A few weeks ago, my three kids went back to school.
Two of my kids celebrated by throwing parties for their classes.
Two, thank God, not three.
First, our ten-year-old daughter invited 33 fifth graders over for swimming, pizza and ice cream. I sent out an email to the class cheerfully labeled: Welcome to fifth grade! At the front door, I made all the kids leave their shoes and backpacks, lest they jump into the pool with them.
At least 10 parents stayed for the party’s duration. We all hovered like security guards, watching the pool, enforcing the 5-kid trampoline limit, and making sure no one jumped on anyone else. One kid did anyway – landing on another 10-year-old’s head in the pool – but no one was injured.
I was utterly physically exhausted after three hours of monitoring the pool, finding bathing suits for kids who forgot theirs, picking up soaking towels, and endlessly asking children not to dive into the pool with a cupcake in their hand, no matter how pretty the frosting looked spreading out on the water. I felt like I’d run a triathalon, tense from nonstop worries about a kid stepping on a bee and going into anaphylactic shock or another one breaking an arm on the trampoline.
I was thrilled when the last child went home and the last wet towel went into the dryer.
Three days later, my 15-year-old son threw a surprise party for one of his best friends. What a difference five years makes. Instead of noon to three p.m., this party ran from eight p.m. until midnight. The invitation was issued via Facebook, and I had nothing to do with who was invited.
My son gave me a list of names to check off at the door to prevent party crashers. This time, again, at the front door I made the kids leave their backpacks with me – but it was to make sure no one snuck alcohol or drugs into the backyard.
At this party, no parents stayed. In fact, they fled after dropping their kids off curbside. I got the distinct impression that they felt sorry for me – but not sorry enough to subject themselves to 30 adolescent boys grinding against 30 teenage girls in teeny bikinis.
Again, I watched the pool, mostly to make sure no one got pushed in with their expensive iPhone in their pocket. Again, I felt like I was running a triathalon. This time the marathon was mental — constantly worrying about a kid slipping by me with a flask of vodka, or someone opening the back gate to let in a friend with a bag of pot, or an amorous teenage couple slinking into one of the small, dark basement rooms.
I was equally exhausted afterwards, and equally happy to see the last party guest leave.
I’m no helicopter parent. I think it is good for kids to make mistakes. Hopefully small mistakes that teach them lifelong lessons. As long as they are my kids. The responsibility of watching out for other people’s kids is really what I find draining. And it’s a toss up which group is harder to watch over, 10-year-olds or teenagers.
The good news is that, while none of the sweet, innocent fifth graders looked me in the eye or said thank you without a parent’s prompting, all of the 15-year-olds shook my hand, politely saying thank you before and after the party.
Contrary to the bad rep teenagers get, in my experience, they are growing up into civilized humans rather nicely. As long as it is not when I’m chaperoning, I hope they do make a few errors and learn to forgive themselves for being human. For now, as best I know, no one snuck any illicit substances into themselves or my backyard. We all survived. Although there still is a lot of frosting in the pool.