Sunday, August 17, 2008

what do you do for a trainwreck teen?

In one hour I'm driving to the airport to pick up my niece, nephew, and great-nephew, and I am so dreading it. Ever since I found out that my young niece is pregnant AGAIN, I've felt like canceling this visit. Instead, I decided to cancel the Santa Cruz leg of the trip and just hang out in San Francisco instead.

Indeed part of the rationale for the Santa Cruz leg was so thrillseeking Iris Uber Alles could ride the roller coasters with her big cousin B., who is the only one who likes them, but as B. is pregnant, she wouldn't be able to ride them. The other part of it would be going to the beach, but given that my niece and nephew are both anorexic, that leads to other issues. My surly nephew complained that his body is not beach-ready (and no, he's not gay. He runs through teenage girlfriends like I go through bottles of extra virgin Kalamata olive oil).

My niece and nephew have not been blessed with a great nuclear family. My sister is narcissistic; their deceased father was lazy, morbidly obese, and a congenital liar (his children to this day believe their father bagged corpses in Vietnam for a year but on leave filled in for one of the Doobie Brothers in a Japanese stadium date). My oldest nephew, who had drug issues, killed himself soon after his father died and his mother moved in a boyfriend within months of that death.

As you can imagine, I really want these teenagers to have healthier role models and to be exposed to more things in life than they see in their ugly, ugly Denver suburb. However, how long do I consider them malleable? I'm about to give up on B. now that she is over 18 and pregnant AGAIN. Her first baby was severely abused by his teenage father, so badly that the baby was airlifted to a hospital for surgery at risk of death. (I'm concerned that the great-nephew may have lasting brain damage). The baby spent a year in foster care, and the father is in prison for the abuse. I told B. again and again how hard motherhood is and that she couldn't expect her 15 year-old boyfriend to take care of a baby; I encouraged her to consider open adoption; I invited her to come stay with us so we could help her with the baby. This time around, seeing as how she must have learned nothing from the past, I don't feel like saying anything. I feel like giving up. She's nominally an adult now, albeit not legal drinking age, and she's evidently choosing a career path of being a babymomma.

And then there's S., my nephew. He wants to write, and he does write plays and stories. However, he dropped out of high school and doesn't seem motivated to do anything likely to lead to supporting himself. I talked up college to him the last time he visited me, explaining how it would expose him to new things, help him try living in a part of the country (he lives in a basement room in my sister's, ugly, ugly house on an ugly, ugly street in an ugly, ugly suburb), get him to hone his writing. My own husband dropped out of high school and, after a bit of a teenage pothead louthood, went on to earn a Ph.D. in physics from one of the country's most prestigious universities (skipping the GED step, so technically he never did get that high school education), so I'm not going to say all is lost by dropping out of high school. (Indeed, I kind of wish I'd dropped out of high school. My senior year was a waste of time). But one needs drive to get somewhere when you're starting from such a crappy position, and I don't see drive in my nephew.

I feel pessimistic. B. is doing her best, cranking out 2 children before age 21, to create a whole new generation of fuck-ups. My sister, never a contender for mother-of-the-year, said blithely when B. was pregnant the first time, "I always say, 'If they're old enough to have 'em, they're old enough to take care of 'em.'" There has been no sign that the horrific abuse meted out to the newborn and the year he spent in foster care changed my sister's mind on that point.

What am I supposed to do for or with them? I feel like there's nothing left to do other than give them a free vacation (I couldn't afford the tickets this year but bought them anyway... before I discovered B. was pregnant again. Pettily enough I'd only have brought S. out if I'd known). At what point is someone old enough that you give up on helping them or inspiring them?


Silliyak said...

A hard situation. The line between help and enabling can be indecernable.
In general, support the positive, (You want to go back to school? GREAT! maybe I can help pay for...?) and ignore the negative drama.
I think some people want to star in their own personal soap opera.

hughman said...

personally, i think part of your apprehension comes from your belief that it's your "job" to help or inspire them. the truth is, it isn't. it might have been their parents job, but you aren't their parent. now that they are adults (if rather ignorant ones) they need to take that job upon themselves and, if anything, could use people who make that clear to them. maybe think about it as if they were alchoholics - you can't "help" them until they decide they need to help themselves. as a wife and a mother who has her own concerns and family to fret about, you certainly shouldn't feel any obligation to take up the problems of those outside of your realm of ability. to me, it sounds like the very best you could do in this situation is just set some kind of example, without prodding or comment attached. you do this on a daily basis as it is for your children (and even your readers here) so it shouldn't add any more stress to your already sometimes stressful existence. don't feel guilty about not being able to control what they choose to do, despite your natural tendency to want to be in control of everything.

or at least that's my 2 cents, FWIW.

the Drunken Housewife said...

You are right; I should just live an example of someone who is relatively sane and responsible, without preaching. No one wants to be nagged.

Anonymous said...

I have just started reading your blog, and this post really hit home with me. I too have a niece who has made choices I am not happy about. She flunked out of college, had a baby at 20, and is living with the Dad who's family idea of success is somewhat different than mine. But I have come to realize that her background has so much to do with the choices she's made - no one ever believed in her, and for years she felt she had no one to turn to. It's not an excuse, it's an explanation. So even while I sigh often, I realized I have no right to ask her to meet my standards. Even when she screws up, I let her know that I'm disappointed in the act but I'll always love the girl. Your sister's kids may just need to know someone believes in them more than they believe in themselves. My niece tells me she will go on to school someday, and who am I to say she won't? She might be like the Sober Husband. I guess I'm saying if you just let them know you are there and you care, your advice and example will take root and years from now, I bet they thank you for it.

Caroline said...

Sadly, there is nothing you can do. They are old enough now that they have to take some responsibility for their own choices and live with those choices, even if you and I know that they aren't in the right frame of mind to make decent decisions. I would do what I could to get the pregnant niece to eat something vaguely healthy. That would be HUGE.