I base many of my parenting decisions today on things I did as a teenager.
That is why my almost-16-year-old lives in a box in the basement.
Well, not yet. Soon. She’s going on her first big night out with another teenager in a car. Alone.
I’m worried. I sound like my mother did in 1980 when a cute guy with his own car asked me out and she said “NO!” just as she did on every previous occasion when a member of the opposite sex expressed interest in me.
Yes, you read that correctly. My mother would not let me date. I don’t think my father was against the idea. But due to the economy at the time he was working nights or out-of-town or something that made him unavailable for day-to-day parenting decisions. So, I developed dating loopholes: I spent a lot of time at “the library” and “the movie theater” and at “Dora’s house” (not her real name). Dora and I had a deal: Our whole friendship was based on lying for each other so we could go out with our boyfriends. Every few months we’d actually have to make an appearance at one another’s house just to keep things legit.
I’d say I was going to see “Alien” or “The Blues Brothers.” Except, not really. I’d read the synopsis in the newspaper, memorize it, then head to a dive bar in Detroit that let in underage suburbanite kids with small brains and fat wallets to hear eardrum- shredding bands. I hated that I wasn’t allowed to officially date. I hated the sticky web of lies I’d spun. It was hard to keep all the stories straight.
Eventually I decided to take a stand and declare that I had a boyfriend. Mom was not happy. Still, I kept up the relationship and eventually she acquiesced. She had loopholes of her own. She eavesdropped on phone calls. (There were no cell phones back then.) She took the phone off the hook so I couldn’t make late-night calls. (There was no Facebook, IM, MySpace or e-mail back then.) She intercepted letters and searched my room while I was at school.
I do not want to be that kind of mother to my Girl from the West. I know my mother did it all out of worry and fear of the unknown. (We had teen pregnancy back then and something called V.D.)
That kind of parenting creates liars and sneaks. So far, I feel my Girl has been as honest with me as is possible for a teenager. I know she’s not telling me everything but I feel I have some kind of handle on her comings and goings. Mostly, it’s because I am directly connected to those comings and goings.
But, with the impending arrival of driver’s licenses as she and her friends each reach their 16th birthdays, a world of worry opens up.
What about the other teenagers out there? How honest are they? How mature? Are they practiced liars who fool their unwitting parents? Are they on drugs? Will they drink and drive? There is so much to consider, to worry about with a child who is almost an adult. Cars carry with them a multitude of dangers, some involving a vehicle in motion; some pertain to cars at rest.
It doesn’t take much to think back to the irresponsible, recklessness of most of my peers when they had that piece of plastic in their wallets and what new levels of stupidity it propelled us into. I think of the dead man’s curve that claimed the life of a 17-year-old classmate on July Fourth, when he took his eyes off the road to toss a firecracker out the car window and ended up hugging an oak with his engine block. I think of the guy I was scheduled to go on a date with had he not been broadsided and killed on his way home from a Detroit Tiger’s game. Dead at 20. All this occurred in our sleepy suburb along the lake, where a traffic jam might be six Cadillacs lined up by the valet parking shed at the country club. My girl will be traversing some of the busiest stretches of road in our area.
So I worry. It does no good. I cannot control all the forces the universe, even with my super-deluxe magic wand. I can’t really lock her away in the basement. (Damned social welfare agency and their rules.)
My guide is this: If she’s not doing any of the stuff I was doing, or only one-tenth of it, we’re good.