I typically like to have an ultimate point before I write about an event or an issue. At the very least a destination, even when I’m not sure which route I’m going to take to get there. I have neither the destination nor the GPS directions for this one, I only know there is something here that can be shared.
A few backdrop facts before I tell this story:
- I am, generally speaking, a glass-half-full type of person by nature. As it pertains to this story, I generally don’t anticipate negative possible outcomes in any given situation. The upside to this, presumably, is less anxiety than one who might be anticipating disastrous outcomes. The downside… well, we’ll get to the downside in a moment.
- My oldest child is a 14-year-old (woman? girl? gal? child?). Her nature is similar to mine, but more extreme, which I presume is due to a lack of life experience. Not only does she fail to anticipate negative outcomes, she proactively assumes positive ones. She is also at the teenage sweet spot: she possesses the firm conviction that she is old enough and wise enough that her life experience is the equivalent to an adult’s.
- At her age and life circumstances, dating is defined as holding hands between classes, electronic communication, an occasional kiss after school, and incessant rallying to arrange weekend get together’s that have yet to come to fruition.
Back to the regularly scheduled program:
My daughter’s romantic relationships are not dissimilar to a roller coaster ride: they are fast, chock full of high’s and low’s, and short-lived, although the next ride starts up with astonishing regularity. My husband is convinced this is abnormal behavior; I am inclined to think it is part of the teenage experience.
Up to about middle school, my daughter had been rigorously honest. As she ages she is getting skilled at remaining honest while withholding what she wishes to withhold. Of course, I am patient, wily, and unafraid to ask the same question 10 different ways, so it usually works out fine. Until the Most Recent Boyfriend.
Here’s how it works: she will mention the name of someone new in the context of a story. Then she will mention him again. That is the cue for me to start asking the obligatory questions: what grade? sports or no sports? family situation? discipline situation at school?
And so it goes with Most Recent Boy. There were two mildly alarming facts right out of the gate about MRB:
1. He smokes (my daughter is vehemently opposed to smoking, to the point where I’ve had to correct her disrespect to adults who make this choice)
2. He is a junior (my daughter is a freshman)
On the other hand, my nature being as it is, and given the transient nature of these relationships, I didn’t think too much about it. Even when she said he asked her out, even when she started rallying for dates outside of school. We were, in fact, in the midst of planning such an event (he would come to our house so we could meet him), and I thought to ask, “What kind of grades does he get?” The response: not very good. Here is the follow-up information I received from my subsequent interrogation:
- He is a skateboarder who hangs out at a notoriously drug-riddled skate park
- He not only smokes cigarettes, but he has “tried” marijuana and has drunk alcohol, but does neither currently
- He has “been kind of a troublemaker”
Okay, we’ve gone from one-alarm to three-alarm, but I’m still not panicked yet. I calmly explain that while I’m sure he’s a nice boy, I think we need to hold off on scheduling any out-of-school dates until the relationship progresses a bit. We’re in the car while having this conversation, so hopefully she’s not noticing the smug expression I’m wearing, because surely this relationship will fizzle out on its own before I have to do a thing.
That very night my daughter, apparently having experienced amnesia, starts in on a full-court press to travel to Philadelphia with MRB’s family (about 45 minutes away). Probably not as calmly as in the car, I remind her of the facts she has provided, and our agreement that we wait a bit before arranging dates. She is quite unhappy about this, which I can only tell you in a Monday-morning-quarterbacking kind of way. At the time I’m not thinking a thing is amiss.
The next day, a Saturday, she is styling her hair and other such things. I go into the bathroom to ask her something, she says she has something to tell me, and immediately starts crying. I wisely shepherd her into the sitting room of my bedroom, and away from the flatiron.
Turns out, “being kind of a troublemaker” actually means “he was expelled from school for dealing drugs.” From I’m dating MRB to this, all in the space of about 18 hours.
Now I have several competing issues: the acceleration of alarms in my head (remember, this is not my usual m.o.), the emotional state of my daughter, who is hysterical in a way I’ve never seen her before, and, most critical, what in the hell to do and say next.
Here’s the rub: she is convinced, in the way the rest of humanity is convinced that the Earth will rotate around the sun, that he was “just holding the drugs for a friend.” That “he is definitely done with the whole drug thing.” And, the most heartbreaking fact of all, that “he is the boy who has been the nicest to me in my whole life!”
That was a rough afternoon, I’ll tell you that much.
In the moment, I dealt with what I thought was most imminent: my daughter’s hysteria. I told her that I believed he was a nice boy, and that I’m not judging him as a person. I reminded her that I am uniquely qualified to make such a statement. I explained that “holding drugs for a friend” is the equivalent to “the dog ate my homework.”
Continuing the relationship is the only item on her to-do list, and she is single-minded in this endeavor. And in my confusion, and my attempt to console, I make my first fatal error, and say yes. The fact that she pulled herself together so quickly should have alerted me right then and there, but the downside to my Pollyanna ways is that I don’t always think about the possible pitfalls.
Thank the good sweet Lord the parenting team of this child has a savvier, less trusting side than her mother. I fill my husband in, and he asks the questions that did not even occur to me, such as:
- If you knew about the expulsion, why did you withhold that information while begging to go into the city with him?
- How was he caught? Was it a situation that indicated that they had been tracking him? If so, what communication did you have with him that could possibly cast aspersions on your character?
- How has this relationship changed the perception of you with regards to your teacher and peers?
- And, the most important question: Did you find out about the drugs before or after you decided to have a relationship with him?
When I found out the answer to that last question was a defiant “Before! So what, if I’m not doing drugs?” my rose-colored glasses slipped down my nose quite a bit.
The follow-up conversations were many, and tension existed in our house in a way this family has not yet seen. We’re dealing with some serious stuff here, made more serious by the way my daughter was digging in her heels. She does not regret this relationship, she is not naive, and if we would just take the time to get to know this young man we would see what she is seeing.
This high-stakes drama lasted for about 72 hours. I state that with gratitude, I know for some parents it goes on a hell of a lot longer. On our end, we tread lightly, but were firm: things needed to change. If these are the decisions she is making when left to her own devices, well, then she needs a bit more supervision. We did our best to make these changes not resemble a punishment, but I imagine it would feel like exactly that to a teenager.
Then one night, for reasons yet obscure to me, she walked in from basketball practice, came up to me, gave me hug, and started crying. “It’s going to be okay now, Mom,” she whispered. I looked at my husband in alarm and mouthed over her head, “What happened?” He appeared as confused as I felt. She decided, after approaching the principal (her idea, not ours, we did not know she was going to do this) and letting him that while she was friends with the expelled student, she does not do drugs and does not condone the use of them, that she needed to break up with MRB, temporarily, until he gets his life together.
Another 24 hours of drama surrounded that decision, many tears, much staring into the distance, as the reality of the separation (that was already a reality, mind you, he was expelled from school) sunk in.
To give her the credit she deserves, when she says something, she sticks to it: the phone call was made, and the communication stopped completely. She apparently believes in a clean break.
I held my breath for a few more days while I waited for the next shoe to drop, all the while experiencing a profound longing for all my past glory days of Pollyanna-ism. “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone” is how the song goes, and how true it is. The days marched on, life started to feel normal, and I cautiously started to breathe.
Over the weekend the name Dakota was dropped into the conversation. A day later, the name was mentioned again. And a day after that, “I think Dakota likes me.”
Funny side story, my response was, “You have a lesbian friend who said she likes you?” Turns out, Dakota is a unisex name.
Only then did I get what was happening: the roller coaster ride was slowly starting to roll again. Never have I been so thankful for the short-lived cycle of the teenage romance.
If this post serves as nothing else, I’ve at least documented the story for when my daughter is a mother. The miracles of blogging!