THE CALL CAME about 11:30 last Friday. We were spending the weekend with friends on Long Island and the hostess came to our bedroom door. "It's your neighbor," she said. "Something's happened at your house."
My neighbor's voice sounded hesitant but resolute. Later, she told us that she and her family debated nearly half an hour about whether to call us and whether to call the police. There had been not fire or a burglary, which is why I had given her the number where we were staying. Nothing quite simple.
There had been a party at our house that evening, a completely unsupervised party of kids hosted by our 13-year-old son. There had been drinking. There had been lots of noise. One girl threw up on a neighbor's sidewalk and passed out on her lawn. Another neighbor called the girl's parents to come and get her. My neighbor and her fiance dispersed the rest of the kids but my son was nowhere to be found. The house did not appear to be too badly damaged, at least in the initial phone call. The situation, however, deteriorated as the evening and as the weekend and as the phone calls worn on.
My son had arranged to spend the weekend with a good friend, whose parents we know and like, while we were in New York. I called their home and told the mother what I knew. She said there must be some mistake. The kids told her they'd gone to the Little League field and then to the Pizza Hut. They'd just come home. There was no sign of any problem.
My son told me the same story when he came to the phone. We called the neighbor back. She said one of her daughters was sure she heard my son yelling to his friends, "Hey, you guys, be quiet." Yet, when my neighbor dispersed the crowd, one of the kids denied even knowing who my son was.
How, then, had the children gotten into the house? Who were they? How many had been there? What had they done inside there? How long had they been there? How drunk and how rowdy had they gotten? Was anyone really hurt? What had they taken or damaged? Who was telling the truth? I called my son back. He got on the phone. "Mom," he said. "I lied."
It seems my son, his friend, and the friend's sister went to the Little League park about 8 p.m. There my son issued an invitation to eight of his closese friends to come to our house. He did not have his bike, so he gave his set of house keys to another boy who did have a bike and presumably would arrive at our house first. By the time my son had arrived, it was close to 9 p.m. and the party was getting into full gear. There were 12 2 or 15 people there, not eight. Some of the kids had brought beer. The drinking started and it continued. The situation was getting out of my son's control. The kids were making too much noise, running loose all over the house and refusing to leave. An episode that began innocently enough was turning into a nightmare.
My son said he and his friend finally got most of the kids out the family room door and into the driveway. That's when they noticed that someone had ripped a piece of molding and the chain lock off the family room door.The boys closed the door and to their horror one of the kids outside slammed his fist and arm through the window in the door to get back in. The boys looked at the kid's arm, saw it was not cut from the shattered glass, and then quickly tried to lock up the house. My son, his friend and the sister then ran across a neighbor's yard heading home to where they were staying and leaving behind them a crowd of milling teen-agers who spilled over onto a neighbor's lawn where the girl passed out.
Much later at night, sometime after 1 a.m., two of the kids, using my son's house key, got back inside the house. My neighbor heard them and called police, who showed up with a dog and a paddy wagon. The kids ran off but not before they could be identified.
At 3 o'clock that morning, police telephoned the house where my son was staying and said they wanted to interview the boys. Initially boys were reluctant to cooperate, buy by morning they were persuaded by both sets of parents that they had no choice.
We returned home Sunday night. Both my neighbor and the mother taking care of my son strongly advised against my returning Saturday morning. I was too angry and I was angry when I saw my son Sunday night, but the first thing I told him was quite simply, "I still love you."
These are the kinds of family situations in which you learn about your children and you learn about yourself as a parent. You learn the levels of rage you are capable of, you learn how you can get terribly angry and lose your sense of perspective, your ability to forgive. You feel guitly and betrayed, and you forget what you did as a kid.
And above all, you learn about the child you've raised. You learn that he, or she,just like any other teen-ager, is capable of doing something dumb. And then you can see how they handle themselves when the chips are really down, when they've been caught. You find out if your kid has any sense and if he's got any class.
You find out, for example, that he can admit a mistake and apologize. You find out that he can visit the neighbor who called us, apologize and hold a conversation. These are tough things for adults to do, let alone kids. We found out we had reason to be angry with him, and we also had reasons to be terribly proud.
What happened at our house was the kind of teen-age party you hear about and shake your head and wonder where in the world the parents were. Don't they care? Don't they know what their kids are doing? Only this time, the parents weren't nameless errant enemies of organized society. This time the parents were us. We have much to think about.
On Monday, my husband called the school guidance counselor to tell him what happened, to tell him some of the kids had gotten in trouble with their parents, and at least one of them tried to get my son to cover for him and he had refused. Someone might try to give a hard time. The counselor understood what we were saying, and he told us what had happened was routine.An empty house is a party house these days. He told us of parents going on an errand and not getting more than a block away before the house was swarming with teen-agers. He told us of parents notifying the police of a planned party so they would know it was authorized. The police said good luck. It took seven squad cars of officers to break up the gathering of 210 teen-agers.
The more we heard, the luckier we felt that there was not worse property destruction. There was glass from the family room door all over the floor, near the broken chain lock and molding from the door.
There were tracks of grass cuttings and maple leaf pods all over the carpeting. A circle of chairs from the dining room was still gathered around the kitchen table. On the table were cans of malt liquor and a box of sugar and melted ice cream, a reminder that these are still kids. The floor was filthy and pillows were scattered about the living room floor.
Someone had been in my clothes closet trying on high heels. The closet door is jammed. Some people passed around Dixie Cups of mouthwash, presumably to cleanse their breath of the liquor smell. There was huge wad of bubble gum on the carppets in my bedroom and the room of our three-year-old son. Monday morning, I found yet another can of beer stashed behind a photograph on top of my husband's dresser.
We know who was at the party and have to begin notifying the parents. Obviously, what they do about their kids is up to them but surely they ought to know where the kids were. There is a story going around that one young Casanova had a very successful evening. None knows if the story is true or not, but we've heard them and there is a very real question of whether and how you tell the other parents. The boy may well be merely bragging. But if he's telling the truth, there could be a lot at stake for him and the girl involved.
There is a lot of sorting out to do. Our privacy was invaded and our house vandalized. There are damages to be repaired and confidences to be rebuilt. Our anger is diminishing, and yet I don't have the sense that everything in the house has returned to normal. I still expect to open a shower stall and find a sleeping teen-ager.