Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Teenager Redux.

So, as it turns out, Erica had an excellent reason for drenching herself in perfume.

She needed to hide the smell of the marijuana and cigarettes she'd been smoking at lunch. 

I wish I was kidding. My eighth grader has been leaving campus with a group of friends at lunch time (not allowed) and getting high. (SO not allowed.) 

I've known about this for a few weeks now. I dropped off Twitter and blogging and the internet in general because I was so angry and frustrated and sad. I needed to vent, but every time I tried to write it down, I just got so caught up in it that my writing became a tangled mess. I'm a little bit calmer now, so I'm gonna try to get it off my chest.

Part of why this is such a big deal is that I quit working outside of the home back in November in order to provide more safety for Erica. There was a spate of crimes against children in our area, targeting two of the local schools, one of which was Erica's. There was a man who tried to grab a girl, (that was particularly scary as she was with one friend and in sight of several others when it happened, but the man was not deterred by witnesses.) but she was able to break free and run to safety. There was a man found in a car, masturbating while watching the kids walking to school. He was less than a block from the school--he could see the front door of the building from where he was parked.  There was another case on the same street of a man trying to lure a girl to his car, and when she glanced at him, he flashed her. Again, within sight of the school, at a time of day when the area is quite busy. Then, finally, on our street, a girl was snatched and raped in the restroom of the park. A girl from my daughter's school. A 13-year-old girl, walking home from school, on our street.

Other than the masturbator, who has an alibi for the times of the other crimes, no one has been apprehended.

Since she started middle school, we've always dropped Erica off in the morning, and she walked home. As incidents stacked up, Husband and I decided we couldn't take the chance. We can get by (juuuuust) on his income and the tiny bit of freelance I get for helping out a former coworker with clerical work for his business. I started staying home so that I could pick her up in the afternoon. I'm looking for a job that will let me work just mornings and early afternoon so that I can both work and chauffeur, but no luck so far.

To sum up: The world around us suddenly seemed dangerous for our child, so we made an enormous financial sacrifice to keep her safe.

Which she repaid by leaving the school, walking down the street where a girl was almost grabbed and another was flashed, cutting through the park where a classmate was raped, and to a local shopping center, where she and her friends sought out abandoned nooks and crannies and got high.

We have no idea how often she's done this. She admitted to six or seven times over the last three months, but quite frankly, I no longer believe a single word that comes from her mouth. You know, I've never been the type of mother who got all bent out of shape when someone reported bad behavior from one of my children. I check out the situation, assess the justness of the accusation and go from there. But Erica is so smart, and has always seemed so level-headed, that if anyone, anyone in the world, had called me up and told me that they saw her smoking pot, I would have laughed. Sorry, you must be mistaken. No way would Erica do such a thing. And I would have been wrong.

That's the worst part of it to me. My own sense of judgment regarding my child, my own sense of what kind of person she is, is totally wrong. What's my problem, that I couldn't see that she is clearly not who I thought she was?

It was pure luck that she got caught. A teacher happened to look out his window and see the three girls returning to school. He called me, and when he mentioned who she was with, a bell rang in my head. I remembered talking to another parent about that girl, and the other parent saying that she wouldn't let her daughter sleep over with (let's call her) Jane, because Jane had been suspended after being caught with a joint. So, when I confronted Erica about leaving school, just on a long shot I said "So what were you doing, anyway? Getting high?" She gasped and her face turned white. "You were, weren't you?" I said, my stomach dropping. She nodded. A search of her room turned up a pipe. 

So, her smartphone was confiscated, iPod and Nintendo DS taken away, passwords on the home computer changed, so she can no longer access the internet. She had tons of skype sessions with Jane, and text messages between the two talking about whether to leave on a given day or not. We made her write down the names of every kid who skipped school and got high with her, which we are basically holding ransom, and here is where people are going to find controversy with the way I'm handling this. The school doesn't know about the drug use. So, neither do the other parents, unless they also managed to wring a confession. I was torn on this, because I felt like I should let the other moms know, but once I thought about how I would have reacted to an unknown parent calling to tell me my kid was getting high with theirs, I couldn't see it doing any good. More importantly, there is a kind of rough element at Erica's school, and I have very real concerns about her getting hurt if she's tagged as a rat. When I told Erica I wanted names, she panicked. She was terrified of being labeled a snitch. We're using that fear to our advantage. If she leaves school again, we will let the school know the whole story, and we will contact the other parents, and things will be very difficult for her. 

After a very long evening of lecturing, arguing and crying on everyone's part, Erica was sent to bed. I took her to school the next day, and spoke with the Dean of Discipline. She was given lunch detention for two weeks, meaning she had to check in with the detention monitor within five minutes of the lunch bell, and then had to sit at the detention table until lunch was over. She was warned that if she was ever late, let alone failed to show up, I had more than enough time in my day to drop by the school at lunch time and sit with her. Can you imagine anything worse for a middle-schooler? I wanted her in detention the rest of the year, but the school balked at that, which honestly annoyed me. They didn't know that three to five of the 13 year olds they're responsible for during the day have been leaving at will for god knows how long, but they're gonna get fussy about extra monitoring of one of the guilty? Fine, whatever. Now, every day at 11:55 I leave the house and drive to the school, and watch the exits. God help that kid if I see her leaving.

Paranoid? Yeah, a bit. Because the very next day after this all went down, Erica skipped a class. It was the class right after lunch, and she was angry about the lunch detention, and angry that her friends weren't being punished the same, and so she and Jane hid out in a bathroom for all of fifth period. Which I found out because if a child is absent, tardy or marked absent in one class but not another, the school calls. The only good thing about Erica's attempt to be a delinquent is that she folds immediately upon questioning.

I have no idea what to do with her. I'm so angry at the lack of judgment she's displayed, at the blatant disregard for our rules-I just don't know what to do. If the whole debacle is mentioned, Erica gets all eye-rolly and whips out what Sundry recently referred to as audible italics--"What? You guys are STILL mad about that? Jeez." (Second paragraph of a fantastic post. Go read it, I'll wait.) I'm not a corporal punishment kind of parent, but I'd be lying if I said I haven't flat out fantasized about smacking her across the face when she does that.

I know there are a bunch of you reading right now, wondering what this kid is acting out about and the answer is...nothing. She says she liked the group of girls that were doing this. Apparently they are cool. She wanted to be part of the action. 

Yes, her father and I divorced, but we managed to keep all the assholery way under radar, and to even be friendly with each other post-divorce, let alone civil. Both of us have remarried, to people who never had kids of their own and have been happy to be instant parents. She gets tons of time at both households, and lots of time with extended family. His family does all the Americana sort of things-Easter egg hunts, Memorial Day at the lake, Fourth of July barbecues, big family parties. Our household does the zoo and aquarium at least once a year (I love the zoo, and will use any excuse to go there.) We try to see one theatrical production a year, though we were foiled this year when the only show we were interested in sold out before I realized tickets were one sale. We try to do some kind of "high culture" thing every month, whether it's a fine dining restaurant or a visit to an art museum, or just picking a cool neighborhood and exploring its coffee shops and bookstores.She wants books or art supplies? We buy them. Between the two households, we've tried to give her a very well-rounded human experience, and there is more than enough love and affection to go around. I have no idea what she could possibly be rebelling against.

So here we are. I have no idea where to go from here. Once the school year ends, she's going to spend a couple of weeks with my mother, and then a big chunk of the summer at her dad's. She's going to be supervised every minute of the day for the time being, but other than that, I don't know what to do. Wish me luck.


  1. This is a very interesting situation to think about. I have one son a grade older than your daughter and one son a grade younger, so I can look at them and imagine this happening with them and how the top of my head would blow right off. I definitely wouldn't wonder what she was acting out about/against: it seems like Doing Stupid Things is enough of a justification at this age. Feeling cool. Feeling like part of a group. Feeling independent, and feeling different/separate from parents. Liking/admiring people and wanted to be more like them and do the things they do. Plus, it's probably fun to smoke pot.

    I had a very nice upbringing myself, and I nevertheless did plenty of Stupid. I don't have any idea what to do about Stupidness manifestations, either; I feel admiring of what you've done so far, and am taking notes. One of my sons participated in a different sort of Stupid last year, the kind where it's easy to project it into the future so that it would be the first sign of a Terrible Lifelong Problem---and then the school busted him, and we busted him, and so far nothing more has happened with it. ...SO FAR.

    1. You have no idea what your use of the word "admiring" means to me. I have been so worried about being a bad parent, and whether I'm handling this right...and to have someone I've read and who's parenting style/skills I've looked up to for years drop by and say nice things...wow. Thanks, Swistle.

      It does seem as though it's purely a case of wanting to fit in and take a break from her 'good kid' reputation. Part of the reason the school has taken this so lightly is that after three years at the school, the Dean didn't even know her name, because she's never been in trouble at all. So I guess it's just the typical teen rebellion stuff, it's just hard to be blase when you're imagining that this is the first step in a journey that ends with stealing family heirlooms and turning tricks to buy crack. Freakin' kids.

      Glad to hear your son is responding to discipline. Good luck!