TMI

open clip. art.com by johnny_automatic

Hey Mom, Look at those cats, my son says, pointing to the front porch of an old apartment building in downtown Brattleboro. 

I take a quick look and reach toward his hand to cross the street. We’re rushing  to get to a concert.

How many cats do you see? he asks.

Annoyed, I look back and see three.

I thought there were only two, he explains. Because two of them are connected. What ARE they doing, Mom?

I take another look and notice that one is humping another–right there on the steps in broad daylight in front of my 11 year old (and another cat.)

Um… they’re… they’re… mating, I say.

Right there? he asks.

I know, right? I say; and then I yell: “Hey, get a room!” masking my own discomfort.

“Or at least go under the stairs!” my son bellows.

I smile. These kind of open dialogues with my boys make me happy. Sometimes, I’m taken off guard by their questions, but I stay ahead of them by choosing candidness, especially when it’s uncomfortable. I love it when they can hang in there with me instead of clamming up. It’s promising for our future.

That said, things are getting a bit stickier now that my oldest is 16. The other night, he and his dad were commenting on a friend’s unequal relationship; and I blurted out: What do you two know? Maybe she gives him blow jobs every night!

This was risque, even for me, but I wanted to stop them in their tracks. My husband quickly ducked into the bedroom to avoid any follow up, but not so my son. He just as quickly quipped back: That’s really shallow Mom. Maybe he wants more than that. Maybe he’s looking for a commitment.

I was tickled. Look at that. I can’t even embarrass my son any more. He hangs right in there and dishes it back.

I went to sleep that night proud.

And concerned.

Just a few days later, my teenager turned the tables on me when I asked about the dance.

What kind of dancing? I said.

The grind, he answered.

The WHAT? I asked.

You know, the grind.

You?

Everyone Mom.

But not you?

Yes, Mom, me.

Now it was my turn to turn away. I sputtered and flushed and then threatened to send him to the nearest Christian school. It’s all I could think about for the rest of the night.

Look who has the upper hand with openness now, I thought; and look who taught him.

Kelly Salasin, February 2012

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On Privacy

Vincent van Gogh, vispix.com

“Will my kids be safe?” a friend asks about beginning to blog.

I consider the age of her children. “I think the greater threat to children is not speaking up,” I say.

Yesterday, I read a piece on the Huffington Post by a highschool classmate of my son’s.  Margaret addressed our culture’s current obsession with “sharing.” Her point was well made, but I’m happy to see the pendulum shift away from secrecy. No doubt discretion is needed as this clear-headed writer suggests, but I think this rocking into the openness is a necessary step.

I grew up in an alcoholic family where the drinking wasn’t kept secret. My father told me that my mother had a disease. We talked about–what it looked like; what we could or couldn’t do to help. My father was the only one who would talk about it.

When someone got seriously sick, we talked about that too; and when the neighbor’s teenage daughter attempted suicide, my dad told me how; because I asked. As a physician, he had been the first on the scene.

My father also sat me down to talk to me about cigarettes–told me that he and my mother hadn’t known of their risks when they started smoking. He said that I could smoke. At home. In front of him. I would pester my mother for puffs, but I never started, though she died from never stopping.

I talk to my own sons in this same candid way–as things come up, or when they ask, or when I can tell the time is right. I include that which my father left out–sexuality.

Once I became a teenager myself, my father stopped talking, at least about the gritty things that I was facing in my day to day:

My mother’s  depression.

My emerging sexuality.

My exposure to alcohol and drugs.

Maybe he didn’t know how.

It’s not surprising. Most parents don’t.  How would we know?

Which is why I blog about the conversations I have with my boys. As a lifelong educator and writer and a life lover, I want others to have an example of what an uncomfortable or solution-less real-life conversation with a teenager looks like.

And I want to hear back from my friends and readers; because parenting a teen is life-defining work, and working on it in the dark isn’t nearly as rich as stretching it out in the light together.

So my opinion is that privacy is over-rated. I prefer transparency. For not only does that allow others to learn or differentiate or improve upon what is offered, it also releases the drama of “story.”

For what is essential can’t be taken away from us by sharing. Our being-ness doesn’t get robbed on a blog.  Our life’s details and woes are simply garments.

Does that mean that I think everyone should strip themselves of story for others? No. Not unless that’s your calling.

There is a conundrum however in that calling–in that the fibers of my own drama are intimately woven into the stories of those who are closest to me–like my sons; and those who grew old with me–like my friends and siblings; and those who loved me first–like my parents and aunts and uncles and boyfriends.

They may not want to disrobe with me, no matter how far apart our threads have become.

Which brings me to a line my late grandfather used to say, “When it’s your time, it’s your time; but what if it’s the pilot’s time?”

Kelly Salasin, last day of November, 2011

Do All Frisbee Players Smoke Pot?

“It’s an entry drug,” my friend says when I tell her that my son wants to join the frisbee team.

“I know, right?” I say. “That worries me.”

To my son, I say, “Great. Just don’t become one of those stoners who says ‘dude’ all the time.”

Can I say that? It’s probably wrong to use the label “stoners,” but my son smiles knowingly.

Frisbee wasn’t a team thing when I was a kid. It was something you did on the beach in the soft sand where you burned your soles. I didn’t play. I could never get the hang of throwing it right, let alone catching it.

By the time I was a young adult, I met a guy who played on a team out in “Cali.” Manny wore a gold frisbee charm around his neck and was always smiling. He was a great guy, warm and friendly, and very cool; but even though he was in his twenties he rode a bike around our resort beach town. You know what that means, don’t you: D.W.I. or D.U.I.–Depending on your state. (Are there other acronyms for “I loss my license for driving under the influence?”)

The other stoners I knew always had squinty eyes and the munchies and not much mojo. They listened to Neil Young or Bob Dylan for hours on end; which later became video games.

I know. I’m being judgmental. I only inhaled a few times in my entire youthful abandon, and it never caught on for me so I’m prejudiced against it. And I’m going to catch crap about it because I keep moving to places where it seems like everyone lights up. In Steamboat, even the lawyers were puffing on their way up the mountain in the Gondola; and in Vermont… don’t get me started.

Pot smoking seems to be an accepted right of passage here. “Make sure you tell your kids to buy locally grown weed,” the other mothers say.

“That’s what their cabin is for,” say the dads about the structures their sons build to have a place of their own.

“Be the frisbee player who doesn’t smoke pot,” I say to my son.

“Don’t write about me anymore,” he says. Kids are starting to read this stuff.”

“That’s great. Give me five.”

“I’m not giving you five for that Mom.”

My son, who shall remain nameless to protect his separate identity, goes on to tell me that not all frisbee players smoke pot, and then adds a qualifier, “probably not.”

He tells me that it’s becoming a serious college sport, and that my stereotypes taint it.

Thus in exchange for my disdain, I’ll offer a really cool link–all about the history of the frisbee–and how the game Ultimate was invented in–New Jersey–where I met that guy not really named Manfred.

(ps. Manfred’s name was changed to protect his lack of innocence.)

Kelly Salasin, November 2011

To join the conversation about substance use and parenting teens, comment below, or click here for more from myself, my nameless son, and other readers.

(And Manfred, if you’re reading this, can I use your real name? It’s so you, and so much cooler than the one I made up; without any help from my son, I might add, who refused to offer me a stereotypical pot smoking, frisbee player name.)

Bribery & Punishment & Bears, oh my!

It occurs to me that there is one road I have not pursued in relationship to my teenage son’s proclamation that he wants to drink and do drugs: PUNISHMENT.

That probably seems lame. Not lame to punish, but lame that I never thought of punishment as a viable option. I decide to do some research to develop my arsenal, and I am surprised to find that when I search  “best punishments for teens,” there is plenty to mine!

This was not true when I googled ways of talking with a teen who wants to be honest about drinking and drug use.

Interesting.

Very interesting.

It’s said that you can tell a lot about a society by their prison system, but I think this search is just as revealing, as are the names of the sites with punishment tips:

  • Parenting Squad
  • Super Nanny
  • Troubled Teens
  • Teen Boot Camp

People are actually searching for this stuff, like this person who asked:

What is the best punishment for a teenage dad?

On my own blog, a parent suggests that I do drug testing on my son to make certain he’s clean. While another shares that they use motion sensors in their home to keep their teens in at night.

Something’s wrong.

There’s an elephant in the livingroom.

The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

Before my search on punishment, I tried bribery; but to my son’s credit, he’s dismissed it. Even a car. (Shocking.)

“I wouldn’t feel right doing that,” he says.

Of course, we’ve simultaneously released every bear we can think of--all the tragic stories of loved ones lost to death or addiction or deadening of dreams.

As a last option, I would use punishment if I thought it would be effective; But then I’d have to spend my days in suspicion in order to catch my son in crime so that I can punish him. That seems like a lousy end to what has been a integrity-full relationship.

So I’m going to keep my eyes there–on integrity; on right relationship–and let that inform the way (though I’m not above mentioning the arsenal of punishments out there or trying a few more times with the car.)

Kelly Salasin, November 2011

for more on teens and underage drinking etc, click here

Just Say No (More)–a guest post

(Blog note: I visited a vineyard when I was home in NJ, and later saw Manager Kevin’s Celli’s post which I shared with my teenage son. Kevin’s transparency is compelling, not only because he runs a winery, but because he lives in a resort community where binge drinking is the norm–for all ages.  Kevin kindly allowed me to reprint his Facebook post here.)

The Feast of February Wine Festival, 2010; Natali Vineyard website

by Kevin Celli, Farm Director at Willow Creek Winery

So Amy Winehouse had no drugs in her system and died from TOO MUCH ALCOHOL at 27 years old! The only good thing is she didn’t kill anyone else by drunk driving or acts of violence during her moments of abuse. Let it be known that I am not a huge Winehouse fan and probably know maybe 2 or 3 songs of hers, but I do know the sad side of alcoholism and my heart goes out to her family and friends who lost someone they love.

Growing up in a family & in a neighborhood where alcoholism runs deep and being exposed to alcohol at a very young age, I have gone through many painful tragic situations in life due to alcohol abuse.  Everything from simple embarrassments of family members (including myself) too many tragic deaths do to alcohol abuse and even a couple friends I will never see again because they just had a “couple” of drinks before they got behind the wheel of an automobile or got on a motor cycle and will never be here to laugh with again…

During my childhood alcohol was everywhere and  I spent my youth, 15-19 years old, trying to pretend to be an adult and drinking 40’s (and anything alcohol we could get a hold of) in the park every weekend and even some school nights. Until a tragic situation in my life took place and I  went of the deep end for a while in an all out campaign of trying to stay NUMB to the world around me.

But I slowly regrouped and became more focused on this gift called life and worked on a healthy future for me and my daughter. I spent ages 23-27 as pretty much a non drinker and developed almost a hatred for those that drank… But then about 5 years ago started drinking again–even harder than ever before–drinking almost every night that I did not have my daughter.

For about 2 years I really thought Jack Daniels was my best friend, but then I realized after about 2 years of being a complete idiot that JD was the complete opposite. I was not only destroying myself but also bringing more heartache to the people that loved me while slowly becoming the man I always swore I would not become.

So in realizing I was no better than any of my family members, friends or associates dealing with any kind of addiction, I slowly started pulling my self together and stopped being so prideful in pretending to be something I was not; and I started accepting that a problem lived within my genes, and I must never forget it.

Now I run a Winery that produces 22,000 bottles of wine a year. When I first started running this business I was a little scared and felt that my alcoholic genes would kick in and I would slowly begin to destroy myself again. But I refused to let that happen and instead became intrigued with the history, beauty in farming a vineyard, the wine making process and the enjoyment of consumption in moderation. Not to mention the healthy benefits that are being proven each day with science.

The amount of love that it takes to make one bottle of wine is overwhelming and I just hope that our generation of the “30” and up crowd understand that we MUST teach our children about alcoholism prevention and the fact that alcohol consumption (in moderation) is not a bad thing, and actually has some healthy benefits; while binge drinking or abusive consumption not only leads to the destruction of your mind, body and soul, but also turns you into someone that is NOT in control of the life around them, which can truly lead to disaster and destruction to other people’s lives as well as their own.

There is a fine line between enjoyment and addiction and as parents we must not teach the slogans of the 80’s by saying “JUST SAY NO!” We need to teach them why and when they should just Say “No” or at least when to say “NO MORE!”

Right Relationship

When I posted that my teenager was ready to drink and smoke pot, readers offered all kinds of helpful suggestions, including one adamant woman who wrote: “NO, DON’T DO IT!”

Her clarion call continued:

Be the level headed pure kid who saves the others… the thoughtful clear-headed guy that makes the difference. The one who is sober and can be the designated driver, the one who does CPR on their friend when they have stopped breathing because they have overdosed on something they didn’t realize would affect them LIKE THAT… and be the one who has enough wits to figure out how or when to call 911 so their friend doesn’t die this one time because you were smart enough to notice that something just doesn’t or didn’t seem right and that something is life-threatening!

Other readers complimented my teenager’s honesty and our family’s openness; while professionals shared the statistics and the risks and the undesired outcomes. One mother took us in a completely different direction with hard-earned wisdom:

“Let go, and trust.”

A lone father chimed in suggesting that we explore both the dark and the light side of partying in order to get after, what my son was after, in making these choices.

Our family’s practice of non-violent communication (NVC) allowed us to do just that. Months ago when he made the proclamation that he was thinking about drinking, NVC enabled us put aside our agendas–to explore each of our needs.

I so clearly felt his need for fun and connection and exploration that I almost ran out and bought the booze myself.

He so fully heard my need for safety and responsibility and respect that he appeared defeated in his desires.

It was then that I realized how important this was to him.  Not just the partying, but the relationship.

As the months passed and his desire to explore intensified, I noticed that his need to stay in right relationship with us was competing with his need to stay in right relationship with himself.

As far as I can tell, we are approaching the break. The place where he chooses self over family so that he can move on to create his own life.

As a parent, I have to support that drive. The tricky part will be managing right relationship with myself as he begins to make choices without me.

Kelly Salasin, November 2011

To read more about parenting teens, click here.

The Devil is in the Dichotomy

johnny automatic; open clip art.com

Though I’ve pestered friends and stormed the internet and rifled through leaflets outside the guidance office, I can’t find anything worthy of my son’s honesty.

We’ve already been clear–no sex, no drugs, no alcohol. Nothing new there. We’ve been talking about it for years.

What’s new is him. He’s changed. He turned the corner on sophomore year and sprinted into junior, and he knew. He wants to join in. He wants to drink too. He wants to get high. Not everyone is, but his friends are, and he’s missing the fun.

“Do you want me to hide it?” he asks. “Or do you want me to tell you?”

“I want you to wait,” I say, and he does. Until he doesn’t want to anymore.

“I need some time to figure this out,” I say. “How much time do I have?”

He estimates about 7 or 8 months, but then three months short of this time he presses me.

“What are we going to do?” he says. “This is stressing me out. Nothing is changing. You just keep saying wait, and I know I’m not going to.”

I try threats–Military school. Creative ones–Moving abroad. Diversions–Let’s go to the mall. I wish we could just fast forward to 18 when these decisions are his, as these should be.

ClayOgre, open clip art.com

“I don’t want to lie to you,” he says. “What am I supposed to do?”

Other parents are of two minds–just say no (and expect it’s not happening) or just say nothing (and pretend it’s not happening.) I know this implies that most highschoolers are participating illegally, and of course that’s not true.

“Why can’t you be part of the two-thirds who aren’t using?” I ask.

“There’s no way that’s true,” he smirks.

“Well then, be a part of the 1/3 or even the 10% or even the only one.  Be different.”

“I don’t want to be.”

He wants to try it on. His father and I partied long before we were of age. 300 bars in 1 mile at the Jersey shore kind of lends itself that way. If there were people who weren’t drinking back then, we didn’t know them, and didn’t want to.

Neither of us recall our parents saying anything to us about it–before. Of course, the drinking age was 18 which was a dramatic difference. Seniors could go to a bar at lunch time if they wanted.

21 is so unrealistic, and as a parent I can’t hold the course that long.

“Is it just the legality?” my son asks.

“It’s important,” I say. “No matter what, you’re putting someone at risk–some parents’ home, some kid who is driving.”

He tries to hedge around that, but I don’t let him. There’s no arguing this truth.

“I want to be safe,” he says. “That’s why I want to be able to tell you so you can help me.”

Where is he getting this stuff? On line? Where’s my stuff?

“It’s also the other kids,” I say. “Maybe you’ll be smart, but someone else won’t. And then there’s the other kids for whom your choices will set the norm. What about their risks? What about that responsibility?”

He doesn’t have an answer. He is as defeated as I am.

“If I thought alcohol or pot were the answers you were looking for, I’d get it for you myself,” I say. “I want you to have fun. I want you to feel your wildness.”

“I know,” he says.

When I search the internet for some support with this conversation, I only find two extremes–be clear with your kids about your expectations; or when they’re heading toward rehab–encourage them to be candid with you.

What about the in between? What about a son who wants to remain in right relationship with his parents, and yet wants to explore the world in ways in which we can’t legally or logically approve?

The devil is in this dichotomy, and neither my son or I can live with that.

‘What about emancipation?” I say. “Then you can make your own decisions.”

“I’m not ready to be on my own,” he says.

“Then save these decisions for when you are.”

“I still need your support,” he says. “Even with this.”

Kelly Salasin, November 2011

For more on the drug and alcohol issue, click here.

To read more about parenting teens, click here.