Wednesday, October 01, 2003
Tattooing the lessons of life and responsibility
By Dave Jaffe
Because teenage children are not convicts, technically speaking, they should be entrusted to take care of the home when parents are away provided they first submit to a pat down and agree to wear an electronic monitoring device.
"It's not that your mother and I don't have faith in you, boys," I told my teens, "We'd just worry less if, during our absence, you checked in every half hour with all the relatives on this list."
"Dad, there are 75 names here."
"I know, Russ, and I'm aware that some of these folks haven't seen you since you were born. But that's all the more reason to keep in touch. You know how families can drift apart."
"Who's Uncle Roscoe?"
"Actually, Brian, he's an old business partner of your grandpa's cousin Sidney. Technically, he's not a relative. Also technically, he died in 1972. But I'm sure his family will want to hear you're safe at home and not having a party with underage drinking."
"Dad, you know you can trust us."
"I do, Russ. It's just that when word gets out that someone's parents aren't home, young people gather, including some ruffians. Then, before you know it, you wake up with a tattoo of an Amazon riding a dragon on your neck."
"What's a ruffian?"
"It's like a scallywag, Brian."
"Lighten up, Dad. Next you'll have the police checking up on us."
"Also the Air Force, Russ, which will be performing high altitude reconnaissance sorties over the neighborhood."
"Dad, don't treat me and Brian like children."
"That's right, Dad. Also don't forget to bring home presents."
The peculiar characteristics of American life make it difficult for us to easily place trust in our teenagers when left on their own. Other countries have an easier time of it, such as the French, whose children are raised on copious amounts of wine from a very early age until they are old enough to surrender to the Germans.
America's history of mistrusting teenagers dates back long before Archie and Jughead to our rugged colonial roots.
COLONIAL DAUGHTER: "Prithee, Father, are you and Ma-Ma away?"
COLONIAL DAD: "Aye, my dear child. 'Tis off to the Continental Congress for us. But in my absence, might I exact from thee a promise? No ruffians, no scallywags!"
COLONIAL DAUGHTER: "Be of good faith, Father. In your absence, young Heathcliff, the smithy's apprentice, has offered to serve as my guardian."
COLONIAL DAD: "Heathcliff? The strapping youth who sports the likeness of an Amazon riding a dragon 'pon his stout neck? Talk to thy hand, kiddo!"
In preparing for a trip, it is perfectly normal for the modern parents of even the most mature and responsible teenagers to, of course, totally lose their minds. They might, for example, while loading their luggage into the taxi on the way to the airport, run back into the kitchen and scrawl the number for Poison Control in lipstick on the kitchen wall by the phone, "Just in case!"
Let me assure you this makes Perfect Parent Sense, for we who have teenagers know-without having to rely on any statistics-that 78 percent of 19-year-old boys, alone at breakfast with no adult supervision, will think, "Hmmm, looks like we're out of orange juice. Maybe I'll try a glass of Drano." The remaining 22 percent will drink it right out of the bottle.
To help reduce your anxiety about leaving your children in charge at home, take these precautions:
• Using a penknife, mercifully slaughter all the pets in the house before they starve.
• With small magnets, attach "Important" items to the refrigerator, such as the dishwasher and siblings.
• Leave them a reasonable amount of pizza money.
For two teenagers, "reasonable" means no more than what you would pay for a year's tuition at an in-state university.
With our bags packed and our dogs humanely destroyed, my wife and I departed for two days in Las Vegas, leaving Russ and Brian in charge. I lectured them briefly about how "with great power comes great responsibility," and even threw in some Stuart Little and Dr. Seuss quotes. But it's hard to take the moral high ground when you're on your way to a city devoted to gambling and whose cultural pinnacle is "Star Trek: The Experience."
The trip was not our idea. Rather it was a birthday gift from my folks who wistfully recall Las Vegas as the place where cool cats like me hang out with Frank, Sammy and Dino. Instead, I lost $25 at the roulette wheel, then spent most of the vacation walking the Strip, drinking orange pop out of a 1 1/2-half-foot tall beverage cup shaped like the Eiffel Tower and watching a tattoo artist spray paint designs on paying tourists.
It is always a pleasure to return to a home devoid of fire engines. The boys had kept the house, if not spotless, virtually free of toxic waste, and the pets were all alive.
"What'dja bring us, Dad?" demanded Brian.
"Well, boys. You're obviously too old and mature for toys, so I bought some artwork." I turned down my shirt collar, exposing my neck. "You'll notice that the dragon she's sitting on is actually breathing fire!"
Dave Jaffe lives with his wife, two teenage sons and two dogs. Reach him at the firstname.lastname@example.org.