Over the years, I’ve come to realize that talking to teens (or my teen, at least) is just a matter of throwing shit at a wall and seeing what sticks. You never really know if they’re going to do as you say or independently decide that what you really meant was do the exact opposite.
One of the many topics we’re expected to address as parents is the issue of drugs. In our family, “the drugs” (as I like to call them) is an overly complicated, much-discussed topic tied closely to my (step) daughter’s birth mother, who -- in addition to totally absent -- happens to be a drug addict.
It wasn’t until I came along that my daughter began to understand what it means to have a mom who actually gives a crap. I also helped her understand what it means to be an addict. Fortunately, it never occurred to her to ask why I am such an expert on the subject.
I’ve done a lot of drugs, but unlike the birth mother, I’ve mellowed with age. At this point in our lives, despite my husband’s years of working as a club DJ and my history of being an utter fuck-up, we never venture beyond the token gateway: marijuana.
To be blunt (yeah, I went there), I like my good friend Mary Jane and I would be very, very unhappy if we ever had to break it off. The idea of our kid one day finding out about our habit has been an ominous cloud lingering on a distant horizon. There it loomed, until the day I looked up and noticed it hovering over my head. It went down something like this: My (then) 15-year-old daughter calls me into her room.
“Is there something you want to tell me?” she asked.
Really? I think, as I mentally run through a list of possible confessions. I’m pretty sure I’m the one who is supposed to be asking this question.
“Uh...” is the only thing I can bring myself to say.
“I just think maybe you and Dad have been a little hypocritical.”
Suddenly I know exactly where the conversation is going and I find myself flashing back to the day my mom found the homemade beer bottle water pipe in my closet. That familiar hot, sinking dread informs my brain that doom is imminent.
“I was in your bathroom looking for a towel,” she informs me as alarm bells clatter in my head, “and I found your weed.”
I raise a finger and manage to choke out a meager, “Hold that thought.” I flee downstairs where her dad is watching TV and break the news. The jig is up. Our biggest fear is currently being realized upstairs in bedroom #3. We are officially the worst parents ever.
What follows is a whole lot of discussion about things like responsible drug use and the legalities of the choices one makes as a minor versus as an adult. We say things like “When you’re an adult you can do what you want,” “Don’t waste your youth on drugs,” and some iteration of “Do as I say, not as I do,” which makes me feel like the lamest cool mom in the history of cool moms gone lame.
I can’t say for sure that she hasn’t dipped into our stash (which no longer lives in our towel closet, so don’t bother looking there, kid!) because I have better things to do than weigh my weed the way my friends’ parents marked their liquor bottles. I can say that she started to (or continued to -- I honestly don’t want to know which) smoke pot.
When I find out a few months later that she’s blown off almost an entire semester of high school to fawn over an idiot boy and smoke pot with him and his friends, I am less than amused. I may think it’s OK for me, a responsible adult, to smoke marijuana -- which by the way should be decriminalized or legalized entirely -- but I’ve also been known to get black-out drunk and/or have sex with strangers, and I don’t want my teenage daughter doing that shit either. Not as I do, right?
Tempers flare -- and by tempers, I mean my temper -- as we find ourselves having the usual battle of wills over school. We’re not helicopter parents and we’re not about micromanaging her future. Even so... Given the choice of early retirement or sending our kid to college, we’re willing to work a little longer if it means she doesn’t have to fight to the death for every ounce of success granted her in life. And that’s what this is really about.
In what feels like a last-ditch effort to save her from herself, we decide to do the unthinkable and pull out our own high school report cards. Her dad chooses one with zeroes in every class except band and driver’s ed; mine has over 100 combined absences in one semester.
“This,” I shriek, violently assaulting the yellowed report card with my index finger, “is what happens when you choose drugs over an education.”
The fuel for my rage -- which is more likely pure fear disguised as rage -- are all those conversations wherein I tell my daughter that I never want her to know that devastating sensation of utter failure; the one that hits you when you realize you’ve betrayed all your hopes and dreams for nothing.
As someone intimately acquainted with personal failure, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to prevent her from knowing it, too. When I hand her that report card, I am placing the last piece into the puzzle of my life. I’m admitting to my daughter that it may have been events beyond my control that led me astray, but it was my choice to put drugs before everything else that rocketed me to the bottom. Then I turn my anger and fear inward and admit it to myself.
Teenage Me has the world at her feet but she feels broken and lost. She has been emotionally abandoned by parents who are preoccupied by their own problems -- a failing marriage, the disintegration of a life barely realized. Teenage Me doesn’t have anyone willing to hold her hand when she needs it or give her emotional spankings when her life looks like it might be derailing.
As I stroke the familiar scars, they begin to look less like evidence of hurt and disappointment, rearranging themselves in my mind, becoming a roadmap to a place where my teenage daughter never has to be another teenage me.
A different type of parent might lock her away in a tower -- or her room, at least -- just to keep her from making normal teenager mistakes. To me, that seems like an invitation to invent new and fancy ways to emotionally abandon her the way my parents did me. She’s a smart young woman and we’ve done our best to raise her to be informed, intelligent and compassionate. At some point, we just have to put our trust in nature and hope her frontal lobe is developing normally -- and that she’ll use it to avoid making the same mistakes we did.
In the meantime, my husband and I continue to live by example, showing our daughter that it is possible to be a responsible adult, have a happy, productive life -- and smoke pot. My girl is pushing 17 now and this year she made honor roll for the first time. We promised to buy her a car if she can finish her junior year with straight As. If she can pull that off and still be smoking pot, she’s already doing hell of a lot better than I ever did.
I guess I can find a way to be semi-OK with that... as long as she’s not getting her weed from my linen closet.