Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Dead Beagle Under the Bed (Another Adventure in Parenting Teenagers)

I went to bed early on Friday night, my head full of springtime in the worst possible sense. I was sure that a long stretch of blissfully uninterrupted slumber would restore me to pre-pollen levels of bright-eyed vigor.

Four hours later, I was sitting in my brightly lit kitchen, delivering curfew-breaking punishments to two-thirds of my teen population-in-residence, and knowing that I would not be able to put in even a half a wink for the rest of the night.

For those of you who can’t wait for the little ones to grow up so you can finally sleep through the night, I can only say, good luck with that.

There wasn’t a great deal of yelling at 1:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, which I’m sure the curfew violators appreciated. They’d given a ride to someone, gotten lost … at this point, not even hearing them, I just held out my hand for the cell phone. This was serious. The cell phone is the Jedi Lightsaber of a sixteen-year-old. But Emma knew better than to plead that she’d be unable to defend herself against Imperial Stormtroopers, or even to text her boyfriend. She passed it over and I climbed back upstairs for a few hours of sleepless deep-breathing exercises, teeth grinding and insomnia.

I don’t have to punish very often these days, so it’s a muscle I need to flex and stretch a bit before I jump right into full-tilt chastisement. While I did consider adding some hair curlers and clutching a rolling pin, so I could look exactly like a cartoon version of Angry Woman at One A.M., I decided that my own face, in its current state, would be fright enough. I always remember my boyfriend Winston Churchill in times like these (don’t make fun of me; we’re very close), who warned that the gleeful vindictiveness of Versailles would cause trouble someday. And if you think that raising children is nothing like conducting a world war or negotiating a peace treaty, then you haven’t met my kids. I just shut up and get it over with; usually by the point of punishment, they’ve suffered enough just anticipating the inevitable.

As I thrashed about at 3 a.m., feeling truly awful, I had one of those “live every day as if it were your last” moments. Because I am maudlin and self-pitying (read:  Irish), I usually translate that feeling into, “I wish I could drop dead right now.” I blew my nose (for the three hundredth time since midnight) and pictured the blissful nirvana awaiting those who croaked from the deadly combination of teenagers and head colds.

Then I realized that, upon finding my dead body the next day, Emma’s first thought would not be, “Gosh, I’ll miss her, she made really good spring rolls,” but “where did she hide my confiscated cell phone?”

And this, of course, made me think of the Dead Beagle. I have a friend whose beloved elderly beagle finally died in its sleep one December night. The passing was bittersweet, but troublesome, since the December night in question was Christmas Eve, and they had to keep the poor dead beagle under their bed until the corpse could be brought into the veterinarian on Boxing Day. It put a bit of a pall on the Yuletide Festivities, as you can imagine.

I began to laugh to myself, picturing Emma barking, “Just stuff her under the bed for a while; no one will notice. First things first – we have to Find That Cell Phone!” And that’s how I made it through a miserable night – creating a farce that rivaled the Story of the Dead Beagle, imagining my teenager losing her mind because I shuffled off the mortal coil before I could tell her where I had hidden the goods.

I made it to dawn. I got up and made coffee. I had a day full of earnest conversations and family minutiae. I finally got a good night’s sleep last night and she gets her cell phone back today. But I know there will always be times when parenting proves so grating that I long for a Big Exit instead of the Daily Cameo Appearance I’ve been making in her life the past 5,800 and some-odd days.

That beagle had a good idea – slip away, but cause a little trouble as you head out, just to make sure they never forget you.

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