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Oregon Family Magazine

The Ultimate Chaperone

01/31/2018 ● By Sandy Kauten
"Can we talk a minute?” I asked. I was standing in the foyer of a big house wanting a few words with Mr. Smith. He’s the father of my daughter’s boyfriend, Romeo. (His parents didn’t name him; I did.)

Mr. Smith said, “Sure,” as Wendy and Romeo, both 15, disappeared into the Smiths’ cozily finished basement, which is exactly what I wanted to talk about with the dad.

He was mystified as we sat down on opposing couches. “When Wendy is visiting here,” I said, “I wonder if you could keep them out of the basement.” His eyes narrowed and I stumbled on, “The basement is too private. I just don’t want them getting too comfortable down in that love nest.”

He frowned and said noncommittally, “I’ll see what I can do.” He had the air of someone who does not think his son will get pregnant no matter where he entertains his young ladies. Nor did he want the awkward and unpleasant chore I was giving him. Probably the whole idea of finishing the cellar and furnishing it with a couch and a TV set was to get the kids out of the way. So what had been an asset is now a liability.

I felt strange making the request because I remember my own teenage years, wishing my girlfriend’s family would quit parading through my make-out zone (their living room). I relate more readily to my furtively ardent 16-year-old self than to my responsible killjoy 55-year-old self. But a look into the mirror reminds me which one I am. I’ve been looking like Moses lately.

Wendy later reported that the Smiths had kept the lovebirds upstairs and chatted with them the whole evening. She said it was weird.

That level of adult effort proved unsustainable, and the next time I came to pick Wendy up, I had to wait for her to climb up from the Love Cave. I gave Mr. Smith a bruising look, but said nothing. I haven’t let Wendy go over there since. So Romeo comes to our house. Our basement has no couch and TV. It has rusty mouse traps and hopping bugs.

So the kids go out on the town (population 1,600). There’s a pizzeria, a coffee shop, a convenience store, and a playground that’s supposed to be off-limits after dark. A quarter-mile bridge across the river to the next state makes for delightful strolling.

 Many years ago, it was an old-fashioned covered bridge. An old lady once confided to me, “When I was young, that bridge was a dandy place for smooching. It was dark and quiet, day and night. No one in town could see you, and there wasn’t much traffic. When an automobile or wagon would rumble onto the planks, it sounded like thunder. That gave you time to compose yourself and start walking like you were headed somewhere. If headlights shined on you, you’d just give ‘em an innocent smile, like butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth. My father told me to stay out of there, but I never listened. It was a sad day when the Flood of ’33 washed that bridge away.”

Have you read the Old Testament? That is SO God!

When Wendy and Romeo return to the house, my wife and I surrender the living room and the TV to them and read books in our room, finding a reason to come noisily down the stairs every 45 minutes. It’s unpleasant, but that’s OK. We are committed to encouraging young love, but discouraging young sex. Our strategy: hospitality mixed with obstacles, resistance and interruptions.

Yesterday, Wendy asked, “Can you take me over to Romeo’s on Saturday?”

 “No way,” I said. “His parents won’t keep you two out of the Love Cave.”

Wendy said, “Dad, the basement is trashed. Remember when it rained for a week? The basement got 2 feet of water and everything is soaked with mud and fuel oil. Even the walls came down.”

 “Hallelujah!” I said, “The Man Upstairs has been offended.”

“He sure has,” Wendy said. “Mr. Smith says it’ll take him a year to get it fixed up nice again.

”Maybe the next time I give Mr. Smith an assignment, he will tremble and obey.

by Rick Epstein