It’s tough being a pre-teen and teenager today. I don’t care if you live in NYC or Small Town USA. It’s tough. Just watching the evening news about kids, as young as ten, getting high on air-conditioning unit fluid, breaks my heart, and I’m also glad that my kids are not part of it, nor do they want to be associated with that kind of “high.” A few days ago, I heard that parents should start talking about Say-NO-to-Drugs as early as kindergarten. Really? Kindergarten? It had never ever crossed my mind to speak to my kids about drugs at that age, and even though I have never had that conversation with them, my kids are drunk-free and drug-free, today as teenagers, who have spent five prime-years in “The Big City.” My friends in the Midwest, who have very young children, have asked for the recipe I had concocted to discuss a drug-free life with my city-like teens. Honestly, I don’t have one. But I did have another conversation with them about school, which I believe, today has kept them CLEAN, so to speak.
When my kids started kindergarten, in Ohio, I had told them, “School is now your job. Just like I go to work every day and bring home the bacon, you will go to work and bring home the grades. Your teachers and the principal are your boss. They will be reviewing your work—your performance every quarter, just like my boss reviews my performance. You will not have chores, and I’ll give you five personal days—to take off from school each year, as long as you bring home the grades and your quarterly reviews are good.” They agreed, and then five years later, having my first parent-teacher conference in the NYC area, my son’s teacher commented, “I’ve never had such a respectful and interesting kid in my class. It’s almost like he’s coming to the office every day and loves his job.” I just
smiled, tearing-up a bit with pride. And every parent-teacher conference over the next five years, for both of my kids, has been very much the same. As far as those five personal days, for which they could take off, they’ve rarely cashed-in on them (I think because they really do love their job–school). I have received some negative comments, particularly from my mother, because my kids don’t wash the dishes and so on, but that wasn’t part of our deal—and I’ve stuck to it.
A few years ago, when my daughter was in junior-high, battling all of the insecurities that all twelve-year-old girls experience—bodily changes, hormones, peer pressure, some social-bullying, feeling misunderstood—by friends,teachers (and me), I had noticed that, even though she was still on the honor roll, her enthusiasm for school had started to fade. Her job was no longer fun. So one morning, when she was getting ready for school, I informed her, “You’re not going to school today. You’re taking a personal day. We’re going on a trip. Bring your camera.” She responded, “What? What about Sam? We’re just going to leave him home alone?” “Your brother is going to school and we’re not going to Paris, Grace. We’ll be back home by five.”
So we ferried across the Hudson River, to New York City, hopped on the NY Waterway bus to Grand Central Station, where we purchased tickets for the Poughkeepsie train-stop. On the Metro-North train, my daughter asked, “Where are we going?” “You need some therapy, so we’re touring Vassar College at noon.” “Mom, seriously? I’m twelve. I don’t want to waste a personal day on this. This is stupid and I don’t need therapy. You’re no therapist, either!” Yeap, some serious twelve-year-old ATTITUDE. It wasn’t pleasant, I’ll say that…
But once on campus, I started to see that old “spark” in her eyes, which made me smile—not saying a word, while she flashed photos of Gothic-styled architecture and unusual trees. Since we had some time to kill before the tour, we went to the college’s bookshop. There I bought her a Vassar sweatshirt, and a book or two. Then we headed to the food-court area, found a table and waited. I read, while she was obviously eaves-dropping on the conversations of those college-aged students who were sitting all around us. I’d glanced over at her from time to time, noticing that her bitterness and ATTITUDE was slowly vanishing. She idolized those older kids, talking about professors, term-papers and the like. She caught me looking at her: “Mom, what are you smiling about?!” I lied, “Oh, I just read something nice in my book…” “You’re so cheesy,” she had responded.
I sure am!
Half way through our group tour, complied of parents with much older kids, Grace looked at me and said, “I’m going here, Mom, and I don’t care if it’s hard to get accepted here. I’m going to do whatever I need to do. I feel like this college was meant for me. I belong here.”
On the train back home, as Grace put on her Vassar sweatshirt, I said to her, “Grace, I need you to remember how you felt today—how being at Vassar made you feel. So when you feel like you don’t belong and other kids are bullying you or whatever, you need to think about today–and your future, possibly at Vassar College.” “I know, Mom.”
Now my daughter is fifteen-years-old. Her old classmates, who she once went to junior high with and for whom she wanted to be like and accepted by when she was twelve, are now experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Some of them she’s friends with today, and according to my daughter, they call her “naïve” and “too innocent,” and even though she’d never tell me, I know this has brought a new kind of loneliness to her teenaged-days. She’s been out-casted because she doesn’t want to party. I asked her the other day, how she felt about it all, and she said, “You know, Mom, I don’t really care about fitting-in anymore because I know who I am and what I want. I’m going to Vassar and that’s what I’m focusing on.” That’s right, Grace, That’s Right.
I will say that I received a few nasty looks and comments, for bringing a twelve-year-old to tour Vassar back then. I’m sure they—the other parents, thought I was some pushy, stage-like mom, who thought her daughter was “supreme.” And I understand that. But that experience wasn’t about what other people thought was right or acceptable; it was what I knew my daughter needed: Therapy and it worked, on so many levels.
So School has been my recipe for keeping my teens free from a drug-enhanced life, so far…and it started from day one: Kindergarten.