Praise for Hold Me Close, Let Me Go"The thrilling level of honesty and discovery burned into every line of Hold Me Close, Let Me Go is something that rarely informs a memoir of any kind. In this case, Adair Lara has transcended the genre of self to achieve selflessness. Her story of her struggle, the mistakes, the triumphs, the abiding love and pure anguish to save her brilliant and self-destructive daughter is a must read for anyone who loves a child, or ever hopes to love a child. Not every child will follow Morgan's stormy passage to redemption, but many will, and for any parent, Lara's book will be a beacon." -Jacqueline Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean
Adair gives an overview of the book:
Shelves teem with advice on how to raise teenagers: “Uncommon Sense for Parents of Teenagers,” “The Seven-Year Stretch,” “The Romance of Risk,” “Living with your Teenager,” “The Secret of a Good Life with Your Teenager.”I thought if I just knew more, knew better how to handle her, then she would be reasonable, and be happy. I bought half a dozen volumes and sat with them out on the front steps, doing what I had done all my life when at a loss: reading, thumbing through advice books. “Between Parent and Child” said you’re supposed to mirror your children’s feelings back to them. When a kid comes home depressed because he didn’t get the babysitting job he wanted, the father is supposed to say something like, “You must feel really disappointed.” I cringed, reading this. If I said, “Morgan, I hear that you are angry,” she’d say, “Mom, I hear that you’ve been reading your parenting books again.”But when I tried it, it worked. One Sunday morning Patrick complained that Morgan wouldn’t let him borrow the black basketball that had come with her Nike watch. “You always borrow my clothes and my basketball, and you never appreciate it,” she screamed at him. “I don’t want you to borrow anything of mine again, ever.” She grabbed the ball from him and headed for her room. Instead of saying, “Oh, Morgan, you know you never use the basketball yourself,” as I usually would, I said, “Patrick, Morgan needs to know that you appreciate it when she lends you her things.” Both kids seemed to hold their breath for a minute. Then Patrick gave his sister a token shove and went off without the ball, but she smiled at me. And actually put her dirty plate in the sink.Encouraged, I went back to my books, going through the advice with a yellow highlighter while my work piled up next to my computer. “The more she loves you, the worse the rebellion as she struggles for independence,” said one book. “The more she feels loved, the freer she’ll feel to be obnoxious.” Morgan must have felt loved to death, I thought. “It is with girls, not with boys, that parents experience the supreme disruption of adolescence,” said a book called “Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Cheryl and Me to the Mall?” “Sweet cooperative daughters turn, often rather suddenly, into hysterical, shrieking monsters.”This, too, was cheerful reading. How could her metamorphosis into a Gorgon-headed changeling be my fault—or her fault—if I could read it in a book? One book advised me to separate incidents into Her Problem and My Problem. My problems included keeping her safe, providing for her needs and making sure she felt loved even when we couldn’t stand her. One night I knew she had a Spanish test the next day, but she’d been on the phone for hours. I was snapping pencils at my desk, so I asked her to get off the phone. “I don’t like to see you on it,” I said. She said, “That’s your problem, Mom. Deal with it.” And she hadn’t even read the book.I learned that good moms are firm. Good moms say, “No, you may not take ten minutes out of your homework period to watch MTV. No, you can not stay at school for song girl tryouts even though that’s suddenly always been your dream and tryouts are today only and you hate me, I’m a peeface.”“Between Parent and Teenager” said never make blanket statements to your kids, telling them they always do this, or they never do that. I marked the passage for her dad to read. “This is typical of you, Jim,” I said in a yellow post-it. “You always do this.”When I wasn’t reading books, I was listening to anyone and everyone. “All you have to teach her, you have already taught her,” a woman in the line at the bank told me, patting my arm, when I started gabbling to her about the hell child I had at home. I tried desperately to remember something, anything that I had taught her, besides an appreciation for red licorice and all the word to “Last Kiss.” All the advice I was getting was good. The trouble was that the person—me—who was trying to take in all the advice was a harried, nervous, shivering wreck. Morgan was the tornado, and I was the trailer park in her path.One morning I barged into her room as she was getting ready for school. The day before she had hung up on me and come in fifteen minutes late. Wanting to take the advice of the book and not wanting another unpleasant evening, I said nothing. We all had Bill’s baked chicken together and I let her spend two hours on the phone even though I knew she had algebra homework. I was fine. She was fine. Until the next morning. “You left your wet towels on the floor in my room when you were in there swiping my black sweater this morning,” I snapped, and then caught myself. “It’s hard to remember everything when you’re rushing around in the morning,” I tried to go on. But what came out instead was: “And you didn’t get your algebra done last night.”Morgan blinked in surprise. Hurt, she left for school again without saying goodbye. I heard the door slam.Books tell you what teenagers are going to do. What they don’t tell you is how you will feel. If our home life had been a novel, Morgan would be the man whose feelings had turned cold, and I would be the spurned girlfriend waiting by the phone, the one as much in love as ever.And I was scared. It was the worst period of my life to ask me to calmly and humorously put parenting advice into practice. To be calm when I wanted to yell. To laugh when my heart was cracking. I was like a friend I knew with a back injury, who toward the end would lie facedown on her hospital bed, her gown hiked up in back, and scream if the doctor touched her back, even when he did it with a feather.All the time now, I found myself screaming at feathers. Not having control was an awful feeling. When she talked on the phone for hours, and I knew she had a math test the next day, I was not enraged because she was in danger of not knowing any math. I was enraged because she wasn’t minding me, because she was standing in my house and not doing what I wanted her to do.Sometimes the books advised me to use humor. “Don’t give them the reactions they’re after,” they said. It struck me that my sense of humor had been the first thing to go. Where was the mom who used to drop on all fours All of a sudden, parenting had become deadly serious. One night she’d been on the phone for two hours, dressed in ragged cutoffs and a tank top, lying atop her cluttered bed like a shipwrecked passenger on a raft. “I did not tell anybody that sophomores could kiss my ass,” I heard her say heatedly. “I do NOT want a hug,” she said next. Then: “I like you as a friend,” she said. “I want you to respect my boundaries.” I picked up the extension. “If you don’t get off the phone, I’m going to sing and said if she didn’t get off the phone, I would sing “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree” into it,” I said. And we did, Bill and me, warbling off key into the phone, “Tie a yellow ribbon on the old oak tre-e-ee” While the dog barked crazily. Morgan laughed--and got off the phone. COULD END EXCER[T HERE In “Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?” I read, “Teenage boys go in their rooms, girls go in your face.” “Like boys,” it said, “adolescent girls find it totally unacceptable to feel attached to, or dependent on, their parents. But girls do not withdraw. Instead they fight.” They sure do. “Your curfew is 11:30,” I told her one day. I had already repeated it dozens of times. “That’s fair.” “It’s not fair!” “Just walk away,” advised the books. Morgan followed me right into the bathroom. “It’s more than just not fair. It’s actually wrong,” she shouted at me as I lowered my pants. “Well, I don’t feel comfortable with a later curfew.” Tears sprang to Morgan’s eyes and her voice rose. “It’s selfish to say, ‘Well, I don’t feel comfortable.’ I don’t feel comfortable having to be in that early! None of the other kids have to.”When I finished, and she sat down to pee herself, I made my escape. But my getaways were never clean: I always took her with me. It was more than my own hurt and angry feelings, more than the strength of her will that prevented me from being the firm mother I ought to have been. I had a bigger problem: I could not figure out where I left off and she began. I was always in contact with her, even when she was at school and I was at the paper, staring numbly at my computer. If she left without saying goodbye, I could feel her misery. You can only be as happy as your unhappiest child. I didn’t know who said that, but it was true. For the year after she was born, I couldn’t take a shower without hearing the baby’s cry in the roar of the shower. I’d shut the stream off again and again to listen for that phantom cry.When she was one year old, I was still putting her to bed with a bottle. The doctor said all that milk was bad for her teeth and might cause orthodontia problems later. So, periodically, I’d make a sweep through the house, gathering up all the bottles and throwing them in the trash. When I’d put her to bed without one, she’d wail bitterly, the crib rattling, fists flailing, thinking herself all alone, her bottle forgotten. But she wasn’t alone: I was huddled ten feet away on our red corduroy couch, listening. Her cry went right through my flesh to the bone, but I couldn’t get off the couch and walk out of earshot. If she had to suffer, I had to suffer. She was bigger now, but otherwise nothing much had changed. One weekend, Morgan, grounded as usual, had spent three hours washing the front steps, cleaning the kitchen and making blueberry muffins. I soon learned why our stovetop was shining clean: she wanted to go to a party on Friday. “But she can’t,” Bill said when I reported this to him. He was unknotting his tie and pulling off his shirt, changing into a T-shirt and jeans for our walk. “Have you forgotten that she waltzed out of here when she was already grounded? And did it twice in one day? You have to stick to your guns.” “It’s the big party of the year!” she screamed when I said she couldn’t go. “All the kids are going! If I don’t go I’ll probably never see those kids again!” I raised my eyebrows, and she added, “Except at school, which doesn’t count.”I was a rock. I was Ulysses tying himself to the mast so as not to be able to respond to the siren’s call. “I’m sorry,” I said. “You’re grounded, and that’s that.” Even as I said that I ached, thinking of her not getting to go to the party. I saw the lighted windows, heard the music, felt the excitement. I wasn’t thinking about being a parent, consistent and firm. I wasn’t thinking about what she had done to deserve missing the party, her boots clickly down the dimly lit street when she was supposed to be under her comforter sound asleep. Instead I was remembering myself back in high school, slumped against the green-painted low brick mantel in the living room, crying in anguish because my mother had said I couldn’t go to a party. I forget why I couldn’t go, but it must have been for a very good reason. I had to go. A boy I liked would be there. I can’t remember now what his name was, but in my memory that boy moves in radiance, his skinny pegged pants, his surfer shirt, the blue ink drawings on his binder, right down to the smashed tuna fish sandwiches he always had for lunch. He had blond hair falling in his face, and he would be there, at Debbie Haslon’s party. I wailed louder, remembering. Mother, polishing her waitress shoes on the couch, letting Robin, the baby, help with the toes, said “No, no, no!” and finally gave in. As I knew she would. As she always did.As I always did. I was Morgan’s mom, wanting to be firm, but I was also Morgan, wanting desperately to go to that party. I watched her face as she, switching tactics again, began to fold the laundry, making big messy piles on the coffee table—Bill, Patrick, me, and her. “If you come straight home every day after school this week, you can go to the party for a little while,” I said.She jumped up and hugged me, sending a drift of Bill’s Jockey V-neck T-shirts cascading to the floor. “Thanks, Mom.”I returned to Bill, who had put an apron on and was stirring spaghetti sauce for dinner. “Don’t tell me,” he said.
I started my career in local magazines-first San Francisco Focus, the city magazine, and then SF, a design mag at which I passed myself off as someone passionately interested in interior design. (This amused my family no end. They remembered my sitting on the new living room...