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 our son. He’s changed. He turned the corner on sophomore year and sprinted into his junior year, and he knew. He wanted to join in. He wanted to drink too. He wanted 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 says he doesn’t want to anymore.
“I need some time to figure this out,” I say. “How much time do I have?”
He estimates 7 or 8 months, but a few months later, 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.
I try thinking outside the box of culture–Moving abroad.
I try diversions–How about a trip to the mall. (I hate the mall so this is a huge concession.)
What I really want is to fast forward to 18 when these decisions are his, as these should be.
“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 high schoolers 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.”
His father and I partied long before we were of age. 300 bars in 1 mile at the Jersey shore (our hometown) 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 starkness of 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? Online? 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 looks as defeated as I am. We are sitting on his bed. I reach out and caress his shoulder.
“If I thought alcohol or pot were the answers you were looking for,” I say, “I’d go out and get it for you because I want you to have fun. I want you to experience your wildness.”
“I know,” he says.
When I return to the internet for some kind of support with this conversation, I 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