It was late on a Saturday night, the end of a long week for all four members of our family.
My husband, recently home from a difficult overseas trip, brushed his teeth and crashed. My daughter decided to hit the hay as well, while my sixteen-year-old son went upstairs to play video games online. And me? I was looking forward to relaxing on the couch with a good book.
But a few minutes later, my son came back down to request that I not say goodnight to him later on. Normally, I pop my head into both kids’ rooms before going to bed, just to make sure everything’s OK.
“Why not?” I asked, instantly suspicious.
He told me he and his friends were playing a new game, and didn’t want to be interrupted.
“We’ll see,” I answered.
At least I didn’t have to wait long, because two minutes later, my daughter stormed into my son’s room shouting, “What the hell? It reeks like weed in here.”
Weed? I sprang off the couch. For the record, my husband and I don’t allow our kids to smoke weed. All I could hope was that my daughter—who’s fourteen—was mistaken.
But I’m fifty-one years old, and I’ve smelled a good deal of marijuana in my life. And as I headed up the stairs, the odor emanating from my son’s room was all too familiar.
“What’re you doing?” I asked. I was shocked, but also shaken. There’s plenty of drug and alcohol use at my kids’ school, but this was the first time I’d dealt with it directly.
“Not smoking weed,” he said.
Did he think I was born yesterday? “Don’t insult my intelligence,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady.
And yet, he denied it again. He suggested that the smell might be coming from outdoors. But the room was full of smoke.
“Please,” I begged. “I just need you to tell the truth.”
At that point, my son smiled. He even laughed a little: a nervous, giggly laugh. “Mom, there’s no weed in here.”
I asked my daughter to give us some space, and she went off to her room. “OK,” I said to my son. “Do you really want me to search this place from top to bottom?”
The look on his face turned to resignation. “All right. I’ll give you what I’ve got, but it’s not weed.” Opening a bureau drawer, he took out something that looked exactly like a partially-smoked joint and handed it to me. “I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not pot. It’s basil.”
Basil? I took a whiff of the thing. “This is not basil. This is pot. Please stop lying.”
But he remained calm. “They’re similar herbs, Mom. And honestly, I didn’t expect it to smell that way either. I’m as surprised as you.”
I wasn’t buying it. “Why the hell would you smoke basil?”
He explained that it was part of a prank. A goofy, friendly prank, mind you. Not a fake-drug-selling prank.
Still, I didn’t believe him.
“Fine,” I said. “Let’s go downstairs and roll a “joint” with the basil in the kitchen. Then we’ll compare.”
So we did. Using a Trader Joe’s receipt as a rolling paper, we filled it with basil and sparked it up. I took a hit, and holy crap. Within seconds, the entire kitchen smelled like pot.
“You see?” said my son, cracking up.
“I don’t believe this,” I said, smoking a little more.
My daughter came flying down the stairs, then stopped dead in her tracks, stunned to see me huddled over the sink, smoking what looked and smelled like marijuana.
“It’s just basil,” I said, explaining the situation to her.
Maybe it was relief, or exhaustion, or a combination of the two, but once we all understood what’d happened, the three of us laughed until our stomachs ached. Anyone walking in would’ve sworn we were stoned.
“This is the weirdest Saturday night I’ve had in a long time,” said my daughter. Indeed.
Finally, I pulled myself together and apologized for accusing my son of using drugs. And he understood, acknowledging that he would’ve thought the same thing.
Then, with nothing left to say, my daughter went back to bed, my son went back to his video game, and I went back to my book.
As for the takeaway? Well, I learned that I can make errors in judgment, even when faced with the most incriminating evidence. Perhaps my son learned not to smoke anything in his room, and that it’s better to tell the truth as quickly as possible. And we all learned that burning basil smells an awful lot like pot.
Mary Rowen is an award-winning writer and blogger who often writes about women of various ages growing up and/or figuring out what they want from this world. She was raised in the Massachusetts Merrimack Valley, graduated from Providence College, and has worked as a teacher, marketing writer, and political canvasser. She currently lives in the Boston area with her husband, two teenage children, dog and cat. Her blog can be found at http://www.maryrowen.com