Parenting Teens in a Legalized Marijuana Resort Town
When people think of life in Aspen, some may sneer at thoughts of kids being dropped off at the high school in cars that cost more than thir homes. They may feel envy for families with private jets who fly off on a whim on exotic adventure trips for the weekend, or for the year if their kids are misbehaving. I myself have felt that envy, especially when experiencing the wrath of teendom.
There have been many a day when my husband and I felt that this task was far bigger than what we could handle and I spent many a day exploring the options of sending our oldest son to a place specializing in teaching civility, grace, and the importance of contributing to humanity. Every lead circled back to the reality that we could not afford any programs and that we would have to deal, using the resources available to us in our valley.
Being a Stay at Home Working Mom has its benefits, but financial freedom is not one them, and thus, with no budget for summer camps, I have played the role of camp counselor for many summers taking the boys on travel gigs for the blog, and out on daily wilderness excursions through enchanted forests of pristine white Aspen Groves and fields of wildflowers, sometimes ending into icy plunges into mountain lakes.
When the oldest turned 15, those adventures came to a rebellious and abrupt stop. To our newly teenaged boys, just the mention of adventure or hiking brought forth a litany of grimaces and rejections. This is when our freestyling son’s summer consisted of hucking off ledges at the Aspen skateboard park and throwing misties off of the Stillwater bridge into hypothermic rivers, until we demanded that he throw himself into a job instead.
That 8th grade summer is when parenting kicked into high gear. No longer were conversations enough to talk him through unnecessary outbursts of dramatic eruptions. Our breathtakingly adorable, entertaining curly headed little boy had transformed into a volcanic mythical creature with beautifully carved horns that he butted into us with every attempt we made at parenting. Enduring punched in walls by bloody fists and explicatives that left us gasping for air as if we too had been punched, we navigated the storms swirling around us as best we could.
Just after that summer, Colorado Amendment 64 was passed and pot shops quickly began to emerge on the streets of Aspen. Soon after, Denver released its first public education campaign in the post-marijuana legalization era, “Don’t be a Lab Rat”. At the time, our boys ranged in age from 8–13 and were the lab rats that they were targeting for their campaign warning that the risks of marijuana on teenagers were still unknown. We knew they could be rat-like at times, but lab rats? I worried.
Soaring into the high school like a gorgeous scaly, charcoal black dragon with leathery wings he discovered his tribe and together they puffed out sparks of fire and herbal scented smoke rings and his sweet breath turned skunky. The angrier and harder the punches, the more we knew he was about to do something he shouldn’t be at his age.
Giving in to our obstreperous teen to avoid the painful outbursts would have saved the vice that was growing between my husband and I. Our relationship had suffered before from financial stress, but nothing until now had threatened our marriage. With each fist thrown we grew further and further apart, he thinking I was paranoid and hovering, and my thinking he was in denial that our son was partying, and not being the disciplinarian that our son needed.I began the process of meeting with the counselors in our valley to learn how to raise a teenaged boy in a town where supervision ran thin. It was then that I realized why many parents chose to take a big step back in their parenting when their kids turn into teenagers. Teenagers were angry and scary and extremely difficult to manage. The less discipline and expectations there were, the less confrontations and anger one had to deal with. To take the path of least resistance would have allowed for my husband and I the freedom to rekindle our passions together. If we let our boy loose, thinking that the best way to learn is through trial and tribulation, it would have lessened our parenting responsibilities, but also would have set a horrible example for his younger brothers.
What I knew from the bottom of my heart was that he was going to learn life’s lessons even if we were to be mindful and present, and I was certain that to turn a blind eye now would be the worst thing we could do. Just as we guided our toddlers from veering too close to the wood burning stove, I was determined to guide our boy away from danger as much as possible.
My fear that addiction may set in, either in our boy, or in ourselves, intensified my search for a counselor. One year and six counselors later I found the right fit, and received a grant from a local community foundation to pay for in-home counseling.
When the counselor walked through our front door, rubbing his belly bulging over his belt as he took in the family vibe, I worried that I had made yet another mistake. His resemblance to Robert De Niro was uncanny. It felt as though we were the cast in a Quentin Tarantino movie where everything was about to go very wrong.
He asked that the family all sit down together and as we all slumped down in our chairs, our youngest wide-eyed and confused at the age of 9, the counselor began by asking the boys if they knew how many rights kids had until they were 18. The boys, and my husband, looked over at me simultaneously with “what the hell” expressions on their faces. What cocamamy thing had mommy set up this time? The counselor answered for them, “They have the right to be fed, they have the right to an education, and they have the right to be safe.” I held my breath grasping at straws for what his point was. The air began to thicken as he launched into his next question that made my walls of parenting and hard work crash down around me like the bombing of the Parthenon. “Why do you feel the need to tell your mother the truth?” He asked. My son was all ears. “Because she doesn’t want me to lie,” was his answer. “Buuutttt,” the counselor went on, as I gawked at his Eagle-like features waiting for him to swoop down and grasp my boy in his talons to carry him away forever, “If you give your parents the ‘impression’ that all is okay, than they do not need to question you … do they?” And there, with one statement, he transferred the responsibility and accountability from us to our son —and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Turns out his point about their rights was to let them know that they actually did not own the world like they thought they did, and that while they were under our roof, they abided by our rules.
Things got better as our son realized we were watching his mood, the smell on his breath and his grades, and he was doing a good job of giving us the impression that all was good, until the calls started coming in, from the principal, the teachers, and from the police. Each weekly visit at 9pm, the counselor walked through the door asking who needed the counseling. Since the oldest already got the message on what he needed to do to get me off his back, and since my husband resumed to looking at our family through rose colored lenses, it usually would be me asking for more guidance on how not to worry and trust that the training I was getting was legit. Working with me late into the evening as I recorded each conversation to playback over and over again when troubles heightened, he helped me to understand his personalized method for consequences, and how not to worry so much.
This was four years ago, and my husband and I have crossed the gamut of emotions, veering closely to destruction and back to oneness at any given month, and now, with our third child turning thirteen in a few months, we can only hope that we are that much further ahead in our parenting than we were then.
What we do know is that we live in a town where unsupervised parties are allowed by parents who believe that it is better to provide a safe place for kids to party, than to not know where they are at all. Two false negatives that we don’t need to abide by. We also know that these obstacles exist no matter where one lives, and that it may take time that none of us have to move beyond the tip of the iceberg on how to effectively parent them. For the moment though, we all seem to be on the same page as a family, and recognize that we have progressed by leaps and bounds, and we are hopeful that by being present and mindful our boys will grow into healthy, responsible, happy adults, without addictions, and with THAT I’ll leave you until the next story.