Parenta Non Grata

The teenage years, can wear you down. Like a tornado, there’s very little warning. That deliciously sweet smelling cupcake you call your child transforms overnight into a snarling moody smelly stranger who answers to the same name. It’s like your butterfly turned back into a caterpillar. As for you, you’ll see yourself morph into the kind of parent you said you’d never be.

Everything you thought you could control moves swiftly beyond your reach. Sure you can try and inspect their hands for the tell tale stain of flaming hot Cheetos, but wave goodbye to the majority of your influence. The last vestige of authority you can exercise is holding down the fort and declaring “not at my house!” You don’t want it to be at your house that Francesca gets felt up, or Liam lights a firecracker, and Katie taste tests tequila. You think, it will never be me, but even inadvertently, it can happen. In what will now be known as the winter of my discontent, I became Parenta Non Grata. A bad parent.

It seemed like no big deal to invite those 13-year-old twins to sleep over, I am perfectly capable of handling sleepovers. Please, one year, my son had 17 kids sleep over, ok, no one slept at all and I still haven’t gotten over the exhaustion, but, come on, two kids staying for one night, been there, done that.

The evening was a typical sleepover, the boys stayed up until the wee hours. By now, I’ve repeated, “Go to sleep so many times,” I expect that on my gravestone one hopefully distant day, this will be written: she finally took her own advice. In the morning, the teenagers, moved like locusts through the pantry, everything with a flour base was gone in minutes. But there was something in the air, I had never sensed before, a restlessness, these guys had definitely outgrown that old stand by, Apples to Apples, they would need some kind of age appropriate activity to channel that teenage energy.

Let’s put this in perspective, my parents knew very little of what I did between the ages of 12- 18. Bicycling on freeways, smoking cigarettes in parks, hitchhiking! But I want my son to do better than me and I couldn’t let this happen at my house. I suggested they go outside where we have a very large trampoline.

It was maybe, thirty minutes later that I noticed the trampoline had been moved next to the house, looked up and saw three people standing on the roof of the house. When I say roof, I don’t mean a surface several stories high, I mean a ledge approximately 20 feet off the ground. But still. “You’re not allowed to jump off of the roof, get down immediately,” I yelled, but that is when the begging began. Begging can be an effective tool for a teenager because begging might be the only form of communication you’re granted from a teen. “Please, mom, please, mom,” repeated my son over and over and over. That’s when I got what I thought was a brilliant idea and said something I fully expected would clear that roof in seconds, “You can only do it, if I’m up there with you.” Really, what teen in his right mind, in my day, would want to do something forbidden with their parent watching? But in the era of the Internet, all notions of privacy have been erased from this generation’s DNA.

I want to make it clear that jumping from a roof onto a trampoline is a bad idea and something you should never ever do, never, even if the tree you regularly jump from is higher than the roof, and even if you do it and you land just fine and barely break a sweat, which is exactly what happened when my son made that leap. Really, more of a step, as the trampoline was at most a foot’s distance from the roof, but I forbade the twins to follow suit.

Perhaps it was because my eyes were fixed on his lithe body propelling through the air that I didn’t notice that one of the twins was filming this entire sequence with their phone. And it wasn’t until my son posted the video on Facebook that I saw that from the angle the video was shot, the jump looked really, really, did I say really, dicey.

That’s when I had to some ‘splaining to do. What my son hadn’t considered was that his friends would see it, and they would also show their parents, and those parents might just feel compelled to pick up the phone and/or send emails to yours truly. ‘Splaining. It was bad enough that he jumped, but the idea that I was there, supervising, well, somehow that sounded worse coming out of my mouth, and that’s how our house became the house that certain kids weren’t allowed to come to anymore. That stung. Our house has always been play date central. I even had an informal camp one winter break, with spin art, slip n’ slide, and kickball and not one skinned knee. Ugh.

Over the next few months, talk of the “the jump” died down and word spread in our parental circle that other teens had their own incidents of drama, explosion from school, getting caught smoking pot in local parks, even shoplifting. These are all good kids, but teens will test your limits and it still feels like I didn’t live up to my own standards that day.

Here’s the kicker. My son also received feedback on his jump. “Moron.” “You’re an idiot.” “That is so stupid.” At first I wasn’t sure if moron, idiot and stupid were the code words for praise, like “bad” in the 90’s. For the record, “swag” is the new “rad” which was the old “dope.”

No. It turns out that my son’s friends meant exactly what it sounded like. Not one person thought what he did was cool, awesome or sweet. Girls were genuinely concerned and the boys uniformly castigated him. “What were you thinking,” one admonished. His peers were able to do what I could not and my son never repeated that stunt. Thus, I learned the power of positive peer pressure. I also learned that saving up for a ping-pong table might not be a bad idea.

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