Having now parented six children into their teens, and three, coming hard on four, all the way through them, and having been a teenager myself, once upon a time (which my kids don’t fully believe, but whatcha gonna do?), I have lost a lot of the earnest innocence with which I initially came into parenthood. Mostly, that’s a good thing, I think, but it has its moments of wistful sadness.
Like pretty much everybody I know who grew up in the 60s/70s, I came into contact with marijuana when I was in my high-school/college years. My freshman/sophomore years of college, every Friday evening in my dorm was marked by The Cloud – the fragrant aroma of burning hemp, which hung about eye-level all through the hall. One could get a nice, mellow secondary buzz just from staying quietly in one’s room. . .
My first experience with the Wacky Weed goes back to when I was in high school, probably sophomore year, but I don’t really remember. My brother came home with a nickel-bag (which was considerably bigger in those days than even dime-bags are now), and, on a night when our parents were out, rolled out a few joints, and wandered out behind the house to enjoy one or two. He asked if I’d like to join him, and, curious as I was, I went along.
At this point, I should flash back in time to when we were both ten, and the same brother tried to initiate me into the joys of smoking tobacco, on a Saturday afternoon, in a secluded corner of the school playground. He showed me how to light the cigarette; no problem. I put it to my lips and began puffing on it; this was really pretty easy. But then he said, you have to inhale the smoke. Now, even to my ten-year-old brain, that didn’t seem like such a good idea, but, if that’s what you’ve got to do, then all right. . .
But when I purposed to actually inhale the tobacco smoke into my lungs, my lungs informed me, in no uncertain terms, that they were not going to sit idly by and acquiesce to my misbegotten intentions, and they immediately sent each and every smoke particle, and, it seemed, a few small chunks of themselves, flying violently in an outward direction, in a massive coughing fit. Once I stopped coughing, I tried again, with the same result. A few more attempts yielded the same outcome (heh!), and my first attempt at smoking was a complete and utter failure (I know, you’re all just shedding a tear at my misfortune, aren’t you?). A few months later, I tried again, with the same result, and that was pretty much the end of me and smoking (except for a brief fling with a pipe when I was newly-married, but you don’t have to inhale those).
Those early experiences with tobacco came flooding back to me when my brother took to initiate me into the ways of the Weed. I lit the joint, even savored the smoky-sweet aroma, and took a couple puffs. Then my brother, looking on impatiently, told me that, in order to get high, you have to inhale. Suddenly, I had a sinking feeling, remembering my lungs’ rejection of earlier smoke particles. But this time, I had an added incentive to try again – there was this mysterious ‘Buzz’, to be had, if only I could force myself to inhale. And so I did. And the result was exactly the same as I’d had with those cigarettes five years before – I choked, I coughed, I hacked, I thought I was gonna die. There was simply no way that my lungs were gonna let me ingest smoke into themselves. And that was effectively the end of my brief career as a user of controlled substances. After that, I would be at parties, and joints would occasionally get passed around; at random intervals, I’d check to see if my lungs were inclined to be any more co-operative than they had ever been, and they never were, so sometime during high school, I gave up trying anymore.
As an aside, I might be the only person – I am certainly the only person I know of – who didn’t just immediately laugh derisively when our erstwhile former president said he had tried marijuana “but didn’t inhale”. I could actually share some space with the concept, even if the specific claim stretched credulity a bit.
So, then, when my own children came into their teens, I had no particular illusions regarding the opportunities that would be presented to them, to sample recreational herbs for themselves. Molly and I were quite open with them about our own exposure to them, in our youth, and quite clear on the dangers we saw associated with them – mainly in terms of who you ended up hanging around with while you were doing them, moreso than the specific evils of sampling the aromatic herbiage. We were never aware of 1F or 2F toking up, but we weren’t surprised when they told us, years later, that they had. 3M was very open about his fondness for the weed, and wrote several term papers arguing for legalization, when he was in high school (yeah, subtlety has never been the young man's strong suit). Sadly enough, those were probably the hardest he worked on anything academic, after about fifth grade or so. 4M was pretty strongly influenced by his older brother, and besides, he was on several sports teams, which, in the urban high school our kids attend, is pretty much its own initiation into recreational herbs. We had hoped, when 3M moved out of the house, that dinnertime conversation would be less dominated by discussing the merits of legalizing marijuana, but 4M carried on the grand tradition, although not quite as vigorously as his brother.
But 5M is different. 5M is a much more ‘innocent’ kid than either of his older brothers. His closest friends are nerdy home-schooled kids, who like to get together on a Friday night and play Lord of the Rings Risk. He’s a kind and sensitive soul, and not nearly as ‘edgy’ as his brothers. The only possible ‘red flag’ is a fondness for getting together with a couple of his buddies to listen to Pink Floyd and the Who, and argue the relative merits of ‘The Wall’ versus ‘Tommy’, or ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ versus ‘Quadrophenia’. But that’s so endearingly retro, that the ‘druggie’ aspects of the music (at least as I experienced them) seem almost a non-sequitur.
So, I was a bit perturbed when, a few months back, I wandered up to the bedroom that 4M and 5M shared, and there was a distinctive ‘herbal’ aroma hanging in the air. A very familiar herbal aroma, harking back to my college days (or the last time I went to a McCartney concert). I was quite upset – I mean, it was really pretty brazen to be toking up right in the house, while I was home. So, I tracked down 4M, who was somewhere else in the house, and lit into him – what was he thinking, smoking weed right here, in my house? I understand that he’ll have opportunities to light up with his buddies, and I think that’s a pretty bad idea, but I can’t stop him from it. But, by damn! Not in my house, understand? And 4M nodded in agreement, while barely stifling an amused grin.
What’s so funny?
“Uh, I think you better talk to 5M.”
5M? What does 5M know about Weed?
“Uh, just talk to him.” Still with the stupid grin.
So, I tracked down 5M, who had his buddy Tim over for the afternoon. Now, Tim is sort of the Poster Child for dorky, socially-awkward home-schooled kids, right down to the mild lisp he speaks with; if anything, he’s even more innocent than 5M is. Tim's close friendship with 5M is one of the reasons I pretty much trust 5M to keep himself out of trouble. Tim was with 5M, and I probably should have taken 5M aside to ask him separately about my concerns, but I was, how do you say, pissed. So Tim was there when I asked 5M what he knew about the dope-smell in his bedroom. 5M was instantly evasive. But Tim, innocent that he is, said, “Oh – that was me.”
I spun on my heels, as my jaw hit the floor. “You, Tim??”
“Yeah. I had a little bag of oregano, and we lit some of it. You know, like for incense.”
Um, do you have any of this ‘oregano’ with you, Tim?
“Sure.” He rustles through his pockets, producing a bag with chopped, dried leaves (and no seeds) in it. “Here.”
I opened the bag and took a sniff. It smelled like oregano. I took a pinch and stuck it on my tongue. By golly, it was oregano.
Uh, Tim, could you light some of this for me?
“Sure.” He makes a little pile of dried leaves, and sets a match to it. It smells exactly like another herb which is more commonly lit for recreational purposes.
Oregano. I’ll be darned. Uh, Tim – you might not want to go around lighting oregano, OK? People might get the wrong idea.
“OK, Mr. Jones.”
And that was that. Crisis defused.