Over this past July 4th weekend, I dropped off my soon-to-be 15-year-old daughter at her girlfriend’s house for a party. As I pulled up to the house, the front door swung open and a bevy of overly excited teenage girls ran down the porch steps, out the front gate, and surrounded my car. What a greeting! My daughter was so overjoyed by the rousing welcome that she couldn’t unbuckle her seatbelt and get out of the passenger seat quick enough.
As the girls jumped up and down screaming and screeching, hugging and kissing each other, I got my daughters overnight bag out of the trunk and handed it to her. I had planned to give her some last minute instructions, like: call if she needed anything, absolutely no alcohol consumption, and most important, to make sure to have her cellphone close by at all times and to answer it when Mommy or Daddy call.
But our little talk never happened. My daughter just grabbed her bag out of my hands, joined her girls, and looked back at me and yelled, “bye Daddy…love you,” leaving me standing by the car mumbling to myself, “I love you too, Poopi,” as the front door slammed shut behind them.
As I was pulling away from the house, I couldn’t help but smile to myself, thinking about how lucky my daughter was to have such a good group of friends; how she was going to have a fun and memorable sleepover — one that she would not soon forget. Then my thoughts started drifting back to some of the awesome parties I went to when I was her age…
…like the New Year’s Eve weekend party of 1984 over at Tommy McLear’s house. I remembered how Lizzie got so drunk that she locked herself in the bathroom crying and wouldn’t open the door, so we had to kick it in to make sure she was ok. I remembered how we watched the movie Scarface over and over again, reenacting all the cocaine snorting scenes, using real cocaine.
Then I started thinking about the game of strip poker that Jimmy Martinez and I played with two Greek sisters upstairs in Tommy’s parent’s bedroom. How bad we cheated them, hiding most of the suited cards under our thighs and handing them back and forth to each other under the table. How we got both sisters all the way down to there bra and panties, and how the prettier sister started crying when it was time for her to remove her bra. Somehow, Jimmy had won his fourth consecutive hand and…that’s when I whipped a U-turn, and raced back to pull my daughter out from that den of heathens and bring her back home to safety where she belonged.
I’m kidding!!! I didn’t really go back and drag my daughter out of there, but I seriously thought about it.
Back in the day, things were so different. There were no organized play dates. Kids just went outside and sometimes played several blocks from our house. When we got hungry, we came home for lunch and then we ran back out to finish our games, until the streetlights came on. There were no cell phones, no way to contact or track down your child to find out if they were still alive. If your mother wanted you to come home, she yelled your name out the window and somehow, between the other kids on the block and your neighbors, the message got relayed back to wherever you were playing and then you’d run home as fast as you could.
When we became teenagers, those same streetlights that once signaled us to say goodbye to our friends and go home for the night, became our signal to find our friends and go out for the night. My poor grandmother — I remember she always used to ask me “where are you going?” I would get annoyed and reply, “I’m going out!” And then she’d ask, “I know out, but where?” And then I’d say, “I don’t know! Just out! Leave me alone!”
By the time I was 15-16 years old, I had already been served alcohol at all the bars, nightclubs, and strip joints in my neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. Some summer nights, all it took was a fresh pack of cigarettes and one of my buddies to suggest we “break night” and that was it: we were off…walking over the 59th street bridge into Manhattan for no reason other than simply not to go home.
The funny things is, most of my kids friends parents are people I grew up with, and whenever we get together, we always joke around about how free and unsupervised we were and then we wonder — out loud — how we even survived.
Tomorrow night, my daughter is going to her first nightclub for a “teen night,” and you can best be sure that I will be dropping her off and picking her up when it’s over at midnight. I may even get a crossword puzzle to do while I wait, just to make sure she’s not sneaking out of the club and into the back seat of some older boy’s car.
Every time I think about how lucky I am to have good kids, I always remind myself that my mom thought that I was a good kid, too…and that keeps me on my toes. I’m not dumb enough to think I’ll be able to control everything that they do, nor do I want to. I just want to keep them away from the fun stuff, like booze, cocaine, and strip poker.
Back in the day, we grew up way too fast. A lot of us are lucky to have made it to adulthood and to have our own families. Some of us weren’t so lucky: R.I.P. to my boy, Jimmy Martinez aka Jimmy Blazed. You were my best friend for a time and are greatly missed. I wish you were still with us…with your own family and a teenage daughter, so we could patrol all these house parties and teen nights at the clubs together, and protect our little angels from boys like us.