Last night I went to a substance abuse and alcohol awareness meeting sponsored by the PTA at the boys' high school. It was an eye opening meeting in more ways than just pushing the issue of substance and alcohol abuse to the forefront. The meeting was part lecture, and part wake up call fueled by an emotional stories of teenagers who made some stupid, stupid mistakes.
Until last night, I was a naive parent. I admit it. Like I said yesterday, I didn't smoke, drink or run around with the wrong crowd when I was in high school. I needed this meeting, not because I think Zach is going to go off and run amok but because I need to pull my head out of the sand and realize drug and alcohol abuse is out there smacking our kids in the faces. Zach is my oldest. Zach is the one who will lead his brother and sister through the teenage years. What Zach does in these next vital years will determine his future as well as his siblings' futures. He has already had a brush with peer pressure and drinking. He and his friend were offered an alcoholic drink at a girl's house when they were in 7th grade. Her parents were out and she invited a couple of kids over, Zach being one of them, and she offered them a drink. I am proud to say that Zach and his friend both looked at their watches and said "It's time for us to go home," and they left. I naivley hoped this was an isolated incident but the stories from last night made me wake up and see drugs and alcohol are in high school communities all across our nation. Will Zach always be able to walk away from the temptation? I doubt it but admitting my kids might not go through high school like I did is the best way I know to become less naive.
The stories told by the two young adults were enough to make any parent want to bury their heads in the sand but the importance of standing up and being the parent was hit home time and time again last night. The first speaker told the story of her best friend who lost his life over this past Valentine's day weekend. He drank four Four Lokos (the caffeinated, alcohol drink which has been pulled off of the market), went to bed and never woke up. His parents, family and friends are dealing with the grief of losing a son, brother and friend because he made a huge mistake. The other story was told by a young woman who is a recovering addict. She is 21 years old and has been sober for over two years. Yes, she has been a recovering addict since before she could legally drink. She is a graduate of the school where Zach goes and her story is heartbreaking for any parent to hear. She started high school with dreams of going to an Ivy League school. In the end she barely graduated and was rejected from VCU here in Richmond. She started off smoking pot and went down the slippery slope from there. She skipped school. She drank. She got arrested for things related to drugs and alcohol. She lied, she cheated and she stole all to get high. Her drug of choice was alcohol, she said. It was a wake up call to me, making realize I need to pull my head out of the sand and see how easy it is to slide down that slippery slope. Maybe, just maybe by having my head out of the sand I can be at the top of that slippery slope and stop my kids before they start sliding.
I do feel pretty good in my relationship with my kids when it comes to talking to them about drugs, alcohol and (egads) sex. I can talk to them and they will talk to me. Zach and I had a great conversation on the way home form the meeting. I asked him what he thought of the stories. He said he thought the recovering addict was a "freak." When I asked him why, he said getting arrested once should be traumatic enough to scare the pants off of anyone. She was arrested six times. To him, once would have been more than enough. He said he thinks his dad would tear him limb from limb if he ever were arrested ~ he is probably right. We talked about making sure to keep his goals front and center. He knows what he wants to do and where he wants to go. We will be here to help him keep those goals right in front of him. He's a level headed kid but I know he will screw up sometimes that is why it was important for me to show him through my actions I am not afraid to be the parent; I am not afraid to discuss scary issues with all of them and I am here for them, always.
I know there are scary times ahead but with a little knowledge, a lot of conversation and tons of boundaries it might be just a little less scary. I went to the meeting with Zach's friends' parents and they showed me I am not alone, parenting in the teenage years. Zach has a great group of friends and knowing the parents makes the thought of parenting through these years (and all of the issues that come with these years) a little bit easier. I am thankful to know there are parents out there who are just as committed to keeping their heads out of the sand and keeping their kids on the right path. We will parent together through these scary times for the love of our children...