I’ve always known that I grew up sheltered. I was raised in the South, in a church-going family (Baptist, naturally), with loving parents and protective siblings and friends whose idea of peer pressure was to make sure I called my mom before I stayed out too late.
It was Mayfield, of Leave it to Beaver fame. It was Mayberry.
I liked it there. I wanted to raise my kids there. Mayberry is the perfect town. There’s nothing to lead a young child astray. There are no scary things there. No crimes, no criminals.
There are no drugs in Mayberry.
I always thought that the after-school specials that showed kids lost in a downward spiral of drugs and bad behavior were overly dramatic. Also, those kids were dumb, and I? I was not dumb.
Apparently, though, I was arrogant. And self-centered enough not to notice those things happening around me.
I remember the first time I saw marijuana. My best friend had a small bag of it, and she asked me to put in my backpack when we went into her house so that her parents wouldn’t find it. I refused.
There was no wildly dramatic scene after that. She wasn’t mad at me for refusing. I didn’t change her mind about having it; I’m not even sure if I tried. I don’t remember. It wasn’t a life-changing moment for me. There was no peer pressure to try it, no big speech telling her what drugs would do to her life. I don’t believe I even thought of it again for several years.
And after that? Well, my encounters with illicit substances were pretty much limited to underage drinking and smoking. I would, occasionally, find myself at the receiving end of an offer to smoke a joint. But by and large, I managed to avoid that scene.
I even held off on the underage drinking until just before turning 21. It seems laughable now that I’d make it that far and then give in, but I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal. I tried cigarettes and didn’t hate them, didn’t love them. Once in a while, I’d have one socially. It made me feel like part of the crowd.
Those experiences made me glad that this place, this real-life Mayberry, was where I would raise my children. I was relieved that my kids would be raised in a world where the school D.A.R.E. officer doesn’t have much to do. Where after-school specials are relegated to the world of make believe. Where drugs happen to someone else, but never to me.
I’m shocked at my own naïveté.
Now that I’m adult with more worldly experience, I’ve begun to look back and recognize that there were people, people who I knew personally, who struggled with drug addiction. There are people who I knew in high school who have lost siblings to it. Who have died themselves from overdoses.
How did I not know this, at the time? How did I live so deeply inside the heart of Mayberry that I didn’t even see what was going on around me?
Looking back, I realize that I never—not even once—came across hard drugs in person. My knowledge of those things came from my criminal justice classes and late-night reruns of Law & Order.
I grieve for my friends who have lost so much to drugs. At the same time, I’m torn between a feeling of disgust at my younger self for her ignorance, and a thankfulness that I was so blessed. What kind of person does that make me? I don’t know.
Sheltered, obviously. Blessed? Absolutely. Lucky, even?
I think lucky most of all. Maybe my parents didn’t avoid the topic of drug abuse, but we never sat down and talked about it, either.
Now that I’m a mom myself, all of these things seem to be a very clear and present danger. I see the potential for bad influences and bad decisions and even worse outcomes around every corner. I’m no longer the ostrich with my head in the sand, and it scares me.
Now I have to decide: do I discuss with my children the dangers of drugs and teach them how to “just say no”?
Or do I hope that they’ll grow up like I did, with only the protection of positive peer pressure and school drug abuse education and friends who think that being grounded for missing curfew is the worst thing that could ever happen?
No, I don’t think I’ll do that. I don’t think that I’ll close my eyes and hope for the best. I can’t risk it. I won’t risk that someone else will get to my kids first, and lead them away from the shelter of my love.
I’ll still shelter them, absolutely. I just plan to open the blinds. Keep them safe while still showing them the world around them. Hope that I teach them the right ways to handle tough situations when they’re ready to go out on their own. Pray for them.
It’s all I can do. It’s all any parent can do.
Related post: The Myth of Protection