10/10/2013 04:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Here, Try These Drugs


Illustration by Leah Rubin-Cadrain (@leahaviva)

I can no longer remember how to do long division, but I remember not to do drugs because, starting in second grade, I was subjected to a relentless anti-drug program called "Here's Looking at You, 2000."

Our teachers used puppets to discuss the dangers of drug use. There was Miranda the Toucan, Froggy the Frog, and Tippy the... some other animal who purportedly did not do drugs.

I remember Mr. W, a grown man with a grown man's body and a grown man's car insurance and a grown man's thoughts, with Miranda on his hand, having conversations with a toucan. All the third graders peered back at him, amused by Mr. W's strained falsetto and wondering what a toucan had to do with cocaine and why the toucan knew so many of the obscure street names for PCP.

The lessons were constant and the curriculum relentless. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to do drugs. They were so boring. The jungle, by association, seemed boring, too, with its talking animals, animals literally obsessed with drugs. I was confident that, when the time came, as it certainly would, I would "say no to drugs." Out of utter boredom.

I was confident... until I talked to my mom.

Ms. G gave us an assignment, in fourth grade health class, to ask our parents how they would respond if they found we were doing drugs.

"Well, which drug are we talking about?" My mother, M, responded.

"I dunno. Drugs. You'd be mad, right? Just say something angry so I can write it down."

"Well, no. Not necessarily."

Now drugs were getting interesting. My mother sat down.

"Okay. Don't write this."

I lowered my pencil. Off the record. I had a feeling that my mother and Miranda the toucan were not on the same page.

"Here's the thing. Yes, if you did heroin, I'd be horrified. But if you had some marijuana, well, I'd want you to share it with me."

My mother continued radically, "I would rather that you do drugs with me, safely and at home, than somewhere with your friends where I don't know the quality of the weed or what is in it."

I was in awe. I was 9. My mother's clear voice cut through the clamor of Miranda and her high-pitched jungle friends. Of course. Of course grown-ups liked drugs. Drugs were so loaded and meaningful for grown-ups that they couldn't talk about them except through puppets.

I returned to school the next day knowing the truth. I handed in my paper with its scribbled lie about how uniformly upset my mother would be about any and all drugs. I felt bad for the other kids, lied to and treated like children.

Read more from Emma about growing up with two moms at