One summer home from college I went on a trip through Arizona with my parents. It was the first family trip since I had moved away from home, the first trip where we were all adults (if you count being 20 an adult)  and the first time I smoked weed with my parents. It was eye opening, and not only in the way being high usually is. But here’s some background:

When I was 13 I found a VHS of my parents smoking weed out of a homemade pipe at a New Years party held at our house some years before. At the time I found the video our family happened to be in the middle of a hormonal tidal wave. It was mean coincidence that I’d started my period the very same year my mother’s had stopped and it was my instinct as a pubescent girl in battle with a menopausal woman to hoard the tape as potential blackmail.

What I didn’t realize at the time was the video wasn’t blackmail material. My parents were of the hippie generation, rarely wore clothing and lived in a Northern California town where you could hardly go from the health food store to the medical marijuana dispensary next door without hearing a riff of Bob Marley from some hacky sack player’s guitar. This wasn’t Iowa, weed wasn’t a big deal. But, at the time I was still under the impression my parents where ultra-moral robots who had only discovered life once I came along. It was jarring to see them doing something so wrong so openly, and documenting their taboo behavior. But they looked cool, or at least cooler than I was, since I couldn’t get weed and definitely had no understanding of how to turn it into ‘the smoke that goes in your body and makes you feel happy.’ Now I realize how amateur they looked in that video, trying to hit a toilet paper roll with a faucet filter taped on the end; it was almost as if they were kids my age, trying to keep a jerry-rigged highlighter pipe from melting on their parent’s carpet.

As I went through high school I was a pretty good kid, I hardly drank or did drugs, but I started to realize that my parents where different. They had been rebels at my age, they had experienced things I was scared to even think about doing. My dad once nonchalantly asked me: “So Kate, what kind of stuff do people your age smoke? Maui Wowi? Purple Haze?” I had no idea what these things were so I just said, “…Yes.”

Another time my mom sniffed a dollar bill and sighed,”…reminds me of the 80’s.” I could guess what that meant but I didn’t really want to know if I was right.

This might sound like my parents were off in a crack den somewhere while I raised myself on corn nuts (if you’ve been raised like this I’m really sorry; corn nuts, though delicious, have little nutritional value) but my parents had their shit together. They owned a house, had started their own businesses, got along pretty well and had both me and my twin brother’s college fund pretty much worked out. But it was no doubt that they had partied, much more than I probably ever would. The older I’ve gotten the more they have opened up about their past drug experiences: finding peyote in a field and talking to a dog for three days, taking acid while decorating a mall on Christmas Eve, smoking a joint in a tour bus with Neil Young. But those experiences seemed to be in the past; smoking weed was the only thing they had kept up over the years. It’s not like they were getting high and letting babies drown in pools like those anti-weed PSAs that played between episodes of Saved By The Bell. They just liked to get stoned and watch TV and laugh together, just like I was doing with my friends.

By my teens, I knew they still smoked and I didn’t really care, and they knew I did too occasionally, but I was a little less forthcoming about my drug experimentation. One night soon after getting my license, I had driven to a house party with my friends. I was the sober driver but my friend Jamie (who I realize now was really not a friend but a bully) convinced me that smoking weed didn’t count as “under the influence”.  I figured it would wear off by the time everyone wanted to go home and, if worse came to worse, we were all close enough to walk. But the party had gotten busted early, forcing us all to hide in the basement, and once the cops had left, Jamie pressured me into driving her home even though I still felt a little high. I was so paranoid about getting caught driving under the influence that I accidently put the car in reverse instead of drive and gunned it into a neighbors rickety fence. She got another ride and I drove home much later, crying and cursing myself for being so stupid.

When I got home, I hysterically confessed to my Dad. He assured me that we would go to the house in the morning to fix the damage however possible. When I calmed down he hugged me and casually gave me some advice I still use today: “Kate, you shouldn’t drive while you’re high. But it’s still way worse to drink and drive.”

In the morning, I sheepishly knocked on the door of the house whose fence I toppled and apologized profusely before the owner–a hippy about my dad’s age–stopped me. “Actually we really hated that fence, ” he said and gave my Dad, who was watching from the car, a knowing glance. “It’s good you hit it ‘cus we would have had to pay someone to come rip it out!”

After the experience I was much more open with my parents about what I was doing and where I was going. I liked that my parents allowed me a beer or glass of wine with dinner as long as I wasn’t driving. I liked that I didn’t have to be afraid to tell my parents about things in my life if I wanted, though there was plenty we didn’t have to talk about (like the fact that I was sleeping at my boyfriend’s house regularly but pretending to have movie nights with the girls) (they pretended to believe this).

Although we were incredibly open with one another, there were still boundaries: one thing we did not do was smoke weed together. I knew some kids who smoked with their parents regularly, but that seemed wrong. Being high was something you should do with someone your own age, or else, who’s the parent?

So here we are, on our way to some hot springs in the Arizona dessert, the first family vacation where I am out of high school and we are all adults (almost…I had a fake ID they also pretended not to know about). We talked about their previous adventures driving through desserts, hitchhiking and meeting weird people and I cursed being born in such a boring era where I could never have adventures like Kerouac because I had a cell phone and could be tracked down. My mom told me I was too young to complain and every generation wishes they were in the generation before (this was before Midnight In Paris so she had to break it to me), then she pulled something out from her bra and gave me a very creepy smile.

“Mom!” I yelled, “Where did you get that?”

“I brought it on the plane! Come on! I know you smoke pot, it will be fun!”

She lit the joint. I started to panic.

Sure, I liked hearing about my parent’s past, it was fun to imagine them in some sort of sixties flashback scene set to the White Album with a lot of weird celebrity cameos (like Across The Universe but way better and not with Bono), but I didn’t want to see it in reality. I didn’t want to be part of it!

We pulled off the road and into a parking lot. My mom took a hit and I looked around nervously for cops. Why was I the one being paranoid here? My dad told a story about almost getting caught on a plane with a bud in his shoe and how it worked better when it was hidden in mom’s bra. She passed the joint to him and held it to his lips as he inhaled. There was something so grossly sensual about this act that I felt sick.

“Your turn.” She passed it to me in the back seat. Were my parents really going to peer pressure me into smoking weed?

My parents’ relationship flashed before me: two hippies with big hair blasting Hendrix and smoking a jay; two older hippies, one pregnant, blasting The Clash and smoking a jay; and two graying hippies with thin hair, kids asleep in the back of a mini van, silently smoking a jay. This was just the next step. There was no way out. I took a hit.

At first I felt stressed out, like I didn’t want them to know I was high even though we all obviously were. I stayed pretty quiet, feeling metaphysical about the whole thing. I was seeing my parents as people and myself as an adult. I didn’t know if it was the pot or the situation but I felt like I was making a cameo in their movie, years later. Before I knew it we were all sitting in a cool movie theater wearing giant 3D glasses and shoving popcorn in our faces as Avatar started on the IMAX screen.

I don’t really remember the movie but I remember laughing and saying “woah!”…a lot. Afterwards we stumbled out and went and ate Ethiopian food until our jaws hurt. It was actually pretty wonderful to see my parents having fun and acting like kids (well, almost kids… my dad had to lie down in the aisle at one point when the 3D made him dizzy). I realized that my relationship with my parents was changing in a way I’d never expected when I was 13 and holding that VHS tape hostage.

I thought that parents always stayed the same and you, as the child, were the one to grow up and have a life. It never occurred to me that your parents keep growing and your relationship with them does, too. No, I do not want to smoke weed with my parents every time I see them and I think there are many ways to get closer to your parents that don’t involve drugs or drinking or anything illegal. But for our relationship, which was already pretty open, smoking weed together gave us permission to act as friends in the moment.

Now that I’m able to fend for myself as an adult, I can relate to my parent’s experiences without pointlessly glorifying them. I can also see the downside of their experiences, too.  So yeah, you can’t just go out and pick peyote in a field anymore, but you can Google how to eat it correctly and save yourself the 24 hours of puking to get right to the talking dog.

I also know that there are many experiences I will have, in my own generation, with many stories that I will one day be able to tell to my kids while legally smoking marijuana. It might even be this story.

Or maybe the one about grandma, smoking weed out of a toilet paper roll.

To reach this post’s author, Kate Messinger, follow her on Twitter.