Happy Sunday Morning. It’s story time. After last Sunday’s lack of comments, I’m guessing you don’t like war stories. Perhaps this one will show the unexpected dilemmas parents face.
The Death of Innocence
Lily turned 18 in April. She said it was her happiest birthday because she was free. She was finally old enough to do anything she wanted. In my eyes, she’d been “free” since she was 14 when she decided to live with her father after the divorce. Since then, she spent too much time alone unsupervised. This custody arrangement was not good for her, or me. I missed her so much. For the last four years, her anger with me for ending a bad marriage and upsetting her life spewed out every time we were together.
After not hearing from her for over a week, I called her one evening.
“Hello,” I heard her perky voice.
“Hi Lily, it’s Mom.”
“Oh.” She paused. “Hi, Mom.” Her voice was flat.
“I called to say I missed you.”
“Okay,” she paused.
“I was hoping we could get together.”
“I’m pretty busy.”
“So, what have you been up to lately?”
Normally my daughter was an uninhibited chatterbox volunteering information about friends, the funny antics of her two cats, and any other thing that was on her mind. But now, pulling a conversation from her was like running uphill in mud.
I tried again, “How’s the telemarketing going?”
“Ah . . .” she hesitated, “Well . . . I’m not working there any more.”
“Oh? I thought you liked that job.”
“It was a stupid job. I got into a fight with the boss and quit.”
“A fight? About what?”
“It doesn’t matter. I have a new job now.” Her tone is matter-of-fact. She smacked the gum she was chewing.
“Well, that’s good. Did you go back to the video store? You always liked working there.”
“No. It’s a different job, Mom.” I imagined her shifting her weight from one foot to another.
“So what is it?”
“You won’t like it.” I could hear her take a deep breath. Maybe she was even twisting her hair.
“I won’t like what?”
“You won’t like my new job.” She took another deep breath and blurted, “I’m dancing at Sweet Cheeks.”
Her words stung me like a boxer’s right cross. I fell down into my chair. In an instant, my bones turned to dust. I just heard my daughter admit she was dancing at a strip joint in the next town. All I gasped, “You’re right. I don’t like it.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, “Lily the Lawyer” took over.
“Now Mom, look at it this way. I like dancing, and I’m really good at it! And the money! The money is unbelievable! Last night I made 250 bucks —in one night! I had to work all week to earn that telemarketing. And the girls are nice, and . . .”
“So you go to school during the day and do this at night? What about homework?”
She cut in; “I quit school.”
Another blow. Lily wasn’t a model student, but I hoped she would graduate with her high school class. “Oh, Lily, no,” I moaned, “You’ve only got a month to go. Why would you . . .”
She cut in. “Mom, high school wasn’t working for me. I’ll go to the community college and get my diploma.” As she chattered on about some of the girls she worked with and how great it she felt on stage, I was numb. She said for three or four minutes she was the center of attention, just like a star. As she yammered on and on, I saw her innocence—bright blue eyes, silky blonde hair, pink cheeks fading to black. Her magical smile that always charmed me would now be directed at creepy, ogling men.
Lily kept talking. “Mom, there really isn’t anything wrong with dancing. The only bad thing is the stuff that’s around it — like drugs, alcohol and prostitution.” She was nonchalant like she was making a grocery list!
The first blows hadn’t worn off yet, and here was another upper cut. “Lily. Can you hear yourself? Those things get people killed. I choked on my sobs as I mourned loss of her innocence.
“Yeah,” I coughed.
She proceeded in a calm tone. “Now, Mom, there’s nothing to cry about. I won’t do any of that “other” stuff. Look, I tried pot when I was 15, and I didn’t like the way it made me feel. I tried alcohol when I was 16, and the same thing. And prostitution is stupid. I don’t know how anybody can do that. I guess there’s one girl at the club who turns tricks, but she’s the only one.”
Was I really hearing this? Turning tricks? Smoking pot? Drinking? Where did she learn this stuff? Where was the supervision since I left? Obviously, she was running wild.
Anger churned up from my stomach. “God, Lily. Why are you putting yourself in such danger?”
“Danger? There’s no danger. God, you’re melodramatic, Mom. I’m perfectly safe. There are five bouncers–big guys—all of them are six-foot five or more. Nobody touches me. And, when I leave every night, I make one of them walk me to the car. I’m not stupid.”
I thought, maybe not stupid, but not smart either—just young.
She continued, “I know I can’t do this for the rest of my life, but I’m 18, and I’ve got the body and—”
“Right. You’re 18. A young girl with firm breasts, which is what creeps want to look at when they go to places like Sweet Cheeks.”
“So they look. What’s the big deal? It’s a job.”
I tried another tactic. “Really? You mean to tell me you feel that badly about yourself? I feel sad for you, Lily. Where’s your self-esteem?” I took a tissue out of the box next to the phone and wiped the tears away.
Her tone turned icy. “This is why I didn’t tell you! I knew you’d be like this. Just because you’ve been a goody-two-shoes all of your life, doesn’t mean I have to be one. You don’t have a clue that there’s a whole big world out there. God, get a life!”
“Remember who you’re talking to, Lily!”
Silence. I knew she was sorry for crossing the line. Her tone softened. “Mom, please don’t hate me. I like dancing, and I’m going to do this . . . no matter what you say.” Her stubborn streak ran deep. There was little I could do about her tantrums at this age. At least when she was three, I could throw cold water at her to get her attention.
“So you’re going to do this no matter what I think about it.”
“That about sums it up.” She said with a bit of sarcasm.
I knew fighting wouldn’t solve anything, but I would not condone her behavior. I tried one last thought. “You know, Lily, someday you’ll probably have a daughter – do you really want her to know that her mother was a stripper?”
“Oh for crying out loud! It’s called an ‘exotic dancer’ nowadays. I guess I’ll just have to solve that problem when I get there.”
“Whatever.” I was defeated. I had exhausted all my sensible arguments.
“Be happy for me. I’m having fun and making tons of money. Isn’t that what you always said, that you wanted me to be happy?
“This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
What else could I say? Be careful? Don’t take any wooden nickels? How would we ever be able to talk again with this between us? In one phone call, she changed our relationship. She put a distance between us that would take years to dissolve. But I loved her. I hated her choice. But I loved her. If I turned my back on her, no one would be in her corner. After all, don’t good mothers provide unconditional love no matter what?
After this horrendous conversation ended. I vowed to stay in her life and to be there when her world fell apart. I knew at some point, this poor choice would leave her damaged, and she’d need me to build her up again. So, I would stay in her life, maybe on the sidelines, but I would keep my mother vigil until she needed me again.