Nothing Else Matters
I ran into an acquaintance at Target the other day. We haven’t seen one another in several years. Both of our boys are seniors in high school, so inevitably the question, “Where’s Gomer going to college?” came up.
I shrugged. “We don’t know yet?”
Her eyes widened in shock. “Well, what does he want to major in?”
I shrugged again. “He isn’t sure.”
We stood there in silence for what felt like an eternity and then she said, “Well, Cam is going to XYZ University.”
She dropped the name of an impressive school on me.
“Wow,” I said. “That’s great. Was that his first choice?”
She sighed. “No. But it will do.”
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I felt bad for Cam. His school was incredibly difficult to get into (I know because I’ve been helping Gomer with his applications and I know the odds of getting admitted to a lot of these top universities). I couldn’t tell if Cam was disappointed or if his mom was disappointed. Either way, they should both have been thrilled at his accomplishment. We would have hired a skywriter if Gomer got into XYZ University.
We made small talk a bit more about kids growing so fast, blah, blah, blah, and then she asked about Adolpha.
“We’re just trying to do what we can to get her graduated from high school and keep her alive,” I said.
She waited for me to laugh because I’m always cracking dark jokes. But I didn’t laugh.
“Seriously,” I said. “It’s been tough since you saw us last. Everyone’s mental health is hanging on by a string. That’s why we’re not pushing Gomer to make a decision. It’s his life and we need don’t want to add any more pressure on him than he already has. Plus, I don’t want to send him hundreds of miles away without knowing that he’s fully prepared. If he needs more time, we’re going to give him more time.”
“Well, Cam’s ready,” she said.
“Good. I’m really glad to hear that,” I replied. “You’re very lucky.”
I wanted to say, “Are you sure?? Have you really talked to him? He’s been under pressure since kindergarten to be a high achiever. I’ve seen your Instagram and Facebook posts over the years and I wonder when Cam has time to sleep. I’m thrilled his hard work has paid off, but please, please, please make sure his mental health is good before you send him out the door because almost every kid I know is suffering right now. Almost every kid I know is in therapy or on meds or self-medicating and it breaks my heart because these kids are so fucking fragile. It’s cool that he got into a top school, but it doesn’t even matter if he goes to XYZ University or state school or community college or an apprenticeship. Please let him know that. Please let him know that he can take a break if he needs to.”
But I didn’t say any of that because how do you stand in the middle of Target and tell someone you haven’t seen in 5 years how to parent her child you barely know? How do you not project your own feelings and fears? How do you not burst into tears? I can’t cry in the toilet paper aisle at Target! I can’t tell this woman that she doesn’t know her kid. Of course, she knows her kid!
But then this morning, I read this article written by my friend Allison Slater Tate and I wish I had said something. That I’m not crazy. We are in a crisis and we are losing kids every day.
I’m not saying Cam is at risk at all. Like I said, I barely know the kid and I haven’t seen him since elementary school probably. But I am raising two teens and I see them and their friends and their peers and I’m a really good eavesdropper. These kids are dealing with A LOT. A lot, a lot and we need to take them and their mental health seriously.
Many of us were raised by a generation of Boomers who thought mental health was bullshit. If we weren’t bleeding, then we were fine. They told us to “Suck it up, Buttercup” and to “put on your big girl panties” and get the job done. I’m sure I wasn’t the only teenager who could have used a mental health day off from school or a suicide screening at the doctor’s office.
The Hubs and I are parenting like this because we know how much we struggled as teens and how much the world has changed. The other day I was driving with Gomer and he asked me if I thought high school was better in the 80s or the 2020s. I said, “I don’t know. What do you think?”
He said, “The 80s. I think it was simpler back then.”
Yeah. It was. And yet it was still fucking rough. So imagine what it’s like to be a teenager in the 2020s. And parenting them is a minefield. We are constantly trying to find the balance between pushing them, but not pushing them too hard. Giving them space to figure shit out, but not so much space we have no idea what shit they’re even trying to figure out. Being a cool mom who is like, “You can tell me anything!” and then internally screaming when they actually do because fucking hell it’s a lot. And loving them where they’re at even when they’re dicks.
Please read Allison’s article and please ask your kids how they’re doing.
I love your parenting style. The world needs to stop pushing kids and expecting them to all follow the same track. My daughter (now 29) had a mental health crisis fall of her sophomore year. After that (and her friends all dropping her like hotcakes) even driving by her school caused panic attacks. We did online school with the goal of just getting her a diploma. I didn't care if she did it with Ds (she didn't). After graduating, she didn't know what she wanted to do and didn't want to waste money so she worked part-time and explored. At 21 she knew what she wanted and went to a 2 year school for it. She's so happy. Son #1 (32) went straight to a tech school and it was perfect for him. Son #2 is STILL in school at 29 finishing (hopefully) his PhD. 3 kids. 3 different experiences. All successful self-supporting adults.
I wish I could read this at my next staff meeting, but most educators know this is the truth- it’s the parents who need to wake the fuck up. Have loved your work since elf days. Thx for the read.