Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Leaving your house to the tender mercies of teens: an acceptable proposition or utter madness?

Since I moved away from the city eight years ago, my far-flung family (none of them related to me by blood, but all very near and dear) have often made the great trek to visit me. I appreciate this enormously: when you’re spending precious annual leave flying in from Europe, the States or Aus, often with wives/husbands/partners and/or kids in tow, and with a long list of family and friends plus tourist attractions and the like to visit in a limited time, taking a day or two out of your busy schedule to drive to the middle of nowhere is a big ask. And yet they do it, some of them every year.

So this year, I’ve decided, I will go to them. I haven’t been out of South Africa in 12 years, so it’s high time; and I want to see my lovely friends in their own homes, meet their friends and families, and experience their lives the way they occasionally do mine.

Having negotiated the terrifying price of an air ticket to Europe (the States and Aus will have to wait another dozen years, alas) by the expedient method of ‘borrowing’ it from my mortgage bond, I began thinking about what I’d do to secure the health and welfare of my pets and home in my absence. Over dinner with friends on the weekend, I mentioned that I’d probably be leaving these responsibilities in the hands of my children, who will, in December when I plan to go, be 17 and 18 years old respectively.

The hysterical uproar at this announcement left me shaken. After everyone had picked themselves up off the floor and wiped the tears of mirth from their cheeks, they began trading stories of what they’d got up to when they were teenagers and their parents left them alone in the house.

T: ‘We had a party and my mother almost had a heart attack at the state of the house when she got back. You know what teenagers are like: the bedroom was in the lounge, the lounge was in the pool…’

J: ‘We went to sleep and left a candle burning in the kitchen. The curtains caught fire and the house almost burnt down.’

M: ‘We took my father’s car out for a spin and crashed it. We couldn’t drive it home, it was too damaged, so we just left it at the side of the road and it got stolen. My father still doesn’t know what happened – he thinks the car was stolen out of our garage at home.’

R: ‘Our dog ran away.’

S: ‘One of my friends used our phone to call his girlfriend in America. He spoke for hours and the phone bill was astronomical.’

J2: ‘A friend of mine ate too many magic mushrooms and had such a bad trip we thought she was going to die. We called an ambulance and the medics wanted to know where the adults were and when we told them we were on our own, they called the police. My folks still think I’ve got a drug problem because of that.’

M: ‘We blew the sound system.’

R2: ‘One of our cats died in the roof. We could smell something horrible but we didn’t know what it was. My mother found the cat when she got back. She kept asking how we hadn’t noticed the cat had been missing. I don’t even think we remembered to feed the poor things, they just had to forage.’

L: ‘I drank so much I threw up in my parents’ bed – and you don’t have to guess too hard what I was doing there, with my equally drunk girlfriend. I couldn’t get the smell out of the mattress. My father knew exactly what it was the minute he got into bed on the first night he got back. He was furious. I blamed one of my friends.’

J3: ‘I got into a wrestling match with my sister and she made me so mad I almost killed her. I had my hands around her neck and she’d actually passed out before I realised what I was doing.’

T2: ‘My boyfriend rode my father’s motor bike into the swimming pool.’

R (again): 'Someone put the hosepipe through the living-room window and switched it on. For a joke.'

The sheer range of calamitous occurrences truly appalled me. (And the mere thought of one of my children having sex in my bed..!)

Were my siblings and I just abnormally lucky as teenagers? (We certainly weren’t abnormally well behaved, or at least not when my parents were around.) Sure, when we were left on our own, glitches happened, but the worst I can remember was when one of us burnt a hole in a cushion with a cigarette – and we were so aware of the dire consequences that we managed to get the thing recovered before my parents returned.

Almost all the people who contributed to this hair-raising comparison of home-alone experiences also volunteered to teen-sit for me while I’m away. My first thought was, of course, an aghast No! How could I possibly leave my home and best beloveds in the hands of such hooligans?!

But on reflection I realised that all of them, having experienced at first hand what teenagers get up to in the absence of adult control, would know exactly what to look out for.

So I’ve drawn up a roster of house-sitters with misspent youths, and my trip is on.

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