Parenting a Teen, Part 1: Reality Check!

Dear Friends,

I have a fresh new teenager, 13 for only two months, and I’m already getting my crash course in devil-may-care, adolescent cluelessness.

I called my grandmother at 7:14 p.m. on Friday evening to ask her if my boys could stay with her on Monday since they were off school and I, of course, would be working; and to tell her the story of why I needed her to watch my adolescent, half-grown children who have been allowed to stay home by themselves when school is closed since this school year began seven months ago.

This story begins with school being closed for spring break. They always have days off school for something. During the month of March my children only had a full week of school one week out of the entire month. This is in addition to school letting out early every Wednesday for teacher collaboration. Schools are there to educate our children, but it seems more and more that their time is being allocated to meetings to discuss educating our children, which requires taking teachers out of their classrooms and students out of attendance. As a single working parent, and a parent that strongly values education, this is problematic to me in more ways than one.

This particular Friday they were off school for the start of their spring break. I couldn’t take any time off because I had exhausted so much of my PTO when both kids were sick with rotavirus, and then sick with the flu two weeks later. My oldest son is 13, so he “should” be responsible enough to handle being home without me. They have done really well this year with following the rules and there has never been an issue, aside from messes and eating all the food in the house in one day, until now.

I left for work as usual at 7:20 with both boys still in bed. On their days off I come home in the middle of the day to make them lunch and check on things. I pulled into the carport at 11:45 and saw a block of styrofoam in the back yard…the same block of styrofoam Hunter took out there the night before to shoot with his new airsoft gun. He got the gun with his birthday money and it had just been delivered that day. We live in town, have no place to shoot guns and no place to store them, so he got it on the premise that it would go to his dad’s where it could be properly stored and used with his dad’s supervision.

Anyhow, I had stopped him from setting up to shoot his gun, told him it’s illegal to shoot guns in town and he needs to go put it away until he can take it to his dad’s over the weekend. So when I saw the styrofoam back out there, I knew he’d done exactly what I had just told him the night before wasn’t allowed. When I walked in the door I saw a soda can sitting on the counter with holes shot in it.

When I questioned him about it, I got “it’s just an airsoft gun, it’s not a big deal” (for anyone who doesn’t know what an airsoft gun is, it’s basically a BB gun that shoots plastic BB’s). So I gave him a solid butt-chewing, took the gun and put it in my trunk, and informed him that it would be going in my grandfathers gun safe at his house and he wouldn’t be getting it back for a good long while because he’d deliberately disregarded what I told him. Little did I know that was just the beginning of what he would pull that day…

Logan asked if they could go out in the back yard. One of my rules for when I’m gone is that they’re not allowed out of the house. But it had been raining nonstop for a couple of weeks, it was actually a beautiful sunny afternoon, and it was the only nice day we were going to have for a while (it’s pouring down rain again as I type this). So I said okay, but only on the back patio…no front yard or wandering the neighborhood.

I got a phone call at 3:45 from Hunter, wanting to know when I’d be home because Blake had stopped by and was wanting to come over. I told him the usual…I’ll be home at 4:45. But Blake has already been over twice this week and that’s enough. You guys can play outside and ride your bikes around the neighborhood, but no more friends over. And that was that until about 6 p.m., when hunter came home from his bike ride with a bent bike rim and a scraped elbow from a bike wreck.

I took the wheel off of his bike and was putting the tools away when I noticed things were amiss in the shed. Buckets were out of place and it smelled like fuel in there. I went to move the fire pit to get the dog’s crate out to set up for the weekend, and noticed the lid was off and laying next to it, and it was full of ashes. When I set the dogs crate out and picked up the blanket to put in it, I smelled gas. I lifted the blanket to my nose and gave it a sniff. The smell of gas about knocked me out.

I immediately went inside and confronted them. Hunter tried to tell me that “maybe some lighter fluid accidentally spilled.” I said “bullshit, I know the two of you were doing something you shouldn’t have and you may as well tell me what it was because the only way out of this is with the truth.” He admitted that they were burning boxes in the fire pit in the back yard. With gasoline. With no adult home.

I swear I felt my head lift off my shoulders from the pressure of the steam that was shooting up from inside of me. I was overcome by a feeling I’d never experienced before and can’t find a label for. It was equal parts anger and terror, with a healthy dose of “how can these kids be so stupid??”

I gave them both a major butt chewing, made them aware of all of the dangers of what they had done and just how incredibly stupid it had been, lectured them on trust and how difficult it is to get back once it’s broken, and enacted a hard-core weeklong grounding with zero privileges and lots of prison-work-camp-like tasks to complete. They sulked off to their rooms and I sat there stressing about the total shit-pile that had just bubbled over in the course of 10 minutes. And then I remembered something.

Hunter called and said Blake had stopped by wanting to come over. Blake had stopped by while I wasn’t there. Rule number one of staying home alone is no one is allowed over when I’m not there. And I had a sudden feeling of certainty that Blake hadn’t just “stopped by”, but actually came over and stayed.

I got up and marched straight to Hunter’s room, just a few minutes after lecturing him on honesty and trust, and asked him point blank if Blake was here today. He said no. I asked how I was supposed to believe him after everything that had just happened. I said “I’m going to ask you one more time…was Blake here today?” He again said no.

So I closed his door and marched down the hall to Logan’s room. I asked him if Blake was here today. He didn’t even hesitate… “yes.” I asked if he was here while they were burning stuff in the backyard. Again, no hesitation, “yes.” Hunter had allowed another kid to come over while I wasn’t there, and had him in the back yard lighting boxes on fire with gasoline, unsupervised. And he hid it from me. And then he lied about it when directly asked. I was fuming. Livid. Possibly in need of an exorcism because it felt like I had been taken over by a demon.

I burst into Hunter’s room and told him that Logan had just told me the truth. I demanded to know why he just lied straight to my face only minutes after being lectured on honesty and trust. I was so furious I could barely look at him. I told him that Logan is still only grounded for a week because he told me the truth. But Hunter just bought himself an entire month, and even when that month is over things are not going to be the same for him.

The next morning we had to get up early and head three hours north so they could spend Easter with their dad’s family and I could stay at my mom’s for the weekend. I was calm by then and we had a lot of time in the car to chat on the way. I told them that for future reference, before they do something they need to stop and think…is this something I feel I’d need to lie to Mom about in order to keep from getting in trouble? And if the answer is yes, then don’t do it.

Then their dad came and picked them up…which they were terrified of because I’d called him the night before to fill him in, and he was just as ticked at them as I was. But after they left and I had some time without them around to sit and think, some things became clear to me. Hunter had no respect for the rules (just a mentality of “I’ll sneak and do what I want when no one is looking”), and very little sense of responsibility or self-accountability.

None of those are good traits, and some changes are going to be made to correct them. Starting with no more hanging out with Blake. He seems like a decent kid, but he also doesn’t seem to have much parental supervision. And he was there and just as deeply involved in the shenanigans as Hunter and Logan were. Logan was a willing participant, but it was Hunter who was making these reckless decisions and lying, and that’s something he didn’t do before he started hanging out with this kid a couple of weeks ago. He might not be a bad kid, but he clearly isn’t a good influence, either.

When I called grandma that night, she told me that it’s just beginning. She said the teenage years are the hardest and I’m about to find out now what raising kids is all about. Heaven help me if that’s true, because I already know how much of a challenge this next month is going to be. And the many months after that, because I told Hunter that he won’t be going back to the same habits. He’s going to be given additional responsibilities and he’s going to need to find an extracurricular activity he can join that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a TV, a computer or a video game.

He is going to learn responsibility and self-accountability, even if it kills me. And it just might.

Love,
Loren

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