I moved from the conservative suburbs of Michigan to a hippie town in Argentina with my kids. They've had access to drugs and alcohol since they were young, which has made them more responsible.
- I moved from the suburbs of Michigan to a small town in
- My kids at the time were 8, 6, and 4 years old.
In 2009, I moved from the suburbs of conservative Ada, Michigan, to a rustic cabin in the Andes outside what is Argentina's most hippie Patagonian pueblo, El Bolsón.
On the first day, my kids, ages 4, 6 and 8 at the time, went exploring in the cypress forest as I got our place organized.
My 6-year-old daughter, Stella, raced home excited, carrying with her a huge handful of fully in-flower branches from what seemed to be quite the monstrous marijuana plant. Panicky visions of her having accidentally crossed into a drug-cartel farm hidden in the mountains raced through my head. But she told me they were a welcome present for me from our neighbor and, "Don't they smell wonderful, Momma? And look how they sparkle."
This was more than a decade before legal recreational marijuana became a thing in Michigan. Proper soccer moms where I came from didn't have a large bouquet of spectacular weed displayed in a vase on the dining-room table.
Fast-forward to a costumed birthday party of a different neighbor where I happened to run into a couple of my kiddos' elementary-school teachers who were casually blissed out on acid, and I think the full reality hit of where I was raising my children.
My kids had access to everything, and not in a bad way
What I didn't understand then was how much of a gift this low-key attitude toward substances would be for raising teens.
My daughter Stella, now 20, explained how everything was so accessible.
"Weed was just grown in the garden next to carrots, and if I ever decided to try shrooms, I knew I just had to ask one of the local doctors who grew them," she said. "That accessibility made it so there was no rush to try anything, as I knew it would always be there."
When I was a teenager in the US, we stole vodka from the liquor cabinet at home and slammed it with friends on a Friday night, sneakily refilling what we drank with water.
Here, my kids could walk into the grocery store at 10 and walk out with a bottle of wine. But culturally, wine here is accompanied by asado or homemade pasta.
My kids grew up drinking a small amount of high-quality malbec with dinner, and now they associate alcohol with what it can bring to a meal, not with getting black-out, frat-party drunk.
I knew where they were, always
In a town this size, my kids had eyes on them everywhere. Every waiter, every bus and taxi driver, and everyone on the streets knew them and would report back to me with what they were up to and with whom; we were a supportive village raising children together.
Because of this, sneaking around was futile — my teens had no choice but to be straightforward. Stella came to me when she was 16 and curious about "magic" mushrooms. She informed me how she chose her dosage and whom she got them from, told me where she would be taking them, and promised to keep her phone charged and on in case she wanted me to pick her up.
Not exactly how the early 2000s, minivan-driving suburban me envisioned raising my teens, but looking back, I'm thankful to have been able to raise my kids in liberal-small-town Argentina culture.
I'll always prefer this level of honesty and conscientious exploration over uninformed teens feeling like they have to sneak around.
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