The best, worst, most wonderful, most stressful year of my life—my son’s senior year of high school.

I lost my mother much too early in life, before I even fully understood how much I needed her. I never got a chance to ask her how she survived motherhood with such wit and grace and good humor. One day you aren’t a mother and the next day you are. It’s really that simple. And that overwhelming. I remember back in the early days, when my son was little, I obsessed about his safety. I baby-proofed the house so well that neither my husband nor I could open a cabinet or go up the stairs without substantial effort. I kept a rigid schedule—supposedly babies responded well to routine—of feedings and naps and playtime. I wrote this schedule down and stuck to it. I monitored his diet to ensure that he was eating what he was supposed to eat, when he was supposed to eat it. As he grew up, I taught him how to cross the street, to wear a helmet, to ask for help, to stay away from strangers. In high school, I relaxed the tiniest bit. He was a good kid. He had made it past the dangerous years—or so I thought. Foolishly, I looked forward to his senior year. After all, it’s the Big year. So many life choices are made, so many memories are accumulated. I wanted him to love his classes, do well in his endeavors, ace the SAT, go to the prom, get his picture in the yearbook, apply to college. All of it. I remembered how much fun I had senior year, and I wanted the same for him. I didn’t realize how much the world had changed…and how much it had stayed the same. It’s been four years now since my son graduated from high school, and those few years have given me a little space. I’ve gone through the empty nest and come out on the other side. Now, finally, I can look back on that incredibly difficult year and see it for what it was. See me for who I was, and see the mistakes I made along the way. Senior year of high school has always been a pivotal time in a person’s life. I imagine it has always been stressful on kids, but for today’s seniors—and their parents—it is flat out brutal. The amount of pressure placed on kids today is immense. The getting-into-college anxiety is unbelievable—and it starts young. Are you taking the right classes in middle school? Are you playing sports, are you

excelling in sports? Do you have a job? Speak a foreign language? Have you taken enough AP classes? The list of requirements is endless. It’s no wonder the kids start to rebel. I tried to keep my son on track. It’s what I’d always done—tried to keep him happy and safe and prepared for the future. I often thought I knew what he needed before he did and so I gently—sometimes not so gently—encouraged him to reach just a little higher, dig just a little deeper. I saw all that his future could be and I didn’t want him to miss a single opportunity. Then came the magic day. My son’s eighteenth birthday. That’s the day my world began the slow, inevitable slide off its once familiar axis. And I wasn’t alone in that. Plenty of my friends began to hear the same words from their kids that year: “I’m eighteen. I’m an adult now. You can’t tell me what to do.” Suddenly, everything about parenthood became a battle. Rules that had been firmly in place for years were challenged. Curfews were tested, homework was ignored. Just saying the words college application could cause a war. In retrospect, I think I underestimated the immense pressure my son was under in that last year of high school. I didn’t realize how much he wanted to make his family proud…and how much he feared failing. He, like most of the kids in his class, was ready to fly away from the nest, but not really ready to test his wings. Everything felt dangerous to him—tests could be failed, teams could lose, application deadlines could be missed, hearts could be broken. It’s a scary thing, growing up. And then came spring. The party season. Believe me, whatever you remember about high school parties hasn’t changed. Teen parties still spring up like mushrooms in dark, quiet places, far from adult eyes. Weekend after weekend. For me, this became the most challenging time of all. As a lawyer-turned-novelist, I am a person who researches things. I pride myself on my ability to gather knowledge. I am the opposite of a head-in-the-sand woman. I don’t want to operate in a don’t ask/don’t tell world. I believe in honesty and transparency. Unfortunately, there’s a price to all that honesty. Your kids tell you what you don’t want to hear. What are you supposed to do as a parent when your child tells you that he wants to go to a party where there will be drinking? Say no? He won’t tell you again and might even start sneaking out of the house. Say yes? And condone underage drinking? Drive him to the party and minimize the risk? Isn’t that a tacit acceptance of drinking? Have the party at your house, under adult supervision? It’s illegal, and it puts at risk everything you own, including your very soul, if something

bad happens. Believe me, I thought about it all, agonized over it. I talked to my son endlessly about the dangers of alcohol and the risks of drinking and driving. I talked until I was blue in the face and he was looking away. I remembered things from my own youth that didn’t help---like the terrible accident that took a friend’s life on graduation night. That year, my son and I were constantly fighting. He was trying to break free; I was trying to hold on. I was afraid every time he left the house. I worried that I couldn’t keep him safe. What I didn’t realize until later was how…organic it all was. It’s the way senior year is supposed to be. Your child is finding the courage to leave everything familiar and start out on his or her own. You’re trying to keep your child safe and close. In looking back, I have tried to come up with The Answer. The right way to parent in that stressful, dangerous year. What should I have said about all the pressures he was under? How could I have been a better mother? How should I have dealt with the threat of teen drinking and driving? What’s the right answer when the partying starts? I wish I could tell you I cracked the code, but I didn’t. I honestly think there is no right answer for every child or every situation. I can only tell you how I survived it, and that was by being as open and honest as I could. I made sure that my son could always talk to me about anything. Sometimes it took phenomenal effort not to over-react or judge too harshly or even to reprimand. Instead, I listened and I advised to the best of my ability. I told him that he shouldn’t drink, that he couldn’t drink, and that if he found himself at a party with drinking, I would pick him up and drive him home. Anywhere, anytime. No questions asked. I said it and I meant it. It was a roller coaster ride, that year; it tested me to my limits in every way—as a mother, as a woman, as a wife, as a friend. I was exhausted by the time it was over. Honestly, it was my girlfriends who got me through it. As always, we found a way to laugh about it. Senior year was stressful, there’s no doubt about it. It was also exciting, exhilarating, and magical. Here’s what I didn’t know then: Everything I said to my son, he heard. I didn’t need to say it twice or underscore it or remind him. He heard it all and took what he needed. In the end, we both grew up and learned that trickiest of skills: how to let go and hold on at the same time.