CHARLOTTE ARRIVED IN this world ready to take it
over. She came three weeks early, as if she’d had enough
of the womb and had places to go. She did. She was a
vibrant, intellectually curious child who started reading Harry Potter — obsessively — in the first grade. By
the third grade, she was reading The New York Times
between her races at swim meets. She grew into a political activist, traveling to Nevada to campaign for Barack
Obama while still in high school. And she waged a public
campaign — featured in the Marin Independent Journal —
to bring more organic food into her school. She pursued
all this while also having a witty, wicked sense of humor
and a laugh so full and genuine it is still the sweetest
sound I have ever heard.
Her brother, Peter, arrived t wo years after Charlotte,
as joyous as his sister was driven. Peter’s smile was lumi-
nous and was matched only by his energy, which often
drew comparisons — when he was a 2-year-old — to The
Flintstones’ Bam-Bam. He morphed into a quirky kid,
who got his ham radio operator’s license at age 10 and
his pilot’s license at 17. Always a foot taller than his class-
mates, he was a gentle giant, levelheaded and happy. I
used to say to my husband, “He is such a golden child,
it seems like he’ll float gently upon the surface of life.”
Of course, no one — and no family — gets to float gen-
tly upon the surface of life. Even though I loved my kids
and husband and thought we were a happy family, we
were no exception.
For all their gifts, my children came into this world
with a loaded family tree, teeming with alcoholics, many
remarkably successful in their careers. I thought that if I
gave my kids enough education about this family disease
— which I did often, starting when Charlotte was 5 and
Peter was 3 — that somehow they would escape it. But
you know what? It doesn’t matter how good a parent you
are. It doesn’t matter how much you love your children.
Addiction is an equal opportunity disease. Trust me, I
know. In the past five years, I have watched both of my
children succumb to it.
AMAZINGLY, I NEVER succumbed to addiction myself.
I say “amazingly,” because in college, I tried pretty much
everything except what you had to inject. Alcohol. Pot.
Hash. Cocaine. Quaaludes. Acid. Mushrooms. I have no
excuse except to say that it was the ’80s. Yet I seemed
not to have the gene, and the dark angel of addiction
passed me by. By my early 20s, I lost interest. After having children, I rarely drank more than two glasses of
wine a week. My husband usually had a glass of wine with
dinner each night, but nothing appeared out of control.
Like most Marin kids, Charlotte and Peter took Life
Skills in their public middle school, learning the impor-
tance of safe sex and to say no to drugs. At home, I tried
not to apply pressure on them to succeed. I knew that
overwhelming academic pressure could lead kids to
drink. But I’m guessing that that pressure is in the air,
as inescapable in Marin as organic food and yoga.
As Charlotte entered high school, I made it clear that
I was not going to be the “cool parent,” that I would not
allow drinking in our home. She would tell me about other
kids who were drinking, intimating that she was not. I
listened, but remained a realist. I was in high school once
too. I had fudged the truth with my own mom.
I don’t know exactly when Charlotte started drinking but I do know that we hosted a slumber party when
she was 16 for a bunch of girls who managed to sneak out
to a local park and get so drunk that several had to be
taken to the emergency room. That was a proud parenting moment, and one my husband had to smooth over by
talking to both the police and the other parents.
Even with my diligence, there were so many ways
I could not protect my children. On the day before
Charlotte started senior year in high school and Peter
started freshman year, our family exploded: without any
warning, my marriage suddenly ended in the most painful possible way. A devastating divorce followed, leaving
the kids and me reeling.
Even though Charlotte and Peter started therapy
immediately, they struggled. Charlotte focused all her
energy on getting into the best colleges. Peter simply
missed his dad.
I did everything I could to make sure my kids were
OK, even as I went through divorce mediation and experienced the deepest grief myself. Life moved forward:
Charlotte got into an excellent college, and I went with
her to New York to help set up her dorm room.
A year and a half later, near the end of her fall sophomore term, I received a call from a college dean, telling
me she was at risk of failing most of her classes. I was
stunned. I knew she was struggling but had no idea how
badly. I guessed it was because of the divorce.
When I picked Charlotte up at SFO for Christmas
break, I was alarmed. She had not bathed in days. Half
her hair had fallen out. She was wrapped in a dirty blan-
ket, looking like a homeless person.
After Charlotte was placed on academic probation, she
moved back home with me. I got her into therapy again,
hoping things would straighten out. They grew worse. She
slept 16 to 20 hours a day and we’d fight when I rousted
her from bed for therapy. She complained of allergies,
and often asked for money to buy Benzedrex, an allergy
inhaler. She snuck out at night. I often woke at 2 or 3 a.m.
to discover her gone. When I texted around to find her,
sometimes there was no reply. I rarely fell back to sleep
and had trouble working the next day. I was terrified. I
was a single mother and struggling to support our family.
Even worse, Charlotte had turned on me. She wanted
to return to college, acting as if nothing was wrong, and I
was hesitant in my support. I thought she needed to take
For all their
gifts, my children
came into this
world with a
loaded family tree,