I teenaged my way through high school under the assumption that my parents had no idea what I was doing. I like to think I was pretty good at withholding information and presenting situations in ways that were other than they really were.
Still, sometimes they found things out. Like the time my friends plopped me on our front door step at one o'clock in the morning and rang the doorbell.
Fortunately, my buddy with the car was a designated driver.
I don’t remember my parents answering the door. I do remember waking up wrapped around the toilet with a train wreck in my head.
“Do you want to talk about it now or later?” my dad asked sternly when I meekly showed my sorry face the next morning.
I chose to talk to him later, when I had time to craft a good story that probably revolved around peer pressure and the first and only time and it will never, ever happen again and I am so sorry. The usual teenage mea culpa.
I also did other things. I would divulge some of them, but my dad might be reading this and I don’t want to get into trouble.
Looking back, I judge my secretive teenage behavior as responsibly irresponsible. I was respectful of risks, considered in the consequences, measured in my participation, and enlightened by my mistakes. And then did it anyway.
Like the time I got suspended from school for two days surrounding the discovery of an unopened can of beer at a high school dance that wasn’t even mine.
My parents found out about that one too. But since the incident was more about stupid behavior than reckless behavior, they were a little more tolerant. Especially when I chose to spend my suspension at the public library studying for an upcoming Physics AP test which I did very well on thanks to the extra study time.
So I know from experience that even with the best of irresponsible intentions, stuff happens. Opportunities appear. Decisions are made. Judgement is waived. Luck is pressed.
And just like that you are suspended from school or passed out on the front porch of your house at one o’clock in the morning and not entirely sure how you got home.
Or worse. Much, much worse.
This is what I think about when I have conversations with my daughter and I feel the reflexive need to be an overbearing parent and dig for more information than she wants to reveal. She is 18 and a senior in high school. The conversations are short and usually follow a declarative statement. Something like this:
“I am going out tonight. My friend is having a party.”
“A friend from school.”
“Do I know her?”
“Him. Yes dad. You know him. And his parents are home. A bunch of us are going. I am getting a ride. And we will get an Uber home so you don’t have to pick me up. Can I go now?”
I don’t know how much of the intended vagueness is factual, but I am smart enough to know that taking an Uber home is her way of telling me that there will probably be alcohol at the party and that she is being responsible. It is pretty effective, if not a little too convenient.
I can’t imagine the trouble I would have gotten into had there been technology like smartphones and services like Uber when I was her age. On the other hand, I might have only been getting into virtual trouble by obsessively playing Grand Theft Auto.
Sometimes when we talk, we play a cat and mouse game of I know that you know that I know, but I don’t press her for details because it is important to our parent-teenager relationship that I communicate that I am indeed clueless. Also that I trust her completely. Because I do.
Of course, it also occurs to me that I really am clueless. Or worse, that I that I don’t even know I am clueless.
It is tough being a parent when you remember so vividly being a teenager. All of us get to where we are based on where we have been. And all of us were teenagers. And some, like me, still act like teenagers. Or at least the kind of teenager that was teenager when I was a teenager.
Which is probably why my daughter feels the need to be secretive. There is nothing more ridiculous than a clueless parent who claims to know what it is like to be a teenager.
Especially when all I really want is for my teenager to be a teenager knowing what I know about being a teenager when I was a teenager but not really knowing what being a teenager today is all about.
All I really want is for my teenager to be safe.
As for the rest, I am OK being clueless.