When Your Teen Loses Control

The following excerpt comes from Adair Lara's new book, Hold Me Close, Let Me Go: A Mother, a Daughter, and an Adolescence Survived (Broadway Books).

Buy your copy of Adair Lara's new book here.

Chapter Three

I drove Morgan to her first day of high school the next morning, the two of us barely talking. Two months shy of 14, she had unrolled the window and hung out a nonchalant elbow, so that the cold breeze came around and hit me in the back of the neck. You had to look close to see how nervously she was beating time to the music on her bare knee with her other hand.

"Did Grandpa go back to the valley?" she asked.

"I don't know. Probably."

"I liked him. He was cool."

"He liked you, too," I said. "Said he'd rather have troublemakers in the family than lemonade stand proprietors."

"I'm not a troublemaker, Mom. Stop!" Morgan had spotted crowds of kids streaming along Eucalyptus Drive as we approached Lowell High School, a low collection of beige buildings set below the roadway less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean. "Drop me here, please, Mom." We were three blocks from the school.

She got out, and then reached in the back seat for her pack. A blue Honda had stopped in front of me, and a skinny Asian girl lost in oversized overalls bolted from the passenger door. Her mother hurried after her with a backpack.

"Your homework schedule for high school, by the way, is 5 to 7:00 every weeknight, starting this afternoon," I told Morgan through the window.

"No, Mom, no way," she said in a level tone. "I'm going to be nice, but I'm not going to do that." She walked off.

"Yes you are!" I shouted after her, but she didn't turn around.

I rolled up the window and drove back over the hill over Portola, slowing as always to admire the skyline view of San Francisco from the top of the hill, a line of tall white buildings shimmering above the green bay.

Despite all her class cutting and other hijinks in middle school, Morgan's test scores had got her into Lowell, San Francisco's prestigious academic public high school. Ninety-nine percent of Lowell graduates went on to college.

But not everybody graduated. "Your freshman son or daughter will be doing homework for four hours every night, and will be lucky to get D's," the principal had said in the auditorium the week before. We parents had blanched. I saw one mother wrapped in a pea coat jot a note down on her "Welcome Lowell Parents!" sheet. The man next to me ran a hand through his thinning hair and seemed to almost rock with anxiety beside me. I wanted to rock, too. I had read somewhere that even if it meant standing over her chair while she did it, you had to make sure your high school student did her homework,. I didn't see myself doing that for the four hours the principal had stipulated, but I could manage two.

I spent the rest of the day staring at the blue screen of my computer. Student essays from the writing class I taught on Thursday nights, press invitations, telephone messages, and newspaper clippings littered my desk. I wrote a personal column on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle. I stared at a note from a reader that I had thumbtacked to my bookshelf: "I wish you would explain the purpose of your column. When you are not occupying that space, others write of similar personal experiences and I just do not understand what place they have in a newspaper."

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