Last week, my husband and I attended a seminar on alcohol and drug prevention at Whiny’s school for eighth-graders and their parents. We were split up, and tables of nine were composed of four kids, four parents and a faculty facilitator. There were various speakers: a doctor who explained the effects of alcohol on the teenage brain, two seniors who had elected not to drink during their high school years, and the head of school who encouraged open and honest dialogue about the subject.
Throughout the night, the conversation occasionally turned to the individual tables. The facilitator would pose a question and encourage the table to discuss—a conversation ideally driven by the kids. What would you do if…? or, Do you have a trusted adult to call if…? I sat at my table, uncharacteristically quiet, and listened to the girls answer one question in particular: What do you expect/ do you think is fair for your parents to know when you go out on a weekend?
Now, because I have Cranky, a ninth-grader, and have clutched and clawed my way through this issue, I was acutely aware that the obvious answer “everything” is not correct. I was a kid once, too. One girl said she thought it was fair for her parents to know where she was going. Yes…that…seems…fair. Another girl chimed in that it was fair that her parents knew there was going to be an adult present. Suddenly, I started questioning my tuition payment—do these girls know what the word 'fair' means?
After several minutes, the table agreed on what was fair: where your child is going; who, if not you, the parent, is driving them; ensuring there is an adult present; and notifying the parent if locations change. It all sounded very sane and agreeable—and that’s when the fun started.
Next topic: What sort of parental behavior is not fair? The girls at the table were unequivocal and spoke like union reps at a strike arbitration. It is unacceptable for a parent to call the designated home to confirm first-hand that a parent will be there. It is not OK to walk your child out of your house at pick up and talk to the driver. And at the top of the list—the cardinal sin—you, as a parent, may not get out of your car, walk up to the house, ring the bell and introduce yourself to the host parent. No, because that would be rude. You simply toss your child out of the car like the morning paper—sort of a parental Racer X helping out with the driving when needed, then disappearing anonymously into the night.
I looked to my right as the father of an eighth grade girl stared slack-jawed at the children. He shook his head with a chuckle, Sorry girls, but I am ringing that doorbell and introducing myself; and frankly, I would be insulted if another parent didn’t do the same. What happened to common courtesy? I tried to hide behind my ‘the more you know’ brochure, blanching at how many times I had dumped Cranky off at what I assumed was a friend’s house but could have just as easily been a rave or some weird suburban slave-trade auction house. The one time I did try and check, Cranky hissed at me like a wet cat and said her friends were calling her the ‘party killer.’
We have many roles as parents: protector, cheerleader, friend, disciplinarian, and guess what? I discovered the worst role is ‘the embarrassment.’ I always thought I’d be that cool mom who didn’t count the beers in the fridge or care if my kids threw the wild parties. Turns out I’m not. I’m the doorbell ringer. I’m the phone caller. I’m the embarrassment…and I’m OK with that. That’s fair, right?