Thursday, September 4, 2008

What a Week

by Jenny Gardiner

Sometimes as a parent of teens you have to just thrust the white flag of surrender as high up as you can get it, and give in to everything. And other times you just have to let the steamroller crush you, crush your willpower, crush your stamina, sometimes even crush your hope (but just don't let it stay crushed).

That was the kind of week we had in my town. Last week we'd been dealing with our youngest struggling with a tough transition to a new school. Nothing was clicking and we watched a happy, cheerful, very agreeable kid become sullen and obstinate in the blink of an eye. Which was frustrating, because you hear stories of kids who reach these crossroads moments in their lives, when something changes and it's something that person simply does not cope well with. And they change, often for the worse.

Over the weekend I think a full moon settled over this part of Virginia. Labor Day weekend, kids intent on a last hurrah before school started (except that for most kids here, school had already begun). A big college football game supercharged the atmosphere that day to begin with, and those teen revelers had to keep the momentum going at game's end.

For the younger teens? A night of egging houses, knocking down mailboxes, and just general mayhem that causes homeowners hassles and a bit of agita.

For the older teens? Milling about near the pool, kids hooking up in all sorts of places (rumors of a naked girl near the pool and another naked one in flagrante delicto in the pool (with, if rumor stands, a host of onlookers).

(In case you were wondering, it wasn't a kitty and a puppy in the pool...)

Did I mention that some of the teens broke into the pool--broke the fence down, broke into the pool house, stole all the beer and candy and snack food, partied all night poolside, trashed the place, and then denied it?

Now, we live in a small town. Everybody knows everybody. And I feel extremely fortunate that our oldest child is not even in town, and our other two were home with us that night, so we didn't have to worry whether our kids were either involved or on the periphery of the events that unfolded. But we know plenty of kids whose names have been bandied about as participants or at least onlookers. And a few parents who are mortified and mad as hell at their teens' abysmal judgment.

Monday at the pool saw a revolving door of cops questioning kids. A lot of sober-faced kids coming to reckoning with their idiotic wilding behavior. And no doubt a lot of regrets. Of course for a few of these kids, regrets won't count. Rather they'll face breaking and entering, vandalism and theft charges. They'll lose their spots on their sports teams and positions of leadership at their schools. And deservedly so, though guess what? This will only provide them with far more idle time in which to wreak havoc upon things.

Of course the pool on Monday was chock full of folks with immense outrage, and rightly so. And plenty of finger-pointing to go around. there were a couple of girls with dreadfully tarnished reputations (one of whom apparently was not naked as reported, but had been at the wrong place at the wrong time making out with the wrong guy and got pulled into the whole story because of her proximity to it. The other girl? I hear she's denied it, though apparently it was caught on security cameras. Maybe she can see herself on YouTube...

We took away plenty of lessons to harp on with our kids: guilt by association can be just as damaging as guilt itself. Just because you say you didn't commit the act doesn't mean people are going to believe that, and when rumors take on a life of their own, it's hard to dissipate them. A lesson you can repeat ad nauseum, but until they witness it in action, is meaningless. So perhaps those of us who were merely sideline witnesses owe a debt of thanks to the boneheads who committed the offenses.

And then it all got put into perspective Tuesday morning with a phone call my daughter received first thing. Some girl at her high school killed herself over the weekend. Reports are the usual teen angst was to blame: she'd broken up with her boyfriend, had a fight with her parents. And the rest, sadly, is irrevocable history.

And this morning, an obituary for a baby born several months ago to a teenaged girl whose brother played on a soccer team with our son. He apparently died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Such hard and cruel life lessons for someone who is still a child.

Those teen years are tough. Tough on everyone. Tough on the teens, tough on the witnesses, even, and sometimes tougher still on the parents. No one comes out of the teen years unscathed. But it does make one so grateful for small mercies, so thankful when things go right. Because sometimes it can go so horribly wrong.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Ohm Jenny, my heart goes out to all of you. The teen years--for the teens themselves and their parents--are so scary. Sending hugs your way.

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver said...

Thanks Judy.

Barb McKone said...

Hi Jenny-
What a terrible way to start out the school year. It's a Labor Day your children, for better or worse, will never forget, and one of those stories that makes one think- there but for the grace of God... it could happen to any of us. I am, again, so grateful that my daughter is at college, doing her thing, whatever that is, away from here. I feel a little guilty for my relief, but, it's there nonetheless. Those high school years can be AGONIZING. Insert sigh of relief! My thoughts are with your family and your community. And, for your sake, I'm so glad your kids were HOME.

Suzanne Macpherson said...

It is actually hard to believe all that happened in such a short span of time. It REALLY makes you wonder, doesn't it? And thank GOD your kids weren't in the mix. I've had my share of Teens Gone Stupid with my older two, who are cautionary tales for the younger two. But nothing on this scale or tragedy level. Very very disturbing. Double hugs your way.

Laura said...

Hope your youngest is doing better, Jenny. School transitions are so hard.

I was the queen of bad teen judgment. My heart goes out to all of those kids. Each parent is probably thinking that it's their worst nightmare...but that young girl's suicide really puts it in perspective.