Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I never wrote about what happened the night I got home to Chicago. Dawn and I had a long catch-up session out on the back steps. I got the impression she hadn't had too many people to talk to while I was gone, and lots of things had happened that piled up in her mind. So she put them out there.

Boy troubles, friend troubles, family pressures, just feeling lonesome. Eventually she was crying and hugged me and said, "You are my mom."

I hugged back, but I said, "I'm not your mom, honey. Maybe your aunt."

Everybody needs a grownup friend who's not their mom or their dad, right? But I sure wish I spoke better Spanish, because I'd like to be a better friend to Dawn's mom, too.

Dawn's really wishing her mom could be more of her friend. She'd like to talk to her more about boys and problems and being a teenager. But from what Dawn told me, I think her mom is afraid if she acts like a buddy she won't be a strict enough parent to keep her daughter out of trouble. But if her daughter doesn't have a buddy, she'll act up and get in trouble.

I understand that dilemma very well. It's actually a lot easier to talk to teenagers about their problems when you aren't their parent. Even being their teacher is harder than just being their friend. There's less pressure to have all the answers or do exactly the right thing. And there's less worry that if something goes really wrong you'll be held responsible. It's bad enough being held responsible by your own conscience, at least if your conscience is anything like mine.

It's been hard to decide whether to encourage conversation about teen problems. I don't want to say things that would counter whatever her parents are telling her, but I know my experience of teen life is a little closer to hers than theirs, in some ways. I know what kids are up to and I know how kids who aren't up to it get through that time. But I've been deliberately holding off on letting the conversation get anywhere near sex until she's 15 and officially come of age in some way.

Despite my resolve, we got there, at least a little, on the back steps two Sundays ago. As I suspected, she hasn't done anything I would disapprove of. My standards are probably less strict than her parents (she's not allowed to date until she turns 15 and my sister was dating at 14--I wasn't!), but they are stricter than the U.S. average (we're all Catholic here). But I'm a big believer in forewarned is forearmed and I know that sex education in CPS is not very good, generally speaking. I also think there are things a grownup friend can say that don't get said enough in classrooms, about love and respect and having your own bottom line that nobody can push you into crossing.

She'll be 15 in two weeks or so.

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