Band of mothers shares bonds of teen turmoil

February 16, 2003|By Susan Reimer

MY FELLOW MOTHERS and I have hit a rough patch of road. Over these last, long months, we have been places, met people and learned things we never wanted to know, never believed we would have to know.

And we have our teen-agers to thank for it.

We have learned, for instance, what happens when you accidentally hit a teacher with your car in the high school parking lot. We have learned what happens when you jump off a local bridge for the heck of it, when you forget to take the paintball gun out of your car before leaving for school, when you have sex while on birth control pills and antibiotics.

We thought we knew what happens when you drive drunk, and we tried to tell our teen-agers. Now we know what happens when a 16-year-old tests that theory.

We have met neurologists, orthopedic surgeons, drug counselors, criminal defense attorneys, juvenile magistrates, department store security officers and too many police officers.

We know how long various illegal substances stay in your system and where you can get your kid drug-tested. We know the route to the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center. We learned that you can cheat on a test by using the text message feature on your cell phone.

We have learned that "absolutely everybody" drinks, and that some of these teen-agers believe themselves to be excellent drunk drivers.

Our children have wrecked enough cars to fill a stadium parking lot, and we have a whole different spin on the argument over the value of SUVs.

We have learned that oral sex isn't really sex, it is a party game, and that cell phones can make one of those parties happen in a New York City minute.

We know that a Slurpee is no longer a post-game treat, it is a mixer, and that heroin and crack cocaine are showing up in the nicest neighborhoods.

We have come home to evidence that there have been parties in our homes and sex in our beds. We have learned that sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night is the new, fun challenge.

We have learned, to our great grief, that we really don't have any idea what our kids are thinking or what they are doing when they are out of our sight.

We now know how powerless we are to make them behave, make them listen, make them do the right things, the things we have been preaching about for years.

We know that it isn't just other people's kids who do bad things, who get into trouble. It isn't just the dumb kids or the poor kids or the kids from broken homes.

But we are grateful to God when our kids are among the kids who escape with their lives.

For the mothers of teen-agers, life is holding your breath and waiting for the phone to ring.

This is true for the fathers of teen-agers, too. But the other thing that we mothers have learned is that our teen-agers often think of their fathers as clueless or harsh and unfeeling.

The result is, mothers are often the parent of choice.

What is a mother to do?

There is no choice but to wake up each morning determined to love them again today and to be in the game again today. There is no sitting this out.

Our children have each other as they pass through this tumultuous time in their lives, and we can learn from that. We mothers could try going through it together, too.

Most of us work. The back-fence visits and the kitchen-table confessions are a thing of the past. We are more isolated than our mothers might have been, and we mistake this isolation for privacy.

We are loath to let loose our family's trials and tribulations for fear of what the neighbors will think, when in fact, the neighbors might gratefully conclude that they are not alone. We keep our secrets when they might reveal just how common our experiences are.

I can remember the relief in the room when a group of mothers confessed to having holes in doors and drywall put there by angry teen-agers. Much good came out of that sharing, including the name of a cheap drywaller.

Let me offer this suggestion. When you hear that some teen-ager has plunged one of your fellow mothers into turmoil or scandal, do not stay away out of some misguided sense of discretion.

(We both know you are really keeping clear of their trouble because you are afraid it might be contagious.)

Instead, bake some cookies, make a casserole, buy a potted plant or a bottle of wine, screw up your courage and visit her.

If you aren't quite there yet, buy a "thinking of you" card and send it.

And the next time you see her, give your fellow mother a long, silent embrace. When you pull away, you will see her eyes glistening with tears and your own reflection in them.

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