Chris Condrey and his sons, Logan Condrey and Christopher Condrey hang out on Monday along the shores of Farmington Lake. Chris Condrey remains hopeful
Chris Condrey and his sons, Logan Condrey and Christopher Condrey hang out on Monday along the shores of Farmington Lake. Chris Condrey remains hopeful he'll get permanent custody of the two boys. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

AZTEC — Chris Condrey may never know if the methamphetamine he says his son was exposed to while living with his mother damaged the boy's 1-year-old brain. So he waits, watching, hoping to see no signs.

He was too devastated to drive when in late February he says he learned — an hour before the first of many custody hearings over his boy — that his baby, Logan Condrey, turned up positive in a hair test for meth exposure.

His youngest son's first haircut, he said, was a drug test.

"You're supposed to keep that," he said, his voice faltering, "and put it in the baby book."

He blames Logan's mother, 28-year-old Jessica Smith, who when she was reached by phone on Friday said, "I don't know what the (expletive) to tell you right now, because I'm stranded in Las Vegas."

She accused Chris Condrey of drugging her kids and said he needs to be tested by polygraph. He lies, she said, crying before she hung up.

Chris Condrey denies those accusations. But the 31-year-old father of two blames himself, too.

When his first son, Christopher Condrey, was born six years ago, he had no interest in being a father. He was boosting gas in the oil field back on the East Coast, making lots of money and working long hours, and he missed months of the boy's life. But when Logan was born, he said, he changed.

'I just hope he's happy'

On Monday, 6-year-old Christopher knelt by the algae-green water at the end of Farmington Lake, filling and draining a Powerade bottle. Up the dirt bank was Logan, held against his father's knee and squirming as his dad's tattooed fingers rubbed sunscreen into his chubby, white legs.

"He always does that, playing by himself," Chris Condrey said, watching his older son down by the water. "I just hope he's happy."

Christopher stared into the bottle's brown water.

The three were fishing, as Chris Condrey had the day off. But about an hour later, the line of the fishing rod stuck into the dirt was still slack, and Christopher had thrown another plastic water bottle he found into the lake, refusing to retrieve it.

"Go get it," Chris Condrey said.

Chris Condrey and his son, Logan Condrey, share a moment together on May 4 at Riverside Park in Aztec. "All I ever wanted was a little family,"
Chris Condrey and his son, Logan Condrey, share a moment together on May 4 at Riverside Park in Aztec. "All I ever wanted was a little family," Chris Condrey said. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

But Christopher wouldn't, so, fully clothed, his father waded into the water up to his neck, and when he couldn't walk anymore he began treading water and grabbed the bottle. Logan started sobbing.

Christopher pointed and laughed when his dad returned, bottle in hand.

"No more littering," Chris Condrey said.

Less than one percent

On March 24, Chris Condrey posted on his Facebook page a 2,377-word status update that 1,282 people shared before a lawyer told him to delete it or he could be sued for slander.

The first sentence said, "Can someone please explain to me how a one-year-old little boy can show up positive for methamphetamine in a hair test?"

He said for months after, he received at least 30 messages a day from people in San Juan County and elsewhere wishing his boys well. Many, he said, told him similar stories.

While he has his suspicions, Chris Condrey says he doesn't know whether his son was exposed to meth during the pregnancy or after he was born.

According to New Mexico Department of Health, less than 1 percent of the babies born between 2011 and 2012 were born with drug withdrawal symptoms. That's 376 babies of 54,241 for that year.

The statistics exclude babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

In San Juan County, that rate is much lower, according to the statistics. Only seven of the 3,772 babies born in that year — or about 0.18 percent — experienced drug withdrawal symptoms.

San Juan County was among the counties with the lowest rate of babies born that year experiencing the symptoms.

Two counties with similar populations had higher rates between 2011 and 2012, according to the statistics. In Santa Fe County, almost 1.5 percent — or 40 out of 2,752 — of babies born that year had the symptoms. In Sandoval County, 0.3 percent — or 10 out of 3,013 — of babies born that year had symptoms.

Rio Arriba County had the highest rate between 2011 and 2012, with almost 3 percent — or 35 of the 1,186 — of the babies born experiencing the symptoms, according to the statistics. In Bernalillo County — the state's largest county, according to 2010 U.S. Census findings — a little more than 1 percent of babies born that year had symptoms. That's 190 out of the 16,764 babies born.

Chris Condrey plays with his two boys, Logan and Christopher Condrey, on May 4 at Riverside Park in Aztec.
Chris Condrey plays with his two boys, Logan and Christopher Condrey, on May 4 at Riverside Park in Aztec. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

San Juan Regional Medical Center Pediatrician Karen Gelfand said a pregnant mother smoking meth is of "great concern," because a baby's brain forms during pregnancy. Meth could damage dopamine pathways, stilting the baby's emotional responses, she said. Babies exposed after birth could act irritable or jittery, she said.

But little research has been conducted on the long-term, direct effects of meth exposure after a baby is born, she said.

The state Department of Health, New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department and San Juan Regional Medical Center did not have statistics for how many newborns in the state or San Juan County are exposed to specifically to meth.

Making up for lost love

Five-year-old Mateo Shae Romero still remembers the Durango, Colo., home he lived in where his mother smoked meth to come down from bath salts, says his grandmother, with whom the boy now lives.

"He still says, 'That's where I used to live. It's the old drug house.' Yeah," said Virginia Hedges, the boy's grandmother and the principal of Esperanza Elementary School, "I don't know if he picked that up from us."

She's uncertain, but she suspects her daughter smoked meth when she was pregnant with Mateo. During her pregnancy, she hung out with her same "friends," Hedges said, bracketing her last word in air quotes.

Now Mateo wears Coke-bottle glasses because his right eye is so weak it will otherwise drift, she said. And his teeth have had so many cavities dentists ask if his mother used drugs, she said.

But she just doesn't know for sure, she said, so — like Chris Condrey — she watches, all the time, for signs.

"Each of us sees our fair share of mothers who are using meth or children who are exposed," said Gelfand, the pediatrician at the Farmington hospital.

Unless the amount of exposure is certain, when and to what extent babies experience symptoms is uncertain, she said.

Any baby who was in Logan's situation would likely have been hungry, lonely and without constant attention from a mother or father, she said.

"I think, honestly, those indirect effects are likely to be more significant than the direct effect of the meth," she said.

Little can be done for Logan, or any other child in his situation, she said, except to make up for the love he may have lost.

Turning into Mr. Mom

Christopher was a stranger and Logan was desperate for a dad when the boys moved in with Chris Condrey after he won temporary physical custody on Feb. 28, he said.

In the Facebook post, Chris Condrey said Christopher's hair test returned negative for meth exposure. But, he said, his son is learning disabled and his speech is developing slowly. He wonders if meth is the reason why, he said.

He still doesn't understand why the hair test he ordered did not win him sole custody, but either way, he said, he expects that soon his two boys will live with him permanently.

San Juan County Chief District Attorney Brent Capshaw said the positive hair test isn't definitive proof the mother is responsible. Someone else could have been smoking meth and exposed Logan, he said, or the baby could have been exposed in another county, which would be out of his office's jurisdiction.

"Mr. Condrey may well be correct that the mother's a meth user and exposed the child to meth," he said, "but I don't know that."

From his research, Chris Condrey has learned a 1-year-old child, after about a month, will lose most memories, even if those memories are of his father. But now Logan runs to Chris Condrey when the two are home. Logan's new memories, he said, are sticking.

For three weeks after the boys moved into his home in Aztec in February, he carried Logan around his trailer on his hip, he said. He called himself "Mr. Mom."

Home with family

Back at Farmington Lake, Christopher had started throwing mud and the fishing line still broke the water in the same spot it was cast almost two hours ago. And Logan was hungry.

It's been more than eight years since Chris Condrey himself smoked meth, and the skulls etched in his arms are old ink, he said, from old times.

Every day in the back of his head lingers the question, "What if?" he said. What if he hadn't left his boys for months when he flew back to work in the East Coast oil fields? What if Christopher was exposed? What if Logan had died?

He said he's not going back to the East Cost to work anymore. He'll work locally, he said, even if his shifts are still months long.

He loves his boys, and he loves his life with them, he said. He cried once remembering Logan's complicated birth.

Now, he said, more than anything else, he wants to be a father.

"All I ever wanted," he said, "was a little family."

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.