One of the many pleasures of having a teenager or two is the scintillating correspondence that comes home from school. One day it's a cheerful missive about THE ANNUAL FATHER-DAUGHER PICNIC! with visions of bonding and three-legged races and pathetic tug of war contests. Pathetic because the girls are as fierce as Mia Hamm and the dads old and out of shape so they always lose. The next day it's a stern reminder that students are not to wear baseball caps or bandanas because they might be mistaken for gang attire.
Oh, for the days when they were in elementary school! Back then the worst news I'd get was that the PTA board had quit over a dispute with the control-freak-of-a-principal. Most of the parents hated her, and not just because she dressed like an airline stewardess circa 1976. She always ruined the Halloween parade by insisting on posing as a cowboy or saloon girl and doing some lame karaoke number on the playground with the toxic vice principal. Talk about scary. And to think I used to get myself in a tizzy over school politics then.
But I digress. The letter was from the Catholic girls' school the 13-year-old attends. At first I left it lying in the pile of bills on the kitchen table figuring it was her tuition. I finally opened it this week and was thrilled to see that it wasn't. Now I could afford that Richard Tyler gown I'd been coveting to wear to the Oscars! I thought dreamily. But then I made the mistake of reading the letter and had to reluctantly focus on reality again.
Apparently those Catholic girls have been getting themselves in trouble again, as Catholic girls are wont to do. Because the letter was from the normally unflappable high school principal and had to do with "a matter of grave concern regarding the safety of your daughters."
It turns out that many of the girls have personal web pages on myspace.com and other teen sites. And according to the school, they may not be aware that just any old sicko can visit them. Or that they shouldn't chat with guys who claim to be 15 but don't know Adam Brody from Chad Michael Murray.
Well, is that all? I thought. It's not like we haven't talked endlessly about perverts on the Internet or the evils of chat rooms or why the children shouldn't put naked photos on their web sites. That kind of thing just doesn't cut it around here. I try to be a good parent. Really. We have flogged those bogeymen to death.
But I guess some parents aren't as tech-savvy as we are here in the Gable household.
Because some of our upstanding Catholic girls have been posting photos of themselves in "compromising poses and revealing clothing" while smoking, drinking and engaging in, well, other "inappropriate behavior." Behavior, the principal helpfully pointed out, "they would not want their parents, school officials, future employers, or college admissions officers to see." Much less scumbags and perverts.
I knew they should have been giving those girls more homework. They have way too much free time on their hands.
The letter--Praise the Lord!--didn't name names. But it did point out chillingly that "your daughter may very well be one of them." It also asked that we talk with our daughter and return the letter with our signature on the bottom.
Like all her friends, the 13-year-old has a website. Which much to her annoyance I peek at fairly often. As far as her bio goes I think she may have a future in the CIA. She's done a bang-up job of disguising her identify. I especially like the part where she lists her birthplace as "Missisipi," mispelling intact. No Victoria Secret poses, either, I'm happy to report.
Even so I still felt compelled to have The Talk. So that night when she was sitting at the kitchen table doing her homework I mentioned the letter and the school's "concerns."
You'd think I'd accused her of sending pictures of herself in a thong all over the Internet because she just lost it. "MOM! I DON'T DO ANY OF THOSE THINGS! WHAT DO YOU THINK I'M DOING? I ONLY ACCEPT MESSAGES FROM MY FRIENDS!"
I tried to explain that we were just having a "dialogue," but by then she was crying so hard I don't think she heard me. She's a sensitive girl, that one. Too much like her mother. At that point I patted her gently on the back and fled the room.
As my friend Mary and I always say at times like this, "It ain't easy."