Romping into High School
Most mornings, I usually find time to look in on my 14-year-old daughter, Wendy, while she sleeps. Her face on the pillow is beautiful and serene. How wonderful to see a child doing exactly what she’s supposed to be doing. I can almost imagine that in an hour or so she’ll spring out of bed refreshed and ready for a day of productive effort. But I savor these moments because Wendy awake is a different creature.
She clowns, she rants, she dances, she sings, she coaxes, she emotes. She is either noisily comical or desperately tragic. If you love her like I do, she works your heart the way a boxer works a speed-bag. She wants to go places and do things. She wants money and transportation. She presses for permission. She craves the company of teenagers. She wants fun. She’s a tiger in a cage. She’s a ravenous social animal, and it’s always feeding time.
In a few weeks, Wendy will begin her freshman year of high school.
Her eighth-grade graduating class contained six boys. The population at Good Times Regional High School will include about 500 boys – a thundering herd of shaggy brutes. Like a Lakota brave preparing for the hunt, Wendy says she’ll need two hours each morning to put on war paint and get her hair just right.
She’s also looking forward to playing field hockey. She can’t resist a sport where you put on a short skirt, try to outmaneuver other girls, and slash at them with a big stick. The stick will be something new anyway.
Academics? Wendy is bored by all adults, living and dead. That includes Thomas Jefferson, Socrates, Emily Dickinson, Isaac Newton and every single one of her teachers.
By that, of course, I mean her school teachers. She has plenty of other teachers – young ones who offer instruction in drinking, smoking, shoplifting, sex, false friendship and the use of anti-social media. This unofficial faculty includes fickle boyfriends, and girlfriends who become girl-fiends overnight.
Wendy tells my wife, Betsy, all about it in the form of complaints during their end-of-the-day debriefing sessions. These scary bedtime stories keep Betsy awake. My wife seems to be the only person with whom Wendy has meaningful, daily contact who has normal intelligence and is not a shoplifter, sex-fiend, dope-smoker or backstabber.
Occasionally Wendy confides in me, but she’d tell me more if I weren’t trying to run her life. I push her to dress modestly, do school work and find some babysitting jobs. I want her to stay out of boys’ bedrooms, tattoo parlors and whatever kind of place that does piercings. (They used to be called torture chambers.)
I hate to be a pickle-puss, but if Wendy has her way, her four years of high school will be as festive as New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and spring break in Cancun. And we’re her chaperones. My role model is Moses, a man who really knew how to break up a party. Like him, I believe in presenting a few unambiguous guidelines (although I don’t have God for backup – only Betsy). Here are a few policies we are considering:
School nights – No conversation via phone or computer after 10 o’clock. No leaving the compound unless grades are really good.
Weekends – Old people (parents) must be present at all parties and visits. At least half of all sleepovers will take place here. Curfew will be 11 o’clock.
Boys – Unknown boys will be regarded with hostile suspicion; boys who come to dinner will be fed sumptuously and treated with special favor bordering on trust. But privacy will be limited. Older boys must find older prey.
When we gave Wendy her own phone, it had more strings attached than Gulliver in tie-down mode. When Wendy breaks the rules, we impound the phone. It has happened. I think of the phone as an itty-bitty hostage. I’ll leave it turned on so its assorted bizarre ringtones will cry out to Wendy, “Comply with his demands! He means business! Save me!”
I feel bad setting up a circle of iron around a child I love. Trading Wendy’s immediate pleasure for her long-term happiness is no fun. I’d much rather chair the Entertainment Committee, but Wendy already has that job.Rick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org