I was often accused of being a naive mother. I chose to think of myself more as a busy mother, concentrating on doing what needed to be done and ignoring some of the extraneous activities that whirled around me.

When Chris brought home an adorable puppy from the lady who drove the school bus during his year at Newark Academy, and asked if we could keep her, I said “Absolutely NOT.”

“But, Mom, I’ll take care of her and she won’t be a problem. She’s much easier than guinea pigs and can be our guard dog. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if she had puppies and we could actually see it happen, or even help her, like the Woodruffs on Osborne Terrace and….”

Yeah, right. Yet I had to admit that I was sick of all the white mice in cages around the house, the gerbils and their interminable spinning, and the guinea pigs that inhabited and stunk up the basement. I felt at times as if I were a supplier for a pharmaceutical lab. And, if you can believe this, when the mice were pregnant, which was all the time, Cary insisted that we tiptoe around the house so as not to upset them.

The puppy stayed overnight, with the caveat that she would be sent back on the bus in the morning…but not before she was named “Skeesix.” By me, actually. Skeesix was a cartoon character in Gasoline Alley, a comic strip from my childhood. The character was a young boy, but had the sweet, innocent look of this little female creature.

You guessed it. I was hooked, but not before I extracted promises from the children to feed her, brush her, clean up after her, and walk her. Talk about naive! She became my dog and lived with me long after Glen and I had left our Tudor paradise to go our separate ways. I trained her, groomed her, walked her, and comforted her in her dementia. And she provided me with all manner of excuses to get out of tight situations, whether with a man who wanted me to stay over in New York City or a boring board meeting. I had to get back to care for my dying dog.

Another pitfall for the unsuspecting parent is parties at a friend’s home. I always made sure that when my children went to parties, the chaperones were actual adults and not some “aunt” who was a teenager herself. This happened only once and was short-lived. There is such a thing as intuition and in this case I smelled a rat and acted. My husband should have been the heavy, but eschewed that image and left it to me to do the dirty work. I drove down to the house in question, rang the bell, saw my daughter through the dim lights and cigarette smoke, and matter-of-factly said to the teenage ‘aunt,’ “Martha Peterson, please.” Out she came and home we went. She seemed visibly relieved. I know I was.

But there were other times when I was completely in the dark, like the time I bumped into Barry, one of Martha’s friends, at the super market one Saturday morning.

Barry: Are you going to the party tonight, Meg?

Meg: That depends. Where is it?

Barry: At your house.

Meg: Thanks for telling me. I’ll be sure to stay home.

There were numerous cast parties, birthday parties, and graduation celebrations, and because our house was large, we were the elected hosts. It was a lot of work, especially the clean-up, but it saved having to wonder where my children were and when they would get home. Like most parents, we tried curfews with minimal success, and preferred to have our teenagers drive the family car rather than be a passenger. When I think of what could have happened, I am grateful we all survived. Stories filter out over the years that make you glad you didn’t know what you didn’t know.

The dinner table was a good place to glean information that just slipped out as a child was telling what he or she thought was an interesting “close call.” I was out-numbered, so was hardly noticed. Sitting quietly, at times, was more to my advantage. The conversation veered toward more and more outlandish tales.

Bicycles were big in the Peterson family and the go-to form of transportation around town. I had never been a big lover of bikes, especially since the time I smashed into a tree. My mind drifted back in time. I was on my new bike, which the family had given me. It had fancy brakes that were quick release for taking the wheels on and off easily. Tom had shown this feature to a friend, but, inadvertently, forgot to re-set the brakes. You can imagine the rest. As I circled the turn-around at the top of our hill and started to head down our steep driveway, I couldn’t get the brakes to work. The choice was to gain speed and go flying into the street, or turn the wheel and hit a large tree on the right side of the driveway to stop my momentum. I consider myself lucky to be alive!

“Did he really open the door, or are you exaggerating?” asked Chris. I turned my attention back to the conversation at the table. It was going full blast.

“Swear to God,” answered Tom.” It was right in front of the Summit Medical Group and I was really booking. Full blast. The guy opened his car door without looking and I somersaulted right over the handlebars. Thank God for my cat-like reflexes! A perfect landing.” He seemed pretty proud of himself.

This got my attention big time. “Tom, is this true? How fast were you going?” Everyone stopped talking. Total silence. Heads down. “And what about your bike?”

“Mom, the guy is going to pay for the repairs. He knows it’s his fault. He was as scared as I was.”

“And why didn’t you tell me? You should have gone to the hospital. You could have had a concussion, a broken bone, or any number of injuries.” I was pretty shaken at this point.

“Because I knew you’d be mad, just like now.”

“I’m warning you all right now. No more monkey business and taking crazy chances, and thinking your close calls are heroic and glamorous. Or…or I’ll hang all the bikes up on the porch, lock the doors, and that will be that. And I meant it, and they knew I did. But underneath it all, I was counting my blessings.

Drugs were a problem in the 60’s, and there were a couple of tragedies where a young person overdosed. But it was infrequent and, therefore, even more shocking to the town and the high school when it happened.

We all knew that most young people experimented with marijuana, but the serious impact of Haight-Ashbury, the Vietnam War protests, and the Flower Children missed my family by a decade. I was lucky. Today hard drugs and opioids are a horror, and are causing heartache in many, many families. They’re everywhere and easy to obtain. This is heavy stuff that most of us did not have to face “back then.”

I remember several serious family discussions with my children about drugs. I mostly listened, for neither I nor my friends were fully aware of the extent of the problem. However, after one of their acquaintances overdosed on the steps of the high school, the subsequent discussion became more personal. The mother of the boy was described as a lovely, very fashionable woman and a member of the Junior League. There were all kinds of questions and theories as to how this could have happened to such an “upstanding” family. As if that had anything to do with it. These questions were raised by the parents, not the kids. There was judgment enough to go around. Nobody knew the answers, and at the end Cary came up with a statement that I wasn’t expecting:

“Mom, you can’t blame the parents when their child chooses to experiment with drugs. Some get away with it. Others don’t. It’s their choice, not the parents. Parents can’t know everything that’s going on.” So true, and, in a way, comforting to this naive mother.