My Phone Ringer Is Always On — And I’m So Glad It Was

Underage Drinking
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It’s 12:30 am. My cellphone rings, sounding way too loud in our sleepy house. It’s the 17-year-old.

“Mom, I screwed up. I’m sick. Can you come get me?”

“On my way.”

I know where the party is. That’s the deal — he gets to go once I have an address. I tell him, the ringer is always on. You can call anytime. Before tonight, he never has.

At seventeen, he’s bigger and stronger than me. His feet dwarf mine. He can talk politics, drive, and is almost done with high school. But he needs reminders to shave and do his homework. And he drives his little brother nuts with immature pranks.

I pull up and he stumbles into the car. He flops heavily into the seat and rolls his head sideways to look at me. He’s drunk and not-pleasantly-high. His face is milk-white, eyes puffy.

“What happened?”

He tried an edible. His friend gave it to him. The whole thing at once. He’s sick to his stomach, strung out, paranoid.

“I’m so sorry. Are you mad at me?”

“No, I’m not mad. You did the right thing to call me.”

“Are you sure you’re not mad? I’m so dumb.”

“Nope, not mad. Let’s go home.”

I put him to bed, check on him frequently, rub his back like I used to when he was little and had a fever.

He wakes up the next morning, sheepish, worried, feeling stupid.

“I can’t believe you’re not mad. That was idiotic of me.”

“Yeah, it was, son. Still not mad, but we need to have a talk.”

And we do.

His dad and I try to be open and non-judgmental, but we make it clear that we do not agree with his choice, and we are concerned about potential future consequences. We discuss safety, making decisions before drinking and sticking with them. We discuss dosages and how unpredictable they are in street drugs. We discuss whether and how and who, if anyone, to trust. We talk about values and self-respect and risk assessment and dependency and addiction. It’s not like we haven’t had this discussion before, but it’s realer now, to him.

I’m not naive. We can talk and talk and talk. He’ll still take risks. He’ll experiment again. At seventeen, he has a burgeoning sense of independence and adventure… and a seriously underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex.

So. Compassion first. Education next. The ringer is on. Because I want him to always make that call.

 

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