Tag: parenting

Take This Chevette and Shove It!

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Last week, I asked my grown children if they remembered our whirlwind trip to the Food-A-Rama one night, 10 minutes before closing, when they were small. We divided and conquered every aisle with seconds to spare. They remembered better the torturous day we lost the car at the mall, and we reminded one another of some really good, really hard times.

At 26, I became a single parent of two toddlers, ages four and two, and a newborn, not yet eight weeks old. I’d caught my husband with his “woman on the side,” and in an instant, knew I’d leave. After I changed the locks on all the doors and filed for divorce—on the same day I caught him—it never occurred to me that his perspective of the situation would be radically different. In his mind, wives of cheating men simply resigned themselves to being long suffering, and stayed married for the sake of the children. My staunch belief that a happy mother equaled happy children cancelled the social teaching that staying in a miserable marriage served the kids’ best interest. My white-hot fury at my husband’s betrayal at a most vulnerable time—just after having delivered a third baby—coupled with my inability to become a polite shrinking violet, left no room for either discussion or reconciliation. I sent his “woman on the side” a thank-you note for “willingly taking my cross and bearing it,” along with the gift of his soiled laundry and dust-collecting sundries, more or less saying, “He’s yours, lady. Enjoy!” Angry at the unexpected turn of events, he divorced the children as I divorced him.

In the short term, a huge obstacle to getting my daughters’ ears pierced had been removed. (Ear-piercing a tradition for Italian baby girls but an act he’d considered mutilation.) So one afternoon, the kids and I launched our lives as a single-parent family at the mall, getting the girls’ ears pierced. Technically, I was still married, but I felt as though I had lost 175 pounds of dead weight. A long, minimally successful but epic battle over child support ensued. He paid the bare minimum, and I refused to give up the effort to increase the pittance.

Barely into adulthood, possessing not more than a shred of parental experience, I found myself armed with a degree in English, with a concentration in writing, a thin resume, devoid of any first post-college positions, a thinner wallet, an emptied bank account (he also divorced me from my savings), and three babies addicted to the bad habit of expecting three or more meals per day. I took stock of two things: First, I loved each child unconditionally; second, we lived in an ethnic conclave with my parents, extended family nearby, and an assortment of elderly widows who loved being additional nonnas or grandmothers, which made us luckier than many single-parent families.

Blissfully ignorant about the nearly impossible challenge of making a healthy enough living as a writer to support three children, overflowing with naive optimism, I bounced my brood around the poverty line for more than a few years. Because our two cars belonged to my soon-to-be-ex, I was forced to walk the children to and from the Food-A-Rama on Broadway with bags of groceries hanging off the baby’s stroller (and my arms), while keeping two toddlers entertained with stories and word games so they wouldn’t run ahead. During this early phase, turn-off notices from the utility company became ubiquitous.

The children and I survived exquisite chaos.
 
Thrilled that the girls would agree to play quietly in the living room, I left them to their own devices and honed my writing skills on a manual typewriter at the dining room table. I was landing regular story assignments–the children and I began to equate stories with money, but often the equation failed. One January, despite having six stories published, none of the publications had yet sent payments, and we found ourselves literally penniless. I wept while stacking and re-stacking the bills, praying that a check would arrive before the already extended BGE due date. That weepy night, I vowed to file criminal non-support charges against my ex, and kept my promise.
 
I soon learned that quiet children could translate into trouble, like my older daughter’s playing barber with a set of safety scissors. She chopped off half of my younger girl’s gorgeous curls. Crying over the lost curls, steeped in money woes fueling deadline pressure, I simply chopped off the other half, stuffed the pretty hair into a plastic bag for safe keeping, hid the scissors, moved the typewriter to a better spot to watch them more closely, finished my story, submitted it, then took the baby to a hairdresser friend for a fix. Hair, after all, grew back, but money didn’t, and I was determined to freelance my way into a full-time job, which I did eventually.

*
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It was a post-soccer-practice trip to the supermarket on a school night, that’s an adventure I’ll never forget. We four arrived at the Food-A-Rama ten minutes before closing. Frowning cashiers suggested we return the next morning, but with an empty fridge at home, and three post-practice-hungry children in tow, this option was unacceptable to me. The clock gave us 10 minutes, I insisted, and much to the employees’ chagrin, the manager allowed us exactly that time limit to grab our grub.

Clock ticking, I raced a shopping cart to the front of the store, tore our ambitious list in four parts, kept one, gave each kid one, and said, “Go.” For eight minutes, we dashed around the store, to and from the cart like game show contestants, slam-dunking items, collecting every noted selection and then some. We laughed all the way home. As I unpacked the goods, I discovered that each child had improvised, adding favorites like toaster waffles and a jar of melted marshmallow. They’d sneaked the sugary candy-in-a-box cereal brands they knew I’d never buy on a normal day. Faulting them for their choices seemed pointless when dinner had yet to be prepared and eaten, homework checked, and baths taken, so we could all crawl into bed past bedtime, only to begin our routine again at dawn.

*

After a rare trip to White Marsh Mall, I couldn’t remember where the red Chevette was parked. My father drove 45 minutes, piled us all inside his Taurus and slowly patrolled each parking lot until we found it. He yelled at me the entire time, but diligently helped us search, all the while swearing I’d forget my head if it weren’t attached to my neck.

The bequeathed red Chevette has seared itself into all of our memories: the car that we renamed the “ShoveIt,” which transported us around town on a wing and a prayer. ShoveIt died every morning at the same spot on I-83 N, just before the North Avenue exit, and after about five minutes of pleading, “Please God, make it work,” and nonstop attempts to start the thing, it roared to life as mysteriously as it had died, and off we went.

At red lights, the three kids used to rock in the same direction to see if they could get the car to do the same thing. It did. One morning, we walked to the Chevette and found the door wide open–someone had attempted to steal our ShoveIt in the middle of the night but thought better of it.

*

Nothing came easily. We learned to laugh more often, perhaps as a defense–but it helped. Growing up in a single-parent family forced my children to learn responsibilities that children of two-parent households embrace later. They separated clothes and operated the washing machine and dryer before they hit double age digits. They learned the difference between wants and needs, understood the importance of family and extended family, and accepted that modern families could consist of a myriad of configurations. They accepted early not everyone got two parents.

I learned how to juggle responsibilities, nurturing my children and my writing dream–oftentimes dropping the balls, only to pick them up and continue.

Now my kids stand on the threshold of their own parenthood. I still work as a full-time writer. For me, their childhoods flashed like the illumination of Chinese fireworks at New Year’s Eve, a burst of brilliant, happy colors in the midnight sky. Only by the grace of God, only with the help of family, friends, and neighbors, only with the understanding that despite our imperfections, mistakes, missteps and faulty memories, we remained bound to each other by an invisible but unbreakable thread, we muddled through each day.

Your Comments and Recommended Reading

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After reading “Don’t Sweat the Chicken Soup” yesterday (which quickly became our most read story ever) by Bohemian Rhapsody columnist Marion Winik, another BFB writer and Hot House columnist Cynthia McIntyre suggested we recommend to you, dear reader, “How To Land Your Kid In Therapy,” from The Atlantic Monthly. “It addresses what lots of us have been thinking as we look around at kids (other people’s, naturally). Best line? ‘Our children are not our masterpieces…'” Cynthia wrote in her email to us.  I proudly reported back to her that associate editor Rachel Monroe already wrote a post on the article last week. 

Speaking of Bohemian Rhapsody, the column regularly generates some of our favorite comments from you, like this one from Mary about “Scrabble, and Other Secret Languages.”

“Nobody plays Scrabble or works the NY Times crossword unless they are driven to it.  My sister can’t wait for me to set down my suitcase when I ‘go home’ before she gets out her deluxe board.  After many years of regularly losing to her, I’ve decided there are two kinds of Scrabble players: competitors (my sis and my late husband who I once discovered upstairs in the bedroom reading  a dictionary just before a family match) and nice guys (suckers like myself who plunk down low-count words to keep the board spread out and open in case we get enough letters to make a high-point word).  I’m going to work on those two-letter words before my summer trip home.” 

You are were greatly moved, too, by “Where are the Coffee Shops” by Rachel Monroe.  We especially liked this practical response from Andrew Hazlett:

“In recent years I’ve spent many a day trying to get work done in Hampden while our car gets serviced at Brentwood. It’s a wifi desert! There are plenty of other places in other neighborhoods that fit the bill for coffee-fueled freelance work, but Hampden seems to be missing an opportunity here. Most people who will sit and spend a few hours working understand they have to ‘pay their way’ in purchases, so I don’t understand why Hampden seems reluctant to add this crucial service to good customers.”

Hampden, take note.

And lastly, this insightful comment from chirper47 about “Do Extroverts Really Have More Fun?” by senior editor Betsy Boyd:

“I had a friend with a child at a local girls private school who was told that she should hold back her child a year because the child was shy. Huh? Since when does that warrant an extra year in school? Lately, shyness has been looked upon as a pathology.  Weird. Not everyone can be the life of the party, thank God. Wouldn’t that be an obnoxious world?”

Thanks for reading. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Sweat the Chicken Soup (Recipe Included)

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Until you end up with a helpless infant on your hands, the seriousness of first-time parents looks ridiculous. Once there, you quickly grasp the problem. Your child could be hurt in any of 2.3 million ways, 1.9 million of which are your fault. It could even die, an unlikely prospect which will occur to you more than once a day. On the other hand, you could die and it could live. If you think you have little control now, wait till you’re dead. Should both of you survive, the seeds you plant with your early parenting will shape its entire future psyche, so if it turns out to be a criminal, a tyrant, a public disgrace, or just a miserable person, you will be Dina Lohan. Indeed, there are grounds for concern. The question is how to translate that anxiety into action.

*

I became a mother in my late twenties, which was in the late ’80s.  I lived in Austin, Texas, where I had fallen in with an enclave of New Age earth-mother vigilantes. We labored without drugs, breastfed for 18 months minimum, used only cotton diapers and made baby food from scratch. My older son Hayes had no sugar until after his first birthday, and I never left him with a babysitter until then. If babies were not allowed at an event, I didn’t go either. No way, baby-haters.

Hayes’s room, his toys, his stroller, his car seat: everything was chosen with consideration. Every decision, from immunizations to nap schedule to toddler disciplinary style, was the result of research and discussion. Television — NO! Black and white geometric mobiles — YES! Weaning and toilet training were studied like epistemology and calculus. And take it from me: You’ll never run out of conversation with friends and strangers alike if your child uses a pacifier, as Hayes did. This is something people really, really want to give their two cents on, whether they see it as a moral failing, a developmental problem, or a gateway addiction. As a writer, I had a whole cottage industry going with pacifier-related articles and radio broadcasts.

When Vince was born two years after his brother — at home on tie-dyed sheets, with a midwife who took the placenta away in a yogurt container — I raised him approximately the same way. By this time, however, I had furtively acknowledged the usefulness of Pampers, TV, and even baby formula in certain situations. As time went on, privileges long awaited by his older brother came early to Vince, starting with late bedtimes and PG-13 movies (PG-9, it turns out) and continuing through cell phones and unsupervised girlfriend visits. (Put a box of condoms in the bathroom and get an unlimited text-messaging plan.)

By the time of text messages, however, my righteous parenting had long been blown off the map when the boys’ dad died of AIDS when they were four and six. Though I did see a counselor a few times and may have speed-read an article about children and grief, this was not the kind of challenge you face by consulting Parenting magazine. I trusted my gut on how to proceed. Though I had a lot of scary fantasies about how the boys would deal with their loss, I soon observed something I didn’t expect: their natural momentum and healing power. I let them show me. And though the truth was messy and complicated, I told them as much of it as they could handle at any time. I worked hard as a mom but I also took shortcuts. Thank you, Burger King. Thank you, Kraft. Thank you, Kendall-Jackson.

*

At the advanced age of 42, I ended up back in the ugly white bra with Velcro-closing cups, thanks to my baby-freak second husband, who didn’t think his two and my two were enough.
Nursing was about the only way Jane’s babyhood resembled that of her older brothers. Breast pump, no way. Cloth diapers, ha ha. I’m not exactly certain when she started solid food, as her siblings were giving her French fries even as they taught her to play Grand Theft Auto on the PlayStation. She designed her own nap schedule; I left weaning and toilet training to her as well.

Then what happened? Oh, you know, the usual idyllic childhood, including substance abuse, delinquency and felony charges among the family members (cemetery desecration, car chases, ski trips gone bad), followed by marital war and divorce. Not quite as cataclysmic as her brothers’ dead father script, but not what you wish on your five-year-old.

Now Jane, 11, and I live more or less as roommates in our sweet little house in North Baltimore. To be sure, only one of us has a driver’s license and does most of the cooking and cleaning. That one sometime pulls rank and bosses the other around, forcing her to reach into her exquisite preteen diva toolkit to get revenge. Still, we have a pretty good time here, watching “Glee,” planning parties, taking dinner to the neighborhood pool, practicing her lines from the summer camp musical before we go to sleep with our miniature dachshund curled up between us. We will soon be able to share shoes.

Without a doubt Jane has a Leftover Mom — lazy, lax, full of excuses and in her mid-fifties for God’s sake. But with exhaustion has come a certain wisdom. I have observed children born of super-strict parents, helicopter parents, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, potheads, churchgoers and people who have staff members perform 75 percent of their parental duties. I have seen enough mental effort to solve the serious troubles of the human race poured into minor child-rearing decisions. And for those who decide differently: ostracism! scorn! jihad!

 

I do not deny that there are certain minimum requirements for safety, nutrition, health and hygiene. But very few styles of parenting actually blow it in this respect. The bigger problem is that there are too many unhappy, stressed out, exhausted parents who get little pleasure from parenting and are, in fact, about to snap. This snapping can go in many different directions and none of them is good.

The thing that gets undervalued in the quest to do everything right is the need to take some of the pressure off.  You have got to trust that you are the parent your child needs — like Bruno Bettelheim told ’em 25 years ago, Good Enough. Not that you don’t worry or you don’t care. But no matter how hard you try, you’re going to have bad days, you’ll make mistakes, and the best thing you can do is forgive yourself and move on. The reason anyone gets through major hell like my kids and I have faced is because we let it go. The reason anyone gets through a day that starts with whining, backtalk, shouting, curses, something wrong with these eggs, go live with your father, worst mother in the world, don’t touch me, don’t talk to me, cracked juice glass, awful radio station, enslavement to utter bitch, slammed door, silence and welcome to Tuesday! is because they let it go.

Jane and I usually rely on a simple hand on the knee to say it all.

Your inner peace and strength are your child’s greatest resource. This is not bullshit. When you’re okay, they’re okay. All the parenting micro-management in the world doesn’t change the thing that has the biggest effect on your kids: who you really are, in your heart and soul. That is the sky. Everything else is just the weather, the passing clouds.

*

No-Sweat Chicken Soup


Bring about an inch and a half of water to a boil in a small saucepan, adding two sliced carrots, two sliced celery stalks, and a cup of cubed tofu. After about five minutes, add dried-up square of ramen noodles. When noodles are soft, flavor with the “chicken” packet they came with or some more healthful bouillon you bought at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Add chopped cilantro and a drizzle of sriracha sauce and serve to husband as well.

Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

Marion Winik to Contribute Brainy/Confessional Fishbowl Column

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In her new “Bohemian Rhapsody” column for Baltimore Fishbowl, set to launch tomorrow morning, Marion Winik continues the low-boundaries yet eerily relatable approach to storytelling that made her a popular commentator on “All Things Considered” for 15 years. Today a once-widowed, once-divorced, fifty-something single mother, Winik has been writing about growing up, parenting, relationships and various social and cultural matters since the early 80s. Her hope in her Baltimore Fishbowl column is to continue to make people feel better about themselves by revealing her stupid decisions, pushover attitude and amazing powers of rationalization. To be a boon to the self-esteem of her peers: This is why she writes.

Asbury Park, New Jersey native Winik started out as a poet (nonstop, 1981, BoyCrazy, 1986, both out-of-print but online at marionwinik.com.)  In 1987, she began writing essays for a Texas alternative weekly, The Austin Chronicle, and through a series of lucky breaks, ended up on NPR. As a result, magazines like Redbook, Harpers Bazaar, Cosmo, and Men’s Journal began to publish her work and her first collection of essays, Telling, came out from Random House in 1994.

When her first husband Tony — a gay bartender/ice skater she met at Mardi Gras — died of AIDS in 1994, she was left with two young sons. Her memoir First Comes Love (1996) tells the story of their marriage and wrestles with issues like sexual preference, IV drug abuse, terminal illness, assisted suicide and whether there’s really anything good about Disney World. It was a New York Times Notable Book and has been in development as a feature film for many years now. All kinds of fancy people have been involved (Henry Winkler, Ally Sheedy, Kathy Bates, even Pink), but nothing much has ever happened.

Her next book, The Lunch-Box Chronicles: Notes from the Parenting Underground (1998) revealed the surprising bearability of her life as the widowed single mom of two little boys. It was selected by Child Magazine as a parenting book of the year and was made into a pilot for a TV series by CBS/Universal. Monica Potter played Winik, and parts were invented for Steve Carrell, Andy Richter, and a sheepdog. As you might expect, the sheepdog was the kiss of death and the pilot was filmed but never aired.

In 1999, she left Austin for a second marriage in Pennsylvania. By this time she was teaching writing — today she is a prof in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore — and working for O, More, Ladies’ Home Journal, Real Simple and The New York Times Magazine. After a talk at her old high school in New Jersey, she wrote an advice book called Rules for the Unruly: Living an Unconventional Life (2001), since adapted into a greeting card and refrigerator magnet — the real moneymakers, as she will readily tell you. The magnet was followed by Above Us Only Sky in 2005 and The Glen Rock Book of the Dead in 2007.

But what impresses people most of all, usually, is that Marion Winik was on “Oprah.” Yeah, well, it wasn’t awesome as you think. Story for another time. These days she is working on a new book, Love in the Time of Baltimore, from which chapters (“The Boomer and the Boomerang,” “Desperate Housewives of Roland Park“) will be featured from time to time in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

To learn more about Marion Winik, go to marionwinik.com.

Do Single Fathers Get A Fair Deal?

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I always know it’s almost Mother’s Day when the grocery store stocks up on lilies and starts to prominently feature sentimental greeting cards featuring watercolored flowers. Father’s Day? I always forget it. (It’s Sunday, June 19 this year, in case you’re wondering.)

Fathers often get short shrift when compared with mothers; despite our best intentions, we still seem to be operating under the old-fashioned idea that mothers are essential, while fathers are peripheral. But cultural attitudes better start playing catch-up. Dads are playing an increasingly important role in their children’s lives — and in a growing number of families, they are the only parent around. For the first time ever, the number of single-parent households led by men grew more quickly than those led by women in Maryland over the past ten years.

In fact, nearly a quarter of Maryland’s single-parent households are led by men. Experts point to a host of social trends that underlie this increase — for one, many courts used to favor the mother almost unquestioningly; these days, joint-custody arrangements are increasingly popular, and custodial laws favoring mothers are on the wane. For another, increased career options for women mean that in some situations, dads just make more sense as the custodial parent.

Certainly, there’s still a long way to go before single dads aren’t treated as somehow less-than their female equivalents — either by the courts or by the culture at large. But as families change, our attitudes will have to change as well.

Do you think single dads parent just as well as single moms?

Pot-Smoking Parents

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Remember teen parties in the seventies and eighties? A thick cloud of smoke would envelope that cute, smart boy you’d been eyeing in math? That kid was going places. He was also getting high.  Guess what: Now in his 40s or 50s, cute math guy has revived his habit, however, these days he keeps it well under the radar.

We talked to a few part-time puffers, none of whom would speak on the record (um, it’s illegal). Despite the stereotype that recreational drug use is an inner city problem, it is alive and well in the suburbs. “Weeds,” it seems, may be more fact than fiction.

But is it all in good, stinky fun, or are there significant consequences to pay? We invite you to comment below.

Over the holidays, Lauren, 44, attended a black-tie dinner party in her suburban neighborhood. White linen and gleaming silverware adorned the table. Crystal glasses foamed with champagne. Later, without being obvious, the white-collar dinner host invited guests to join him on the patio to share a joint.

“I’m surprised by the option of pot at a party, but then I think, well what did we expect?” Lauren says. “The facts are: We grew up in the 70s, listening to Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat and Deep Purple.  Pot was ubiquitous then. It’s not such a leap.”

Jill, 45, who lives in the Greenspring Valley, but grew up in Pennsylvania, the daughter of a hippie mom and businessman dad, agrees that late-night joints are about as common as cashews on the party scene of late.

“I think pot’s definitely on the upswing, and has been for several years,” Jill says. “Why? We’re suddenly dealing with middle age. Life is hard, with these midlife questions, and with the suck-y economy. A few years ago, everybody was trying to have four kids with bows stuck to the sides of their heads, wearing their adorable Lily smock dresses… My peers are getting real lately—I hear them talk about it; they’re giving up on perfection. They’re getting more realistic, and therefore more self-medicating.”

Jill sees marijuana as a healthful alternative to heavy drinking, which invites a hangover, and often conjures histrionic emotion in public settings.

“Among my friends, getting wasted on wine is a daily occurrence,” she says. “I see so much alcoholism among my peer group, it’s scary. To me, pot is a lighter alternative, one that is considered taboo only because it’s illegal. Look, as you move into adulthood, you’re going to pick a poison… And I’ve seen alcohol be more destructive in people’s lives.”

Many doctors and drug counselors still consider recreational pot to be a serious gateway drug, especially for younger people.

“I think [pot] can be a gateway drug in that exposure to mood-altering substances, especially at an early age, is often also exposure to the drug culture itself,” says Chris Ciattei, certified associate counselor in addictions for the Howard County Health Department. “However, nicotine and alcohol could be gateway drugs as well. It all depends on what gateway you are talking about. I have seen recent research on rats that suggests that cannabis use alters neuronal pathways and may make one more vulnerable to opiod abuse.”

Certainly, marijuana’s illegality makes it much more of a societal taboo than alcohol. It’s not something people discuss openly at Starbucks. For parents of underage children, the second controversy is an ethical one: The notion of hypocrisy becomes a provocative issue with which to grapple. Average parents, who have forbidden their kids to smoke or drink, are asking themselves, “What happens if the kids bust us for similar behavior?”

Though Lauren, who lives in Ruxton, didn’t try pot until she was 21, and afterward sampled it only a handful of times, she stopped for good once her kids were old enough to wander through her social events, identify such behavior, and be influenced by it.

“It freaked me out too much to think of my kids catching me,” Lauren says. “Therefore, I’m done. Imagine the embarrassment you would feel, and the credibility you’d lose if caught.”

Ciattei says there’s further reason for concern, beyond bad impressions. First, kids who witness their parents using drugs and alcohol are much more likely to try pot themselves. In addition, children who discover that their parents have lied to them or made an irresponsible decision are likely to have lingering trust issues.

“Most addicts I treat have family histories of substance abuse,” Ciattei says. “Children do model behavior they see in their home. [Additionally,] children shape their early views of the world based on what they experience in the home. In an environment where clear boundaries and honesty are not present, trust cannot be established. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ is pure hypocrisy, and adolescents will pick up on that in a second.”

Marla, a North Baltimore resident, has been very strict with her kids about drugs, alcohol, dating, and schoolwork. When her teen son caught her smoking pot last summer, she wanted to evaporate with the fumes in the air. Marla wasn’t sure what to say to him, so in the moment, she simply apologized. The regret lives on. And she still worries about the message she sent that evening.

“Too many times I hear of parents getting caught by kids, especially kids over 16,” she notes.

Marla says her pot pals generally know how to control and conceal their marijuana use, to hide the practice from colleagues and neighbors who’d disapprove, and to purchase the drugs from “safe” sources. They bring pot to “certain” parties, where they feel ultra-safe. They think of the joint as their now-and-then martini. She says she fears the danger is not that parents will become addicted to this forbidden treat—the threat is not to their careers or relationships, it is to their kids.

“Parents realize that if they want to get high, they have to do so in a private place at home, which happens to be that same secret at-home spot where kids seek to engage in their own forbidden behaviors.” explains Marla.  They end up finding the parents’ stuff: a leftover pipe, a lighter, a half smoked joint, she adds. Ciattei agrees the bigger threat is to the young person in the equation—namely because a parent may not be genetically vulnerable to addiction the way her child very well might be.

“Biologic vulnerability, or genetic pre-disposition to addiction is a very new field of research,” Ciattei says. “…[However,] a human organism is either vulnerable to having their neuro-chemistry hijacked by a flood of feel-good chemicals, or has the ability to have a good time without the use of a pharmacological hammer. Research in the field of alcoholism is close to identifying an ‘addictive gene.’”

Additionally, Ciattei notes that habitual marijuana use may negatively affect a young brain still in the growth process.

“Recent research suggests that cannabis use, especially habitual, has a negative effect on the growing adolescent brain with regard to memory, cognition, learning, pre-frontal cortex development, and higher risk of psychiatric disorder development,” he explains. “It should [also] be noted that most addictions develop in late adolescence and early adulthood, prior to the full development of the brain around age 25.”

Jill expects that marijuana will someday soon be made legal nationally a decision she eagerly awaits, because, for one thing, it will remove the stigma that makes parents feel like hypocrites and even criminals.

Marijuana remains illegal. Though a bill to approve medical marijuana passed the General Assembly last month, Maryland Secretary of Health Joshua Sharfstein called for more testing on the issue and Governor Martin O’Malley agreed. It’s likely frozen until next session.

Even if the bill never becomes law, pot is incredibly easy to get. Rumor has it that many North Baltimore marijuana buyers often obtain the drug from a weekend warrior who can be found playing a popular local sport. Husbands generally procure it from the same man, who plays weekend games and sells his supply at this time. But where does this athletic, clean-cut fellow make his original buy? From a supplier in Philadelphia who grows a range of hydroponic grades, party pot, mellow pot, etc, in his basement, they say.

For Lauren and Marla, it makes perfect sense to stay away until their kids are out of the house, and perhaps old enough to face similarly tough questions as parents of utterly impressionable little ones.

“If my kids asked me if I smoke pot, I’d lie. If my kids caught me, I’d be like, ‘Once you’re 21, you’re allowed to make your own decision; you do it before and you’re dead meat,’” adds one party guest of Jill’s, a joint dangling in her hand.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

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When our first child Emily was born, we were young, but not too young, and so eager to provide her with the life that we envisioned for her—no opportunity denied her, no experience beyond her reach. We would give her everything she could ever want or need.

My husband and I have compatible philosophies about childrearing, and while we planned to craft a comfortable existence for our children, we also knew that we would have high expectations for them. They would be well behaved, and we would be disciplined. They would work hard, and we would reward them. They would be good people—we would see to it. Naturally, they would attend the finest colleges and universities, and meet every measure society might place alongside them.

Fast forward nearly seventeen years… Beautiful Emily, born on a cold January evening, has exceeded our hopes and expectations. She has played sports, a musical instrument, participated in clubs, activities, even scouts, and has done well academically. She has been nominated to leadership programs, and won scholarships. We have been good parents, and she makes us exceptionally proud. Our daughter has good friends. She is invested in her community, and cares about other people. But, by the standards in this world of the uber-privileged, she is just a normal kid – a really good, normal kid. She does not get the best grades in her class, which she will willingly tell you. And she is no star athlete. Mind you, we still think she’s exceptional.

Imagine, then, the swirl of confusion as we have come to realize that all of this, this well-planned, exemplary childhood, may not be enough! This child, our beautiful, smart, hard-working child, is average, at least in the eyes of some college admissions professionals. It’s true that we know she will go to college, somewhere, and more importantly that she will grow to become a fantastic adult with a real appetite for learning and personal growth. But we can no longer promise her every door will be open for her. This is the first time in her life, and in our life with her, that we cannot offer her full access to the next steps.

What has happened is no tragedy. It is simply the realization that “really good” isn’t always good enough to get you in every door. This is never more true than when the doors they are knocking on are the prestigious colleges and universities we parents assumed our children would attend.  “Naviance,” a web-based software product used by high schools to aid their upperclassmen in the college application process, tells us that the profile for the typical accepted students at Harvard, Yale and Stanford, three universities with acceptance rates of 7 or 8%, include SAT scores in the range of 2100-2400. Average GPAs hover around the 4.0+ mark. In the world where these kids live and go to school, some of their classmates will get these scores.  But not many of them.

At the proverbial end of the day, when we are being really honest, I’m not sure if my anxiety is for Emily—that she will not be able to get into that first-choice school; or for me – that my own vanity will be exposed. We have wanted our daughter to achieve the highest level of success at every step of her young life. How much of this ambition has been for her, and how much for us?  These are the things that make me look old from the furrow that worry leaves in my brow. So now, in the early days of spring, I make my resolutions. I resolve to leave her alone about the college process.  I resolve to celebrate the really fantastic person she is, and is becoming. I resolve that I will not listen to the hushed conversations of parents along the soccer fields and concert rows during the rest of junior and senior years. And I resolve that, at least in our little world, we will make sure our really good, normal kid knows we think she is the best.

Elizabeth Frederick is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the writer’s children.

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