his first day there.”

    That aching to connect – the inevitable judgement of peers (even at primary school) and teachers, just breaks my heart.

    I can’t imagine how hard it is to be locked out of your child’s life through imprisonment. I’m so glad you are free of those particular shackles and that you are writing about this here.

    Well done you.

    • Meg Worden says:

      Thanks for your kind comment, Zara. It was really heartbreaking for me to see that aching in him and imagine the judgement. It wasn’t too bad though. His teacher ended up being very cool (we’re still friends) and Aidan was able to survive the school.

      It has just been really complicated explaining to him that it’s my story to tell and while he should never need to feel shame, others will be judgmental.
      Challenging enough for adults to shake off the opinions of others and maintain self respect, but children are particularly vulnerable and I want nothing more than to impart this superpower to him.

      I’m also much happier here, writing and hanging with you than there. Wow. It’s like a lifetime and several dimensions ago.

      Love and still keeping you in my thoughts as well, dear, as you seek new roots.


  4. Joe Daly says:


    Ballsy piece that raises so many issues, from the intellectual to the philosophical to the ones that hit your gut like spears.

    Here’s hoping that your boy sees enough of who you are now to not care about what someone else thought you were so long ago.

    • Meg Worden says:

      Thank you, Joe. Yes. There are many layers. Add sociological, psychological, gender and race issues….it’s endless and it’s impossible to separate a society and how it metes out justice to its people.

      Finding appalling statistics on all of these issues is easy to do but also so easily overlooked and ignored.

      Thanks for reading and wishing my little man well. He is strong and smart and courageous and hopefully our ongoing, honest conversation will pay off in making him a more compassionate man.

  5. Wow, wow, wow, wow, WOW!

    Fascinating and gorgeous piece. Can’t wait for the memoir. Seriously, can’t wait.

    • Meg Worden says:

      Thank you, Kit. So sweet. The memoir is going to come out one of these days. It’s slowly working its way into refinement. I’m on a hiatus now but I don’t think it will leave me alone till I finish it.

  6. Art Edwards says:

    Good lord. The shit you got through.

    A well-earned mother’s day, I’d say.

    • Meg Worden says:

      No Joke, Art. It is well earned, but I don’t know, it still feels like a mixed blessing. I guess just having seen a sad side of it brings up that same sadness for me. Maybe it’s some survivors guilt. Just hard to be fully in the enjoyment when I can’t get all those other mothers and the millions of children orphaned to the drug war off my mind.

  7. Those rules of acceptance and exclusion are ones that I guess everyone has to learn, in some way, sooner or later, but what a particularly immediate lesson for your son.

    Between you and David’s piece on Poundland, it would seem that this is a week on TNB about lessons learned.

    As always, very glad to see you around, Ms. Worden.

    • Meg Worden says:

      Thank YOU, Mr. Smithson. I do feel a powerful sense of gratitude for the whole thing as well. It’s given me many (hard earned, paradigm shifting) gifts as well. Or rather, they are not gifts that were ‘given’ in the traditional sense, but gifts that I saw and bravely plucked out of the ordeal. Yes, I am proud of this and own my ninja behavior here. (!)

      I had to learn to reframe reality and make it a valuable experience of gratitude and contemplation. This was extremely fucking hard.
      But it powers the work I do now, my perception of life, my ability to act compassionately and…..

      Yes. It’s made me a better parent.
      My son is fortunate to have had this experience too. He has a mature understanding of some very difficult and contradictory truths about life.

      Can’t wait to read David’s piece.
      Looking it up now.


  8. Oh Meg, I have read this sentence over and over again:

    Perhaps it is. The need to create our own identity construct that is pleasing to the world, a construct that meets our desperate need for acceptance rather than exclusion.

    And I see your sweet little boy raising his hand and saying what he knows without judgement, without rancor, just the facts, as it were, the facts of his life. And I think of all the weight society attaches to that without even knowing the person. And I remember always to take a deep breath, to consider the fact that we just never know what weight another person has had to bear. It might make for a gentler society if only we would remember that.

    Thanks for this post.

    • Meg Worden says:

      Thank you so much. Your comments are always so perceptive and full of grace. Thank you for seeing my little man, his innocence, his earnestness and humanity.

      Beautiful your last sentence –

      And I remember always to take a deep breath, to consider the fact that we just never know what weight another person has had to bear. It might make for a gentler society if only we would remember that.

      I concur!

      Love. xm

  9. Gloria says:

    Several days late, but Happy Mother’s Day to you. I’m so sure that those flowers you got were probably some of the most gorgeous you’ve ever seen.

    You’ve been through so much, Meg. You are beautiful, brilliant, and a total fucking miracle and I’m honored to be able to witness your success. 😉

    I can’t believe you had to schedule a parent teacher conference for that…

  10. Meg Worden says:

    Hooray for cross application! Love you, Glo.

    X, M

  11. Satya says:

    Whoa! You are so f*cking cool Meg. Full respect. XO

  12. Mary Richert says:

    Meg, thanks for posting this. Fuck “polite society,” however. What we need is not manners and politeness but compassion. This piece definitely stirs up compassion, so keep at it. Happy belated Mother’s Day. <3

    • Meg Worden says:

      So true, Mary. When I re-read this a day after posting I actually wish I would have used “mainstream society” And I thought it almost read like I was happily joining in with polite society..

      Just to clear that up….Fuck polite society. Amen.

      Life is glorious.
      Compassion rules.

      Thanks for reading.


  13. Wow, Meg – not only is this powerful, but so beautifully written. Thank you for shining a light on such an important issue.

  14. Great piece, one in which what isn’t said has as much impact as what is. You’re bringing your kid up with guts and heart. Nuff said.

  15. Solar says:

    Having witnessed yours and Aidan’s interactions, I can see no shred of shame in his eyes. In him, I see calm and gratitude and an explosive personality which does so with the assured awareness of his mother’s containment. That is the true gift of a parent. You two are connected by a lightning rod from heart to heart and mind to mind. It is incredible to see. I’ve no doubt of the incredible man he will become, who he is already.

    I love you both so very much.

    • Meg Worden says:

      Thanks Darlin. No, he isn’t ashamed. Im making sure of that. The thing with his class was more my problem of being embarrassed. His teacher handled it well. We were just the newbies in town. In the midwest. Ha.
      Aidan will be an incredible man. Thanks for noticing. smile.


  16. Solar says:

    All these incredible children in my life that I don’t get to experience day to day. Weren’t we going to buy an island? I’ll keep acquiring more skills until we do.


  17. Solar says:

    As you wish.

  18. helen says:


    As the first grade teacher mentioned above… I want you to know from the moment I met your sweet little family I loved you all! In fact, you are one of those amazing people we meet from time to time and think (or even say outloud) she’s amazing and calm I want to be more like her, I want to be friends with her! This is perhaps my first grade view of life but I love and miss you guys none the less!
    Love Helen

    • Meg Worden says:

      Helen. This made me cry last night. So sweet, you. That was definitely a moment to remember – and in hindsight actually pretty funny. But you should have seen the poor little guy telling me what happened after that first day of his. My heart just broke for him. But you were so fantastic. And we miss you so much, as a teacher. And friend. Hope that darling boy of yours is well. xoxo

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