I was already having a bad day when I detected my teenage son smoking cannabis. By the end of it, I discovered the confiscated joint, still in my pocket
As a parent, I have done something hypocritical and illegal. Not that the kids know yet, and not for a long time. If ever.
It began with the dentist yanking at a back tooth he says must come out. Except that half of it cracks apart loudly. I feel nothing after six injections.
The dentist grumblings and frowns. I smell coffee on his breath as he taps whats left of my tooth and says: Damn. I cant get it all out. Its like a limpet in there. Youll have to go to the hospital tomorrow.
I taste blood as he packs my swollen mouth with wadding and hands me a prescription for antibiotics, along with extra-strong painkillers to get me through the night.
Its going to be painful in a few hours, he advises, taking off his mask and wiping his forehead. Not nearly as much as the bill, I believe but dont say.
The pharmacist is out for lunch. I leave the prescription to come back later. Its 2.30 pm and I get home feeling shaky.
I have a glass of water and watch bloody dribbles fall out of my numbed mouth. Although Im hungry, I decide eating is too risky in case I bite my numbed tongue, as I once did.
Theres a sudden detonation of laugh and foot-tapping above me from the garage loft-space. It was built as an extension by previous owners, but never finished and can only be accessed by a ladder. Its where my 16 – and 14 -year-old sons, Ben and Aaron, hang out with their mates when its too wet or cold outside. Im happy to have them there rather than hanging around the local Spar or park. My 12 -year-old daughter, Molly, wouldnt put one foot into what she regards as a cold and dirty den.
I realise someone is truanting. Very softly, I enter the garage and take off my shoes. There is so much chuckling I think theyd be oblivious if I wore steel-capped boots. Theres Aaron with his best friend, Joe, and two other sons I know from the youth club.
They are rolling a joint. I recognise the sweet, rich smell from university. I was a lightweight back then. I smoked it once after drinking cider and was extremely ill. Plus my anti-drugs-but-happy-to-drink-like-fish mothers had drummed into me that dope was the slippery slope to heroin craving. Seeing my young teenager rolling a joint releases the reactionary in me like a missile.
Aaron had his back to me. Opposite, Joe sits open-mouthed at my sudden appearance. The other two have a reputation as regular truants. Aaron slowly appears round. His face drains.
My body moves before I believe. Im in the middle of them and snatch the joint. Pocket it. And Im off; laying down the parental law about truanting, lying, illegal drugs and what cannabis can do to teenage brains. I find horror on their faces , not about what I am saying, but because I am foaming blood and flecks fly on to them.
I say dentist pointing at my mouth, which still isnt working properly. I order the other two to leave because I dont think their parents want to know what they are up to. Joe remains and I ask him and Aaron to go downstairs. I telephone Joes dad, who happens to be a probation officer, off with a bad back. I just about stimulate myself understood and he hobbles round.
The boys sit silently in the kitchen as he starts to talk and I listen. I am annoyed with myself. I am calm and measured with the young people I work with when it comes to drugs, drink and sexuality. So why, when it comes to my children, have I lost the plot?
But Aaron is only just 14. I am frightened. Spewing blood and putting on the kettle, I fret about what else he might be doing or be about to do soon.
Joes father has an hour-long, two-way intelligent dialogue with the sons. I feel gradually calmer. By the time hes left, fears of them descending from cannabis as a gateway drug to class A substances and life on the streets dissipate.
I still feel out of my depth. I know a lot about drugs but there so many new ones. According to a recent survey by the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs, Brits head the league when it is necessary to teens drinking and taking drugs. Out of 30 countries, nearly 40% of 15- and 16 -year-olds admitted taking illegal drugs.
Fewer teenagers smoke, preferring to spend money on their mobiles than cigarettes. I try to set an OK example when I drink. I dont give pocket money. Their father, who lives away, does and I understand why, but it devotes them buying power.
Ben, my eldest, comes home and stares at my lopsided, swollen face. I tell him about Aaron, who is up in his room. He seems unfazed and suddenly seems much more grown up, even as he dumps his purse in the middle of the room, throws his coat on the radiator, grabs a suitcase of crisps and asks whats for dinner.
He slings a large brown envelope on the table in my direction and heads straight for the fridge-freezer.
The envelope contains a photograph of his schools final year. Everyones grinning and seeming young and lovely. Its one of those images students( and parents) will look back on and laugh about the hair, the eyes shut, the braces as they wonder what happened to classmates. Well, they did in my school before technology started maintaining a tight track of everyone.
Ben, I venture as he sets baked beans in the microwave, how many in your year do drugs?
Ben phases with the handle objective of his spoon to three students. I am astounded and it shows in my voice: Just three out of the whole year?
Doh! he chuckles. Dont be dim. Those are the three who havent done dope. Not sure about what else.
I note he hasnt pointed himself out on the photograph. I cant face asking him more questions today.
Ben goes upstairs and I hear the brothers deep voices backward and forward. It doesnt seem a minute since they were small enough to scoop them up under both limbs, when getting them to eat and to bed was the greatest fus. Now its like being on a big dipper with no safety belt, for about five years.
Molly arrives and rolls her eyes when I explain about Aaron. She says her brothers are morons. I look at her with trepidation. Dedicate it another year and Ill be treading on eggshells.
We eat dinner and its a subdued affair. I feel suddenly exhausted. My half-tooth have started to throb. The dentists painkillers have worn off and Id forgotten to pick up the prescription. I look at the clock. Its 8p m. The chemist is shut. I have no antibiotics or strong analgesics. I look in the closet and take the last two Aspirin and a doubled dose of some sticky old Calpol. I cant face asking the neighbours. When I moved in last year, one situated would like to know whether I was on the advantages and appeared surprised when I said Id always worked. The other side knockings on the wall if I so much as run up the stairs or listen to music. I keep my distance.
By 11.30 pm, I am virtually in tears with ache. Everyone is in bed asleep. I set my hand in my pocket for a tissue and find the well-rolled joint.
I go into the bathroom and lock the door. I stand in the bath and open the frosted window on to the tiny back garden. Theres a full moon and the clear sky teems with superstars. I can reek night-scented stock.
I smoke the joint. The ache fades; so does the worry. Its like Im wrapped up in cotton wool. I have the best, deepest nights sleep since the children were born.
All names have been changed
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