Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Roll with the Changes: Rockin' a New Decade

It's nearing the end of 2016, and since I didn't write my yearly birthday blog back in November, I thought it would be fitting to reflect on the past year as I begin my fifth decade on this earth.

Yes, I turned the big 5-0 this year; quietly, with little fanfare. In fact, with no fanfare. When you don't post your birthday on your Facebook profile, you miss out on that barrage of birthday wishes sent to you only because your friends got a notification it was your birthday. Which is fine by me. A few good friends sent their well wishes, and my dad took me out for an obligatory birthday dinner. But that was pretty much it. And as much as I did NOT want any fanfare, it was kind of depressing, in a way - because I wanted to want fanfare, if that makes sense. But I didn't.

I didn't mind turning 50 at all. Age doesn't really matter to me. I don't "feel" 50, whatever that's supposed to feel like. I didn't mind 40, because my 30s kind of sucked. I don't mind 50, because my 40s kind of sucked. At this point, I'm really stoked for 60.

Not that I had any plans to be in a certain place at 50, but I guess it never occurred to me I'd be here - in good and not-so-good respects. I'm still single, and have spent so much time BEING single that I'm not even sure what I'd do with a "regular" relationship, let alone marriage. Being married again just isn't on my radar at all. And I don't think I'm the poster child for how to have a good relationship, an issue that I'm going to have to work through as I get older and the pool of eligible and decent men gets smaller. Finding a significant other becomes virtually impossible when one is not very social, and if I am lucky enough to meet someone, I seem to sabotage it early on for reasons I'm still trying to completely figure out. At times I wonder if I'm going to be OK with that years from now as I grow old, but for now, I think it's best I remain solo - and refrain from getting any more cats.

I have an awesome job. I have the job I've always wanted to have - doing what I love for a great company. I'm almost two years into it and I STILL love going to work every day - for the most part. I'm hoping I continue to love it and don't screw it up. I'm lucky to have gotten this opportunity and I'm lucky to be where I am career-wise. I'm writing EVERY SINGLE DAY, for God's sake. Every day is different - every day is a new challenge. I hold on to this one great thing in my life for dear life.

The single parenting thing has been a challenge over the past decade, but I wouldn't trade it. My kids are teens now, and I've realized that I am in more of a supervisory role than a motherly role. I've had to come to terms with the fact that they no longer want to go on hikes, to swimming pools, or even on weekend trips with me. I've had to figure out what to do when at the last minute they go off with friends on a Friday night and I'm home alone thinking, "Well, what do I do now?" I've come to enjoy their company - just around the time they don't so much enjoy mine. It's a cruel, cruel place sometimes, this parenting world. However, I'm constantly amazed at our changing relationship - how we talk when we DO talk - and how they continue to dumbfound me with their insights, knowledge and humor.

Ten years ago, I never thought I'd go through some of the things I did and continue to go through - much like anyone else on the planet. It didn't occur to me that I'd lose my mom, and it didn't occur to me that I would feel such a huge void in my life, to the point where nearly two years later, it still chokes me up. I never thought I would feel such remorse for not appreciating her when she was here and telling her what a great job she did with all of us - now knowing as a parent what she must have gone through herself. She was an amazing woman and I miss her so incredibly much.

Ten years ago, it never occurred to me that I'd be a part of the world of addiction, and that I'd learn more than I ever wanted to know about this disease - which I always thought was just a horrible weakness played out by some selfish derelicts with no willpower. It's so not. I still struggle with calling it a disease - it is in some respects but in others it's more than that. This article explains a bit where I fall as far as my thoughts on addiction, if  you're interested.

Regardless, I never thought it would consume my life the way it has, and I never thought I'd have to change so much in order to cope with it. I can say that in some ways it's made me a better person, and certainly a different person. I'm far less judgmental. I'm more thoughtful in what I say and do, and how my actions and words have consequences. I've learned to measure whether I'm saying those words and performing those actions for the benefit of others or just to make myself feel better. And I'm still learning to let go yet still stay close.

I've also isolated myself - from friends, from family - by choice, sort of. It's hard to talk about this issue with people who I know don't understand - who can't possible unless they've been in it. Though I know good friends will listen, it is such a large part of my life and it's hard to find other subjects in which we share a commonality. And honestly, sometimes it's very difficult to hear about the progress and life path of a teen the same age as mine - because I wish a path like that so badly for my own.

As a result of the stress of it all, I've made the conscious decision to remove myself from people in my life who contribute to that stress - ironically not the addicted, but the ones who I just have no room for because of the space the addiction fills. It's a complicated issue - where I am versus where I should be - but I am here, and I am doing my very best, and I've never tried so hard or struggled so much with anything in my life. But what I do know is that I will never, ever give up on the one I'm fighting for. However, I may have to quit. Two very different things, I'm learning.

Reading this back, it all sounds so morose - but it's really not. I've learned so, so incredibly much about myself in the past 10 years, and in some ways, I'm content. My biggest challenge has been to stop living my life as to what I SHOULD be doing versus what I WANT to do and AM doing. Obviously there are many "shoulds" in your life that you kind of have to do, but there are many I felt I should do based on what others were doing or what others thought I should be doing, if that makes any sense. I've gotten better at that; and as a result, have come to be a little more accepting of who I am - faults and all. I'm sure that's a product of age - sometimes I fear I'm just a few years away from some of those entitling behaviors old people seem to have - like going on and on about every ache and pain in my body or yelling at the Jimmy Johns guy because he wasn't fast enough.

I don't know how much longer I have on this earth, and while I haven't stopped dreaming about the things I still want to do, I'm no longer lamenting that I haven't done them yet. They will happen if they happen. If I've learned nothing in my 50 years, it's that you plan, and God laughs. My faith in Him has only grown stronger, for a couple of reasons. Mainly because of what the past ten years has brought into my life and how He has been there for me, but also because of the increasing number of people who have challenged my faith. While at first they caused me question it - if only a little, it's now that much stronger as a result. I believe in God, I believe there's a heaven, and I believe He is working His plan for me - and that will never change.

While I'm not necessarily optimistic of the future - because that isn't my nature - I'm not wholly pessimistic, either. I'm learning to take each day as it comes, because if the past 10 years has taught me anything, it's that I'll be able to rock this life the more I learn to roll with its changes. And I'm ready to rock - and roll.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"So help me God": My week on a federal jury

You know that kind of sinking feeling you get when you open up that official envelope and you see "Summons for Jury Service"? Yeah, well I had that same reaction recently. Except this time, it wasn't for "regular" jury duty. This was FEDERAL jury duty, and the accompanying letter said, "You are on-call for the month of November."


Yep. I had to call in every Wednesday to see if I had to report the following Friday. Each week I listened to that recording with utter dread. And each week the voice would say I was "deferred until next week." By Friday, November 25th, I thought I had it made - but no. The recording told me to report Tuesday morning to the federal building downtown.

UGH. There goes my week, I thought. What am I going to do about work? My kid? My appointments? All the errands I had to run? I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS.

I begrudgingly entered the federal building on Tuesday morning, shoved everything I had through the metal detector, locked my phone up in a little post office box (no computers or cell phones allowed - just SHOOT ME!) and went into this room where about 40 or 50 people sat looking about as enthused as I was.

Soon after, we were given instructions and shuffled into the courtroom and all sat down where the onlookers usually sit. Now I was getting nervous. Before me were two tables of three very serious- looking people; lawyers, I assumed, and one very scary looking judge.

We each passed around a microphone and had to stand up and answer a series of questions about ourselves for the judge - mostly to find out if anyone had any "great hardship" they were experiencing by being there. After we all were finished speaking, he let three of them go. RATS. We were then told that 12 of us at a time would randomly be ushered into the jury box and asked another series of questions. When my name was called in the first 12, I didn't think much of it because I figured there were still 30 or so more eligible jurors.

Again we passed the mike, said our names and answered more questions. The judge then huddled with the attorneys, who had since introduced themselves very formally, along with the plaintiff, the defendant, and a clerk. Three from our jury box were let go and three more from the remaining were called. This occurred probably four more times, until the judge said, "Well, it looks like we have our jury." WHAT???? What about the rest of them???? "The rest of you are discharged," the judge said.

Well this sucks. I felt a pit in my stomach as I realized my whole week had just gone down the drain. How was I going to manage this? No computer and no phone? What if my kid got sick? How was I going to deal with these 11 strangers for four days??? And why can't everyone just follow the rules so none of this has to happen????

We took our oath and went into the jury room and it was evident we all felt pretty much the same way. After some idle chit chat, another clerk came in - who would pretty much become our best friend over the course of the next four days - and gave us the lowdown on how things would go. Charges would be read again (the judge had read them first thing, but I don't think any of us were listening, really), then there'd be opening statements, witnesses for the prosecution, witnesses for the defense, closing arguments and then jury deliberation/verdict. Ugh. This sounded interminable.

We filed back in to the courtroom - everyone was standing. We thought we had to stand, too - for the judge - but it turns out they were standing for us. Wow. OK. We were seated and looked at the judge - very menacing and tall sitting up so high in his black robe. When he spoke, I was surprised. His words were kind, gentle but firm, with a dry humor - all done in a way that made you have immediate respect for him. He seemed genuinely sincere in his appreciation that we were there, and it was only then that I began to realize the gravity of our responsibility as a group.

As the opening statements progressed, we got our first real understanding of what the case was about. Unfortunately, though necessary, the first day also included more than 40 documents being entered into evidence, which took FOR-E-VER. Like - all day forever. Even though we got an hour lunch, I was completely exhausted when he let us go for the day. The funny thing was, during breaks and over lunch, my fellow jurors and I started to get to know each other. We couldn't have been more diverse - it was genuinely a random sampling. But everyone seemed nice, and since we weren't allowed to talk about the case, we slowly began to find out about each other.

The second day we returned - all with the thought that if this day was anything like the previous, we were going to need a hell of a lot more coffee. We filed into the jury room again and heard the prosecution call his witnesses, who all seemed like very reliable, intelligent individuals even though it was pretty obvious they'd been coached as to how to answer certain questions - not as far as the answers themselves, but things like, "I don't recall", versus "I don't know". And there was no talking over one another or the court reporter would jump in (I wouldn't in a million years want her job).

Then things got cray. The defense attorney had his shot at the prosecution's witnesses and it was GAME ON. This guy looked like some lawyer from the Old West - all he needed was one of those bolo ties, a pair of boots and a big cowboy hat. He was big, loud, and exactly the stereotype when it comes to lawyers. He cross-examined and said things like, "DID YOU NOT..." and "SO WHAT YOU'RE SAYING IS..." - in fact, I was just waiting for one of the witnesses to break down and yell, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" But surprisingly, they all remained extremely calm. Evidently their lawyer had prepared them well for this guy. I, on the other hand, was ready to climb over the jury box and smack him. I kept wondering, "Does he know that I can see through how he's talking in that condescending way - trying to make the witness second-guess and twist his words around? Because I totally can." I'm not saying he didn't make good points - he did - and that's his job - but WOW. I wouldn't have been able to handle that had I been on the witness stand.

The next two days were spent on witnesses, cross-examinations, breaks so the counsel could discuss with the judge, objections, approaching the bench - just like in the freaking movies. There we were - 12 strangers - lined up in this box, seeing the justice system played out before our very eyes in front of what appeared to be the calmest most impartial judge I've ever met (and I've met like maybe two, so that's not saying much.) But I had MAD respect for him, and I started to see that not only did he have an incredibly important job day in and day out, but I did too, if just for a week.

And during this week, my 11 new friends and I had formed this weird bond. We knew each other's names, joked about likes and dislikes, and had all these little inside jokes that only jurors who had been together in a tiny little room for three days could have. As I looked around the room I thought, "I like each and every one of these people."

Thursday morning, I arrived in the jury room exhausted and still upset from a personal issue the night before. All of them expressed concern and were so very kind. They were the first ones to tell me that if I felt I couldn't continue, there were two alternates and I should just talk to the clerk. But ironically, I wanted to stay. I wanted to play this out - to hear how it ended - to be a part of the process. In fact, it turned out to be a welcome distraction and I was able to focus on the trial for the rest of the afternoon. Towards the end of the day, I wasn't sure if my family emergency was quite finished so I talked to the clerk and told him my concerns. As we entered the courtroom after our last break, I was called up to the stand, where the judge said quietly, "Ms. Kennard, if you do not feel you can continue, it's OK. Do you feel you can continue?" I said yes, I did. At the end of the day, the clerk handed me two phone numbers - his and the judge's cell phone number - in case I was unable to report the next day.

I WAS able to report, and woke up feeling both anticipation and dread. Today was the day we were going to decide a man's fate. What an awesome responsibility. I was humbled - as were the other 11 - and we were all well aware of the task that awaited us that day. None of us had slept well the night before.

The last day was by far the worst day. During the defense's closing arguments where he talked about the character witnesses who had testified to the trustworthiness and loyalty of this man, the defendant suddenly broke down and sobbed. Big, heaving sobs that you could tell he was trying to control but just couldn't. His wife, we assumed, who was the only person who had been in the audience each day, sobbed as well. At that point, the judge ordered a break and my fellow jurors and I walked back into the jury room. You could have heard a pin drop.

When we returned, the defense continued with closing statements, the prosecution rebutted, they went back and forth for a bit, and it was all over - for them. Our work had just begun.

After the judge gave us explicit instructions, we were ushered into a larger deliberation room. Security personnel with earpieces stood outside - we were not allowed to speak to them nor them to us. If we had a question for the judge, we had to write it down and have the foreperson sign it. We were not to leave the  room until a verdict was reached. We elected a foreperson and tried to figure out how to begin.

At first we were all talking at once - we hadn't been allowed to talk to each other about the case at ALL, and we all had opinions and tons of questions. Most of us had taken pages and pages of notes. We finally decided to go through each count one by one and figure out what we DID agree on, then deliberate on what we DIDN'T.

Of course we agreed on most of the obvious things. But after taking an early poll, we weren't unanimous. It was then that our work really begun. What we had to do was explicity look at the charge, and the definition of the verbiage in the charge, as provided by the court. And let me tell you, what you THINK something says isn't always what it REALLY says. For instance, there is a HUGE difference between "knowingly" and "intended to". Words like this were what we deliberated about for the next two hours. Incredibly, there were no fights. Everyone was respectful. For the most part, we took turns and everyone was heard.

But there was one thing we had in common. We all felt badly for the defendant. We all agreed that this would hang heavy on our hearts for a very long time. He WAS a good man, we determined. A good man who had broken the law. Finally, we reached a unanimous verdict: guilty on all counts.

We each signed each count, and the foreperson alerted the security guard that we had a verdict. The clerk came in and retrieved it and told us a bell would ring when it was time to go back into the courtroom. As I looked around the room, everyone looked like they were about to get sick. And when that bell rang, I felt like I was going to lose it, too.

We filed into the courtroom and I couldn't even make eye contact with the defense. The judge stood up and read each charge, and after each one said, "Guilty". The defendant had no emotion but you could see the disgust on the defense attorney's face. I would have been disappointed not to see it. After the verdict, the judge asked the defense if he wanted the jury "polled", which meant he wanted to hear from each of us - I'm assuming just in case any of us were on the fence and wanted to change our minds. Each of our names was called, and each of us had to say the word, "Guilty." I felt that word catch in my throat.

And that was it - or so I thought. We went back to the jury room to retrieve our things; noticeably subdued. At that point, the judge walked in and asked if we had any questions - like, said we could ask anything. So we did. And he was forthright, kind, and very, very human in his responses. One juror told him, "If I ever had to be locked up with 11 people for a week, I couldn't ask for better people than this." And that was true.

I left the federal jury experience very differently than I had gone into it. I almost felt embarrassed for being so disgusted that I had been called. Yes, I missed a week of work, had to juggle appointments and reschedule meetings. However, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the magnanimous duty I was able to carry out. It was a learning experience, and it made me realize that everyone is entitled to a fair trial, and to be presumed innocent up until the very end. I hope the defendant knows that he did get a fair trial. We were an impartial jury. We did deliberate and take everything into consideration. And our verdict was unanimous, not by talking anyone into it, but by figuring out the facts through discussion and the language of the law.

So next time you get that piece of paper in the mail, try to feel a little proud - especially if it's federal jury duty. It is our responsibility, and it is not only a privilege of living in the United States of America, it is truly an honor to serve.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

An Open Letter to the Guy Who Thinks I’m Moving to Canada

So, you outed me. I voted for Hillary. And no, I don’t consider myself a feminist, and no, I wasn’t necessarily #withher. Did I want a woman to be President? Hells yeah. Did I want Hills? Though I aligned with her on some things, other issues made her not so much my first choice, but I, as many, chose what I believed to be the “lesser of two evils”.

Regardless, I was as dumbfounded as much of the country when I woke up to see that Trump had won the election. I just really didn’t see that coming, given all we had accomplished in, say, the past 100 years. In that time, I think the country has made some relatively major strides for women’s rights, combatting racism and the acceptance of the LGBT communities. Granted, we’ve also had some setbacks, but all in all, I think those areas are in better shape than they were a century ago.

Given the past remarks and actions of Mr. Trump, I don’t get a warm fuzzy that this will continue. He’s kind of been the antithesis of tolerance, if you will, to the point where it’s pretty scary, especially if you ask many women, non-whites, gays or transgenders.

That said, as I perused the news and social media, I was torn between just letting it all slide and voicing my shock at what this country had just done. I’m not a political person by any means – even this post is a bit out of my wheelhouse. So I mentioned something on Facebook about waking up to find out we’d gone back in time 100 years and changed my cover photo to the Canadian National Anthem. That’s about as passive-aggressive as you can get, right? I mean, the joke is, we’re all moving to Canada right? Eh?

So this guy I dated eons ago, who has since moved on and remarried, somehow surfaced late last night. He’s rarely on Facebook as far as I can tell, never posts, but somehow must have been browsing his newsfeed and came upon my cover photo. Here’s his comment. (Note: I have not corrected his grammar or punctuation.)

“Amy, seriously...I'm not a fan of "the Donald" either but do you really feel that one was worse than the other..?? Hilary is just as disgusting.. I'm saddened that out of 280 million people that those 2 turds were our best choice for president. If you still feel that now America is not worth living in then pack your bags and head north, Canada awaits you! While I was in the military, I've been all over the world and there is no other country I'd rather be in no matter who is my president. If you or any of the 50 or so actors and athletes who said they were leaving if trump was elected don't wish to be here, you're free to leave but don't come back in 4 years... I luv ya Amy, you're an amazing woman but I'm very surprised and disappointed..”

Now I’m not gonna lie – at first I was a little taken aback. I had to think: did I post some long rant about moving to Canada? Did I actually write that one candidate was worse than the other? And is he really lumping me in with actors and athletes? (blush) I didn’t really know WHAT to say, but I certainly didn’t want to get involved in a huge debate on Facebook. I mean, to me, Facebook is kind of for fun – yes I know it’s also a place to share events, find missing pets, offer our support and complain about our shitty day, but getting into a no-win, heated, public discussion that nine times out of ten ends up involving everyone including that crazy, out-there acquaintance who you wish you hadn’t accepted their friend request isn’t really what I signed up for.

So I opted for the slightly neutral, passive-aggressive route once again. Because I can. I responded, “I agree with you that neither candidate was optimal and it was definitely a "lesser of two evils" for many voters, including myself. Thanks for your perspective!”

But for some reason, I couldn’t shrug off what he had said. Surprised and disappointed? At what? That I voted for Hillary or that you think I’m abandoning my country and moving to Canada? Was I just too wrapped up in the disbelief and frenzy of yesterday that I had somehow let a righteous opinion escape? I won’t pretend that I wasn’t a little outraged yesterday morning – at the percentage of people who voted for him, the percentage of people who DIDN’T vote at all, as well as the percentage of people who “protest voted” which was basically throwing their vote away. But as I read article after article as the day wore on, a few started to reflect more of a level-headed sense of calm. To paraphrase, “It’s done, now it’s up to all of us to come together and give this guy a chance.”

I mean, what else can we really do? MAYBE, as I read, his racist and anti-women comments and actions he made as a “celebrity” were more for shock value – “boys being boys”, as they say. (NOT that that’s an excuse, mind you…) MAYBE he never really thought he’d actually BECOME the President of the United States. We’re not even sure he truly WANTED it, as written by many who thought his campaign was merely a huge publicity stunt devised by a narcissistic businessman.

MAYBE now that he will be taking over the highest seat in the land, he’ll rethink who he is and what he says and how he acts and realize that he and his wife have some very big shoes to fill (yes, I voted for Obama, too, and no matter what you think of him politically, you have to admit that he and Michelle are a pretty Class Act).

Mr. Trump is a shrewd businessman; there’s no doubt about that. Maybe that will come in handy as he navigates these new national and international political waters. There’s something to be said for someone who doesn’t mince words. There’s also something to be said for tact. He’s going to need a delicate balance of the two.

What I’m trying to say, Guy Who Wrote on My Facebook Wall, is that it was just a joke - the Canadian National Anthem thing on my Facebook profile. I’m not moving to Canada. I have a great job here and a couple of kids and my dad is here and I’d really have to brush up on my French and I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the NFL and my Packers for the NHL and the Canadiens. In fact, Lambeau Field is probably as far north as I’ll go anytime soon.

As cliché as it sounds, I’m proud to be an American, and I’m willing to be open-minded about Mr. Trump as President. I hope he will surround himself with the right people, and I hope he will do what’s right and best for our country. I hope he will bring us together as he says he will, and make this country great again. In my opinion, it was pretty great before he showed up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

First Day of the Next Four Years of His Life, Take Two

On August 17th, 2011, my oldest son embarked upon his four-year journey through high school. On that day, I wrote what I wished I could have told him (
First Day of the Next Four Years of His Life) but didn’t dare due to the whole teenage angst thing he had going on.

Some of what I wrote I may have mentioned to him as I nervously tried to prepare him for what I could not prepare him for. However, no one could have possibly braced me for what those four years would bring – and that’s an understatement. My advice then seemed so normal, but what we experienced during that time was anything but.

So here I am – exactly five years later – same date, same high school, same nerves, different kid. At first I thought to myself, "My advice is the same – there’s no reason to write another post on this". But as I re-read that blog, I realized, no, it’s not the same. While my mainstream suggestions are still valid (keep your schedule in your pocket, don’t freak out if you forget your locker combination, respect your teachers, etc.) they’re not what first comes to mind now that I have my second and final child entering those precarious high school years. 

Why? Couple of reasons. One, he’s a different kid. Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep the “Mom’s a complete idiot and I’d rather eat dirt than be seen with her” scenario at bay longer than I did with my first son, so I can talk to him about some of these things. Two, I learned too late that while I had the best of intentions, I tried too hard to save my son from every mistake or consequence or hurtful situation he might encounter. And in doing that, I did him a huge disservice.

With that said, my words of wisdom come not only from me, but from both of my sons: one speaking from first-hand experience; the other vicariously through his older brother. And while these nuggets may not be as “common” and “sharable” as my post five years ago, I can tell you right now it’s all pretty damn good advice.

From my youngest son: 

“I’m going to have to choose my friends carefully.”

My youngest wasn’t immune to the changes his brother went through during his high school years, his struggles or his revolving door of “friends”. In his mind, these were the people who took his big brother away from him piece by piece, dragging him down into a life that ended up making high school a living hell for all of us. My youngest doesn’t want that for himself (or for me), and is pretty good at seeing the forest for the trees.

We’ve talked about choosing the friends who don’t make you feel bad, or pressured, or nervous about doing something that doesn’t make you feel right. We’ve talked about friends who use you, and that true friends shouldn’t make you feel like you have to make a decision that goes against that feeling in your gut. I never thought I’d be a little thankful for my son’s anxiety, but if nothing else, I hope it’s that emotion that helps keeps the bad influences away, as well as keeps him from being a bad influence, which I would be hard pressed to believe he would be.

From my oldest:

“As long as he’s involved in a sport, he’ll be OK.”

I wish I would have asked for a further explanation of this statement from my oldest, who begrudgingly completed a season of tennis before settling on a couple of weeks of working lights and sound for the school play as his completion of my rule that “You must join SOMETHING”. Perhaps it’s the nature of the school: it’s somewhat affluent (we are not), with a high participation rate in sports and extracurricular activities. Those who choose not to participate in either kind of fall into that “other” category you might remember from your high school days. And in a school like that, it’s a dangerous place to be.

The good thing is, my youngest started track three years ago. I saw he was good and enjoyed it, and I have “encouraged” him a bit harder than I may have with my first, for just this reason. It’s not that I want him to be a track star. I want him to be INVOLVED. I want him to feel a part of a team, and a community of other students. I want him held accountable for his grades. I want him randomly drug tested (as they do the athletes). I want him busy. I want him healthy. I want him as far away from the “other” category as I can get him, and I make no apologies for that.

And finally, from me, more of a wish than a piece of advice for the next four years:

“Know you can talk to me.”

I don’t know why some kids push their parents away and others keep them close. I don’t know why some child/parent relationships are adversarial and others less so. Perhaps it has to do with the makeup of the child as well as the experience of the parent. 
I learned more than I ever wanted to learn during those four years with my oldest, but my experiences I feel made me a better listener versus advice-giver with my youngest. I try to ask him what he thinks he should do; not tell him what I think he should do. I am painfully aware that trying to shield and save him from every disappointment and crisis is only doing a disservice to the development of his coping skills he’ll need later in life.

Doesn't matter if he sees me.
My oldest knows I'm there.
I told my oldest he could always talk to me, and I meant it, but my desire to give him answers to questions he should figure out for himself, coupled with his oppositional nature, rarely made this possible. My youngest and I have some pretty amazing conversations, and at 15, I’m constantly impressed at the questions he asks and the topics he brings up. Will that continue into high school? I can only hope. Whereas now, I can feel the butterflies in my stomach as I struggle to find something non-confrontational to talk to my oldest about, I pray that my youngest and I can have as trusting of a relationship as a mother and her teenage boy can have.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that he’s going to tell me everything – not by a long shot. I guess what I mean by “talk to me” is, “Don’t not talk to me because you don’t think I’ll understand, or that I’ll yell at you, or judge you.” I’ve come a long way and if he’s willing to keep me in the loop and open up to me, I’m willing to trust him which will translate into more privileges and freedoms that his older brother didn’t earn.

Despite my best intentions and most fervent prayers, my oldest son’s high school experience was downright brutal. The other night, he gave his brother some “advice” on how to get through those four years. Suffice it to say, it was more of a strategy on “how to get in and out with the least possible effort” as opposed to “how to get the most out of the next four years”.  And though certain aspects of high school are the same as they were 30+ years ago, I’m hesitant to dole out advice to him like I know what the hell I’m talking about today. But there is one thing that still holds true from five years ago; something that will never, ever change as long as I am living and breathing:

I will be there.

Not to fix things. Not to “save” you. Not to enable you. But to just be there.

When the girl says “yes” to your invitation to the dance, I will be there to help pick out your suit and her corsage.

When a girl breaks your heart and you just want to cry, I will be there with apple pie and a horror movie to help get your mind off of her.

When you and your friends need a place to hang out after the football game, I will be there with a comfy basement and plenty of snacks.

When you feel pressured by friends to do something you know you shouldn’t do, I will be there as your excuse to leave.

When you get an “A” on that project you worked for weeks on, I will be there waving a college catalog.

When you bomb that test that lowers your grade a full letter, I will be there, probably with a set of flash cards or something.

When you win that race with a personal best, I will be there screaming your name at the finish line.

When you lose and feel like quitting, I will be there to remind you that you run because you love it, not because you win.
I'm right behind ya, kid.

The rest is the same – and I’m able to copy it (nearly) verbatim from that blog five years ago:

"I will be there. And I think you know that. I am hoping that these next four years will be some of the best years of your life. These will be the years you will learn - both academically, socially and emotionally. You will have amazing ups and horrible downs. You may fall in love. You may experience heartbreak. You may find the friends who will be your friends for the rest of your life. You may discover your passion and realize that it's what you want to do as a career. You may discover yourself - at least a little bit. And through it all, I will be there, walking 50 paces or so back, but there just the same."

Happy first day of freshman year, my son of the Class of 2020.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tales of the Bad News Mom

I wasn’t really prepared for this.

Not that I was prepared for ANY of it. As I’ve said numerous time, I never thought I’d get married, let alone have kids. So my learning curve in both of those areas might have been “curvier” than most.

That said, I’d like to think I kind of rocked the whole mom thing, as best I could rock it, anyway, given my general maternal ignorance, lack of rocking my marriage and a plethora of my own issues that seemed to make being what I wanted to be that much more difficult.

It was kind of like I was the Bad News Bears of mothering. You know, the baseball team made up of total misfits with good intentions but absolutely no idea what they’re doing who come together in the end and win the big game? Yeah, that’s me, except we’re like in the gazillionth inning and I am not seeing a W in sight.

That said, I’m kind of at that stage where I’m wondering if all that training and conditioning and sacrifice all those years was really worth it? To take the analogy one step further: If the Bad News Bears did everything they could and STILL lost the game, would everything they did really even matter?

Now I know your first instinct is to say, “Of course!” if nothing else just to make me feel better. But I’m honestly not sure. Now, I don’t say this to play the martyr card at ALL, and if I had it to do all over again, I would have done a good portion of it the same way. BUT, looking back, I really, really stressed about what I did and didn’t do for my kids and around my kids. I took them into consideration in pretty much every move I made. For instance:

— I want them to have a head start in kindergarten so we’re going to work on colors and shapes and numbers beforehand.
— I refuse to use the TV as a babysitter so I’m going to limit their screen time.
— I need to make sure any serious adult discussions don’t take place around them so they aren’t privy to things that are too old for their young minds to comprehend.
— I need to feed them nutritious food so they’re healthy (and so I don’t have to completely lie when we go to the pediatrician and he asks how many servings of fruit and veggies they get each day).
— I  need to go to church and step up my God game because I want them to know Him.
— I will read to them every night as long as they want me to, and maybe even longer.
— I’ll find a job with a flexible schedule because their dad doesn’t have a normal schedule and I want to make sure someone is always there for them after school and at all their sporting  and school events.
— I will be the mom that will always say “yes” to shooting some baskets, throwing the football or fishing.
— I will have “the talk” with them even though it’s totally uncomfortable and I’m not sure it’s a mom thing to do but I can’t NOT have the talk with them.
— I will not talk badly about their dad in front of them and I will encourage their relationship with them, even if it means us all spending every Christmas morning together because that’s how they like it.
— I’ll make sure they are gentlemen by insisting they open the door for someone and always look people in the eye and say please and thank you to the waitresses.
— I’ll talk to them about girls and how the nice guy doesn’t finish last and being a gentleman is far better than being a showoff.
— I’m certainly not going to introduce them to anyone I date unless we are serious, and if for some reason they don’t like him or get along with his kids, I will choose my kids over him.
— I'm going to make them aware of the importance of doing well in school, learning good study habits and staying motivated.
— They will volunteer because once they’re 16 and can get a paying job, they’ll have something to put on their resume and be way ahead of all the other 16 year olds.
— I’ll be frugal with my money and teach them to shop sales and that just because you want something doesn’t mean you can get it right now – or sometimes ever.
— If they are ever in a position where someone is trying to pressure them into doing something they know they shouldn’t do, they are more than welcome to use their “hardass mom” as an excuse.
— I will make sure they know they can talk to me about anything – that if they don’t know where else to turn, even though I’m “Mom”, that I will be there for them.
— I will make sure they know that they are loved, and that they are fortunate.

I look back on this not-even-exhaustive list and think, “Well, I tried all these things, that’s for sure.” How successful was I? In some areas, pretty good. In a lot of areas, not very.

But this is what I have spent the past 19 years stressing over, and here I am, 19 years later, and it’s virtually done.

It’s over.

There’s no more to teach.

Sure, mothering is never over. I know that. I needed my mom even when she lay in that hospice bed taking her last breaths. I need her even more now. My kids may not think they need me right now, but hopefully the older they get, the more they’ll feel comfortable with the fact that when all else fails, they can still come to mom.

But all the stuff I tried to do right – to raise them to be kind, productive, good people - that part’s pretty much over. And I have two questions.

1. While I feel like I was successful in a few areas, why do I feel like I failed in so many others, and
2. What the hell do I do now?

I hadn’t anticipated the immense amount of time and energy that parenting would take. I had NO idea what was entailed when I brought my firstborn home from the hospital and looked at him with complete bewilderment. I used to tell people, “If being a mother was an actual job, I would have quit a long time ago.”  I mean, that shit is TOUGH.

Maybe in time my feelings about failure will change. Sure, I could have been a much worse parent. Considering I was completely pulling the whole motherhood thing out of my ass on a daily basis, I think I did as well as I could have with what I had to work with. But I don’t think that was good enough.

And now, here I am, 19 years later, wondering what to do next. It’s kind of like working for CAT for 20 years then suddenly getting laid off. You may have known it was coming, but you just weren’t prepared to wake up one morning and not have that job to go to. And you may even be hesitant to try for a new job, because you just spent SO much time at the last one and look what happened. So you stay at home and binge watch Netflix shows and clean your house a lot and wonder what everyone else in your shoes is doing (my shoes being: single, not a ton of money, and still half-mothering a teenager, but even he’s one foot out of the nest.)

I suppose I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I selfishly wonder what my kids think of me as a mother (and yes, I realize that at this point, they really don't think anything...). Since my oldest has moved out, he doesn’t contact me very often, if ever. If I contact him, It’s usually met with a sign or rushed conversation. And yes, I recall being his age and my mom insisting I call once a week from college. I rolled my eyes, yet I never missed that call – because even I knew I needed her, and talking to her kind of centered me. It was like there was not only one person in this world who knew what was going on with my life, it was one person who actually cared.

I hope they know I care about their lives. I hope they still need me, even if they think right now they don’t. I hope they know that I tried to do the best I could. That I really did give my all and then some for them. Now I have to turn the tables a little and give that all back to myself, which I haven’t done for a long, long time, and I’m not sure what to do or where to go to even find any of it.

In a way, I kind of feel like the right fielder. I played on a softball team when I was a kid, and I sucked. Bigtime. Like, every-time-I-got-up-to-bat-the-dugout-would-groan sucked. So of course they stuck me in right field, where I’d be safe from any action. That’s kind of where I'm at now. I used to be in the game, but I’m kind of past my prime now, so I’ve been put out to pasture in right field. And apparently it’s up to me to make the call that this game is no longer my “thing” and find another sport.  

I wonder if the Average Joes need another player?



Sunday, June 19, 2016

You Go On

Sometimes, people come into your life – and they change you. Such is the case with Mary.

It’s true – there is “something about Mary”. And I’m sure it started with her mother.

Norma and me, on her porch.
Now THERE'S a story. 
Norma was a force to be reckoned with, and though I was so very lucky to know her at all, I wish I would have known her earlier. She left this life on her own terms, but selfishly, I wished she would have stayed around a little longer.

It takes quite a bit to impress me, if you’re a person. Norma blew me away. I liked her SO much. Her authenticity. Her bluntness. Her wisdom. Her humor. Her insight. Her tough nurturing. Her strength. She took me in like an old stray cat and made me feel like one of her own. Selfishly, I felt I took from her WAY more than I gave.

I didn’t know Norma well – as in, I didn’t know her for a long time, and I didn’t see her often. I couldn’t regale you with stories of our trips together, inside jokes or “remember whens”. So when I make comparisons between Norma and Mary, it is only in what I have witnessed as an outsider with one foot on the edge of the inner circle.

"We won't get to grow old together,"
Mary said as we watched an old couple
walk down the street holding hands.
When I think of Mary, the same characteristics as Norma come to mind. First and foremost, her strength.

Mary lost her husband tragically this past September. Mary and Gregg were a good team. They complemented each other well, and it was clear to me that despite their mutual sarcasm they adored one another. Gregg’s death was literally one of those “and then he was gone” situations. I didn’t know him well, either. I met him in Peoria during Norma’s chemo treatments and visited their house multiple times over the past few years. My tears I cried when I heard the news of his death were for Mary. God, why do You hurt Your good ones so?

Mary’s in Idaho, and I’m in Illinois. We keep in touch primarily through Facebook. I hope she knows I thought of her way more than I contacted her between September and now. When things like this happen, your first instinct is to back away. “I don’t want to bother them.” “I don’t want to upset them.” “I don’t know what to say.” However, I didn’t want to back away. I wanted to call her and ask her every detail of what happened and what she was feeling. I wanted to hop the first plane out there and hug her and cry with her and be there for her. I wanted to check in on her every day and just ask, “How are you today?”

But I knew she had support. I knew she had friends right there, and her sisters who would come at the drop of a hat without being asked. And I knew she was strong and would not have much patience for what she might call pity. So what I told her was, “When all of this calms down – you know, everyone goes back to normal, but YOU’RE not normal – THAT’S when I’ll come out.”

Scheduling conflicts aside, I made it out there this past week. And I have to say, whatever admiration and love I had for her before then has doubled in size now.

Why? Because she goes on. The Mary who greeted me at the airport with that boisterous voice, big hug and three tubes of lipstick (inside joke) was the same Mary I had seen last time I was here – yet not the same Mary. There was nothing “wrong” per se, just a little “different” – imperceptible, but something that would occur to me time and time again during my visit.

Since her husband’s death, Mary sold the house in which they lived. It had been the plan all along – she had talked about getting it ready to put on the market the last time I had been there. But instead of building their dream home as they had planned, Mary instead bought something that “Gregg would have never done,” she said. An old, Victorian house, circa 1900, nestled on the corner of a tree-lined street and within walking distance to the quaint downtown, where residents and visitors peruse the little shops and enjoy dinner or coffee al fresco with a view of the mountains.

A labor of love.
The house “has good bones”, Mary says, and it does. While I’m sure it was livable upon purchase, Mary had other ideas, and by the time I got there, a garage and mud room had been added, the kitchen completely demolished, her master bedroom in complete disarray with the construction of a full bath and closet. Not to mention that the day I got there, the entire house was yellow. Two days later, it was blue. Workers were everywhere, led by Adam, who Mary was sure was brought to her as a blessing from God – or perhaps Gregg. He ran the show, was knowledgeable, efficient, detailed, communicative and pleasant. But what got him hired, she said, was that he told Mary “no”.

Mary will be the first to tell you that more times than not, she gets her way. She’s not a diva. Well, OK, maybe a little. But not in a bad sense. She knows what she wants and she’s smart about it. She had specific ideas for this house and it was obvious that she is an integral part of this construction team. While most of the time Adam’s response to Mary’s “This is what I want to do…” was, “Sure, we can do that,” every once in a while he’d say, “No, Mary, I don’t think so.” And Mary would say, “OK.”

Though she knew Gregg would not have chosen the house, she is adamant that he live there in spirit. Touches of him will be everywhere, and the workers are aware of the importance of this aspect. From the rolling island he built years back that will serve as a focal point of the kitchen to the old barn door he made that was salvaged from the old house, his legacy will live on here. At one point she told me, “I know he’s complaining about the house; the money I’ve spent and what I’m doing here.” In my mind, he’s looking down on her and saying, “It’s not what we would have done together, but you, Mary, you go on.”

It didn’t take me long, living in the disarray and dust and construction workers on the roof at 7 am, to realize that this house is a gift. It’s a gift to Mary that says, “You experienced one of life’s greatest losses – unexpectedly and tragically. You didn’t deserve to have this happen to you, but you are living with it. Not just existing; living. So live here, and go on.”

This house gives Mary hope. This house will be an ongoing labor of love that she can throw herself into because it’s something she does well and it’s something she enjoys. She has decisions to make, options to weigh, and a team of people around her every day to help her make it all happen. She says this is it – this is the last house she will have. She is home.

And that almost imperceptible difference in her? I understand it now. I remember last winter, talking to her on the phone, and she sounded so upbeat. I was discouraged with some things going on in my own life, and was just bewildered at how she could be so optimistic about life when something so tragic had happened to her. How could she go on without the love of her life? She said to me, “I think of all the people who only got to see him every once in a while, or who only knew him for a short time. I got to spend more than thirty years with him. I’m the lucky one.”

But the grief? How to grieve? “It’s there,” she said, “and I allow myself to feel it, but not for long.”

You go on.

At breakfast one morning, we talked. Though I was hesitant to ask some of the questions I asked, I had this compulsion to know. For some reason, I had to know the whole story – and not necessarily the details surrounding his death, but how Mary reacted to them. How she dealt with them. How she was able to go on.

It was emotional, our conversation, but cathartic I think for both of us. I now understood this subtle difference in my strong friend – this amazing woman raised by an equally amazing matriarch. It was wisdom, a touch of acceptance, and hope. Norma had taught her well – and Mary had listened. Life is life, and it comes with the good and the bad. That’s a given. How you choose to deal with the bad dictates how good it will be for you. And as long as you choose wisely, and have – and accept – the support around you, you can go on.

Mary's husband took this picture.
There is certainly something about Mary. She makes me laugh and she makes me think. She gives me a new perspective on things, like when I was lamenting that I didn’t have “a person” and she said, “You don’t need one; you have people.” Or when she insisted that I shouldn’t ever leave the house without lipstick because “you just never know.”

I left her as I had left Norma, feeling inspired, yet once again feeling guilty that I had gained so much on my trip and seemingly given so little. I left the house in the care of the workers – she had taken off earlier on a spontaneous trip her niece had invited her on – part of the “say yes to everything” we had discussed earlier. I left wishing I could stay, but knowing she was in good hands, if and when she needed them. I left knowing that imperceptible change in her would probably always be there, but that was OK. She’s going to be OK.

You go on, my friend. You go on*.

*"The Show Goes On", Bruce Hornsby, 1990

Friday, May 20, 2016

I Love to Watch You Run

Back in 2013, I happened upon one of those "being the best parent you can be" articles that usually makes me roll my eyes and slide one more rung down the "Parent of the Year" ladder. But this one was different. It was called, "6 Words You Should Say Today".

I only remember one sentence in that article, and it resonated with me so much because it was so true. And I've said it in one way, shape or form countless times since then.

"I love to watch you play."

Not, "Here's how to do it better." Not, "Next time be nicer to your friend." or "Run faster and you'll beat that kid next time".

"I love to watch you play."

Since my son started running track three years ago, I've rescheduled appointments, taken time off or arranged to leave work early to make it to his meets. Why? Because I love to watch him run.

He's fast, my kid. So fast that last weekend, as an 8th grader, he qualified for the IESA State Track Meet. He's won a lot of races this year and I'm pretty proud, I'm not gonna lie. But it honestly doesn't matter to me whether he wins or loses. Winning builds his confidence and losing builds his character. I just love to watch him run. After every race, that's what I tell him.

I love to watch you run.

He graduated from 8th grade yesterday. Tomorrow, he'll run the 4 x 100 at State. To celebrate both of those achievements, I had two poster-sized canvases made of two photos of him - one running and one jumping a hurdle - and enclosed the following so he will always remember:

I Love to Watch You Run
When you were little, I would say
“This kid will be a track star someday.”
I knew running was going to be your sport
As I saw you tearing around Pepperwood Court.

You really could run like no other
In fact, you almost beat your older brother.
And even then when you were so young
I just loved to watch you run.

I told you when you got to middle school
You’d join the track team – and you said "Cool."
Back then pole vaulting was your priority one
But I just wanted to watch you run.

Soon enough you figured out
That you had some skills (I had no doubt).
You ran the 100, then the 200 meter dash
And tore by everyone like a flash.

Then the hurdles caught your eye
And you decided to give those a try.
Soon you could not be outdone
So I watched you hurdle and run.

Last year you started with One Motion
And with your coaches’ help you got the notion
That running really is your thing
And you have quite a lot to bring.

Come 8th grade track season you were stoked
Your competition in hurdles you totally smoked.
Your relay team beat most everyone
Oh how I love to watch you guys run.

Now on top of being a graduate,
On Saturday you’re going to State!
You’ve worked so hard; you’ve come so far
My little boy has become a track star.

I am excited for what your future holds
And I can’t wait to watch it all unfold.
High school track will be demanding
But you’ll work hard and be outstanding!

I just want you to know on this very day
That I love you more than I can say.
I am one proud mom of all you’ve done
And win or lose, I'll always love to watch you run.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pessimism: Helping Me Look on the Bright Side Since 1966

I don’t like to say I’m a pessimist. That sounds so, I dunno, pessimistic. Now, I know for a FACT I’m not an optimist. Never have been. And even if I was an optimist, I’m sure I’d fail miserably at it. Since pessimism has such a negative connotation, I sometimes tell people instead that I’m a realist. But technically, a realist is a person who tends to view or represent things as they really are. Hmmm. Not sure how you can do that. You can view things as they really are but expect/anticipate a good/bad outcome. So I guess I’m a realist with pessimistic tendencies.

Here’s the thing, though. I know they say that optimists live longer and are happier and probably make more money and have better sex and heck, they’re most likely prettier and are naturally thin and can eat anything without gaining weight … but I digress.

Optimism is a real downer for me. Because more often than not, when I’ve gone down that Pollyanna road and thought to myself, “Don’t WORRY, Amy – this is gonna be GREAT! Just you wait and see!” it has sucked ass. The first couple of times, I’m merely disappointed. When it happens again and again, I’m devastated. More devastated than if I would have thought, “Wow, Ame, this isn’t looking good. Better batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst.” If the worst happens, I’m ready. If the opposite occurs, I’m pleasantly surprised.

See how that works?

I don’t believe pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy, at least for me. I use it more as a shield against disappointment. Because if there’s one thing that brings me more down than anything, it’s disappointment.

I had certain friends in the past with whom I’d made plans time after time. And time after time, 
they’d cancel or forget. Not just once - that’s understandable. It happened enough to make me feel like I wasn’t important to them. That I was looking forward to getting together WAY more than they were. That it was high on my list but barely on their radar. That disappointed me – a lot. I was told to “not be so sensitive” or “don’t make such a big deal out of it” to the point where I felt bad about feeling bad that they cancelled on me when I should have – and finally did – just stop making plans with them. Sensitive? Sorry not sorry. But it’s affected me to the point that now I sometimes make sure I have a backup in case best laid plans fall through. Which means that sometimes, I leave the backup hanging. Which leads me to wonder if I was someone else’s backup? That’s not a very nice circle of life, there, friends. 

Ironically, though, I’m rather optimistic when it comes to myself. Oh, not about my prowess to wow some guy on a date or to work a room at a cocktail party. Shoot, I can’t seem to do any of that. But I’m very optimistic when it comes to a challenge, like a work project or a workout goal or a task around the house. This past weekend I put together a thousand piece (OK I exaggerate) gas grill. I’ll admit, when I first looked at the directions – visual only – I was a little doubtful. But then I thought, “Sheesh, Ame. Just follow the directions. You got this.” Many curse words and four and a half hours later, I sure did. And you know what? I knew I could do it.

Now for some reason, maybe because I want my kids to be better than me, I try to get them to look on the bright side. I admit, “do as I say and not as I do” does come into play here, because they both definitely have a pessimistic side that I’m sure they get from their mother. But if nothing else, I don’t ever want them to think that THEY can’t do anything they set out to do. I don’t want to see them disappointed in someone else (though hindsight being 20/20 I understand that disappointment is part of growing up and I also need to quit saving them from it.) But I want them think positively at least when it comes to themselves because I do believe that negativity turned inward is just one of the factors that causes low self-esteem and lack of confidence. And since I have ultimate confidence in them, I hope that helps them have it in themselves. 

So I’m a pessimist when it comes to others, unless it’s my kids, who I have raised and attempted to train to believe in themselves. So maybe that’s it. Maybe I can be optimistic when it comes to things that have to do with me, myself and, but when they involve people outside of my children – elements beyond my control – then I turn to the dark side to protect myself. If I am disappointed because of something I did, I have no one to blame but me. But if I’m disappointed because of what someone ELSE did, I’m mad at myself for putting myself in the position to BE disappointed. Does that make any sense? (And of course, I can be disappointed IN my kids, but they will never, ever be A DISAPPOINTMENT to me. Whatever they do in or out of my favor, I know for a fact that they are good people.)

I soften my pessimistic tendencies by telling people that I “hope for the best but preparefor the worst”. And that’s true, in a way. I don’t HOPE for disappointment. Secretly, my sober outlook is forming a protective shield over my heart that says, “I really, really, really, really want this to work out.” That shield coats those words with “Odds are this isn’t going to happen, so be ready.” Then when it doesn’t, my heart is left intact. When it does, that protective layer melts away and my heart is happy. 

I know my method isn’t exactly the most transcendent way to live a life, but I’ve never exactly gone with the flow. Sure, no one’s ever going to describe me using words like, “chipper”, “perky”, “always up”, “sanguine” or “Pollyanna”, and that’s OK. Those people have a place in the world and if it works for them, more power to them. Pessimism keeps my fragile mentality on an even, manageable keel, and I’m happy living in my guarded, glass-half-empty world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Parents – A Word of Advice: Be Curious (Before It's Too Late)

Each year, one of the local high schools hosts a forum for parents entitled “Trends in Teen Drug and Alcohol Use: Helping our Teens Make Positive Choices”. The presentation is led by various law and drug enforcement personnel as well as a substance abuse counselor.
The first year I attended, I was pretty naïve. Not as naïve as maybe most of the other parents in the auditorium perhaps, who were thinking to themselves, “I’m just here as a precaution. Certainly not MY kid.” I, on the other hand, was more steeling myself, gathering as much information as I could in order to be prepared for what I hoped would not be as bad as the gnawing feeling in my stomach. However, I felt somewhat comforted by the fact that this high school had gone to such measures to educate parents. That must mean they are really on it, I thought.

By the time they are seniors, almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, nearly 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose.1

Two years later, I attended the forum again. As I sat and listened to the officer, the drug enforcement director and the substance abuse counselor, I felt tears coming to my eyes. Not uncommon for me back then, but frustrating nonetheless. I had so many questions. I wanted so many clarifications. And I desperately needed help. When the principal was finished talking about the measures the school takes to combat drugs among the students, I thought, “It’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough.”
It’s been two and a half years since I attended my last drug forum. Last week, I caught the tail end of it - just in time for the Q & A. I was impressed with the multitude of parent questions and their interest and desire to educate themselves. This handful of parents would be way ahead of some of the others who didn't show up because they were sure that drugs would never be a problem with their kid.

The likelihood of developing a substance use disorder is greatest for those who begin use in their early teens. For example, 15.2 percent of people who start drinking by age 14 eventually develop alcohol abuse or dependence (as compared to just 2.1 percent of those who wait until they are 21 or older),8 and 25 percent of those who begin abusing prescription drugs at age 13 or younger develop a substance use disorder at some time in their lives.9

To the parents who attended the drug forum, good for you. To those didn't attend only because they think, "Not MY child", I have this to say to you:
LISTEN UP. Your blond haired, blue-eyed captain of the football team? It can happen to him. Your vivacious, perky cheerleader? It can happen to her. Your quiet, reserved, rule-following momma’s boy? It can happen to him. Your straight-A student? It can happen to her. NO ONE is immune to this.
Some parents think, “I know where my son is and what he’s doing and where he’s going and he tells me everything.” or “I don’t really know what my son does but CERTAINLY he’s not involved in THAT stuff.” Because “that stuff” only happens to dumb, no-good, scruffy kids from the wrong side of the tracks who have bad parents. Right?
No it’s not. You know who it happens to? Smart kids, like your straight-A student. Good kids, like your momma’s boy. Athletic kids, like your football player and your cheerleader. As well as all the other kids – the loner, the nice guy, the nerd, the bullied, the unaccepted, the promiscuous, the prude, the outgoing, the shy and the just average.
See, it doesn’t matter how smart or athletic or popular your kid is. What matters is if he has the tools to say no. If he has the confidence to walk away. If he has the maturity to understand that even a one-time bad decision could lead to a very, very rough life.

The immature brain, already struggling with balancing impulse and self-control, is more likely to take drugs again without adequately considering the consequences.4

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for assessing situations, making sound decisions, and controlling our emotions and impulses; typically this circuitry is not mature until a person is in his or her mid-20s. So our teens' brains just haven't fully developed, plus everything they are doing in high school is a "first". That’s where the parents come in.

For GOD’S sake, parents, be present. If you both work, try to be home in the evenings and engage with your teen. Know who he or she is hanging out with. Best case scenario, know your teen’s friends' parents. Knowing the parents gives you another pair of eyes and ears, and that’s invaluable during the high school years.

Understand that whatever you know about your teen, there is more you DON’T know. With some, maybe that’s not such a big deal. With others, it is. So if you suspect something’s going on with your child, don’t brush it away like an isolated incident. Investigate it. Ask questions.
Know some of the signs that your teen could be in trouble. Sure, some of it may be basic, teenage angst. But some of it may not be. Here are some of the signs your teen may be using drugs and/or alcohol:
-Decline in academic performance
-Getting into trouble at school
-Personality changes
-Withdrawal and decreased interaction with good friends
-New friends and people whom the teen is unwilling to introduce to you
-Excessive sleeping
-Weight loss or decline in eating
-Money missing from your purse of wallet
-Use of incense, room deodorizer or excessive perfumes and cologne
-Excessive use of mints, mouth washes and gum
-Eye drops to reduce redness
-Missing medications (over the counter as well as prescription)
-Over the counter materials such as computer duster, nail polish or nail polish remover, white out, hairsprays or other inhalants found with their belongings
-Drug paraphernalia such as pipes, bags of seeds, rolling papers, empty bottles, baggies, etc.
-Adamant about parents staying out of his or her bedroom
-Involved in legal trouble

Drug use at an early age is an important predictor of development of a substance use disorder later. The majority of those who have a substance use disorder started using before age 18 and developed their disorder by age 20.7

Now, here’s the other side of the coin. You may be of the opinion that dabbling in drugs and/or alcohol is a teenage rite of passage – and for many it is. If you’re lucky. Maybe. And maybe you’re of the opinion that if your teen keeps his grades up, his room clean and his hair combed then you’re cool with it. That’s your prerogative. There are plenty of people in this world who recreationally use drugs and drink alcohol and swear it has absolutely no negative impact on their lives. I can’t speak for those people. All I can say is when it comes to teens, it’s a slippery slope. And it is a problem.

Tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana are the first addictive substances most people try. Data collected in 2012 found that nearly 13 percent of those with a substance use disorder began using marijuana by the time they were 14.10
And the other thing you need to keep in mind, parents, is that magical age. Once they hit 18, you lose a lot of those parental powers. If their drug and/or alcohol use has gotten out of control and they turn 18, you can’t sign them in to rehab. You can’t make them go to counseling. In fact, there’s very little you can do except maybe call the cops on them. How many parents are really going to do that?
One of my favorite pieces of advice is, ironically, from a counselor at a wilderness facility. I was about to go see my son for the first time in a very long time, and I had so, so many questions for him, but I was hesitant to even ask him anything for fear of starting one of the many fights we had before he went away. Her response to me was, “Be curious.”

I have always remembered that. I try very hard to be mindful before I “interrogate” my child to make sure I phrase my questions in a way that’s not so intrusive. It’s easier and a bit less off-putting to start a question with, “I’m curious…” than “Where were you…” or “Why did you…”
No parent can guarantee that their child will not fall victim to drug or alcohol abuse. Drug use in particular is an enormous problem in our high schools today. Drug and alcohol addiction are diseases - yes, diseases - that can happen to anyone, though some individuals are more susceptible to addictive behaviors, whether it’s drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling or shopping.

Compared with the general population, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, with the reverse also true.1

If you notice those addictive tendencies in your child, or any mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and yes, ADHD, I urge you to be extra vigilant. Intervene and reach out to the available resources to help your child with his or her illness as well as gain the necessary tools to combat the temptations if and when they come along. (Contact me if you don't know where to begin.)

In conclusion, let me say this. Yes, sometimes there is a fine line between "helicopter parenting" and allowing a child to experience his or her own consequences from poor decisions. I probably lean more toward the former than the latter, and have learned many lessons. But I'll say this as well: there are far too many parents out there today who continue to turn a blind eye toward an increasingly dangerous and deadly trend that is taking over our schools right under our noses. It's not only hurting our children, it's ruining their lives - and it's killing them.

Parents. Wake up. It can happen to your child. YOUR CHILD. Educate yourself. Talk to your teen. Be curious.


Secret life of teens: The dangerous drug parents aren't talking about with kids

DrugFacts: Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders