I’ll never forget the summer of 2011.
My oldest daughter, Presley, was 17 at the time and had just finished her junior year in high school. It had been her first year in public school, having attended several private schools up until then.
She led a mostly normal childhood up to this point. She played competitive soccer for most of it and made decent grades. In the spring of her seventh grade year in middle school, I began to notice changes in her, mostly behavioral. She was getting in trouble with the teachers for acting out in class and pulling pranks to get attention. Negative, positive…it didn’t seem to matter to her; attention was attention. I was called into the principal’s office more times than I can remember. It was never anything too serious, just what I call dumb decision making, or not thinking about the consequences. A great example of this was the time a couple of boys dared her to put her hand in a fire ant bed for thirty seconds. If she could, they promised to give her two dollars. She did it (without thinking about the consequences) and ended up with twenty-something ant bites up and down her arm. They never paid her the money.
We made it through the school year, barely, but after that things seemed to only get harder for her. I put her in an alternative school where the headmaster preached discipline and structure. The school’s specialty was dealing with kids with ADHD. Presley had been diagnosed with the learning disability some years back when her first grade teacher noted that she took more time to prepare to prepare to do her school work than it would have taken her to actually just buckle down and do it. The plan was to keep her at the alternative school for two years, per the headmaster’s recommendation. We were asked to leave after one.
What worked in Presley’s favor was her gift for playing soccer. She had been playing club ball since she was ten years old. She was a different child on the soccer field. She displayed confidence and great sportsmanship and a true love of the game. You could see it in her face how much she liked herself when she played soccer. Off the field she wasn’t the same. Presley was invited to guest play on other teams during important tournaments because everyone saw what we saw: the girl was special, she loved the game, and it showed. All the time she talked about playing for North Carolina some day, the holy grail of girls’ soccer. My response was always keep up your grades and you can do it!
After being asked to leave the alternative school she was lucky enough to get into the local Catholic high school, which just so happened to have a strong soccer program. Very strong in fact. The coach loved Presley and knew all about her reputation on the field. What worried me was whether her off the field behavior would haunt us. Ninth grade went pretty well. She was the only freshman on the varsity team and got a lot of playing time, taking the spot of one of the seasoned seniors. It was a good year for her, mostly.
Keeping up her grades was a constant battle for Presley. She was taking medication to help her concentrate, but she wasn’t getting the work done. She started slacking on her school work and lying to me about things. Do you have homework? No Mom, I finished it. How’d you do on your math test? I think I got an A.
It was never the correct answer.
Her sophomore year she remained mostly ineligible to play on the soccer team because she wasn’t passing her subjects. We did everything to try and help her, but 16-year-olds have to be active participants. She showed little interest in helping herself. She didn’t bother taking a driver’s education class even though I signed her up for it. I wasn’t going to force her to go; I couldn’t do everything for her. She had to do part of the work. So when her sixteenth birthday came there was no celebrating getting her license. While her other friends were driving and getting cars, Presley was sitting at home watching TV and not trying to improve her situation. She quit soccer and went through friends like disposable diapers. One day she would bring home a girl and say “This is my best friend.” Two days later I would ask about the friend and she would look at me and ask, “Who?”
The Catholic school was expensive and she didn’t show any appreciation for the money I was spending to send her there and she was barely passing. She begged me to let her go to the public high school and I couldn’t come up with anymore reasons to say no.
The thing about public high schools? They’ll let anybody go there.
Presley didn’t have any real friends. The people she called friends weren’t all that friendly. I tried to keep up with them: their names, their parents, their backgrounds. But it’s hard to be everywhere at once, especially when you’re dealing with a 17-year-old who has friends who drive. Short of putting a tracking device in her body I relied on her to tell me her whereabouts and what she was doing.
A couple of times she burned me. Her “friends” stole things from my house. She lied about where she was and what she was doing. I grounded her more times than I can remember. She had no access to a cell phone and was on lock-down a lot of the time. It was this time in her life I was grateful she’d been lazy and not gotten her driver’s license. Small victories.
There were a few run-ins with the police too. She was caught egging someone’s house. She was out past city-mandated curfew. She got a ticket for driving without a license.
I asked her if she was doing drugs and she laughed in my face.
Then it happened.
I was away from the house for less than 24 hours. Presley was spending the night with a friend (whose mom I knew and trusted) and was not to come to the house for any reason. At nine AM the next morning I phoned Presley to let her know I was on my way back. She didn’t answer her phone, but called me from someone else’s number a short time later. She explained that her phone had been stolen (AGAIN) and that she was at home (where she wasn’t supposed to be) but could explain.