As far as parenting goes, I don’t believe in The Drug Talk or The Sex Talk or The Safety Talk, etc. I believe all these are an ongoing conversation where bits of information are revealed as the children ask questions (which, by the way, they begin doing as soon as they can speak). The amount and type of information that’s given needs to be on par with the level of maturity of the child who’s asking. I also don’t believe in lecturing. In my experience, this is a grandiose failure that only results in resentment and trust issues later on. Do I want my kids to feel comfortable coming to me to talk when they have something on their mind? Or do I want them to dread ever having a serious conversation with me because I’m going to talk at them instead of with them? Obviously, the former is more appealing.
I also believe that these conversations should be comprehensive and fact-based. If I’m uncomfortable with any of the facts, well, that’s my problem as I see it. There’s a tenuous balance between what my 12 year old twin boys are ready to hear, what the truth is, and where my comfort level falls in all of that. For instance, we talked about masturbation. I explained everybody does it (without directly indicating I do, too) and that it’s natural and fine – but personal. It should be done alone as they would do any other personal body things (like farting, pooping, bathing, etc.) I also indicated that they don’t have to tell me about it and that I don’t need to know unless there’s an issue that needs emergency attention. However, did I mention anything about how fun it can be to masturbate with another consenting adult? No. They don’t need that level of information yet. Did I say directly that sometimes I, too, masturbate? Nope, and I never will. Because, you know – boundaries! I’m practicing what I preach. Walking the talk. Hiding my vibrator. And whatnot.
The most interesting, useful, and, frankly, confronting part of this approach is that it happens organically and on the fly. Sometimes my answer is, “Hm. I’m not sure. Let me think about it and get back to you.” Or it’s, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this right now. Please bring it up with me again ______ and we’ll talk about it then.” Sometimes I talk when I shouldn’t. Other times, I beg off when I know I should be open, but whatever we’re talking about has triggered discomfort I can’t move past at the moment. But, at all times, at the very least I try to be honest.
Last night, the boys and I were traveling across town to watch a movie at a friend’s house. There was an accident, a misguided attempt to bypass traffic, some more traffic, and so on and our trip, which would’ve taken thirty minutes ended up taking nearly an hour. So, we had lots of time in the car together. This is where we do our best talking. No one is distracted, we’re all together, and everyone is engaged. About a third of the way into our trip, Indigo asked me, “Mom, what’s acid?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. I’m pretty sure I knew what he meant, but I didn’t want to start describing LSD if it wasn’t already on his radar. That’s the other part of my approach – I try not to bring up heavy subjects they may not be ready for (or even interested in.)
“You know, acid,” said Indigo.
“What kind of acid are we talking about here?” I asked.
“The drug kind mom! The one that makes you hallucinate!” piped up Tolkien, exasperated as usual by how obtuse I am.
“Well,” I said, “acid is a drug you ingest. But it’s not actually acid, not in the way a caustic chemical is acidic.” Then I went on for a few minutes sharing my rudimentary understanding of the organic make up of acid, how it is distributed and delivered, and a basic history of where it originated (which I got wrong) and how the chemistry has changed since the 1960s. The boys were rapt.
“How does it make you hallucinate?” one of them asked.
“I’m not sure exactly,” I said, pausing to think for a second. “Do you want me to tell you how I think it works, with the full understanding that I could totally be wrong?”
“Yes!” they both said.
“Okay. Well, I think it has something to do with your synapses.” It doesn’t, by the way. I got this part completely wrong. However, I got the gist of it right on a very basic level. I explained that somehow acid changes the way you process information taken in by your six senses (including proprioception) – that the way the brain receives and spits out the information is different or even more unfiltered than when you’re not on LSD.
“Wow. What does stuff look like? Do you know?” Indigo asked, his eyes wide, cheeks flushed, and a goofy, uncomfortable yet scintillated smile. I glanced in the backseat and noticed I had Tolkien’s attention in a similar, if not characteristically more removed kind of way. I had a moment of doubt then. It was clear both boys were waiting for the description of the experience of being on acid the way they’d wait for the climax of a good joke or an action movie. And then the question – do I know. Of course I knew. I’d taken acid at least a dozen times in my youth. And, frankly, I’d had mostly positive experiences with it. But did I want to tell my boys this? My beautiful boys with their beautiful, virgin brains? I wasn’t sure.
Then I thought of Bill Hicks. And while I certainly don’t advocate taking parenting advice (not that that’s what he was offering in the clip I link to) from a hedonistic, childless genius comic from two decades ago, I think he makes a brilliant and valid point. And I’ve always appreciated what he has to say in this bit. So, I continued.
“Yes,” I said. “I took acid a couple of times when I was in my late teens or early twenties.”
“Did you!” Tolkien piped up. “What was it like!”
“Well, everything is really pretty on acid. Colors are richer and warmer and even more dimensional. Sounds are softer. I felt warm and happy. I smiled a lot – even when I didn’t want to. That kind of sucked, actually. After a while, my jaw hurt.” I explained, too, that there are harsh chemicals in acid that make your joints ache. That the most dangerous thing I experienced was a bad trip or two, where my mind was convinced a frightening thought was real and immediately threatening and that there was nothing I could do about it until it passed. I also explained that I’d known people who made terrible decision on acid – like to drive a car, or cook food – and that it’s dangerous because of that. I said the brain evolved to process sensory information a certain way for a reason, and that when you alter that, you’re taking a risk and it can be very dangerous.
Remembering that the boys are longtime Beatles fans, I added, “Hey. You know that song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ by the Beatles? It’s a song about LSD.”
“Really?” they asked, super excited. “That’s so cool!”
Indigo added, “Oh! I get it! LSD – Lucy. Sky. Diamond!”
“Yep,” I agreed. “So if you want to know what things look like on acid, you should just listen to that song.”
They thought for a few minutes.
“Is it addictive?” Tolkien asked.
“I don’t think so.,” I said. “At least, I’ve never known of anyone who got addicted to it. Not like powders and pills, which I would say you should never, ever, ever do. There’s no good reason and they only lead to trouble every time.”
“Have you done powders and pills?” they asked.
“What was that like?”
“It was terrible,” I said. “But I don’t want to talk about this anymore right now. Please ask me again another time. Besides, we’re here. Let’s go watch this movie!”
Here’s the thing: I have two incredibly bright, inquisitive, dynamic, and precocious boys. They will find me out. If I give them incorrect information, whether on purpose or on accident, they will discover this one day. When they reflect back on their lives with me, I want them to feel confident that I armed them with as much truth as I was able. I also want them to see me as a human being who has had human experiences, whatever they are. Does sharing my personal anecdotes advocate for a certain behavior? I don’t think so. Do I want the boys to do acid or any other drug? No. But I also know that’s not up to me. The only thing I can control is the information they receive about life – and even then, I’m only one voice in a growing buzz of voices. And if I can truly control anything, it’s whether or not that voice is truthful.