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!
Today was the day I was going to, after spending a quiet reflective week, write my follow-up post on the gains of my all-or-nothing behavior.
I will most definitely be writing that post, but it’s not going to happen this week. End-of-school-year craziness, combined with some run-of-the-mill family decision/discussions/debates, made this a busier than normal week. Which still would not have prevented me from taking the time to write that post.
Except for another situation that had me thrown off for a solid 24 hours. I have (for the most part) processed the incident and put it in its proper place, but I figured it was big enough that I could put a pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) and hash it out once and for all.
If nothing else, the following story should provide some soap opera-like entertainment for you!
To start the story, a little background: my 11-year old son, who is graduating from elementary school, came to me several weeks ago asking if he could have some friends over on the last day of school. I say yes, but I give him a limit on the number of kids. He gives me the list of names, I email the parents, we’re all set up for an 3 pm get-together on a Friday afternoon. I mentally pat myself on the back for being such a nice Mom, that is that.
Two days ago, I am at school to watch my son perform at the talent show (which, by the way, he did FABULOUSLY…. wrote and starred in his own comedy sketch!). As I’m making my way to my seat a Mom stops me and says, “Hey, did you ever decide to have the kids over on the last day of school?” This is a Mom I see at the bus stop, and had mentioned it to her the day I sent out the emails. We discovered through the course of the conversation that I have an incorrect email address for her, I get the correct one, and promise I will fix the problem as soon as I get home. There were a couple of people around her I said a generic hi to, end of story there. That was in the morning.
That night I receive an email from another Mom in the neighborhood. To sum up my relationship with this woman: I know her to say hi or have polite conversation when I see her, that’s it. Her son and my son are friends in school, ride the bus together, that’s it. Never been to each other’s houses, never been invited to one another’s parties, you get the idea. She was apparently sitting close to the Mom with whom I conversed at the Talent Show in the morning. She sends me the following email:
> I just have to ask, did you forget to invite G to D’s end-of-
> the year party or did he not receive an invitation on purpose?
> I was quite put-off today when u asked E in front of me for her
> email address to invite V.
> I know G considers D a friend & he is both hurt & angry to
> learn about it…
So I could possibly write a series of post to describe all of the emotions that played out for me that night, but let’s umbrella it with the label Very upset. My husband and I spent some time hashing it out, I called a family member who lives in our neighborhood to see if she could shed any light on this woman’s state of mind, and I spoke with another friend who I thought might help navigate these murky waters.
Because, miraculously, in the 14 years I’ve been a parent, nothing even remotely like this situation has ever come up. In case my feelings are not plain, I am highly offended by this email. I would think this impolite of a close friend to draw such ridiculous conclusions, but a virtual stranger? Outrageous. Not to mention that you were eavesdropping on a conversation, and questioning my decisions on whom to invite to my home.
On the other hand, responding to aggressive behavior such as this is not in my wheelhouse, plus even through my red haze of anger I had genuine sympathy for a child that is feeling left out. After thoroughly discussing the options with my husband, we decide the let the guest list stand as is. He thought replying to her would just incite her more, but I found it unacceptable to leave some of her outrageous remarks unanswered.
So in the morning, I replied to the email. It was a little long (concise is not a word that applies to me), so I won’t cut and paste like I did above, but I simply went point by point and responded to each of her sentences. I was matter-of-fact, no emotions whatsoever. It was my goal to keep things civil, but to answer her truthfully.
Apparently she did not share my goals, and within an hour I received a second, much lengthier email from her. To say it was aggressive would be an understatement. She called me a liar, she accused me of punishing her son because she is not able to host play dates due to her schedule (what the what?!?!), she told me she “has my number,” and she says now her son knows what kind of person my son really is (did I mention these are 11-year old boys)?
The icing on the cake: I received this email right before I was heading to the fifth grade picnic, where I knew I would see her.
My body was going numb as I read the email. Honestly, fear is now competing with the anger for top emotion. At this point, I recognize that I have two options to consider, ignore her or write back. Truth be told, there is no way the first was a viable option for me, it is almost a physical impossibility for me to let that kind of injustice slide by. Plus, I rationalized to myself, I really want to put into words that I desire no further communication from her. Fortunately no one was around to see my hands shaking as I typed the email, but I did it, again taking the tack of going point by point and refuting her accusations, or explaining the intention behind the decisions she was questioning. In addition, I added two additional sentences to the point by point response:
1. I told her I was stunned and disheartened by her aggressive email, that I would find it unacceptable from someone I knew, but that it was wildly inappropriate for as casual a relationship as we had
2. I told her that I would appreciate no further communication from her, and, while I can’t control her behavior, I notified her that I would not be opening nor responding to any further emails from her address.
In the spirit of full disclosure, when I was replying to her accusation that I was punishing her son due to her challenging schedule, I did write that I find the notion insulting and a bit narcissistic. In Monday morning quarterbacking myself I regret writing that, because that kind of incendiary word opposes the idea of being civil. I do not, however, regret it enough to apologize for it!
She, of course, ignored my request to cease and desist and sent one more email. I tried to hold true to my vow and not open it, but there was no way. It was brief, and a slight bit calmer in tone, but continued to assert her wild accusations that I was lying about things and that my son was being deliberately mean to her son. I did not, and will not respond.
What, exactly, is my point in relaying this story, other than the satisfaction of venting it? I’m not sure there really is a point, it’s certainly not a story with a happy ending. There are at least three more end of the year events where I know I will see her, not to mention she lives in my neighborhood, so there’s no telling where I might bump into her. I have serious concerns about what vicious rumors a person that clearly unstable will be spreading about me. I am disheartened to realize that my son has lost a friend for no good reason.
On the other hand…
I am relaying this story, a mere 24 hours after the event occurred, in a calm state. I slept well last night, and I awoke peaceful. This is the polar opposite of how pre-recovery me would have handled this situation. Pre-recovery me would have made up a silly lie about his invite getting lost in cyber space, I would have kissed the woman’s rear end to make her happy with me, and I would have allowed the boy to come, all the while resenting every moment of it. I would have gossiped viciously about her to every person I could get my hands on, all the while being falsely nice to her face. I would have driven my husband crazy for weeks on end dissecting every participle the woman wrote, and speculating wildly on every next possible move she might make.
Today, I can calmly respond to her unreasonable accusations with the truth, and I can feel pride in doing so. Even though I am still offended by her behavior, I can also feel sorry for her, for surely her behavior is representative of internal angst, and I can pray for her well-being, and the well-being of her children. I can remind myself that what other people think of me is none of my business, and let go of the worries of the rumors she may or may not be spreading.
Of course, me being me, I can also pray that I avoid her like the plague for the rest of my life!
So many miracles: surviving this insanity, co-existing with her at the fifth grade picnic, and having a sense of calm rather than a sense of anxiety, is all miraculous!