Around the time my kids became teenagers, I was told I should be prepared for them to start experimenting with alcohol and drugs and sex. I was told that the best way to prevent them from becoming pregnant, drunk, junkies was to have an open and honest dialogue with them about booze and herpes and crack. All the experts agreed, I was told, that if we had those conversations with our children, they would remain safe and make “smart choices.”
“What if they ask us if we’ve ever smoked pot?” a friend wanted to know.
The experts said we should be honest and I would take their advice. Feeling slightly superior and just a tad bit self-righteous, I would tell them that I had never smoked pot and neither should they.
“What if they ask their father? Is he going to be honest?”
Of course. But he’s never smoked either.
When I was in high school, only “stoners” and “potheads” smoked. They were kids who listened to the Grateful Dead and came to class barefoot. I was not one of those kids. I listened to Diana Ross and believed that parasites would crawl up through the soles of my feet if I went anywhere without my shoes on.
Faced with the prospect of my children smoking, I became slightly unhinged. I was convinced that if they took even one puff, they would become full-blown junkies. They would drop out of school. They would end up living on the street in a drug-induced haze. They would go to jail. One puff. That’s all it would take. And then, they would slide directly down the slippery slope to drug addict hell. “No,” I would tell them. “I never smoked. And you shouldn’t either. You should not take even one puff. You do that and the next day, you will be shooting heroin straight into your veins. If you want to be a dope fiend, go right ahead. Puff away, but don’t come crying to me when your entire life is ruined.” I doesn’t get much more open and honest than that.
When word got around that some of my son’s classmates were getting high, my slightly superior, self-righteous self had nothing to worry about. My son is an A student, three season varsity athlete, grade representative to the student government, and head of the Model UN club. He is polite and friendly and social. Kids who smoke are sullen and withdrawn and distracted and failing out of school. They don’t wear shoes.
I had nothing to worry about until the day I found a vape pen in his room. ‘Where did you get this?” I asked. His source, he revealed, was a sweet, nerdy boy we have known since kindergarten, who lives near a shop that doesn’t ask for ID. It was a far cry from the pusher that I imagined, furtively exchanging a stash for cash in the shadowy hallway of a drug den.
Not sure how to respond, I did what every neurotic Upper West Side parent does when faced with a child-rearing crisis. I called a therapist. “Even if he’s smoking every weekend, I wouldn’t worry,” she told me. I hung up feeling like I had entered the twilight zone.
I called my sister, who launched into a long story about her recent experience with edibles. I was beginning to think that maybe I was stoned and not really processing what was happening around me. Could I have inhaled second hand smoke? Did someone drop THC oil in my coffee? Is that even a thing? Can you drink the oil?
My husband came home from work. He has spent the better part of the day calling drug treatment programs. They all laughed at me, he said.
I was getting mildly hysterical. “Did you explain the situation?” I asked, “Did you tell them that our child is going to be sleeping in the gutter with a needle in his arm if we don’t stop him?’ Did you tell them that our son was going to be president of the United States, but now his life is ruined because he INHALED?”
“Of course I did,” he said. “They told me that I needed to relax.”
“Relax? How are we supposed to relax?” I wanted to know.
“I know this might seem sort of crazy,” my husband said, “but what did you do with the pen?”
I hadn’t known what to do with it. I assumed there were rules about how to dispose of those things, but I didn’t know what they were. I was pretty sure that if I put it in the incinerator, I would blow up our whole building, and if I put it in the trash, I would get arrested. So, I put it in my sock drawer.
When I told my husband, he looked at me, smiled, kicked off his shoes and headed for the sock drawer.
Betsy Kramer lives in New York City with her husband and two teenage children. When she isn’t doing laundry, she works as an attorney, representing children in foster care. She is the author of Mazel Tov: The Comic Adventures of One Woman’s Quest to Maintain Her Sanity and Perspective While Planning Her Children’s B’Nai Mitzvah. That book is trapped in her computer, waiting to be rescued by a publisher.