His name was Sterling and he was having a party.
That, along with a hastily scribbled phone number, was all the information my teenage stepdaughters gave us before going out last Saturday night, but it was enough. “By the time they get to this kid’s house, we’ll know more about him than they do,” I assured my husband, opening my laptop with the grim air of Jodie Foster starring in a psychological thriller. Within minutes, I’d found the kid on Facebook. “Last name ‘Cook.’ Goes to Stratford High School. Looks a little emo to me,” I said knowledgeably.
I used a reverse phone directory to find his address and then did a property search. “22-05 Robindale Court,” I said, snapping my laptop shut. “Why don’t we drive by and check this little tea party out?” I smiled with the quiet assurance of one who knows she has the title of World’s Nosiest Stepmother firmly in her grasp. “I just want to make sure our girls know where to draw the line.” Hubs nodded in agreement, and with that, we strapped our two pajama-clad younger children into our SUV and headed for Sterling’s house.
I admit that the drive-by idea didn’t start with me. When I was a teenager, my mom used to swear each weekend that she and my dad would show up when I least expected it. “You won’t know we’re there,” she’d say ominously. “You’ll never even see us. But we’ll find out exactly what you’re up to.”
Thanks to her dark promises, I was constantly on edge at parties, peering guiltily around as I sipped my lukewarm beer and half-expecting my mom’s head to pop out from behind a ficus or to spot the unmistakable tips of her Ferragamos peeping out beneath the floor-length drapes.
I called her yesterday and told her about our undercover journey to Casa del Sterl. She laughed raucously, in the annoying way those who’ve already raised teens laugh at the people who are still enduring it. “Oh, please,” I said crankily. “You did the same thing, right?”
Wrong. As it turned out, my parents never bothered actually showing up to a single Boone’s Farm-fueled adolescentfest, at least while I was in high school. “We felt like we would hear if things got out of hand,” she explained. “Either you would confess or another parent would call.” Heh. Keep dreaming, Mom.
It wasn’t until I’d gone off to college that my mother finally made good on her threats. I had dropped out of my sorority, begun hanging out with questionable characters
known as Townies, and could usually be found inside a dusty coffee
shop called Jittery Joe’s. Worried, my parents secretly made the hour-and-a-half drive from Atlanta to Athens, Ga., so they could see Joe’s for themselves. They didn’t tell me they were coming, but a few days later, the dam of deceit finally burst and my mom called me, crying. Even today, the horror of that visit clings to her like armpit odor to a vintage polyester shirt.
“It looked like weirdos hung out there,” she remembered shakily when I asked her about it on the phone. “It had marijuana in the air. It had … incense!” This shows how clueless my mom was. I mean, come on. Marijuana? In the summer of ’94, heroin was the drug of choice.
But back to Robindale Court. When we arrived, the street was dark and quiet. Cars dotted the roadside, my 17-year-old’s among them. As we stopped in the middle of the road and tried to figure out which house was Party Central, two more cars passed us and parked. A boy looked out from the front door of a house and then ran to the car ahead of us, telling the driver something and gesturing down the street.
“That’s him,” I told Hubs. “That’s Sterling. He wants people to park in front of another house, so the cops won’t know where the party’s at.” I snorted. Suddenly, Sterling turned and began running toward our SUV.
“Oh shit!” I said. “Back up, Hubs! Back up!” Hubs sat frozen in disbelief. Visions filled my head of Sterling reaching our window and sounding the, “Parents! Parents!” alarm, of teenagers pouring out of the house in order to point and laugh and take video of us on their cell phones, of our girls’ faces contorted in rage and humiliation.
“BACK UP, FOR GOD’S SAKE!” I screeched. After what seemed like an eternity, Hubs put the car in reverse and floored it while I cowered in the passenger seat and Sterling chased us down. Finally, Hubs came to a cross street and turned the car around. We screeched away, laughing breathlessly.
“What the hell?!” I said. “We were almost busted by a 17-year-old!” We spent the drive home dreaming up alibis for ourselves, and it occurred to me that I was going to have a hard time teaching my girls where to draw the line when clearly I didn’t have a clue how to find that mark myself.