Monday, February 18, 2008

Talisman

For K’s 40th birthday, Grandma Seattle gave him a weekend pass for two, meaning she offered to fly in for the weekend so that he and I could go away for two nights.

Two. Nights.

[Swoon.]

We chose Valentine’s Day weekend and made some fancy schmancy (non-refundable) reservations at a B & B in the mountains.

Grandma Seattle was all set to arrive last Friday afternoon.

But then The Mayor’s arm broke.

Neither K nor I felt comfortable simply walking out the door without making sure Grandma knew all the routines that had quickly developed around his arm. We didn’t even know if she could lift him in and out of bed.

Once everything was in order, we finally left town on Saturday afternoon.

Our fancy schmancy B & B turned out to be fancy only in terms of the price. It was nice enough, but our overall response was,

“Eh.”

After a totally random prime rib buffet meal at a nearby mountaintop inn without a liquor license, we headed back to the B & B where, for some inexplicable reason, I at an entire piece of German Chocolate Cake.

[Which is odd because a.) I don’t particularly like German Chocolate Cake; 2.) I haven’t eaten any cake in, like, two years; and c.) oh. my. got. THE POINTS.]

There was another couple in the B & B’s common area and the four of us began the obligatory small talk though I secretly wished myself to my room and my bed.

“Do you have kids?” I asked the woman politely.

“Yes,” she said. “I have two – a nineteen year old girl and a thirteen year old boy.”

“So,” I came back in fun, “how were those teen-aged girl years?”

“Actually,” she said. “They were pretty horrible.”

I started to laugh, but stopped because she kept talking.

She really meant it.

“My daughter found herself going down a bad path and, ultimately, we had to send her away to a therapeutic school.”

“I’m sorry," I said, "I’ve never heard that phrase before. What does it mean?”

“Most kids that are sent to therapeutic schools have to be escorted out of their family home and taken away. The kids start by spending time on an intensive wilderness program where everything is stripped away and eventually they start school and participate in rigorous individual and group therapy. My daughter was there for the better part of two years. These days she says it saved her life, literally. While she was away several of her friends died of heroin overdoses.”

K and I listened as though she and her husband were shamen from the future imparting specific parenting wisdom in case we ever needed it.

“If your daughter were here right now,” I said, “what would she say, looking back, caused her to go astray?”

“That’s a good question,” the woman said. “I’m not sure I know the answer... maybe my divorce from her father. She was twelve and unhappy in her school, unhappier than we even knew. We transferred her to a public school and she was eventually expelled.”


She and her husband, the girl's step-father, talked for a long time about how much work they had to do with their daughter and how much it cost them – both literally and figuratively.

“Once she left we found out about horrible things that had been going on. Besides the drugs there were men – grown men – old men – from the internet – that were traveling to our town to be with her. She was just fourteen.”

The woman became a little tentative. Perhaps she wondered if K and I would blame her. Maybe she wondered where we fell on the nurture vs. nature spectrum.

“I am not the kind of person who blames the parents,” I said. “Still, I imagine that as a mother you probably can’t help feeling guilty or having regrets. If you could go back in time and do anything differently, what would you change?”

She thought for a while.

“First, I would insist that she hand over her cell phone at bedtime. Teenagers don’t need cell phones in their bedrooms at night. That is how all the internet activity got organized.”

She paused.

“Secondly, I would take back all of my reactions to her intense emotional outbursts. Her tantrums would fuel my own rage and she gained power over me that way. In retrospect, I should have remained calm and let her know that it was okay to have intense feelings, but that her behavior wasn’t going to change the rules or my behavior. I shouldn’t have allowed her to wield so much power over me.”

She sighed.

“It’s more easily said than done though. They have such a way of pushing your buttons.”

Today her daughter is a successful freshman at a highly reputable college. The girl's main frustration is the college party scene. Her roommate, despite having a boyfriend, gets incredibly drunk most nights, has sex with many different men and doesn’t remember anything about it in the morning. It disturbs this woman’s daughter to be near that kind of behavior after having fought as hard as she did to escape it.

“It was the hardest work I’ve ever done,” the woman said, “but now I am close to my daughter in a way that I didn’t know was possible between mothers and daughters. She and I are real friends.”

The four of us sat by the fire in the B & B's common room and talked a while longer.

Finally K and I stumbled soberly to our room wearing this story around our necks like a talisman.

75 comments:

Aimee Greeblemonkey said...

Wow, amazing. And good things to remember as they get older.

And am I first???

Aimee Greeblemonkey said...

I'm never first!

Jen M. said...

Hell, YOU'RE wearing it as a talisman? I read this and just sat here for a while. Holy shit. Sorry for the swear word - but come ON.

What a story. Just - wow.

I'm tired today - four day weekend with the kids - and now I am going to rally and take the older ones swimming. I'm lucky to have what I have - you just never know. It could happen to anyone.

Amy@UWM said...

To quote you, Oh. my. got. What a story! What a little therapy session you had there with her. How scared am I for having two daughters?

Busy Mom said...

I have been whopped upside the head with the cell phone at night part.

Much food for thought.

Jennifer said...

She must have felt safe with you to share something so personal.

That said - holy crap! Stories like that make me think my husband and I are completely unprepared to be parents.

jen said...

talisman, hairshirt, voodoo.

all of it.

jakelliesmom said...

Wow. Just wow.

I'm not likely to forget those words.

Wow.

Amazing, too, that she has seen the light at the end of the tunnel. I wish her girl every bit of strength to keep getting through it.

Wow.

Moobs said...

I'm sure the hardest part was letting her girl get escorted away even if i was right.

I hope you had some bloom left on the night away.

Beck said...

Yeouch.
I have a cousin who went bad REALLY early - sleeping with 45 year old guys at 12, doing Coke at 13 - and she seemed to on the path to being utterly lost. To her credit, she found some character when she was a 16 year old mother and is no longer living like that. My husband and I have FREQUENTLY talked about what went so wrong in her upbringing - lax supervision, poor choices in childcare - but it's still SO scary.

zuska said...

I have two girls, and my oldest is on the cusp - a preteen. At 11, there is some strife. I really don't plan on her having to be escorted from the home, but even in these early stages of hormone-driven arguments and rejection of her momma (oh, the pain), this woman's advice seems really sound. The emotional disentanglement would likely help all parents of teens. I already struggle with putting my own feelings aside - my feelings of wanting MORE of my 11 year old, as she is wanting LESS of me. It has to be healthier for the kids (boys and girls alike, I presume) for their parents to help with the goal (growing up) rather than fighting against it.

But still. Ouch.

JaniceNW said...

As the parent of boys aged 17 and 19, I can say her advice was right on! I think I was a very good mother. They do get to a point(13 or so) where they make decisions regardless of what their parents would think. No magic way to raise children. My distress, guilt, anger and self castigation when my oldest quit high school his senior year was terrible. It took me over 9 months to stop taking the blame.

QT said...

Dude - I'm never having kids.

jeanie said...

Wow - makes you want to just hold them so tight when they are little and let you, hey.

So - mobile phones - good tip to learn.

flutter said...

that woman is amazing.

Edge said...

I have a friend I used to work with whose daughter went down that path. They sent her to a school kind of like that. She did well, came back and fell off the wagon and almost drug her mother into that lifestyle. She left when she turned 18. The don't know where she went or what she's doing. I watched her tear her family up. It was hard not to be angry with her myself. Today teenager's are dramatic, but over the smallest things. "I don't get to go to driver's ed until the summer! I'll die or kill myself." I can't help but think that media lets them slip further from reality along with technology.

~Jef

Sister Honey Bunch said...

It really says a lot that she opened up to you. I love when that happens.

Really good lessons though. Parenting is one scary gig.

Omaha Mama said...

Isn't it amazing how close you can get with other people when you're "trapped" in an okay B&B together? I'm sure they appreciated a chance to say all of those things out loud. I'm sure you and K were grateful to hear them. What a night. If not a wee bit away from the romance that you were perhaps looking for?

psychicgeek.com said...

What a gift they gave you both. Your questions were amazing. What are you, a reporter?

Tracey said...

I believe people come into our lives for a reason. And maybe this reason is for you to share the story with us as a reminder...

CamiKaos said...

amazing knowledge that I pray I will never need first hand.

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

Holy crap. You go away for some R&R and maybe a little nooky and you get a life lesson in raising girls.

I think you guys were really lucky to stumble upon those people.

Deb said...

Okay... making a note... no cell phones at night. OMG -- that was SCARY to read. But eye-opening and heartwarming at the same time.

Maddy said...

We are on a fast track to 'teendom.' The hormones are raging and the emotions are high.

We have just spent an evening recalling our personal experiences of rage whilst we were teenagers ourselves where irrationality and immaturity are in overdrive.

I think perhaps it helps to whisk yourself back to the those years to see if we can remember what it was like as it can help when we're trying to calm things down now that we are parents.
Best wishes

jennifer h said...

Okay, so I'm gonna need a chaperone for my daughter at all times. Check. And no cell phones at night. Double check.

And Valium for myself. Check.

Wow, what a story.

I hope you were able to enjoy the weekend?

Girl con Queso said...

Wow. How sobering. And really, what an incredible gift that story was to give...her to you and you to us. Thanks for sharing it.

Loralee Choate said...

Everything about teenagehood freaks me out.

I get petrified remembering the stuff I did and I was a good, tame kid!

GAH!

Jan said...

That is an amazing story. That young woman is one of the lucky ones that had parents that did the hard thing. It's really hard to institutionalize your child. They didn't think she was a throw-a-way. Hooray for them.

liv said...

oh, the scaritude! yes, it is hard not to react badly. i admit that.

thanks for this, i think!

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Wow. Makes a broken arm seem like child's play.

A neighbor always says, "Little kids, little problems. . .big kids, big problems". And, he should know---these kids who I have always thought the world of have had SO many problems in their teen years. It is truly frightening and the reason my children will be raised in seclusion. (j/k, sort of)

Sherra said...

WOW! Did you get this buddha mom's email or phone? I could use more of her sage wisdom. I have four kids and three of them are teenagers right now. What a rare moment that a mom of teens told the truth and you were there to listen without judgment. I also give her kudos for really giving you some great advice & double kudos to you for sharing it with everyone.

It's hard stuff to even think about when you are in a different season of parenting. While I remember how physically exhausted I was with 3 toddlers--the mental fatigue of trying to stay one step ahead of teenagers is an indescribable exhaustion. I really believe we all owe at least this much to each other--telling the truth about motherhood and the real life stuff.

Sorry to be so wordy but your post really touched me. And she is so right about the cell phone!

Little Monkies said...

You burned off every single category knitting your eyebrows together in concentration listening to that story. Seriously. Thank you for sharing that.

Redneck Mommy said...

Wow.

As my daughter approaches her teen age years, I will hang on to this story like my lifeline.

Alpha DogMa said...

What the fuck is up with B&Bs? Because every time I hear a friend (real & bloggy) talk about B&B getaways - it is a let down! Either you overdose on twee or it is just 'eh.' Expensive 'eh' at that.

But that story: yowser. I give the mother credit for being so forthright. I roll my eyes when I hear a story about a child going astray and someone says, "from the outside they looked like the perfect family." If we -- as a society -- weren't so over the top carrying about image we'd have fewer problems with substance.

Am I doing okay? said...

Wow! And all I have on my radar is the beef recall - which they probably served at our elementary school. Thanks for sharing this informative post, too bad it had to happen on K's big bday. Happy Birthday K!

Anonymous said...

As we speak my beautiful, former straight A student, 21 year old daughter sits in jail for the first time. For drugs. I have never even touched a cigarette. We wouldnt bail her out. Her court date is tomorrow.

It is hard not to blame yourself but I have realized that most of this is her choice.

But to add to the wise advice of the mother (and the advice not to get drawn into the screaming power struggles is the best. I got sucked in so often . . and then gave in just as often):

Don't give them anything easily. Dont give them too much. Make them work for it. We are middle class but my daughter received too much too easily, too fast.

Dont bail them out of every tough situation. That was my biggest sin.

She is terrified. And the 4 phone calls she made to us begging us to bail her out were the hardest I have ever had to endure.

And it will be hard to give her the final rules tomorrow and hope and pray that THIS will turn her around and finally get help.

Please pray for us.

Anonymous said...

This is not typically a conversation I participate in, but reading this I truly thought for a moment or two that you had met my own mother. This woman and her daughter went through something very much like what I went through with my mom, and for those of you out there freaking out I just want to say that there isn't always an obvious reason young girls get into trouble. I was unhappy at home but not because of any particular reason. I fought with my parents constantly, but they were loving and we have a very stable home. A lot of folks will call it "depression" or whatever the hell. I call it being a teenager. Some of us just don't feel connected and we don't deal with it well.

One thing I would say is to remember to stay positive. I went away to boarding school when I was 14 because I refused to go to my public school and as I started getting into trouble it seemed that no matter how well I maintained my grades and how much my teachers and dorm parents loved me nothing I did was right. It's hard to be supportive of a child who seems full of hate and belligerence especially when you are making as much of a sacrifice as my parents did sending me to the school I wanted. But if my parents had realized sooner or I had told them sooner how much I needed their support I wouldn't have done many of the things I did. When I didn't find support from home I found it in older, anonymous men. Men I met on the internet who soon became not so anonymous. Looking back my actions were desperate and pathetic, and it took many years of therapy for me to be able to accept that.

Now that I've completely hijacked your post (I'm so sorry!) what I'm really trying to say is that my mother is now my best friend in the entire world. I can't even express the depth of the bond I feel with her and how grateful I am to her for fighting to save me. It was hard. We both said absolutely terrible things to each other and put each other in wretched situations, but I promise you with all my heart that it is worth it. If my mother and I had to go through what we did in order to have the relationship we have now I don't think either of us would think twice about going through it again.

Love your children and know that every struggle is an opportunity to learn along side them.

Robin Marie

Lawyer Mama said...

Well, that's not a story you'll easily forget. How wonderful that those parents could open up and share their experiences and their advice.

Anonymous said...

Just came across this blog... while I sympathize immensely with both the teenager and her parents, I was caught up sharp by the therapeutic school and its wilderness program where everything was "stripped away."

I just finished an internship at Amnesty International, and I wanted to bring to everyone's awareness the number of teen boot camps and "therapeutic schools" which promise a quick fix to your troubled teenager, and which use brutal methods, sometimes violating basic human rights.

Many of these programs are cultish; they promise to break down the teenager's psyche and replace it with their own message. Many of these programs instill obedience and compliance--hardly traits useful for a teenager who should be growing into a responsible adult.

You can find more info here: http://www.nospank.net/boot.htm

I don't mean to imply in any way that the teenage girl in question experienced anything like this, but I also want to put out that there is no easy solution, and that these programs do not offer one.

Stimey said...

Glurgh. I think I'm going to make my kids stay under age 8.

a. beaverhausen said...

Cautionary tales come in a variety of surprising forms.

painted maypole said...

wow. not quite the night you had planned, but a lesson worth hearing.

JCK said...

So much for a relaxing getaway. Are you sure this wasn't one of those "intense therapy weekend workshops?" Yikes!

Laura said...

WOW...I guess perhaps, you were there to help her...be a therapy session. We all hope our kids "turn out" ok...struggles like this are hard to understand. WOW....what a story.

thanks for sharing.

carrie said...

First of all, I amazed that you dined on prime rib WITHOUT wine. Oh, the travesty.

Second, maybe that's why my mom and I are so close now . . . all those awful teenage years. Definitely some wisdom to chew on for a while, especially since we have daughters to think about.

Also - glad you got away for a few nights! Thank goodness for awesome mothers (Grandmas)!

ewe are here said...

Wow. What a lesson...

And after thinking about it, I think I would add that no unsupervised internet use, especially at night, to the no cell phone at night rule.

BOSSY said...

Good advice, but YIKES. You & K need a do-over.

~JJ! said...

Talk about a teachable moment!

Unfortunately, I've seen that crap happen up close with a friends daughter...It turned out well, but the precess was unbearable.

Shannon said...

Wow. That was sobering.

From now on, I will NOT give in to any of my kids tantrums and will stick to my discipline guns no matter how loud they scream and stomp.

Pay phones still exist, right? I'll make my kids use those like I used to.

And based on how I was in college, I hope my own kids are more sensible and not so crazy.

Sober Briquette said...

Amazing story. Thanks for sharing.

I can't imagine asking a stranger those kinds of questions. I never get past the weather.

Woman Undone said...

OMFG.....what a story......

Patience said...

I can totally relate to this mother

furiousBall said...

yikes, fun.

AnotherMomCreation said...

Wow.

That is a very moving story.

Thanks for sharing.

Sorry if it ruined your Valentine's Romance.

Angela said...

That is so wonderful that the woman was so candid and provided such wonderful insight, you asked great questions and you were obviously so positive she felt she wasn't being judged. I will definitely keep her words in my mind, she gave great advice. Thank you so much for sharing.

Kimmylyn said...

This post was simply mind numbing as well as many of the comments. Parenting is hard, is there ever a cookie cutter answer?

LaskiGal said...

Might not have been the fabulous night you dreamed of, but what a great experience . . . so much we have to learn from others. I seriously hold all this type of advice (no matter how indirect or unintentional it is) in a special place--because I know that I may need it one day. Cell phones, how I react to their behaviors--this is the type of real world parenting knowledge we all need!

And thanks to Anonymous for sharing . . . more knowledge.

How awesome that she opened up to you . . . you must have made her feel comfortable sharing her life--a rare trait.

Grim Reality Girl said...

Wow, wow, wow. Thank you so very much for posting this!!!!

My two kids are turning 11 and 12 and think I'm evil for my cell phone veto (not to mention my internet limits). Your post could not have come at a better time for me.

I needed the advice on controlling MY reactions to hormonal outbursts and rages. This is hard, and we have only just begun! If I'm tired I'm more likely to react.... Good reminder for me not to! THANK YOU!!

BTW -- I agree that you have the questioning skills of a reporter. That means you are a good listener... yay for you!

Natalie said...

WOW, that was some incredibly powerful advice.

-The Shiny Happy Mama- said...

Jeezy creezy!

That's one hell of a story. I'll never forget it. I was a rebellious teen and my mom didn't know how to handle me. I hope to do better with my own children. Keeping this story in mind will be helpful...fortuitous, even.

Also, it must have been a bit of a fun-sponge. I agree - you and K need a do over!

Annie said...

yeah - and here we are thinking the toddler stage is hard!

Sounds like you were 'meant' to meet this lady, I'm glad she shared her story with you, and thank you for sharing it for us.

Forewarned is forearmed, let's hope.

Janet said...

It's funny how parenting really young kids sometimes feels so unrelentingly exhausting that you wish they would just grow up, already. Then they do get older and introduce you to a whole new reality that makes you sometimes wish them back to preschoolers.

Or at least, that's what I do.

Nancy said...

I've left comments on blogs with small kids reminding them the thing they are making a BIG deal out of is nothing compared to what lies ahead.

BIG deals should be saved for the real things that matter. Otherwise, you are just the parent that makes a big deal out of everything.

This post, this story IS a big deal and a big helping of eye opener.

I find parents that go through these types of things are willing to share to anyone who will listen in hopes of saving one child, one family, from the heart ache they went through.

Thank you Jess, for passing it forward.

CroutonBoy said...

zoinks...that's heavy. A powerful and tragic story (with, albeit, a somewhat happy ending). It definitely gives perspective to one's life, and that cell-phone tip is definitely being stored away for future reference.

That being said, I'll bet you wish you'd gotten that story on a different weekend...

Geologychick said...

WOW... OMG! Thanks for sharing... hope you had a nice mini-vacation.

Don Mills Diva said...

Terrifying isn't it? Just terrifying to think how important it is that we do a good job at this parenting gig...

Lotta said...

Those meetings are never accidental. What a wonderful mom. What fantastic advice!

deb said...

They slip off the rails so easily. My son ended up in prison for selling drugs. It wasn't one thing but one thing after another. He's good now and we're rebuilding our relationship.

Kids are hard work but I'm not sorry I had them. They're the best thing that happened to me.

Heather said...

Wow, amazing story and great conversation. I thought my 19 y.o. stepson gave us a run for our money but now the thought that I'll have two teenage girls at the same time frightens me deeply.

Dana J. Tuszke said...

Wow. It's amazing that some parents are able to share their experiences, their hard dose of reality. I think it's a good lesson. I'm writing it in my mental notebook.

Magpie said...

Wow. That's a stunning post. And fodder for the future, with my little girl.

Emily said...

Oh crap!

Alpha Dogma sent me over here from a post over at my place about my 11 year old daughter.

AAAAHHHH!

We took her cell phone away...for the forseeable future...it's been dismantled...in pieces.

Sobering.

Mommahbear. said...

I'm so glad you posted this.

Takjam Nereksuf said...

I dont understand how the college drinking can upset anyone. All our universities have Friday bars here in Denmark and they are an inportant tool to prevent campus shooting, because they prevent kids to be isolated and angry at the world.

The students don't get really drunk because alcohol are legal once they turn 16 and most parents see to that their kids start to drink once they are confirmed (age 14).

So they are well-prepared to face possible dangers in college and later in the workspace because it is a parent task to introduce alcohol to kids here.

Linda Hanson said...

It is a terrible gamble to make as a parent. A lot of the teenagers die in such wilderness programs.

It is hard to say if wilderness programs have any answers at all.