Thursday, April 27, 2006

It isn't just me

Sometimes I look around at my life and wonder when it became so squeaky clean. We own our brick ranch house. Our bills are paid on time and with little stress. We can afford plenty of groceries, some of which are organic and help support local farmers. We have new shoes when we need them. We can repair our cars if they break down. Our kids go to the doctor and the dentist for check-ups. We try to always be on time. We try to always use good manners. We try to keep up the yard. But believe me, I wasn't always like this. I was once an obnoxious, stinky, slutty, drink-y, financially irresponsible--no, make that reprehensible--bohemian princess of a girl who scorned everything that smacked of complacency and the bourgeoisie. Things like brick ranch houses and salaried jobs and new shoes and cars that run reliably and stuff like that. Occasionally, I still have bouts of longing for that bohemian life again and worry that we really are too complacent and tediously middle class.

Until yesterday. Yesterday, I was reminded of why Husband and I live our lives like we do.

Yesterday, I picked up Sister from school. In the parking lot, a stranded parent with kids in the back seat was asking around for jumper cables. Sister asked me what jumper cables were and I explained them to her. A light went on in her eyes, "Oh yeah, I remember! That's what we needed to use on Andy's car when it broke down one time!" A little warning beacon went off in my own head at the mention of Andy, one of her father's old, fun, but not exactly responsible and mature, friends. I probed for details, without making it sound like I was as freaked out as I felt.

The details went thusly: Andy was driving Sister and her dad out to a party one night when the van WITH NO SEATBELTS they were driving broke down "in the middle of nowhere." Andy managed to get someone out to rescue them, which made Sister very relieved. They continued out to the party where there were a bunch of Sister's dad's friends, but no other kids besides Sister. There was nothing to eat but Pringles. Sister stayed up very late, "probably til midnight." (This last detail she gave me rather smugly, knowing at least THAT would make me mad. I promise I didn't let it show.)

Sigh. My Ex isn't a big partier or anything, and in fact isn't able to drink because of some anti-seizure medication he takes for his (drunk-driving, head-trauma-induced) epilepsy. He does, however, still smoke pot, and I know that Andy does whatever drugs and sucks down whatever free drinks he is offered by his many hangers-on. My Ex isn't able to drive--also because of his epilepsy--and I can only hope that Andy had the sense not to drive Sister home drunk or stoned or anything. Or if he did, then nothing happened and it all turned out o.k. so there's no point in my thinking about it.

But I grew up with very young parents who smoked pot, like, a lot. They took pains to hide in the kitchen while they were doing it, but jeez, kids aren't dumb and it didn't take us very long to figure out what they were doing. The cutting boards with smelly pot seeds rolling around and the pot plant growing in the backyard that a savvy neighbor boy identified for us one day were pretty obvious, after all, as was the unmistable smell wafting from the kitchen. Fortunately, my mom grew up and stopped smoking pot or doing drugs, and no harm done to me. The rest of my family is a different story.

One of my aunts was a heroin, and then a methodone, addict for decades before it killed her (indirectly, but the story is too awful to recount just now). Another of my aunts was a pothead and a big fan of the barbiturate family before she died last year of cervical cancer. My dad, with whom I haven't spoken in a few years now, is a pothead to this day. My brother is alternately a heroin addict and a crystal meth addict.

On my Ex's side, his dad had such a problem with alcohol, became such a mean drunk when he imbibed, that his wife forbade him to ever, EVER drink again after a few years of enduring it. My Ex, as I mentioned, nearly killed himself in a drunk driving accident. And there's more of this running very strongly in both of our families!

I have to confess that at one time in my life I did plenty of heavy drinking and a dizzying array of illicit substances. I had fun, but I also did some really stupid stuff. When I really think about it sometimes I marvel that I never killed myself or someone else. I stopped doing drugs long ago because it got old and I got old. It stopped being fun and it wasn't worth the risk anymore. I grew up, and it became important to me to be able to say with conviction to my children that drugs are stupid and dangerous, especially given our family genetics, and they should steer completely clear of all of them.

We live in a town where drug use among even middle school kids is pretty common, to say nothing of the high schools. (Both high schools are in the top 100 in the country academically, but the kids are way too precocious from what I can tell.) Given our environment and our family histories, why the hell would my Ex feel like it was o.k. to bring our little girl to an adults-only party where I can assure you there was drinking and pot smoking at the least? How hard is it going to be for us to talk to Sister about drugs and have any credibility at all if he does this shit?

You know what? It's going to be really, really hard.


Manhattan Mama said...

Wow does this resonate with me.
I don't think that telling our kids not to try something -- even if we have -- is a double message. We all have an an occassional drink ("occassional???") and still our rabbits know they don't chug it with us.
Actually, I believe -- and I'm hoping -- that being somewhat frank and honest is going to work. I think if our kids grow up with us and respect us, they may not listen to everything we say, and they're probably going to experiment in someway with something, but maybe they'll believe us when we say: "Hey, it's your body. But this is not the way to go." At least I have to hold on to that. The real truth is, I just have to believe in my daughter and trust her. (This from a mama who won't let her daughter on a field trip without me there!)

mothergoosemouse said...

What a tough situation. And scary for you, to hear second-hand about what has gone on when your daughter has been with her father.

I'm hoping that the past mistakes I've made (when I've gotten caught and when I haven't) will help me recognize when my girls need direct parental intervention. We've been relatively squeaky clean, as teens and as adults, but I've seen enough insanity among my friends to know just how much irresponsibility can hurt you.

I hope to give my girls some perspective - the ability to see far out into their future and realize that what they do today may have far-reaching implications.

Piece of Work said...

It's a tough one, alright. Tough enough for any parent, but especially if you are dealing with an X who is not setting a good example. Like you, I was not very responsible in my twenties, and I cringe to think of the stupid things I did. On the other had, I am kind of glad that I tried a lot of things, so I know what they are like, how it feels, etc. I hope that will give me a better perspective to discuss it all with my kids. I am pretty sure that my kids will end up trying drugs, the way I did, but I'm hoping I can delay it at least until they are in their late teens. And maybe with a lot of talk from us they wont want to try any of it at all. One big problem is that my husband still smokes pot--never in the house, and only occasionally, but still.

Belle said...

That makes me SO mad! He should never have done that, visitation is for visiting with your kids. You can party with your friends when you DON'T have your kids under your care.

cubmommy said...

I agree with belle! I think your daughter will grow up seeing how your ex is and not want to be that way. She has a smart Mom!

Stacie said...

well told story! It is weird to look back at youth, and remember what fun the binges were, aye! I'm right there with ya. But now we all are mommies, and these little ones make us want to be better people. They make us have to be better people. Like any learning creature, example is the key. Parties are fun, but get a sitter!

Mommygoth said...

Oh, fuck, Slime. Will you just let me strangle him already? If it were malicious, that would be one thing, but the fact that he's just. that. clueless is unbelievably infuriating to me, so I can only imagine how much more so for you.

Laura said...

Well, hmmm. I grew up in a strictly religious household and I've never had a drink or used drugs in my life. Time will tell if that will influence my kids to stay away from them or not . . . the fact is, parents have so little control once children become independent. And I know kids like me who only rebelled and partied harder. On the other hand, while you don't have control over what happens at X's house most of the time, you do have control over illegal things, and what he did then smacks of illegality to me. When it's your child's life at stake, and it sounds like it could be at some point, hypocrisy is far from the point. Protecting her is the point. I'd act on what she said, if I were in your place.