A parent of a teenager is just so fucking tense all the time.
So careful not to say the wrong thing, that you never manage to say the right thing. (And because there actually is no right thing, you’re usually better off saying nothing.) [But what kind of parenting is that?]
My qualified advice if you want to talk with your teenager: Have a drink or four.
Qualified, because you have to be a really good drinker, who can maintain a well calibrated buzz for hours on end when you need to without getting grossly sentimental or otherwise losing your mind—not 20 minutes, like most parents.
Advice, because four of the best eight conversations I’ve had with my daughter in the last year have happened when I’ve been slightly drunk, and I honestly wonder if more parents should try it.
Last Friday night’s one-sided drink-up was actually premeditated. She was out with friends until 10, across the neighborhood. I was home from tennis by eight—alone, because my wife was in Iowa, tending to her mother who just had surgery.
I’d won my tennis match. A dear friend had gotten some bad news. RBG had died. There was enough to talk about that I actually wrote down an agenda while sipping Seagram’s and beer, and reading Pete Hamill’s memoir, A Drinking Life. (I’ve never had Seagram’s before; Rye, scotch and bourbon all go better with beer than Seagram’s.)
A text came at about nine.
“Can I stay a little longer?”
When she got here, we talked about Grandma, my tennis match and RBG.
Oh, did we talk about RBG. And crazy political attitudes. And misogyny. And racism. (She’s really upset, really angry about these things—like you would be, if you were really coming to understand them for the very first time.)
About 11:30, she divulged that she had a choir assignment (?) that was due by midnight. We were only halfway through the agenda. “Finish it and come back down!”
When she came back downstairs, we talked as openly as she wanted about things that it’s hard for me to talk about openly at all.
Her mental state vis-à-vis COVID, soccer, her friends and drinking itself.
I was able to tell her more, and listen more, than I have in two months.
She was able to tell me more, and listen more, than she has in two months.
And even when she wasn’t telling me more, I think she was appreciating that I had the courage to ask.
“I love you,” I texted her in her bedroom at 1:20 a.m.
“I love you too,” she texted back.
P.S. Department of Things They Don’t Teach You in Writing School: After a session like the above, when you wake up at 6:30 a.m. anyway, don’t try to get back to sleep. Fix one Bloody Mary and write about the session, then go back and sleep until noon.