Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Who's punishing whom? Youngest Son serves a stretch of home detention

You could call it "being grounded." We do. But the psychologists among you might misunderstand and think that "being grounded" is a good thing.

Youngest Son will start college in a couple of weeks. He started pushing the envelope of parental tolerance some time ago, really ratcheting things up as his senior year of high school drew to a close.

As the youngest of five, Youngest Son has had the opportunity to learn from, and emulate, his older siblings. And what kid is satisfied to merely tread in his brothers' and sisters' footsteps?

Thus, for example, while Middle Son may also have "dipped," we never found out about it. Youngest Son brought his Skoal into the house, where I could find and confiscate it. (I firmly believe that the cheapest, most odiferous cigar is less offensive than chewing... and spitting... tobacco. But, on the other hand, athletes these days are constantly told that they should never, ever smoke. So baseball players somehow use chewing as a means of identifying themselves as a group. If anyone can explain why, please leave a comment.)

Curfews have also been extended with each passing sibling. I'm pretty sure we used to get the kids back by 10:00 or 10:30 on weekdays. Youngest Son has pushed this back to 11:30.

Look, I understand that teenagers and 20-something college students are incapable of sleep before the wee small hours. (I even invented a descriptive name for kids at this stage; I call them nocturnals.) This isn't about them getting sleep. It's about me getting sleep.

They may not have to get up in the morning -- summer jobs for teenagers were the canaries in the coal mine for this never-ending recession -- but I do. I sleep better knowing that they're home safe, under my roof, even if they're watching South Park DVD's in the den or playing Madden in the basement.

Those of you without kids at this phase may say, hey, aren't the kids out later than that every night when they are away at college? You would be right, of course, but this is not a matter of logic. When kids are at home, they are their parents' responsibility. We know (or should know) whether they're home or not. When they're away at college, we don't have to know.

Anyway, in recent weeks, as he and his friends prepare to go their separate ways, Youngest Son has been in regular danger of violating even his liberalized weeknight curfew. All the kids knew that they had a good chance of getting by me, if they were late, just by not waking me up as they snuck into the house. I'd fall asleep in the recliner... waiting... and be completely unable to prove whether the kid in question had or had not made it whom on time.

Falling asleep in front of the TV during or just after the news is a cherished American tradition, isn't it?

Well, the other night, for whatever reason, I was not asleep. Maybe I was having trouble finding something besides "Ancient Aliens" or "Pawn Stars" on the History-Military Channel-Discover-NatGeo-Science channel checkoff I perform every night. Long Suffering Spouse wakes up and objects when I put some show on black holes or mysteries of the outer planets. "You're just putting this on to fall asleep," she'd tell me. You're only waking up to tell me this, I'd say to myself -- and only to myself -- and go back to "River Monsters."

Anyway, it was nearly midnight and Youngest Son was not yet at home. "Where are you?" I texted him.

"Driving Brennan home," came the reply. (I like to think that Youngest Son hands his phone over to his passenger to respond when my texts come in. I have some messages that seem to confirm this.)

When Youngest Son finally wandered in, I had no choice but to assert parental authority. He was grounded.

The next morning -- or, actually, the next afternoon since the kid never gets up until after noon -- Youngest Son began badgering his mother. "How long am I in for?" he'd ask. When I came home, he began asking me the same question. "I don't know," I told him. "The parole board has not yet met." The secret to a happy marriage: Make no unilateral decisions, particularly involving the disciplining of children. I always consult with my wife and we always agree with whatever she says. Then we inform the prisoner at the bar.

The upshot of our discussion on this occasion was that Youngest Son would again be permitted to see the outside world on the weekend. Though his Legion baseball season has ended, there was some discussion that he might be pressed into service pitching for a friend's travel club over the weekend. We let him go out Friday, but we enjoined him strictly to let us know if he was going to have to pitch Saturday. He'd have to come home early if he was; otherwise, we said, we'd let him out until 12:30. That is his usual weekend curfew.

He texted me before 10:00 that he'd not be pitching. I reminded him then that he had to be home by 12:30 -- not driving someone home and therefore, technically, on his way, but actually home inside the house. I told him to simply consider this a friendly reminder from his probation officer.

He made it home by 12:30am.

He woke up Saturday around 12:30pm -- and in a panic.

Youngest Son announced that he had a graduation party that he had to go to. Well, those of you without kids at this phase may be tempted to ask, um, wasn't graduation somewhere in late May, early June? And it was -- but, in the modern age, the custodial parents get their parties first, in the weeks immediately following the actual event. The non-custodial parents have to catch up later. (And, yes, these are all Catholic high school graduates we're talking about. You though that only "publics" had complicated families?)

Anyway, this was a non-custodial parent of the girlfriend of Youngest Son's friend and Youngest Son's friend had specially pleaded with Youngest Son to put in an appearance.

Now I know when Youngest Son woke up Saturday because I'd been sent to rouse him specially. It seems that Middle Son had finally heard back from Older Daughter about the boys coming to visit her in Indianapolis this weekend. Middle Son had said that this was the only weekend he could go, what with weddings and the CPA exam and other obligations, but Older Daughter had put him off until the last moment because she wasn't sure until then that she and her husband would be free. Now they were -- and Middle Son was willing to bring Youngest Son along because their sister has a small refrigerator that Youngest Son can use in his dorm. This is what I told the boy when I woke him.

"I want to go to Indianapolis," said Youngest Son, "but I have to go to this graduation party."

"When does it start?" I asked.

"Two hours ago," said Youngest Son.

"No problem, then," I said. "Your brother has to help someone move this afternoon. He said he can be here by 5:00. You can go and be back. How's that?"

And so it was agreed. I had some books to return to the library and I changed out of my painting clothes for that purpose -- only to have Youngest Son blow a gasket.

"I have to go now," he said.

"I'll be right back."

"No. Wait. I'll take them. Then I'll just keep going."

Long Suffering Spouse overheard this colloquy and her antenna went up. "Where is this party?" she asked.

Youngest Son named a nearby suburb.

"Your brother will be here at 5:00," she warned.

"I'll be ready," he said, dashing out the door.

I'd gone back to helping Long Suffering Spouse and we were making fine progress when Younger Daughter returned from work. (She's managed to keep her campus job during the summer. It's not a lot of hours. But it's something.) "You let Youngest Son go to Wisconsin?" she asked.

"Wisconsin? No, he's at a graduation party in Niles," I said.

"Oh," she said. Long Suffering Spouse and I kept working.

Middle Son turned up at 5:00pm as advertised. It was then that we realized that Youngest Son was nowhere in evidence. I texted him. He called back immediately.

You have to understand that the young people do not actually use their phones as phones without a compelling reason. Youngest Son said his friend, Brennan, had flipped out at the party. He's had troubles at home, we knew, but the picture Youngest Son presented suggested that things were more serious than we knew. He couldn't yet leave. Youngest Son and another friend wanted to wait until Brennan's mother arrived to take charge. "But your brother is already here," I told him. "I understand your concern, but you have a preexisting obligation. Wrap things up there and get back here pronto."

He assured me he would.

I had a chance, then, to visit with Middle Son -- but he was not his usual jovial self. In fact, he seemed rather cranked out of shape. "We won't get there until 10:00," he grumbled, which I thought an exaggeration, even with the time change.

"He's close by," I assured Middle Son. "It sounds like a serious situation, but I'm sure he'll come right home as soon as he gets the kid taken care of."

Time passed.

I texted the boy again. "Leaving in 20," he wrote. I thought this was rather rude, given his other commitments, but I was distracted by, and becoming increasingly concerned with trying to jolly up, an obviously surly Middle Son. He presently excused himself to take a phone call. And then another.

"What is going on here?" Long Suffering Spouse asked me -- but I had no ready explanation.

Middle Son was so angry he wouldn't eat. Now Long Suffering Spouse was really worried.

Eventually -- and I mean eventually -- Youngest Son showed up.

It became evident that Middle Son was trying to find someone else to take to Indianapolis, which struck me as odd since his brother had finally showed up. I'd told Middle Son just to leave without his brother several times, but he wouldn't go -- and now he wouldn't take the kid.

It wasn't long thereafter that Youngest Son fessed up. He hadn't been in a nearby suburb after all. The party was in Wisconsin -- well over an hour away. His friend did have a problem and his mother did have to be summoned, but she was in Wisconsin at that family's summer home anyway. "This isn't over," I said.

I did, however, leave the room. An equally-stunned Long Suffering Spouse and I went out to the front porch where Younger Daughter and Middle Son were conferring in between Middle Son's phone calls. "I know you've been waiting a long time," I began, "but you can take him now. He was in Wisconsin. He had no business being in Wisconsin. No permission. But we'll take care of that when you bring him back. You can take him if you want."

The looks from Younger Daughter and Middle Son said it all. They knew where the boy had been. They'd known for some time. Everyone knew except Long Suffering Spouse and me. Middle Son did not want to be stuck with his brother under these circumstances, especially where (Long Suffering Spouse and I finally figured out) his continued presence at our house was only to prompt his brother to confess. The threat was implied, but it was real: Either you tell them yourself or I will.

Actually, I have to give Middle Son high marks for how he handled that.

And Youngest Son's contrition, when he did finally get past his anger at his siblings and at a capricious fate and realize it was all his own dumb fault (this took a day or two), seems pretty genuine.

Younger Daughter is just happy that someone besides her is in trouble.

And last night Youngest Son began asking, "So, how long am I in for?"

He leaves for college on August 22. "Before Labor Day," I told him.

"No, really, how long?"

"Before Columbus Day for sure."

But it will be awhile -- probably Thanksgiving -- before he drives one of our cars again. Which means, once we release him from home confinement, we'll be doing extra dropping off and picking up. I think this may be why some parents become over-permissive: They are unwilling to shoulder the additional burden that comes with punishing a kid. I'm not thrilled about it either. But an impression must be made -- and some surfaces are harder than others. Concrete. Diamonds. A teenager's skull....


Steve Skinner said...

You are so right about the "hardness" of a teenager's skull.

Sarge Charlie said...

even youngest son will grow up some day, it took our youngest to age 40, hope you do not have that experience.

Kacey said...

Kids have to learn that there are consequences to their actions. Some learn more quickly than others, but it is imperative that they learn. Of course, younger son can always run for Congress, where they haven't learned that consequences happen quickly. Good going with your young man!