At the apartment shared by Mike Joyner (left) and Kevin Musselman, “We all watch-ed MTV, played Trivial Pursuit and stayed up way too late. Photo courtesy Anne Thomas Soffee
Greetings from halfway through another summer! Even though summer vacation isn't the "Get Out of Jail Free" card that it was when we were kids, there's still a sense of freedom hanging in the air, along with the smell of chlorine, bug spray and Hawaiian Tropic. Freedom is a wonderful concept — when I'm thinking about it for myself. When I think about it for The Boy, it makes me want a Valium. Or 12. And the older he gets, the more nervous it makes me.
For kids, freedom means the absence of parents. And not that fleeting, we-could-get-caught-at-any-moment absence you have when your parents are out for an hour, or an evening or a weekend. All it takes is a key in the door, or an errant Budweiser bottlecap rolling under the edge of the sofa to be discovered later by a vacuuming parent, to spell the end of your freedom for a very, very long time. No, I'm talking about real freedom, being out there in the world at large, operating as an adult when you are, in fact, still a child.
The Boy, at 8 years old, is far too young to taste even that kind of quasi-freedom. But with every passing summer, it gets closer, and as my friends with pre-teens fret about boyfriends and peer groups and sleepovers at homes where supervision is questionable, I think ahead to The Boy as a teenager and I wonder: Who is he going to hang out with? What if I don't like them? Or trust them? And what if he does? Will he have enough sense not to get in the car with a drunken driver, or do Jägerbombs because his friends are doing it, or send a photo of his junk to someone on his phone? This is the kind of stuff I lose sleep over as a parent.
Knowing that the adults were out there kept me marginally obedient most of the time as a younger teen. It wasn't until I reached the threshold of young adulthood, at 17, and made friends with a group of older boys, young men really, who had jobs, cars and apartments of their own, that I experienced true, no-parental-threat freedom.
I bet those of you with girl children just blanched at the thought of your innocent little doe, currently all of 5 or 8 or 13, jumping into the passenger seat alongside some greasy 30-year-old guitar player, but in my case, nothing could have been further from the truth. As much as I would have loved to have been the kind of teenage jailbait that the guys in the bands sang about, I was, unfortunately, a nerd. A record nerd, to be exact. And while the jailbait girls with the fishnet hose and candy-pink lipstick were riding shotgun with the guitarists, the record-nerd girls with the holey jeans and Yardbirds T-shirts were taping said guitarists' albums at the apartments of the record-nerd guys.
My friends Mike Joyner and Kevin Musselman had an apartment in the West End where we all watched MTV, played Trivial Pursuit and stayed up way too late, with no parents to insinuate that maybe a third bowl of ice cream was a bad idea. Breaking bad for us meant riding down to the all-night Farm Fresh wearing silly hats, or asking the Pizza Hut on Patterson Avenue to top our pizza with the red and white mints beside the cash register. Lawless rebels we weren't, but we had a great time, and I had a safe place to test my wings before it was my turn to be on my own. Those nights at Mike's gave me a window on young adulthood before it arrived, and they had a huge influence on how I handled my freedom when I got my first apartment a few years later.
I don't know yet what The Boy will be like as a teenager, but he'll definitely be obsessed about something. Whether it's music or history or Star Trek or something else entirely, I'm sure there will be nerds devoted to it, and it is my fervent hope that he finds them, and that they take him under their nerd wings, and let him hang out with them and study their habits and learn their ways. Let the parents of the cool kids worry about the Jägerbombs. I'm hoping my kid likes mint pizza and Slurpees. Just like his nerdy old mom.