Popular Posts

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Moment Every Parent Dreads

There is a moment in every teenager's life when they know they've made a terrible mistake.

Sometimes it's the moment when you get into the back seat of a car and realize the driver is really drunk.

It could be the moment you decide to stay in that car because you're sure it will be OK.

The moment when you're at a party and the room is spinning and the boy is saying all these wonderful things and before you know it the moment is over.

Or it could be the moment when you are the designated driver but you look down when your IPhone buzzes and you slam into the car in front of you.

The Worst Moment in the World

Parents have those moments too but all the fear is about their children. There's the moment when they realize that they can't reach their child no matter how urgently they try. The gut feeling that the next call they're going to get is something really bad. Parents know - it's the moment when your entire body starts shaking and you know something has happened to your child.

You know because you are connected to that child in a way that no one else is.

We heard a story about that moment the other night at the local pool from family friends.Every year at this time, there is the same story, kids whose lives are just beginning a new chapter, who go out and drive a car drunk, or get in a car with someone who shouldn’t be driving.  Every year some extremely promising teenagers are senselessly killed because of it. 

I could recite the story by heart. There’s a photo or video of a mangled car entangled with another one on a road. The kids are described as “good kids,” who didn’t get into trouble, played sports, had scholarships, and were headed off to college in the fall. 

Their are parents and relatives fighting back tears, taking their :30 to describe the life of the child they’ve lost. Their goal is to warn other parents to be more vigilant. I tear up just thinking about it. 

This time it was relatives of people we knew.

The post-high school parties

The week or two post high school graduation we as parents are distracted and tired, they've just conquered end of school madness. They need a break. Prom night we think about, we monitor, we make sure there are designated drivers, that we know where our kids are and who they are with.

Those other nights, when all the kids are getting ready to go away, or start their summer jobs or just split up for most of the summer, we pay less attention.Make sure you are home by 11:00 we say and when they come in a bit later, as long as they've called and explained why, we try to get a hug and say good night.

Everyone is at loose ends and this is a time when we should be vigilant, if for no other reason than teenagers think they are invincible. Maybe it's all the superhero movies, maybe it's just being in a body that can do anything, with a mind that test drives all the time.

Really Mom?

I told my son the story we heard at the pool and in all his 15 year-old, I’m learning to drive this summer, I’m so cool teen-dom, he didn’t want to hear it. The conversation went something like this.

My son: “I’ve heard that story before mom. My health teacher told it to us.”

Me: “These were real kids, kids that are relatives of people we know.”

My son: “In my health teacher’s story the kids died.”

Me: “The parents were trying to reach him and they tried his cell phone over and over again and then finally it rang and it was the police.”

My son:  “I’ve heard this story before mom. It’s exactly the same one my health teacher told us.”

Me:  “I just want you to remember that you will be driving soon, and your friends are driving and if you are ever in a situation where you shouldn’t get in a car with someone who is drunk, you can call me and I will come and get you.”

My son:  “OK mom, I’m going to go to bed now.”

The teflon teenager

All teenagers are bionic. They believe this as much as they believe that their friends will be their friends all their lives. They believe it because they look in the mirror every day and see themselves grow and change and become more beautiful. That others notice that too.

Teenagers also think they know everything. Actually that's not true, teenagers know they know everything.  They are right, you are wrong. So why should they the weigh the alternatives when they get into a situation that would make their parents cry? Instead, they make split second decisions that can cost them the rest of their lives.

We can't be there in that moment.

The face of that mom

I often tell my kids the story of a boy named Jay that I knew in high school, a smart, funny, popular boy I always had a bit of a crush on. We had just graduated high school and he was driving home from the beach with a group of boys he’d hung out with since kindergarten.  They were smashed into by a drunk driver and Jay was killed. Everyone else was OK.

I tell my children about another moment, at the funeral of the boy, how even at 17 years-old; I looked into his mother’s face and saw the emptiness, the shock, the lifetime of regret and sadness. How her face that day, will always stay with me. How I can never imagine it being my face.

Making the right decision

The grandmother in the group of us who were talking about the car crash, said her rule 25 years ago was simple. She told her kids, “If you ever can’t drive home, or the person who is going to drive you home is drunk, don’t get in the car. Call me and I will call come and get you”. NO QUESTIONS ASKED. A

And they did it – they met her in parking lots or shopping malls or outside of places they shouldn’t have been. But they called for a safe ride home. 

The 12 year-olds who heard this story at the pool will remember it when they’re 18. My son was listening even though he acted like it didn’t matter. So here’s a teachable moment for all of you. Use it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I Have a New and Overwhelming Respect for Single Moms

For the past month, and I’m beginning to think forever, my kids have lived with me and had no contact with their dad, nor he with them. They all need to communicate and each side has dug in. He is the grown-up. But let’s not get into that.

The point is that I have become completely responsible for two kids on an income that cannot completely support them and with a schedule that is becoming more and more about them, and less and less anything having to do with me, my professional career and any form of a life other than theirs. It’s a nightmare. 

The role of primary parent is not new but it's never been all encompassing. I'm the one who helps with homework, drives them around to most places, tracks their whereabouts, listens to the ups and downs of their day to day lives, and provides a shoulder to cry on when things go wrong. My ex never understood that kids need a parent who isn't working all the time. But I did. That's one reason why they're here with me right now.

But I got breaks. When we were married and he was here I could run to the gym or a business meeting. After we got divorced they went to their dads every other weekend and a couple of nights a week. And I saw enough of them that I didn’t feel like I was missing anything – mostly because they came home every day after school. 

What does a Single Mom do when she just cannot be home?

We did a research project recently with a school where one of the teachers wanted to teach the kids about the science of alcohol and drugs. Many of the kids were from highly impoverished families. His point was that the kids were about to go home and many of them would spend the summers without any supervision because both parents had to work all the time. He hoped that a final lesson on why they shouldn’t drink or do drugs right before school let out would make them think twice. I hope he was right. 

For several years I’ve had the luxury of working at home to make sure that my middle schooler and high schooler did what they were supposed to do after school, went where they were supposed to go, did not bring friends home to do whatever with them in my house. I am home over the summers.  I’ve been lucky. 

When Your Husband Pays the Bills

I don’t regret no longer being married. I have been envious of my married friends for a long time – they work, they don’t work, they work part time, they don’t work, the husband gets promoted and they get to not work. Oh they all pitch in, but as we get older and our kids go to school and have more and more activities that someone has to take them too, the moms who are home get stuck with it. And they at least have a second, and usually larger income to fall back on.

Oh the on again and off again working moms gripe and moan about how much they have to do. But they don’t have to do all of it and hold down a full time job, and pay all their own expenses and those of their kids. They may cut back some but they are solidly middle class and don’t really want for anything.

Sorry but the violins they are playing are out of tune for me.

What About Poor Women Who Do it All

So I got to thinking about the other single mothers, the ones who are far less fortunate than I am. The ones who don’t own a home, who struggle to put food on the table, who can’t give their kids anything that they want rather than just not all of it, who don’t have time to sit and do homework, who don’t get to see their kids until 8:00-9:00 at night, if they make it home before bed.

The moms who have had far fewer choices and opportunities than I have. The ones who sit down with their kids over a bucket of KFC when they are so tired they can barely see straight, and attempt to have a family dinner.

How hard it must be for them. Here I sit in my life which is complicated but could be much, much harder, talking about why we should keep our kids away from alcohol and drugs. So many of these women would love to have the time to ruminate about what it takes to do that. And they are struggling to keep their kids straight while they try to just get by.

I wrote a story about a woman the other day who kept getting fired from her entry level job because she had a daughter with disabilities and she required extra time and care. She had to be picked up from school, she couldn’t go home by herself. The men she was working for – and yes they were men – kept telling her she wasn’t a dedicated employee. Wrong. She could have been both a great employee and a great mother, if they’d only understood that her life mattered too.

I’m afraid this has turned into a rant and that’s not what I wanted. But I do want to tell all of the single mothers out there that I was wrong. They deserve medals. They deserve brass bands and singers who tell them how wonderful they are. They deserve a break. They deserve the safety nets that the federal government has provided them.  They deserve kids who stay away from alcohol and drugs. They deserve better. They are heroes.

I’ve finally begun to understand just how tough their lives are. I'm writing about it so that others might listen. At least that’s a start.