The night started out as a typical, normal night, whatever that means. A sleepover had been arranged and I was driving my oldest son over to his best friend’s house. My mind was full, filled with a personal tragedy that I will likely share some other time. Still, being true to form, I managed to engage with some idle chit chat. Pieces of conversation devoid of meaning creating the illusion of engagement, feigning interest in some part of a video game I could care less about. But then it struck me. I could meld this tragedy and parenting - do something meaningful and make it a teaching moment. And so I naively wandered into a conversation to teach cause and effect, to show the dangers of activities hazardous to his health.
Being only a freshman in high school, I had no idea what his level of exposure is to some of the more common hazardous activities. You know - smoking, drinking, things like that. All those parenting books keep blabbing about how communication is key during these years, so I bluntly asked if he knew anyone that smoked. I was stunned with his reply: “Weed or cigarettes?”
Um, okay. Wow. “Ah, um, well I was asking about cigarettes, but do you know people that smoke weed?”
The answer, of course, was yes to both. I was dazed. I was perplexed about why I would be unprepared and shocked by the response. After all, I know what I did in high school and when I started doing it. Still trying to get a grasp of those three words, I continued to probe, the details of which I can't clearly recall. My brain kept whirling, swirling in an effort to process. And in that moment of fog, that dead zone of parenting when you wish you could push a button and make time stand still to figure out what you are supposed to do or how you are supposed to respond as a "good" parent, the bomb dropped.
“Well mom, have you ever smoked weed?” And, there it was. Twice now, in a period of under five minutes I was stunned again. Again, why did I not see this coming? Again, how could I not be prepared? Of course there is no button to stop time which left me about 500 milliseconds (that's half a second for those of you unaware) to figure out my response. Do I tell the truth? Do I lie? And in that moment I thought of my own youth and how I always disliked my father’s refusal to admit his youthful transgressions, and so I went with the truth.
“Yes, yes I did.”
You’d think that would be enough torture for the night. But no, it had to go on. The hammering had to continue. Cathy needed to be taught a lesson. Heh, the irony of it all. I asked for it by starting this conversation. I was going to "teach" him, remember? Now I've got to ride it out.
“Well, how old were you Mom? Were you in college?”
It was at that moment that I truly failed. Clearly I must have hesitated and, just as clearly, he saw it. Right then he knew. I didn't even need to answer. He's a smart kid, you know.
“You smoked in high school, didn’t you?”
What do they say? Three strikes you're out? I was busted. It was too late. No longer able to deny; no longer able to turn back. There are some things in life where there are no do-overs. The conversation had run its course and I handled it all wrong. I must have forgotten to read that chapter of the manual. Oh wait, they don't come with one.
I dropped him off at his friend’s house, full of misgivings and regret, and sped home as quickly as I could to consult the husband.
I relayed the entire conversation to him, looking for forgiveness or dismissal of my concerns, some sense that I didn’t really screw things up. Husband’s response, “He’s fishin’ for permission.” My heart sank.