Playing With Fire

Written by Barbara Straus Lodge

By the time I notice the 2 blazing torches stuck in my rose bush, Luke is deep into his moderately choreographed routine of twirling fire sticks and launching them into the air, then catching them with his bare hands and one leg raised, karate kid crane style.  From inside my house, I shriek for my son to “Make Him Stop”, and slosh my dog’s water bucket outside to the left of Luke’s impromptu stage, next to the pool. All 200 teenage kids at ‘No Drugs or Alcohol Allowed End of Summer’ party are mesmerized.  My son tells me fire juggling was on the mass Facebook invitation and Luke has been juggling for years and he knows what he’s doing and everyone’s expecting the show and I should just give it a chance and nothing bad will happen. So I watch in stunned reverential silence, counting the minutes until its end.

After the show when I drag both Luke and my son aside and reprimand them for neither warning me, nor having an obvious plan of action in case ‘things’ caught on fire, Luke says his mom makes him carry a fire extinguisher in his car.  And it’s just down the street.  My son nods enthusiastically, “See mom??”

My son gets called away to tend to a ‘real’ party crisis in the form of an overflowing toilet in the pool house and I take the opportunity to have a heart to heart with Luke, one of my favorites of his group of friends. “Luke you don’t ever do this drunk, do you?”  Luke is a ‘serious’ weekend partier, who is known for his big heart, small brain and especially for the fact that he intermittently smokes weed to the point of catatonia.  “Oh no, Barbara, never drunk.”  Then it hits me. “But Luke, your eyes are all red and puffy….Oh my God, are you high?  Luke were you juggling HIGH?”  The thought is almost unfathomable.  “Luke, you wouldn’t juggle with fire high, would you?”

He avoids my eye.   I pull him in and give him a hug and say a silent prayer of gratitude that no one was hurt.  I love this child.  “Luke, no!  Promise me you will never do that again.”

“I’m sorry, Barbara. Please don’t think less of me.”

And it’s only 10pm.

I hadn’t seen Luke setting up because, well, the backyard was crowded and I had been arguing with the kid who got caught smuggling in an unopened gallon (yes, gallon) of Smirnoff in his left pant leg.  “Um, Mrs. Lodge, can I have it back?  It’s still sealed and I can return it to the liquor store in the morning.”

“Of course you can’t have it back. You’re 16 years old. Are you serious??”

Yes, they ‘all do It’ and yes, most parents know they do and look the other way.  But that’s not how I do It.  My reputation as the mom who drug tests her own son, searches his friends’ backpacks, confiscates their drugs and calls parents is well known. To my surprise, the kids still like me.  Parents, not so much.  Last month I called the parents of a kid to report that I had found 5 glass pipes, a bong zig zag rolling papers, and a bulging baggie or ‘medical’ marijuana in his backpack.  Not only were they unphased, but they seemed annoyed at my call. I later learned that they allow their son to smoke pot and in fact support his habit so he has a greater appetite and qualifies in a heavier weight category for high school wrestling.  He’s ranked within the top 20 in the state.  All good?

Not on my watch.  And boy am I watching, or so I think.

During the school year and especially on weekends, there’s a constant flow of teenage boys into and out of my home. More often than not we talk about their lives, their cars, their grades, their parents and how bad drugs and cigarettes are for them.  Perhaps they want to be mothered.  Or perhaps they like knowing that I know that they know that I know they know I know ….no no no ….. Maybe they look to me for disapproval. Maybe they look to me for tough love. Maybe they don’t look to me at all.  But they keep coming back, fully aware there are no secrets when they enter my house.  That says something, doesn’t it?

By 2am, our party is merely a smoky memory.  No accidents, injuries or drownings and I feel accomplished that over the course of the evening, I confiscated only a ‘designer’ glass pipe, and a couple of baggies of marijuana from kids I had never seen before.  My rules had been respected and kids learned that they can have fun at a party where the beer is not flowing.

My son’s 9 closest friends and I debrief over pizza and I suggest we check the street in front of our house so the neighbors don’t wake up to any trash in the morning. We spend the next hour, grocery bags in hand, gathering tens of dozens of discarded liquor and beer bottles, even empty cases. With each bag we fill, with each clank, clink and clatter my heart breaks a little more. The kids think it’s hilarious.

Facts are facts; most of our 200 guests were drinking, smoking and God only knows what else-ing and I was busy looking the other way. Although I might have stopped 1 kid from drinking inside my house, 10 others were getting wasted on the sidewalk. They were hiding from me in plain sight and it turns out that Luke wasn’t the only one playing with fire.

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3 thoughts on “Playing With Fire

  1. Terrifying. You write about our world. The fire is a wonderful way to bookend your essay. Impressive. I have my own heart-breaking war stories as well.

  2. Well done! I love that it’s present tense and written with that urgency you must have felt for, what, a good six or seven hours? Exhaustion? Emotional, physical? And the reality that there is only so much we can do – the rest is hope and faith.

    And just so you know, I am so on your side! I routinely send out news blasts and current law on underage drinking, parents who let their kids drink (oh, but it’s better if they drink at my house under my supervision!) and all of the research about the effects of starting so young. Some of it is quite surprising and eye opening! I have a sixteen year old, as of last week, and we’ve already negotiated one party. Only 27 kids and I didn’t let them out front! They must have thought I was the party warden! Oh well, they had fun sober!!

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