Park Record columnist
It is so hard. To all of you without a partner to help navigate the teenage years of your children, I understand, I have been where you are now.
The father of my children lived in Hawaii during those years and any family members we had still lived in California. I received $50 a month in child support-which arrived sporadically. I brought home less than $25,000 a year for the three of us. And there were no vacations together. In the summer, my son and daughter would spend a few weeks with their Dad — which was exotic. And I would have a staycation-which pretty much meant I stayed out late and slept in.
Lots of nights I was working — covering the news at council meetings or school board meetings or laying the paper out for its weekly publication. We ate in front of the television — yes we did — together, talking about the programs we were watching, We cleaned the house and raked the leaves and washed the car and grocery shopped. We went to church. We had dinner parties all the time for holidays and no occasion. We set a lovely table and friends came with a dish and their children. We made mud pies out of Oreos and vanilla ice cream. Kids played music on a piano that I paid $50 for, which was probably too much.
My daughters’ friends made music on that piano all through high school. The sad love songs only teenage girls can write. One girl/woman is now singer songwriter. A young woman who, a year after high school showed up on my front porch with her beautiful baby boy. She had just returned from Russia. She is a daughter of my heart.
Kids hung out in our home and made pizza in the oven (without a pizza stone) on a cookie sheet. Our neighbors were living lives pretty much like ours. My son was the first to slip. I had the annual press convention in St George in his senior year — the same weekend as the final competition for his academic decathlon team event. It was mid-winter/spring. I remembered thinking he was 18 and it was just a matter of months before he would be going to college. He certainly could navigate a weekend on his own. My daughter would come with me to the convention.
His two best buddies also had single mom parents. One was the City Manager and one was a television reporter in Salt Lake City. We parented by committee. The reporter’s son said he was staying at my house after the competition. The City Manager’s daughter said she was staying with a girlfriend. Turned out they were having a geek party celebrating winning best AD team in the state with daiquiris (yuck) at my house. And my son decided — after three apiece — the other kids shouldn’t drive and instead all sleep over. And so they did — on the living room floor. The reporter’s son leaked the story to his mother that the girl had actually been with them on Saturday night. Her mother called me. I had to explain to my smart son everything wrong with (most of) his decisions. And since he was also the star of the basketball team (he was MVP in football, basketball and soccer) we would need to sit down and tell his coach.
No one thought that was a good idea. It happened on a weekend — off school grounds. We were in the state playoffs. While I understood that I also understood my son had signed a sports pledge not to drink and he needed to abide by that. And as a single parent I needed the coach to back me up. He didn’t. He said my son could receive a different punishment after the state games were over. I went to the principal. He asked me to sit down and pulled a bottle of Jack Daniels out of his desk drawer and asked if wanted a shot. And trust me, I really did but I said no. And he explained why this championship mattered to the team and the school and the town. And I shook in his office like I had been caught doing something wrong. I told him I would be benching my son if the school wouldn’t.
Eventually we reached a detente. Randy would wear sweats and sit on the bench for the first three games of the five-game series — if we were still in the championship he could play in last two games. That coach and that principal hated me. And a bunch of the dads. And moms.
My daughter did something similar two years later. All cheerleaders drinking beer at a friend’s house — not related to a school event but during season. When she came into my room to say she was home she was weaving, I asked her if she had been drinking. She confessed but said all the cheerleaders were. I said I didn’t really care about all the other cheerleaders. Jenny was also on the Academic Decathlon team and they had just won-Best Small School … in the nation! There had been television cameras when they landed back at the airport and Jenny had come off the plane holding the crystal trophy. It would just to be so embarrassing, her advisor said, to have her not cheer for the playoff game. I admitted it WAS embarrassing AND Jenny had signed a pledge to be on the squad and she had broken it. I was benching her. A whole new set of parents hated me. But not the other single moms. We stuck together –we had to.
Both kids went to college on scholarships and graduated in four years. They are now raising teenagers of their own. They live in Salt Lake City and we see each other often. I would never want to return to those years where every night they were out I prayed to everything holy, just return them home safe. But when I think about those days I remember the group of parents who stuck together and supported one another on tough parenting choices. I remember how little we did that didn’t include our kids. I remember how each dull day could be ruled a victory. I wish for ordinary days for parents here now- including this Sunday in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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