Smoking in the boys’ room, a safe haven but not a lawless paradise

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    (Smoking a joint photo courtesy of

    As a suburban Philadelphia teenager, I always wanted a room of my own. So one of my early priorities was to create such a room for my two teenaged boys. Be careful what you wish for.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    As a suburban Philadelphia teenager, I always wanted a room of my own. Not a bedroom, not a writing room, but a bona fide room room — a den or a basement, a cleared-out attic or garage, where people could hang out, congregate, preferably with a door that locked. I wanted a place I might mess up indefinitely and not have to clean, a place where grown-ups were definitely not allowed.

    So one of my early priorities was to create such a room for my two teenaged boys. And I did: a narrow room in the back of the house, with a front and a back locking door. I furnished it minimally: a leather sofa, a comfy matching chair, a battered coffee table, and a high-definition TV. The boys added posters celebrating “The Sopranos,” “Trainspotting,” and the Rolling Stones. Musical instruments soon populated every empty corner — a drum set, a keyboard and a guitar, amps scattered across the floor. It was a cave, a nest, and a lair. It was the perfect place to share a secret, to woo a girlfriend, to dream up a garage band that would someday overtake the world.

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    It was my wish come true.

    We became the house where people hung out, crashing on the sofa, lanky legs dripping over the edges. Deep teen conversations filled the air, ranging from secret crushes on a cute girl named Alex to the wisdom of the Food Channel. We were the cool house, the house where hordes of kids scanned the kitchen pantry, clearing it one shelf at a time like a pack of deranged locusts.

    There was much noise. There was a band named Milk & Cookies. There was an entire night of bad Dylan impressions. There were tears (girls) and there was sometimes smoke. There was the occasional beer bottle, and the slammed door. There was our dog — a temperamental mini-schnauzer named Noodle — who was upended by each new arrival.

    Unintended consequences

    And then there was the day I was standing at the local dog park watching two labs wrestle a corgi when I blinked into the conversation taking place around me long enough to hear one mother say, “Oh yes, the Rush house is where all the kids go to get high.”

    “What?” I replied. We were the Rush house.

    I was stunned. And torn.

    I had created my version of Shangri-La for my sons, and that was precisely what it turned out to be. The room — that fulfilled the part of me that I had missed during adolescence, that granted the carefree knowledge of a safe place to do what you wanted — had become a community liability.

    Yet even as I acknowledged the problem, I had trouble thinking of our house without it. The truth is I liked everything about the room: the heady perfume of boys and cheesesteaks and Axe deodorant spray, the raucous cheers when the Eagles finally racked up a score. I even liked the vacuity of the occasional questions of parental permission: Can we microwave M&M’s? (No.) Can the girls sleep over? (No, again.) Can we smoke a hooka in the backyard? (No and no and no.)

    But the house where people came to get high?

    OK, it had occurred to me. There was the overpowering combo of Febreze and Listerine mouthwash when you stepped into the room. The time the dog entered and immediately licked the wall, the remnants of a raw egg fight from the night before. It turned out that I had created a safe haven all right, for the good/bad boys and girls, the ones who played on the tennis teams and smoked pot, the ones who voted on student council but could also end up drunk on a Friday night.

    Don’t call it a crackdown

    So what to do? Action was clearly required. I made calls and in some cases, yes, I ratted them out. I told the kids that they had to unlock the doors. I convened a group of parents and the prime culprits and we talked about why smoking was not good for the developing brain. We had curfews and a grounding or two.

    But I didn’t close down that room.

    We were lucky. Very lucky. The center did hold. There were no accidents. Everyone graduated safely and went onto their futures unharmed. And my boys grew up.

    These days, the room serves as a sort of den, the taped-up posters half flopping off the walls. It’s the dog’s room, a place to gather to watch “Breaking Bad” and “Nurse Jackie,” my feet in my husband’s lap. It no longer has that sense of danger, or excitement, or adolescent sprawl. But it’s definitely the room in the house that holds the most memories, even if they aren’t all my own.

    Ilene Raymond Rush is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of national publications. She is a regular blogger for A Sweet Life and dLife.

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