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COVID-19 Rituals: Getting Grounded in the Morning

This article was originally published on Medium.com as “Time to Adopt a Morning Ritual.”

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase through one of these links, I may make a small commission (at no additional cost to you), which I will donate to literary organizations in Boston. Thanks!

I am often asked about my writing practice and whether I have a certain routine. The answer is yes, I am, for the most part, a morning writer. What I don’t really talk about, however, are the steps I must take before sitting down at my desk. About six or seven years ago I incorporated morning ritual into my life, intentional actions beyond brushing my teeth and washing my face and getting dressed that have fueled not just my writing but my life.

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Early morning near Fisherman’s Wharf

During this time of self-isolation while anxiety and fear seem to hover like a dark cloud, my morning ritual has become even more sacred. Expressing control over the day’s beginning sets me on the most positive trajectory possible. The quiet of early morning is also very beautiful and taking it for myself is a wonderful act of self-love.

Even under normal circumstances my morning ritual provided a mindful entry into creative work. On days when I have a busy schedule, the ritual brings me back to calm clarity and away from media distractions.

Since many are now working from home, possibly craving a more deliberate delineation between “self” and “work” mode, I’d like to suggest morning ritual as a way to transition. If you have pets or children who make early demands, getting up before them is an option, as is making a deal with a partner to cover for you. The best option will be training your children and your pets to be patient, but that will take time.

There are days when I need to be flexible and do a condensed version, but I set out my complete morning ritual below. You will see that it is meant to not just boot up the mind, but the body and spirit as well.

1. Peaceful Warrior routine on a yoga mat. I learned this from Dan Millman, Author of “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior” in a class he gave on Mastery at Kripalu about 6 years ago. In the video I’ve attached it takes 5 minutes, but I’ve seen Dan do it in 3, or it can be extended to a 15 minute routine.

2. A few more for good measure — I add about 5 more minutes of floor exercises prescribed by a physical therapist to combat some of my chronic sports injuries. Use this time for any additional stretches or movements you like, but do them in a specific order, so that you create a true ritual. All you need to do is focus on your breath.

3. Go upside down — I invert for several minutes on a yogi stool which settles the weight in my shoulders and off my head and neck. The reversal of gravity on my spine and oxygen to my brain are two benefits. I also tuck my knees into my abdomen for a few upside down crunches.

4. Meditation — I go right from the inversion to sitting on a bolster. I rub essential oils into the soles of my feet, light a candle and then begin. Ten minutes is my sweet spot….

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12 Top Boston Spots for the Working Writer

This post was originally published on the Boston Book Blog.

A writer’s day can be a mixed bag. Yes, my ideal is four uninterrupted, morning hours at my desk, but writers can’t always be writing – there are many other activities that go along with the job. Some days I take a class, meet with a writing group, do research, or attempt to solve technical problems. I’m fortunate that the Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighborhoods offer many locales for staying  productive. Come along with me as I take a writerly walk through Boston.

 

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Boston Athenaeum

When I need a change of scenery, writing at the Boston Athenaeum is truly inspiring. To work here, you will need to become a member of this magical private library, but fun fact: dogs are allowed.

 

 

 

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Panificio

My favorite writing haunt on Charles Street is Panificio at number 144. The soups are heavenly and their big windows let in tons of light. It’s also close to my local post office where I often have an errand to run!

 

 

 

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Family Reunion Just Cuz

My earliest memories of family outside the nucleus of my mother and father was my mother’s family: her father, three siblings, and my cousins. My eldest uncle and his first wife had three children and we were often sandwiched together during the summer, swimming in Lake George, singing in the back seat of the car, and scouring the attic in our grandparent’s home for dress up material for skits we’d put on for the whole clan as they sipped cocktails and pulled dinner together.

The next crop of cousins would appear when I was ten years old, creating a span between we four older cousins and the seven younger ones, but I always remember marveling when they were born and playing with them when they were little.  My aunts and uncles often served as surrogate parents, taking care of me for long stretches of time.

I’m going to do a huge fast forward, but a lot of things would come to pass, not between the cousins but in our parents’ generation: hurt feelings, relocations, distance, divorce, death. The result was a chasm in my relationship with my aunts and uncles.  I even went so far as to walk away from my mother’s side of the family for a period of time after her death, like it was my duty to continue to carry her baggage, with a side order of who needs them anyway.

Three years ago, my cousins invited me to my aunt and uncle’s 50th Anniversary party and I attended. I was so nervous going into the evening, I made my daughter come with me.  I would be seeing the whole crew after a fifteen year separation.  My aunts and uncles were all welcoming and kind, but the best part of the evening would sitting at dinner with my cousins, and  introducing my daughter to women with whom she shared so much in common. It was more than fun – it was incredible.  In adulthood our age differences melted away.

Last year I bumped into one of my cousins in Utah (thanks to Facebook) and after spending time with her, was finally ready to admit to myself I had a yearning for family. Family with a capital F,  as in blood relatives.  My mother had been gone fifteen years and it was remarkable how being in the presence of her DNA was strangely comforting.

Riding a chairlift together in Utah, we hatched the idea of a cousins ski trip.  Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, our parents all shared a true love of the downhill, speed, and risky behavior. Skiing is not just a sport, but sort of a family value, and one that everyone could get behind.  After requesting preferred dates from a few of the cousins,  I went ahead and reserved the condo, then threw out the details to the group….  people seemed up for it in the springtime, but  I wasn’t sure anyone would show when the time came.  Let’s just say I bought the cancellation insurance. 

Well…. I am happy to report that a week ago, seven of the eleven gathered in Deer valley for a long weekend. I am still glowing!  We laughed and skied and talked on the lifts and over dinner. We compared our varying versions of the family history, what was once vitriol in our parents’ generation seemed like a virus we were anxious to be rid of.  We resemble each other and act like each other and, as the one only child in the group, maybe I felt it the most – but being around others I recognized in myself planted me to the earth in a way I haven’t been for a very long time.

I see my mother in my cousins, I see my children in my cousins and they see me in their parents as well. Without the cousin’s ski trip, it may have taken a wedding or funeral to get us all together again.  The effort everyone made (in most cases leaving spouses at home to take care of young families) was tremendous. The commitment  to attend was a demonstration of love for each other and desire to to stay connected. 

Before the weekend I felt a little sheepish and separated, but now I feel like I have six new friends. I even met one for the first time (as we are almost 20 years apart in age).  The message here is: Don’t wait to get people together.   Even the busiest of people will make the effort if you plan far enough in advance.  Make it a destination to give people an extra incentive, maybe centered around an activity most of the people enjoy.  A weekend is plenty of time to come away feeling connected. Let everybody pitch in with meals, cars, etc.  Then sit back and drink it in. It’s even possible your grandparents will also be up in heaven, rewarding you with serendipity and and helping to orchestrate the fun.

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Patience: The Ocean as my Teacher

This essay was originally posted on Medium.com.

jeanne-mcwilliams-blasberg-travel-blog-ocean-teaches-patienceJohn and I flew down to the Dominican Republic to spend New Year’s with friends at Casa de Campo. It was the afternoon of our arrival and we were enjoying cold drinks and their view of the sun lowering over the sea when I reached for my phone to take a picture. My head flashed with heat as I realized the phone, credit cards, and drivers license attached were missing. A quick back-track of our steps had us returning to the resort’s security gate where I had been so excited to see our friends pulling in to greet us, that I stupidly left the phone behind. I was extremely grateful to learn it had been found and turned over to resort security.

By the time we arrived in the DR, we were already nearing the end of our holiday and I couldn’t help feeling like this little mishap was a final test of sorts. Getting reunited with my phone became almost a comical exercise in patience — primarily because I was embarrassed and concerned I’d thrown off our hosts’ evening plans more than any mistreatment by the very conscientious resort staff!

jeanne-mcwilliams-blasberg-travel-blog-friends-on-beach-learn-patienceI’ve been given many teachers in this life when it comes to cultivating patience. Some of the most poignant have appeared while traveling. At home, it’s easy to construct a predictable daily structure, everything under my control (haha). When I lose my patience at home, I often brush it off as justified. I think, “how dare xyz not serve my needs as I want when I want?” But travel takes me to places where my ego has to admit I am insignificant and invisible. Travel separates me from my well-curated routine, creating obvious opportunities to practice patience. Travel holds me accountable to family members — who won’t let me get away with anything.

The first half of the holiday break had us traveling to Punta de Mita, Mexico with our three adult children. There, we enjoyed the Pacific Ocean, cooked simple meals in the villa, lit Hanukkah candles, played games, and talked… Read More

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Pass the Vegan Meatloaf: Navigating Thanksgiving Traditions

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase through one of these links, I may make a small commission (at no additional cost to you), which I will donate to literary organizations in Boston. Thanks!

jeanne-blasberg-thanksgiving-turkeyIn Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent book, We Are the Weather, he reports that “Ninety-six percent of American families gather for a Thanksgiving meal. That is higher than the percentage of Americans who brush their teeth every day, have read a book in the last year, or have ever left the state in which they were born.  It is almost certainly the broadest collective action… in which Americans partake… forty-six million turkeys are consumed on the third Thursday in November every year.” Although Foer goes on to make a larger point about what makes a movement, I use his findings to emphasize something about the holiday menu: turkey is Thanksgiving. 

Dietary changes in our family mean that a majority of us now adhere to vegetarian or vegan regimens. So, in an effort to provide something for everyone, my husband suggested a vegan option this year.  He asked one son to make the mashed potatoes, one son to make the squash casserole, our daughter to make the Brussel sprouts, he’d stuff and roast the bird, and when it came to my assignment (and I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly) he said  something about a vegan meatloaf.

“What? Read me the recipe,” I said from the couch, where I was steeped in a novel.

Everyone was listening as he put on his reading glasses and listed the ingredients: tofu, lentils, oats, ketchup, mustard, soy sauce….

jeanne-blasberg-family-thanksgiving-traditions-turkey-vegan-meatloafNow let me say, that while my husband was the one to suggest this addition, it seemed I would be the one making it, the one to go down in infamy. (read: Mom always takes blame)  John’s dad had reminded me of this fact only earlier that day. Despite his battling the same heart disease that plagues all the men in his family, that very morning we were making plans for his 92nd birthday party at his favorite Chinese restaurant. 

 “When you call to make the reservation,” he had said to my husband. “Make sure you let them know about Jeannie’s dietary issues.” 

You might think his mentioning “my” dietary issues as a sign of his concern and  thoughtfulness, but in it I heard the reminder that for the past thirty years I’ve been the one imposing all brands of “picky eating” on his poor son. 

As John handed me the instructions for the vegan meatloaf,  I cleared my throat. “No way.”

“What?”

 “I am making the executive decision to nix the vegan meatloaf.”  The reason I gave had something to do with keeping it simple, but there was also something of not wanting to be the spoiler mixed in there too.  What Foer writes about is real – the Thanksgiving meal is like a heavy, warm blanket. Even for vegans, a proper Thanksgiving buffet provides a certain visual that is comforting. I knew vegan meatloaf on the Thanksgiving table would not be like an orange on a the Seder plate – rather it sounded like the punchline to a stupid joke. 

As a mom (and a daughter-in-law entrusted with the meal),  it has become increasingly clear that the greatest thing I can offer my family, what everyone really craves, is stability and tradition. After the schlepp home, weary from the cruel, cruel world, the Thanksgiving menu does more than fill one’s stomach.  The kids look forward to, and indeed get a boost from our adherence to the prescribed menu. Tradition was hard enough to sustain during the years we lived overseas where finding a turkey was near impossible and we had to assign our eldest son with smuggling Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix and ocean spray cranberry sauce through customs on his way home from boarding school.  Certain staples of our menu are tributes to mothers who are no longer with us. Even the squash rolls take on importance. My father-in-law orders them weeks ahead and stands in line to pick them up at a farm stand on the Cape.

jeanne-blasberg-thanksgiving-dinner-traditionReading the figures in Foer’s book suggests we aren’t the only family clinging to tradition.  Even as we Blasbergs are accepting of change and differences in other aspects of our lives, I was surprisingly suspect of letting change creep onto my Thanksgiving table.  I mean it’s not like we weren’t going to have the turkey too… John just suggested adding a dish. You may accuse me of just wanting to read all afternoon (true), or avoiding the additional dishes that would need to be washed (true), but there was certainly something about the aesthetic of a brown log, and the taste (soy sauce??)…  and the feeling like I didn’t want to risk even one little crack in our tradition. Maybe there was also a tinge of that fear that since my children have all left home there might be a time when they don’t return – “she actually made a vegan meatloaf one year.” 

I’m guilty of blowing apart various aspects of my children’s lives, but I’ll draw the line when it comes to Thanksgiving.  Plant-based, low-carb… forget about it or pick around it. God forbid I fall into the category of a family member who once insisted our only stuffing option be gluten-free…  My family has a long memory when it comes to such transgressions and can be pretty unforgiving. No, a vegan meatloaf wasn’t happening on my watch. We vegetarians would survive on side dishes (and a guaranteed late night snack).

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Revisiting: When Book Tour Becomes Time Travel

This essay was originally published on Medium.com.

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A stunning walk in Laguna Beach

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Beyond Admissions: The Campus Novel

This article was originally published on Medium.com.

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase through one of these links, I may make a small commission (at no additional cost to you), which I will donate to literary organizations in Boston. Thanks!

jeanne-blasberg-boston-book-festival-the-campus-novel-panel

I sat on a panel last weekend at the Boston Book Festival with three incredible authors of recent releases to discuss “The Campus Novel.” Long-held favorites in American literature, campus novels are set in academia with protagonists coming of age among a variety of pressures. Schools, after all, have long provided ripe settings in literature — think THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE by Patrick Conroy. They are convenient microcosms, mysterious islands unto themselves with specific codes of conduct and traditions. If a writer’s primary objective is to ‘world-build,’ then campuses provide a great head start.

the-nine-campus-novel-by-jeanne-blasbergIn addition to my novel, THE NINE, the Boston Book Festival panel included CJ Farley with his novel AROUND HARVARD SQUARE, Mona Awad and BUNNY, and Elizabeth Ames who wrote THE OTHER’S GOLD. While THE NINE is set on a fictional boarding school campus, AROUND HARVARD SQUARE and THE OTHER’S GOLD are set on college campuses, and BUNNY portrays one young woman’s experience in an MFA program. Our moderator, Lisa Borders, kicked off the discussion with the ways we had each spun this recognizable genre, however, CJ Farley was quick to point out that the four novels, with regard to subject matter at least, were more similar than different.

the-others-gold-campus-novel-by-elizabeth-amesThere was head nodding on the stage. We were, he continued, all dwelling on the theme of exclusivity and groups — whether cliques of friends, societies (secret and otherwise). Our protagonists are disheartened as they meet continuous tests of acceptance inside their respective academic settings. And while our young heroes and heroines may have been conflicted about these groups at first, they ultimately wanted in. Whereas one (a parent for instance) may have assumed gaining admission to the likes of Harvard was success in itself, our characters are disheartened with the continuous tests of acceptance that are set out before them. BUNNY and THE OTHER’S GOLD are interesting in their deep dive into the world of female friendship and the intense bonds (for better or worse) that are created on campuses during early adulthood. After touching on the theme of acceptance, loyalty and betrayal were obvious follow-ups in all of our novels.

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Confessions of a Boarding School Mom: Let Someone Else Play Bad Cop

This essay was originally published on Medium.com.

teen-boy-and-girl-by-bonfire-confessions-of-boarding-school-momThe school year may have just begun, but many families are already in the process of thinking about “the next school.” If that consideration includes boarding school, read on. Even though my recent novel, The Nine, portrays a mother’s harrowing experience as her son navigates boarding school, I still believe boarding is worth considering. While scheduling interviews, touring campuses, and filling out applications, there’s an additional data point I’d like to offer.

First, I should say that although we had three children attend three different boarding schools, I wasn’t always keen on letting my children leave home. When my future husband first told me he had attended boarding school, I was surprised. “So what’d you do wrong?” I asked. You see, I attended a large public high school in Southern California and assumed anyone who’d been “sent away” had been a problem child. He explained that a rigorous boarding school outside Boston had been his choice. Twenty years later, boarding would be our children’s choice as well (although none of them would choose my husband’s alma mater.) It was new territory for me, and I had to come to grips with the separation, the distance, and the changes to our relationship.

I’d also have to come to grips with rule books, signing pledges that I would support the policies which could fill up inch-thick tomes.

We’d drop our kids off freshman year, preaching a strict adherence to the various rules. Administrations were notoriously inflexible, and did not accommodate rule bending or extenuating circumstances. And even though our kids heeded our warnings for the most part, there came a time, somewhere toward the end of junior year or the beginning of senior year when my husband and I would suck in our breath each time the phone rang, wondering if our luck had run out.

What had once represented independence as a fourteen year old felt confining once they were eighteen, like cartoon characters with smoke exploding from their ears, I could sense they were also ready to blow. Besides, we’d seen a lot by then — one of our children’s disciplinary hearing, as well as seemingly minor offenses by schoolmates that came with serious consequences. Then there were kids who committed similar offenses but received drastically different punishments. We’d seen administrators with a range of temperaments, and rules broken due to misunderstanding rather any intent to do something wrong. It could feel, often times, inconsistent and confusing.woman-checking-phone-call-from-kids

My stomach would drop, speaking to our sons or daughter on the phone each week as they reported a new crop of disciplinary cases announced at all-school assemblies. So, our mantra became, “If you need to misbehave, come home.” This was an obvious departure from the rules-enforcing parents we’d started out as, but boarding school brought about a shift — a desire to avoid what seemed like the inevitable.

Boarding school turned us into our kid’s cover, creating a sort of good cop, bad cop dynamic. The schools could play the heavy so we didn’t have to, and as such, we found ourselves on the same side of the law as our children. While this required walking a fine line, there were definite upsides to our relationships with our kids. They would confide in us more because we weren’t the ones coming down with the blanket rules. Of course we were busy setting other expectations, but when it came to curfews, parties, or spending time with the opposite sex, we were now viewed as reasonable. Imagine that!

parenting-teen-boy-boarding-schoolThere are certain times in a child’s life when you want to lock them in a padded room for about six months– sort of like when they are learning to walk and every sharp-edged piece of furniture is an opportunity to take an eye out. The end of high school years felt like that for me. Why do the stakes have to feel so high!?!

This parenting dynamic isn’t one that’s often talked about openly — who wants to admit to being permissive, to being lenient? Then again, who wants to be the enforcer for four straight years? I can’t say being their ally was optimal; and it was hard to shift gears into disciplinarian during the summer months, but boarding school may have improved our relationships with our children. Their schools were more strict than we could ever be, and we were glad not to be in the position of policing their every move. Relieved of that duty, we could talk to them like the adults they were blossoming into, about making choices, accepting consequences, and the benefits of healthy behavior. It might seem like a slim silver lining, but as my kids have grown into young adults they know they can always confide in us and we will respond with reason.

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The Kids, The Parents, and The Campus

This essay was originally published on Medium.com.

backpackWhen parents of teens gather, the conversation offer turns to what’s going on with the kids, which schools they attend or have attended. I’m not bringing this up to bash parents for being “too involved” or pile on more evidence that an admissions-driven obsession is dragging our culture into cheating scandals and worse. Rather, I believe the majority of parental chatter is in the vein of seeking solace, a sympathetic ear, the relief of sharing war stories, maybe finding humor.

Because my husband and I have three adult children who survived the college process and attended three different high schools, we’re often asked for advice. We’ve been through it: from a child dealing with the disciplinary committee at boarding school to one who inadvertently filled out all the wrong bubbles on the SAT answer sheet. From athletic recruiting myths to failing driving tests, to searching for tutors, we commiserate over the roller coaster ride and the gray hairs it’s given us. We are asked how we handled a host of things, but most of the questions revolve around the schools. Which schools were we most impressed with and, if we had it to do over again, which schools would we be drawn to?

teen-boy-student-studying-aloneI’ve learned that many of the things we aspire to for our children, ourselves even, never quite live up to all the allure. Even with the “best” schools, it’s wise to approach them with a ‘roses and thorns” attitude. Over time, beautiful campuses lose their luster, weak links in the faculty are exposed, and the leadership proves less than perfect.

Campuses are, after all, microcosms, concentrates of society set apart from the real world. Unfortunately, the characters in charge have been guilty of covering up scandal over the years in an effort to keep up the mystique and prestige. The result has been damaged young lives. Although most of the sexual misconduct that’s recently been exposed happened decades ago, it’s naïve to assume such behavior has ceased altogether. What’s more, attention to these revelations has been blurred among the many discredited institutions in the news. Our nation is experiencing record disillusionment with regard to big business, the military, the federal government, the church, local police forces, health care. The question isn’t so much how we stomach the scandals at our nation’s illustrious schools, but how are we stomaching all of it?

teen-boys-skateboard-outside-schoolThe exposure and re-hashing of wrong-doing is painful but necessary. The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team shining a light on pedophiles and their victims at New England private schools was the beginning of a recovery, just as it was for the Catholic Church reeling from the crimes committed by priests. The #MeToo movement that is shaking business and government is disappointing to witness, but is the only way to usher in a new standard. We’ve been living through a void in leadership on many fronts, but I have confidence in the next generation. Upcoming leaders have been raised with intolerance for bad behavior and insistence on transparency and accountability. In the digital age there will be no more secrets and no more ivory towers. The reckoning has come and I’m optimistic that once the shake out is over, the schools, along with the rest of our integral institutions, will be better for it.

So, my advice to younger parents is to approach educational choices with a good dose of realism. A school and its reputation are not going to provide your child with the golden ticket to anything. That’s the marketing we’ve swallowed for many years. Hannah Webber, the mother and main character in my recently released novel, The Nine (She Writes Press, August 2019), gushes over her only son’s acceptance to a prestigious academy. The novel is a commentary on her parenting “tragedy”, her shattered dreams, her ivy-league plans dashed. Hannah puts so much faith in a brand name education being the answer, readers can’t help but sense the disappointment lurking on the horizon.

girl-student-studying-aloneWhen our eldest child was an adolescent, I may have resembled Hannah Webber (just a little). The advice I now give, however, the entire message behind the The Nine in fact, is tempered with perspective and a touch of heartache. It’s not the choices you make as a parent that are most important, but the reasons you make them. Practice acceptance, forgiveness, and love with your children (and yourself as well). Schools won’t be perfect and neither will our children. And as you must be aware if you’ve been at this a while, as parents, we are the most imperfect of all.

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Let Them Make Mistakes: Parenting Teens in the 21st Century

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This article was originally published on Medium.com.

The best medicine I found for easing the anxiety of parenting boundary-pushing teenagers was remembering my own risky behavior at their age.…

“One of you has got to call your parents,” said the officer at the Palm Springs police department. We’d been rounded up and taken in when the party we were hoping to attend spilled out into the street. We were all underage but the other kids we knew had parents or grandparents in town, or at least adults who would vouch for them. Jessie, Tina, Sarah, and I, however, had driven to the desert on a lark. FOMO wasn’t an acronym in 1982, but we had a bad case of it. Everyone who was anyone at Newport Harbor High was spending spring break in Palm Springs, a place I had never been before, having recently transplanted from suburban New York.

A totally unstructured April vacation was the culprit. Four girls left alone with nothing to do. The week stretched out in front of us and after way too much daytime TV, we spent Thursday at Disneyland, going not for the typical reasons, but to make mischief. We’d jump off the Snow White ride inside the dark tunnel and try to dislodge as many poisoned apples as possible. We’d scare little kids and their parents in the process, sometimes hopping onto unsuspecting laps in order to dodge security guards. Eventually bored with Snow White, we took over a table at the snack bar and started flinging ketchup-laden French fries at each other, concocting a new plan.

“We can take my car,” Jessie said.

“We can sleep on a golf course,” said Sarah.

teen-girls-laughing-on-car-road-tripSo, I told my parents I’d be spending the night at Tina’s, and the others told similar lies. We packed bathing suits, hairbrushes and makeup and set off on the two-hour drive to Palm Springs. Despite the care we took making up our faces and curling our hair, five hours later, after a brief thirty minutes at the party, we were loaded into a paddy wagon.

I drew the short straw, and picked up the receiver to call my parents at the officer’s request. My father answered, fuming when I told him that I was with three friends at the Palm Springs police department and asked if he could come get us. After a few moments of stunned disbelief, he let me have it. I held the receiver a distance from my ear, shaking my head in my friends’ direction. “Not happening anytime soon.” I announced, hanging up.

Jessie called her mom next. Instead of grimacing like I had, she continued in a soft voice. After a little bit of explanation, she actually started giving her mother directions to the station. She even hung up with a smile. Maybe it was bad luck that my father answered the phone, but I couldn’t imagine my mother taking the news any better.

Jessie’s mom, Jane, however, arrived several hours later, announcing that since it was Friday and we already in Palm Springs, we might as well make a weekend of it. Hoots of delight erupted from the back seat as she pulled away from the curb. I went along with the enthusiasm, all the while anticipating the fallout when I next called my father, “Good news! I’m out of jail, but I’ll be hanging out at the Desert Marriott for a few more days.” He was going to have lots of time to stew over my punishment.

At the hotel, we put on our bikinis then found chaises poolside, aiming to recover from our missed night’s sleep. Jane took time primping in the room before appearing on the pool deck in high heels, a cover-up, and movie-star sunglasses. She distanced herself from us a bit, finding a chaise by the poolside bar.

teen-girl-alone-looking-for-friends-in-desertWhen I woke up, I had a blistering sunburn on my back and Jane had scored a dinner date with a guy named Bill. She’d end up spending all of Sunday with him as well. The romance continued and not long after, back in our beach town, Bill would become Jessie’s stepfather.

A few months later, as the sting of being permanently grounded was fading, I mentioned the pending nuptials to my father over dinner. I chuckled that the “weekend in Palm Springs” had a silver lining after all. He shook his head and muttered something between bites about getting me out of there, about the type of friends I was making.

He should have given me more credit. He should have known that I understood sneaking off to Palm Springs was a bad idea. New to the school and desperate for friends, I remember weighing the pros and cons and deciding to go anyway. I hadn’t enjoyed the weekend at the Marriott, knowing how upset my parents were at home. I learned that I never wanted to go to jail again or suffer my father’s disappointment. I would think for a long time about his response to my phone call as well as Jane’s, and even as a sixteen- year-old, was determined to land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum if I had kids someday.

teen-boys-laughing-on-mountainI’ve never caught my kids in that type of lie, but we’ve had our moments. As parents, we can make ourselves crazy trying to prevent bad behavior entirely. The important thing to impart on our children is that while dumb choices are inevitable, so are the consequences. I miss the days when kids had space to make their own choices, good and bad, to learn what it feels like to make a mistake. Unfortunately, unlike in 1982, today’s parents operate under the assumption their kids can’t afford to make any mistakes at all. I don’t know how our culture adopted this zero-tolerance policy, but I don’t agree with it. It might be one of the scarier tests of parenting faith, but humans on the verge of adulthood need to test limits. My parents may have gotten mad as hell, but at least they let me screw up, and in its own weird way, that was a meaningful demonstration of love too.