She casually mentions this ‘beach week’ thing and how she and five of her good friends would like to go and have the entire ‘senior year’ experience. Without even hesitating, I offered a ‘sure’ remembering how it felt to be 18, wanting to be my very own person, having the freedom to decide what I wanted to do, when and who I wanted to spend time with, and the best of all, deciding what I actually wanted to do. OH the joy of these decisions, they seemed so freeing.
My Mom had a set approach for dealing with each of us, I was the oldest, deemed the ‘responsible’ one and so I was offered few freedoms. In fact, I was given little to no room for error. I was kept busy and that worked in a sense, because I could at least keep my mind active as I was tearing through the house with laundry or Windex. Thoughts of ‘I will never make my kids vacuum the house this often’ are still with me to this day – so when my daughter relates her teenage angst to me, empathy I’ve got.
After I mention this to my husband he naturally, and appropriately, brings in the much-needed reality check. You told her what? Where? Who will drive? We aren’t signing on for the house; lets make sure we are on the same page with this. Yes, yes, I tell him, of course you make sense, she’ll be ok, we will make sure she is prepared.
Months go by, time pushes fast and right before me this past week I watch her walk a path and move a tassel and all of a sudden she’s done with public education and beach week is days away.
We had already mandated that she and her girlfriends attend a ‘come to the parents’ meeting to review the dangers of the trip. She is accustomed to these meetings; we have created these for other serious ‘rite of passage’ events – driving, getting your first car, turning 18 and the change in curfew, etc. These meetings have sign-in sheets, hand out documents and sometimes show a PowerPoint illustrating our well-versed mandates.
Yet I realized I was ill prepared for this trip and for this meeting because the more research I did, the more fear crept in. The statistics for beach week (by the way, this pertains to wherever there is a beach, they all experience the same challenges) illustrate more than the occasional drunk teen. Quickly and repeatedly I read accounts of beach week grads jumping off of balconies, contests to see who can hook-up (still amazes me that this slang has replaced ‘having sex’) and lots and lots of binge drinking.
Then I learn of a documentary, ‘The Haze’ about a Colorado teen who dies three weeks into college after binge drinking at a fraternity event. The more I research, the worse it gets. The stats are horrifying.
Binge drinking. Tons of shots. Drinking upside down. Drinking from some apparatus that has a hose on it. Mixing wine, beer and liquor for the ‘effect’. It’s enough to make me the terrible, mean Mom who changes her mind on a big decision. I realize that the real answer is teaching and preparation.
I recently saw some movie footage showing interviews with parents, asking them what they felt their primary job was in terms of taking care of their children? The most common answer was to love them. Some answered to parent them and then to let them go, or to enjoy them, or protect them, or a worried helicopter Mom’s answer, to pull out the best in them.
My take on this is a bit different – I have always felt that I was handed these little beings filled with love and life and my job was to teach. Teach them the basic skills of life. Teach them how to look someone in the eye and shake hands. Teach them how to how to handle crazy Aunt Toots during the holidays when she says something totally inappropriate to them. Teach them how to reframe the expected setbacks in life so they don’t feel so put upon. Teach, teach, teach.
And so I approached this beach meeting with the same philosophy. I was going to teach, come hell or high-water. On a dark humid summer evening this week, the girls all piled into the dining room with their long hair and flip flops and excitement to get this last one obstacle before them completed. The beach awaits.
Two and a half hours later we were done and they were appropriately taught. And quiet. And maybe, just maybe, a wee bit wiser. We reviewed the PowerPoint, we talked about boys and how they are at a different place in life than they are, we talked about the buddy system and safety and even riptides and jellyfish. We reviewed budgets and keys and insurance. We watched the documentary ‘The Haze’.
As the patched together saying goes, the teacher is really the student and learns from his students – and yes, I learned. I learned that though they are 18, they are really big kids. I learned that they are still growing and learning and trying to figure it out. I remember this now; I guess I was the same way.
We all heard the same information, and though I am sure this made an impact, I can only hope it sticks. Beach, boys and being young are strong contenders. Here’s to teachers everywhere in every form and fashion.
P.S. If you want a copy of the PowerPoint send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Beach’ and I’ll send it you