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.

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The Balls It Takes to Parent Teens

I sit in the parking lot of the 7′Eleven and bang my head on the steering wheel, wishing, for once, that I had a cell phone so that I could call for back up.

“Help, help, help,” I say to no one– hoping that someone will magically pull up beside me in this parking lot and tell me what to do. Maybe my doctor.

“Help, help, help,”  I repeat, until a truck pulls up beside me and the driver stares at me strangely.  I worry that he saw me banging my head and then I stare right back at him, wondering if there’s any chance that he could be helpful.  (If only I had a flat tire.)

I want to restart the car because I’m shivering from the stress, but I don’t want to pollute the environment for 5 minutes of comfort.

“Breathe, breathe, breathe,” I tell myself, and I try.

The boys are in line at the check out so I don’t have much time to figure out what to say next.   “Remain present, remain present, ” I say–trying to be present–while simultaneously  freaking out.

I think about pulling my teen aside and consulting him before they both get back into the car.  But that would be bad parenting form, right?   I have to be the grown up, right?  (I don’t want to be. This is a stupid job.)

Instead I tell my son that Pepsi and cheap chocolate aren’t  great choices right before bed, let alone any other time.  (This customary commentary on food choices seems out of place–even for me– given the topic at hand.)

“TMI!” I wanted to shout on the ride home from the game when his buddy unraveled his life before me.

I hadn’t expected a detailed confession, let alone extraneous ones.

“What do I say, what do I say?” I asked myself over and over again. But I had used up all my courage with the original prompt that had launched me into this deep end of parenting.

It was my own fault.  Actually, it was my nose’s fault.  I have incredibly strong olfactory senses–and that’s what I told this friend of my son’s when he got into my car.

“Did I ever tell you that I can smell just about anything– on anybody?”  I say.

The car gets quiet.  And then it just spills out of him–so softly– that I have to tilt my head toward the back seat to catch what he’s saying.

After the stop at 7′Eleven, we turn toward small talk but it just feels flat and forced.  Mostly we sit without talking–which is a surreal experience with two teens in the car. What are they thinking? I wonder.

“You know I care about you, right?”  I finally say aloud to this boy I have known– since he was a boy.  Now he looks more like a man.  “You know this puts you at risk. You’re too young,” I tell him.

He isn’t apologetic or dismissive or anything that would give me something to push back on.   He is simply transparent, just like me–and we fall silent again.

It seems like everyone in the car has aged in the twenty minutes since I picked them up at the school.

“Talk to your parents,” I say as we pull up to his house. “I’ll  follow up with them this weekend.”

I can tell that I’ve just dropped a bomb on him with this request.  Actually, it feels like the weight of a hundred years is on his spirit as he gets out of the car and drags himself toward his front door.  I wonder if I should have gone in with him.  He seems so tender.

As we back out of the driveway, my son launches into weekend plans and I put up my hand.  “I can’t talk about anything, right now,” I say, and he uncharacteristically silences himself without another word.

At the bottom of the road, I pull over and flop my head onto the steering wheel, finally taking a deep breath.  “I want to quit,” I say. “This is too hard.”

I’m not sure if this confession of mine evokes compassion or concern or something worse so I start driving again.  You can do this, I tell myself.

You just did.

Kelly Salasin