Monday, July 25, 2016

teenagers and alcohol

I do not know how many of you are from Kolkata or follow the news here but last weekend an incident has rocked the city. A group of teenage boys and girls visited a friend's house to surprise her on her birthday. The family was in bereavement and did not want any celebrations in the house. So the group moved to a club where they were not served as the club does not allow dependent (read minor) members to introduce guests. They shifted to yet another club, presumably for food and purchased three bottles of vodka from an off shop and returned to the apartment complex of the birthday girl to party there. Apparently, they hung around the parking lot, having "fun". At about 6 PM one boy of Class XII was found injured and taken to hospital where he was declared dead. This is, in essence, what I have gleaned from the newspapers I have read, i.e. "The Telegraph" and "The Times of India", (Kolkata editions) although some of the facts are contradictory. For more on the story, in case you are interested, please check online. I'm not here to discuss the events or even say I have any knowledge about the same.
I cannot even begin to imagine what the mother of the deceased child (let's just refer to him as X) is feeling. Shock, rage, desperation… she is saying it was murder, while so far reports of the witnesses suggests an accident. She last saw her son at about 10:30 AM when X told his mother he was going to a party to be thrown by friends. The papers say he was a friend of a friend or whatever, some of the boys and girls there deny knowing him. But no matter what, can you imagine the heartbroken state of the mother?
I am no detective. I do not know where the investigations will take the police or what truth will emerge from their inquiries. I guess all that will follow hopefully sooner rather than later, I don't know what will happen. But what I do know and understand is that the life of a child of Class XII has been brutally cut short, in someone's house, a son will not be returning home. Ever.
I am no detective but I am a mother. And this is exactly one of the many kinds of fear that dwells in the heart of every mother parent. Even my husband has been affected by the incident. He, who normally never talks much in the car on the way to Court was waxing eloquent about the incident today. I realised then that he is just as affected by it as I am. A few days ago I was in Bangalore for a weekend. Three of us old friends visited a bar on a Friday evening. To our shock we saw a whole lot of under-age boys and girls at the bar. At the entrance we even spotted a classmate of my friend's class XI son, my friend said a lot of them have fake IDs that their parents get them!! These minors were partying, drinking and smoking like there was no tomorrow. I remember another occasion at a club. There was some carnival going on and the place was full of teenagers, we had gone to pick up our girls. To our shock we saw 14/15 year olds drinking beer. One of my daughter's friends actually came and asked me to help as one friend was so drunk that she had passed out. On another occasion I got into a fight at the bar because I told some kids they should not enter the bar and their mother did not like it. I asked the bartenders why they serve minors. Helplessly they told me that they did not, but often the minor's own parents or older friends would buy it for them. The bearers and waiters could not go and take away their glasses, could they?
I have nothing against drinking or having fun. But there is a time and place for everything. Increasingly we hear of minors drinking. My daughters tell me of their friends who regularly smoke hookah and others who drink. A single-parent friend worries about this under-age drinking (that is so rampant in her city) so much that she makes her 16 year old son come near her and smells his breath when he returns from parties. The boy obviously does not like it and they have huge fights but she insists, even at the risk of being hated by the boy. I laughed when I heard. But now I think that's probably one of the most sensible things she does
I keep telling my girls that they should not drink or smoke until they are 21.
How do I know they listen to me? You're right, I don't.
Just as my parents did not know.
My daughters are going on 16 and 17, vulnerable enough to peer pressure and wanting to "fit in". Old enough to want to "experiment".
Do I know all their friends? Or all their friend's parents? No.
Just as my parents did not know mine.
My daughters go out for parties occasionally. They also go out with their friends.  
Do I know who else will be there? No. 
Do I know where they are going? Yes, they tell me. 
But can I monitor them all the time? No.
Just as my parents could not.
Just as X's mother could not. Just like no one can. Neither you nor me. Nor that lady across the road.
Teenagers today have access to everything, if they want it badly enough. Those kids bought three bottles of vodka. "My", I thought, when I read that, "that's a lot of money." I wondered why the shop keeper sold it to them. Then I thought maybe he did not. They simply could've gotten anyone else to buy it for them. As I said, if the will is there, there always is a way. Don't forget we are talking about a generation that believes in instant gratification, be it clothes or games or smartphones or PokemonGo. If it's out there in the virtual world, they want it. And I am not saying that that is such a bad thing. Thanks to the internet and media, the world is within their grasp. They can dream bigger than we ever dared. They can fly higher than we ever imagined. They see worlds we still cannot fathom. And these worlds also bring with them new choices that we never had to face.
So what is the way out of this? How do I keep my daughters away from alcohol until they are mature enough to handle it? How do I ensure that my girls do not walk into bars or pretend to be older than they are? How do I ensure my girls will never fall into the "wrong" crowd or do stupid, irresponsible things? How do I teach them to walk away from situations that look like they are going out of control?
You know what? I don't know.
I can only teach them the proper values and hope for the best.

That is what frightens me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Why I am afraid.

Last Friday, the twins went to their very first school. Yes, the youngest of my hearty collection of nieces and nephews, Satvik and Meenakshi, picked up their tiny little knapsacks and water-bottles and marched off to play school.
I was instantly reminded of other tiny feet marching off to school 14+ years ago.
Was it really so long ago?
I remember waiting outside the play school (it was compulsory) while the children alternated between playing and crying and going through several multi-colored stages of distress. Those days there was no candy crush to play, much less 4G internet surfing. It was distressing and boring. I couldn't wait for the kids to 'settle down' so I could get back home.
Oh, 'settle down' they did. They all do.
By and by they stopped crying. By and by they stopped looking back to see whether I was there. Those tiny feet grew bigger, the tread got heavier, the uniform changed, the needs changed until now I can happily say that my children do not need me anymore.

There are times when I cannot believe that I have been married for well near twenty years. My daughters will soon turn 16 and 17. How time has flown on soft winged feet. As I watch these two, Meenakshi and Satvik, and watch their parents and grand-mother fuss over them, sometimes I feel a helpless bout of nostalgia about my girls. And I wonder. Should I have been more patient when they were small? Should I have paid more attention to their hugs and embraces? Should I have not been in such a tearing hurry to get back to work? Should I have indulged them more? Did I do enough for them? Was I there for them when they needed me? Will I be there should they need me again?

And I remember those tiny feet that came running as soon as I returned home. Those eyes that followed me about as I went through my chores. That tiny voice that had declared that "when I grow up I want to be like my mother; I will drive and I will cook!" Those faces that lit up and hung onto every word I said…

Right now our house, as you know, is full of teenage hormones. No one wants to be like me, a creature they love to hate. I am the enemy, the harridan from hell. The one who doesn’t understand, much less care. We are always, but always, fighting each other. And if they are not bickering with me, they are shouting at each other and the house constantly resounds with "shut-ups", "disgusting" (apparently everything is disgusting!) and "I hate you"! 

Yet, I know even today as soon as I will enter the house the girls will drop whatever they are doing and come and greet me. I know late at night before going to bed one will come with a comb and a hug and talk about her day. Another one will surprise me with a hug when I least expect it. The thought gives me joy.

But I also know that these days are numbered. All too soon it will be time for them to leave home. In fact I keep prodding the older one about colleges and where she wants to go and keep telling her to find study options outside her comfort zone, outside the city of her birth. I WANT them to leave home and test their wings and stand on their own feet for only then I will know that I have done my job as a mother.  

You know, I used to think I was very laid back and prepared for whatever life threw my way. But motherhood changed all that. I became frightened the day I became a mother. And it has gripped my heart tighter as the children grow older and leave home. My heart frets and worries and I have to use every bit of resolve to not let it show.

I'm sure you all have been reading the newspapers and following the news. That kid who stayed back in the restaurant in Dhaka to be with his friends, the other innocent people hacked to death, that young Indian girl on holiday. The suicide bombers in Baghdad, in Beruit. The 7 year old run over by a truck, the ten year old raped, I can't imagine what personal hell the parents of those children are going through. My heart goes out to them, specially the parents of the Bangladeshi terrorists who are trying to apologise for what their sons have done.

Stop, I want to say. As parents we can only do so much, walk with them only for so long. Even then, they are living their lives and we, ours. Who knows where my children's lives will take them? Who will be their friends, what they will do, what choices they will make?

All I can do, as a parent is instill my values in them, educate them, teach them to be responsible, to think for themselves, to be gentle with the world and let them go.

I can never guarantee that the world will be gentle with them.