Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Deportation Diet

“The thing about teenagers,” a friend once told me several years ago at a school mommies' cocktail party, back when my own kids were still young and fresh and had not yet reached their expiration dates for adorableness, “is that they don’t need you at all for long patches of time, but then they really, really need you, like BAM.” She sloshed a little bit of wine up the side of her glass as she leaned forward to emphasize the “BAM,” and I thought again about how much I admired this woman, from her up-from-the-bootstraps single parenting, to her fabulous peroxided hair, to the astonishing flying buttresses of her well-foundationed bosoms. I wondered if I could ever possibly be as cool as she was.

“Every Sunday morning,” she went on, “I’m standing there in my kitchen, getting a cup of coffee, and these kids start coming up from my basement, right? And I didn’t even know they’d been in the house the night before.” I gulped. I would never be as cool as she was, I decided. Strangers in my basement? Guerilla sleepovers? Not in my house.

Three Sunday mornings ago, I stood in my kitchen, washing dishes, and a bit of movement from the direction of the basement caught my eye. I looked up from the sudsy water to find four very large young men standing at the kitchen counter, shuffling around in their stockinged feet and searching for their shoes in the mountain at the back door. I recognized only one of the young men, and vaguely at that; the others were complete strangers. “Thanks,” they muttered, avoiding eye contact as they let themselves out the back door, and I nodded briskly and went back to my chores. And there I was, deep in the heart of adolescent BAM.

I’ve been living with three teenagers in the house since last summer, and it’s been an experience I can only compare to working in the emergency room at a very, very poorly run hospital, in which I serve as chief administrator, doctor and head nurse. There are long periods of tedium, followed by utterly unexpected floods of panic, trouble and adrenaline. (In my life’s version of E.R., though, there is no George Clooney. Christ, there isn’t even a vending machine).

As of today, I have officially been a mother for 17 years and 315 days, not that I’m counting, and I’ll let you in on a little secret – I’m ready to go off my shift and take a vacation for a couple or fifty weeks. Really, really ready. I can look in the mirror and see for myself the damage that this gig has wreaked, like one of those presidential before-and-after photos, but in my case, it would be a president who battled an alien invasion and a nuclear holocaust. And did not, I’d like to emphasis, win re-election or save the planet.

In the latest installment of the cut-rate, Clooney-less E.R. in which I live, the exchange student decided, during last weekend’s choir trip to Memphis, that it would be a brilliant idea to hole up with his three roommates in their room at the Hilton and smoke a massive amount of weed. When the guy on the floor above called the front desk to complain about the stench – or perhaps just to ask if there’d been some sort of shift in the time-space continuum and he’d been suddenly transported back to 1973 – the choir director and assistant principal were summoned to the lads’ room. May the angels bless these poor, long-suffering public servants, standing in their bathrobes in front of the four stupidest young men in the upper Midwest, asking, possibly just to satisfy their own curiosity, what these geniuses had been thinking. “We had the window open,” was the utterly logical retort from the blazed boys, “AND we turned on the bathroom fan.”

Next stop? Call the parents at 2:30 on Saturday morning, and tell them that their darlings are a)suspended and b)being sent home on the next Greyhound out of Tennessee. Oh, and Frenchie?  Immediate deportation,  a sentence delivered to me via a 3 a.m. call to the exchange program’s liaison. (A woman, by the way, with two little kids, an exchange student of her own, and a recently completed course of breast cancer chemotherapy. She and I could start a little “We Really Do Not Need This” club.)

So, after surviving the most singularly horrible winter the state of Minnesota could possibly throw Mr. Cannabis’ way, he managed to be shipped home before going to prom, graduating or even seeing a green leaf on a tree. On second thought, he’s clearly had more than his fair share of leaves already. Man, I hope that was some wicked good weed in Memphis. It would have to have been, to be worth all this.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities, these past few months, to observe how our family reacts in a crisis. One of the strangest twists in this particular episode is that our boy decided that the single family member with whom he could most safely communicate was – wait for it – Emma. We discovered this at 3:15 a.m. on Saturday, when she burst into the War Room/Home Office where we’d bunkered down for our muttered and overlapping Telephone Calls of Shame. She shouted continuous news feeds at us, with all the facts we’d just been told by the school authorities, like a mix of Wolf Blitzer, North Korean tv news and some really, really bad acid. Saying “Thanks honey, we already know that,” just fueled her frenzy to provide a new scoop, and her rapidly tapping fingers sought out ever-fresher updates on the load of excrement into which we’d just landed. If you wonder how Emma sounds at three in the morning when your stomach is twisting itself into yet another ulcer-producing knot, I will tell you – she sounds like the waterboarder must sound right before you decide to confess everything, betray your deepest principles and guarantee yourself a lifetime at Gitmo. It was, needless to say, a long night.

Meanwhile, the newly discovered member of the Doobie brothers continued to send her a stream of remorseful and increasingly hungover texts over the course of his very long bus ride home, several-hour stopover in Chicago included. And why did he choose Emma as his source of solace, you might ask – the person who has flown a hot red flag of contempt in his face for many months, and who has been the Cassandra of Southwest Minneapolis in predicting just this exact outcome? (“He’s Gonna Get Deported,” that new 45 by Emma and the Mellow Harshers! Check out the B Side: “I Told You So/The Bad Parents' Blues.”)

All I could assume was that he figured Emma was the one person he hadn't disappointed. She’d always known he was going to do something this dumb, or even dumber, and now he’d done it, so she was the one he turned for solace. The rest of the family – the naïve-nerds, who had always gotten plenty of his own contempt-flag waved about in our faces, except when he needed money or a ride – we’d been rooting for him, warning him and trying to help him make it through. What a bunch of chumps, I can hear Emma saying, as she received yet another badly spelled text from Mary Jane. 

Emma has been, not surprisingly, quite upbeat over this whole thing, mostly because she rallies very well in a crisis (You picked the right family, honey!), and also because in answer to the question: Which would you rather hear, I love you or You were right, guess which one she picks. (Actually, I surrender isn’t included in that series, or she’d have a different choice.)

I had plenty of time to think while he was making his way home on the Greyhound and saying his endless series of goodbyes this week. So I did what I always do when I have too much to think about – I cook. (On 9/11, I made six different batches of waffles to freeze and eat during the nuclear winter that I was sure was the next thing on the world’s docket, and I think we ate those damn things for the next three years, but that’s another story). I made mesquite-rubbed chicken wings. Sourdough bread. Lasagna. And even, as I was so tired on Saturday night that I was weaving in the kitchen and leaning against the counter for support, chocolate chip cookies. When he left this morning for the airport, I handed him a little plastic to-go bag of them, not that he really needed any more little plastic bags of treats either, now that I think of it. Still, as a start to his Deportation Diet, I guess it was the best possible choice. He really loved my Tollhouse cookies, and his constant ravenous hunger is beginning to make more sense. At least the grocery bills will be lower.

I have no idea what this kid is going to do with his life from now on. He offers handfuls of vague remorse, along with the deeply felt regret that he got caught, as if they're fresh and shiny pennies, newly minted. But to someone who has lived the life I've lived for as many years as I've lived it, they are tarnished and worthless. Still, maybe sometime, some years from now, he’ll be sitting in a circle in the basement of some wicked-looking fifteenth-century cathedral, right after everyone says “Bonjour Weedhead,” and talking through his journey on the douze étapes. Maybe he’ll get better, or at least a little smarter. Dear Jesus on the Cross, I don’t think he could get any dumber.

And as for me, here is what I want, just long enough for me to catch my breath – I want the shit storm to stop, the one I’ve been vainly pushing my little dollar-store umbrella up against since that day last October when I looked at my friend Joel’s Facebook page and wondered why people were posting, “We can’t believe you’re gone! Rest in Peace, we love you.” In these past six months, I’ve been facing enough crises to deplete every molecule of my being, and right now, I am in the E.R. of my own too-eventful life, looking around for George Clooney and seeing only an endless stream of shuffling, shoeless, eye-contact-avoiding teenagers.

And don’t you dare leave a comment on this blog telling me to “Hang in there!!!!!!” or I will find your address, come to your house and personally stab you through the heart with an exclamation point. I know where to buy punctuation illegally, and I am not fucking around.

Just say a prayer for me and for my family, a quiet and simple one. I don’t care if you’re an atheist, just try.

And say one for Monsieur La Whackyweed, too. He’s going to need it. 

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