Uncle Mark’s Troublesome Toy Car:
When a Loved One Is Absent Due to Addiction or Untreated Mental Illness
By Jessica S. Marquis
I have an uncle named Mark.
He has a toy car.
I don’t see Uncle Mark very often.
That’s because his toy car is troublesome.
Mommy says he got the car when he was younger.
It wasn’t so troublesome then.
He liked to play with the car,
But he always left it at home.
Uncle Mark started playing with the car more and more.
He spent lots of time with it.
He spent less and less time with people and things he cared about.
Now, he brings the car with him everywhere he goes.
Sometimes, the toy car causes Uncle Mark to make bad choices,
Like when it rolled into the street and he tried to chase it.
Other times, the toy car makes Uncle Mark loud and mad,
Like when it got stuck under the sofa and he couldn’t reach it.
And other times, the toy car makes Uncle Mark not show up for things,
Like when he was too busy playing with it, and he missed my talent show.
I am sad when Uncle Mark makes bad choices or doesn’t show up.
I get scared when Uncle Mark is loud and mad.
One day, Mommy told Uncle Mark he could not visit us anymore if he brought his car.
He was unhappy.
So was I.
So was Mommy.
She gave me hugs and told me Uncle Mark doesn’t want to be this way,
But he has chosen to keep playing with the toy car, which hurts himself and others.
Mommy wants me to be happy.
It is her job to keep loud and mad people away from me.
I miss Uncle Mark,
And I can still love him a lot…
…even though I don’t see him because of his troublesome toy car.
Parent discussion points:
· Use this story to normalize your child’s experience of having an absent loved one due to poor choices or safety concerns. The toy car can be a direct metaphor for drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other addictions. It can also represent an untreated mental illness, where the individual is choosing not to engage in counseling, take medication, etc.
· Discuss feelings like sadness and fear that can result from the individual’s choices. Did the child witness hurtful behavior? What was that like? If the child hasn’t met this person, be very simple in your explanation of your own feelings.
· Emphasize at the end that is still possible to love the individual, even if you have had to set a boundary with that person. You can end the story by inviting the child to take an action with you, such as writing a letter that will not be sent to the individual, talking about nice memories and qualities of him/her, or praying for him/her.
· Here is an example of a way to discuss this story: “Like Uncle Mark, your aunt has something that makes her act in a way that is not always nice. It is an illness, and she has decided not to take medicine that would make her feel better and be safe. When she isn’t feeling well, she says things that hurt people’s feelings, including mine. Because I love you, I want her to make better choices in order to be around you. I still love your aunt very much, and I hope she decides to take her medicine so we can spend time with her. Would you like to pray with me that she will?”