Teen party planner
“Can I have a few people over?”
“Saturday night. Can I have a few people over? We’ll sit outside, in the back.”
This was unusual. Four sentences. I realize he can talk, and with animation, but generally only when there’s a girl around, or the girl, the OMG hot blonde bombshell. Then he speaks, he jokes; I witness inflections, gestures, and the raising of eyebrows. However, that’s not our usual rhythm of exchange. More the case: he grunts, he utters the teen equivalent of tiny twitted URLs.
He is polite; he says “Thanks, Mom,” on the nights I cook, then disappears into his room.
Silence. (My tactic; sometimes it prompts another phrase.)
“So? Saturday night? I’ll clean everything before, and I’ll clean up after.”
Who? I ask. He names four 16 and 17-year olds I know, then adds, “And a few others.”
I stop rinsing dishes at the sink. You mean you want to have a party this weekend. Is that what you’re telling me?
“No, not a party. Just a few kids over. Like ten.”
I take a breath. Ten kids is a party, I say.
He gives me the “look,” that same wide-eyed stare that he effectively wielded at five, and six, and seven… Unlike his social-round-the-clock brother, my younger son has never had a teenage party. I let my gaze wander his beautiful face, trying to absorb how much he has changed, so quickly. I know I’ll say yes, and already I’m running the litany of worries and tasks through my head, hoping it won’t rain or dip below freezing. I’m calculating, trying to figure how I’ll squeeze sodas and chips into the budget on 48 hours notice. He would pay if he could; he does pay for things but he has no money of his own right now. Allowance stopped along with my paying jobs, and he hasn’t sold a portrait in awhile.
But I’ve been here before, the teen party planner on an UnBudget, the habitual haven for nocturnal gatherings where kids can be kids, but under a watchful eye. And now it starts, with the younger.
The Mad Hatter
The phone rings. College Boy. He’s had a disagreement with the administrators of his scholarship program. He’s never hidden his annoyance at some of their rules. It comes across as arrogance. He’s 18, barely, and at the moment, acting his age.
I know his heart; but I also know his temper and the confidence he’s always owned. He’s a remarkable kid, but he doesn’t know fear. Profound, gut-twisting fear. Without that scholarship, there is no college.
Where is my hat? My magic powers? My wisdom? How do I gift him with the knowledge of treading lightly, when I’ve raised him to speak his mind? Did I not teach him “don’t bite the hand that feeds you?”
I can feel him pacing. I know how to defuse him when he is an arm’s length away. This is more difficult. I’m on your side, I say in a conciliatory tone, listening and offering suggestions. There are rules to the game, I say. Even when the world seems upside down, and not of your making.
He’s angry, and I tell myself it’s not at me, but my impotence burns. Mustering my own balance in this otherworldly place is hard enough; I picture Paris, more hats – anything to hold my own emotions at bay, to find words that will reach him. I don’t know if he’s listening, if he’s making the right decisions, but the stakes are tremendously high.
“I shouldn’t have called you,” he says, and hangs up.
Down the rabbit hole
I am the little white rabbit, checking my watch and perpetually late. I am the Mad Hatter, still holding tea parties, even with empty cups. I am the Cheshire cat, grinning and glassy-eyed without benefit of hookah. And I am Alice most of all, lost and tumbling, floating and falling farther. No matter which wedge of pie I taste, I am shrinking. No matter how far I fall, or how many objects drift by just beyond grasp, I must somehow inhabit the Queen of Hearts and not be Alice any longer. I must prop up, listen, guide, emptying every pocket in search of ingenuity, ways to reinvent what I cannot change, in a land I cannot recognize.
My younger rummages through the fridge as my elder calls back, calmer now. He reads me an email, explaining his next gambit. A chess game, even down the rabbit hole.
I return to thoughts of the UnParty I will patrol from a respectful distance, reminding myself that the job is far from over though it shifts and twists. I am still concocting comfort out of the air and maneuvers in a mad, mad world as I tumble, then drift, switch hats, and tumble again, wondering when I’ll wake up, at home in the landscape, even for a few hours.