Not the stereotypical Aspen family, neither owning a private jet nor having a nest egg of funds designated towards exotic adventure trips, humanitarian explorations or top notch sport camps, my husband and I decided to have an unscheduled summer for our three boys. This was back in 2012, just when Colorado Amendment 64 was being passed.
At the age of thirteen anything alluding to the idea of adventure or hiking brought forth a litany of grimaces and rejections and so our freestyling son’s summer consisted of hucking off ledges at the Aspen skateboard park and throwing mistys off of the Stillwater bridge into hypothermic waters. It was all a recipe for disaster, but at the time we trusted them all and wanted them to have their freedom.
Soaring into the Aspen High School like a gorgeous scaly, charcoal black dragon with leathery wings Thumper discovered his tribe and together they puffed out sparks of fire and herbal scented smoke rings.
One evening as Baddy and I lay in bed reading I received the comforting text that Thumper was home in time for curfew and all was well. Immediately following came the second text meant for a friend, “Hey, we smokin’?” it read. Baddy just laughed naively stating that I was being messed with, but I knew that it was time to shut this shit down.
Baddy, is similar to our Thumper; positive, funny and the life of the party. He’s also a badass yanking out loose teeth at any given moment and digging splinters and infected wounds out of his skin with a pocket knife but when it comes to our sons, he’s a pussycat.
I, on the other hand, am bad in very different ways. Just as our boys can vacillate between adorable to zombie-like monsters at any given moment, so can I. Luckily for them, I am always looking for the story, which helps when at the height of my frustrations an image of myself flying around the room on a broom while laughing hysterically and throwing smoke bombs helps to dissipate my anger.
An intuitive bull in a china shop who often cannot finish all of the creative projects I have started, and who cherishes living in the moment rather than spending my life cleaning, I am what you might call a present mom, which can be quite annoying and disruptive for the Tribe since I am constantly removing Thumper from any plans they may sound like they could be dangerous, like sneaking out at night or camping in the woods. I think I’m confusing for the tribe, or just considered to be down right crazy. Known as the strict one compared to the other parents, I can also be known to repeat the very offensive lyrics rapping out over the speakers of our car or break out into embarrassing dance moves.
As far as parenting goes, Baddy and I have always been on the same page. Solid communicators with good senses of humor, we preferred to talk our way through unnecessary emotional drama and embarrassing public tantrums delivered by the boys. Rather than “time outs” we opted for dragged out discussions with a litany of life lessons thrown in. Conversations began early on abstaining from drinking and drugs and becoming sweet, responsible, helpful, intelligent, creative and caring gentleman.
But when Thumper became a teenager, the conversations weren’t working. About the time that walls started to get punched in and our fear of addiction set in I began the process of meeting with the counselors in our valley realizing that the reason why many parents choose to take a big step back in their parenting when their kids turn into teenagers is because the anger is scary and extremely difficult to manage. If there is little discipline and expectations than there is little anger.
One year and six counselors later I found Joel Karr and received a grant from the Aspen Community Foundation to pay for his services. When Joel first came to our house I worried that I had yet again made a mistake. He seemed a bit sketchy at first beginning with how kids have only five rights; shelter, clothing, food, education and to not be abused. A bit shocked, I wondered where he was heading with that but with each session his counter intuitive counseling seeped in a little deeper. Teaching us how to not worry about what could be and putting the accountability on the kid it all began to make sense. His instruction is simply complex instructing kids to choose positive power over negative power and parents to trust that if their kids are giving parents the impression that they are not engaging in anything life threatening or harmful than all is okay. That is, if the kids are keeping their grades up and do not appear to be depressed, using substances or angry, than everything is okay. His framework is seemingly foolproof, if you can allow yourself to really listen and put into practice what he is saying.
In addition, I began a movement in our community. Having unfortunate stage fright that lends itself to fainting at any given public speaking moment, it’s not easy taking charge. What helps is for me to mentally imagine that I am wearing a Stetson, chaps and spurs and riding bronco style into town, all the while chanting an inner mantra in preparation for this new wild west. Shut the front door, there’s a new mommy sheriff in town.
Since we have come so far with Thumper I want to help empower others to “be the parent”. Using Joel’s techniques, I have rounded up a posse and roped in parents to become members of a Parent to Parent Alliance. In this Alliance I encourage parents to establish parameters and consequences chosen together with their children, to be consistent and not afraid to say no, regardless of what all of the parents of your kid’s are allowing and to unite together to communicate the plans of our teens to ensure that all is copacetic with the believe that together we can change the social norms and raise substance-free youth.
As the word gets out about my efforts I often hear feedback as to what is holding parents back, “We did it back then, and so we feel that they should be able to as well.” The difference is that scientific evidence now shows that frequent marijuana use can have a significant negative effect on the brains of teenagers and young adults, including cognitive decline, poor attention and memory, and decreased IQ, according to psychologists discussing public health implications of marijuana legalization.
To experiment with drugs and alcohol should no longer be perceived as a rite of passage for teens while their brains are still developing. As the Executive Director of Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention once asked, “Is it a rite of passage to allow your children to shop lift?” Just as you protected your toddlers from getting too close to the fire, it is when children become teenagers where the real parenting begins. The fire is still there, but with far more dangerous consequences.