Mom On Guard
I have guard duty tonight. Yes, guard duty. I know I don't resemble GI Joe. I'm a matronly looking, 45-year-old woman who wears relaxed-fit jeans and arch supports, and clips coupons.
But I, along with thousands of other women, will take on Mission Impossible, putting our lives on the line for those we love. We bear the standard, we carry the flag of virtue, honor, and discipline. We are the few, the proud, the paranoid.
We are the mothers of teenage daughters with boyfriends.
In my daydo I find myself saying that more and more?this was the father's arena. My dad relished the role, putting the fear of God into the few who were foolhardy enough to take me bowling. To this day, I tell him the only reason I married at all was because my parents moved far away during my senior year, when I met the tall, thin boy who was to become my husband.
When I turned 16 (the biblical age of dating accountabilitylook it up in Song of Songs), my mother and father remodeled the house. Parents of teens often do this. Many add family rooms or finish basements, furnishing them with ping-pong tables, video games, CD players, and refrigerators full of carefully selected non-nutritious food.
"We want to keep our kids and their crowd around so we can get to know their friends better" is the usual motivation. My father felt the same way. That's why he designed his own holding cell and interrogation room.
"Why's your dad wearing a pellet pistol on his hip?" asked one young man, a poor unfortunate who'd fallen in love with my sister.
"That shows he's in a good mood," she answered.
"Oh, yes. Usually he carries the shotgun with him when I bring home a guy."
I digress. My point is, it used to be the dad's function to make life miserable for his dating daughters. Now I'm left by myself to do the dirty work, since my husband seems disgustingly unworried about the whole deal.
My father did a background check on every male under the age of 50 who delivered dry cleaning or cottage cheese to our house. Even the neighborhood Dairy Fairy ice cream truck driver wasn't immune to his scrutiny.
"Always got to check," my father would say. "How do I know he doesn't belong to the Hatchet Murderers of America?"
My husband (can you believe this?) says the Hatchet Murderers of America probably doesn't exist. "Besides, our two girls have good judgment," he declares. "They'll make good choices."
If he'd been reading his proper quota of parenting magazines, he'd be aware that in order to make good choices, teenagers need a clear-cut, simple list of rules to guide their dating behavior. When my husband didn't produce one, I humbly offered mine to our girls:
- Do not date.
- If you insist on dating, I prefer that you date an apostle.
- As apostles are in short supply these days, I'd accede to your dating a missionary, a monk, or Mother Teresa's brother. A pastor's son is definitely off limits. I'm a pastor's daughter with three brothers, and I know how these people think.
- Your date must walk to school every morning through five miles of snow. (This, of course, is only possible if he lives near the North Pole or Antarctica.)
- He must know all the verses to the hymn, "Yield Not to Temptation."
- He must sign a contract to do yard work here a minimum of one weekend per month. This counts as one of your two monthly dates.
- He must watch only Billy Graham videos.
- When job applications and school emergency information cards ask him his sex, he automatically writes "no."
- He must take a driving test with your grandfatherand pass with flying colors.
- If his hair and earrings are prettier than mine, he's out of the picture.
Teenagers with active hormones aren't easily discouraged. Despite having what they consider unreasonably stringent rules, my daughters often manage to have dates. Then it's time to answer the call, to meet the challenges of guard duty.
My husband's idea of his sentinel assignment is to fall asleep in the living room reading a magazine while giggles and guffaws issue from our den.
"They're losing 10 IQ points per hour!" I explode. "It happens every time they come within 20 feet of y chromosomes. Don't you even care?"
"It hasn't hurt you any, has it? Besides, it's quiet now."
I stomp loudly as I march back and forth outside the den door and review my battle plan: In 15 minutes, get stamps out of the desk in the den. In 30 minutes, get tape out of the desk in the den. In 60 minutes, get paper out of the desk in the den. (Actually the desk is good for several hours of surveillance, but I like to get more creative than that.)
I hold the Guinness world record for imaginary bladder infections and necessary unnecessary visits to the bathroomthe one that's reached only through the den.
I often succumb to the overwhelming urge to alphabetize the videotapes or shampoo the den rug three times in an evening (nothing stifles love like the sound of cleaning).
I play Tennessee Ernie Ford and Luciano Pavarotti throughout the houseat the same time.
Of course, I can always set the house on fire.
The tough part is that all this must be done with a smile. Why? I don't know. But the Beaver's mom, June Cleaver, always smiled when Wally had girls over.
My friend Diana is wonderful at this. She can toss a grenade between two velcroed teen lovers, then in a warm, sweet voice inform them that "it's time to make some cookies now!" She is a paradigm, the perfect poster child of smiling, suspicious motherhood.
Those boys are smart, I grumbled one evening while doing double duty for both daughters. They try to get on my good side by calling me Mrs. Phillips and looking thin and hungry. "This is so good, Mrs. Phillips," they say. "My mom feeds me bran spaghetti with bulgur balls and eggplant-tofu cookies. She never makes mashed potatoes and gravy like this." What con artists.
One boy, Mark, mows his neighbor's lawn for free because she's a sick little old lady. The other one, Shawnthe one stuffing his face with pumpkin pieleads a Bible study and prayer group at the high school.
Oh, they're good, real good. Bring out the Academy Awards!
Obviously I have a trust problem. Sometimes it's even hard to depend on my own daughters. According to my husband, I'm supposed to trust them to make their own decisions. But let me get this straight. I'm supposed to rely on girls who think ice cubes sprout in empty trays and who believe in the Toilet Paper Fairy? Who think clean socks are the ones at the bottom of the hamper, where they've had the longest time to "air"? I'm supposed to not worry about girls I took to the cemetery to practice driving because most of the people there are already dead?
"It's no fun being the spinach, the curfew, the control-top pantyhose of their lives," I complained to God one night, who seems to be the only one who'll listen to me. "I get tired of being as popular as a nose zit on prom night. It's not fair that I have to stay around here all the time to be the social police. I don't even get a badge."
But then I started to think about some of the things my mother did for me. Her everyday faith in Christ left godly imprints on my life that even a secular university could not touch. And she didn't even use a bazooka, if I recall correctly.
Just then my 14-year-old son, David, my youngest, entered the room. He's grown seven inches in one year, but still seems like my baby, a colt with big brown eyes, long legs, and huge feet.
"Mom, Tiffany asked me and Matt and Sarah over to her house for pizza after church on Sunday night. Can I go?"
My stomach hit my ankles. "Uh, well, her mom is going to be there, isn't she?"
"Oh, yeah, Mom, of course she'll be there. And Mrs. Madison's not too bad. She's kind of a nice lady, just like you."
"I suppose it's all right," I gulped, loading each word with mother-guilt.
"Great!" he beamed, oblivious to my attempts. Sometimes he reminds me too much of his father. "I'll call Tiff."
"Wait," I said, panic rising in my throat. "Do the Madisons own a shotgun? Has Tiffany ever mentioned the Hatchet Murderers of America?"
"I don't think so." David stared oddly at me, then headed for the telephone upstairs.
I ran to the stash of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (for medicinal purposes, of course!) under my bed. They've served me well through the years. Potty-training, parent-teacher conferences, basketball tryouts, chicken pox epidemicsprayer and Reese's have gotten me through them all.
"Life is getting more and more complicated," I mused, devouring a couple of the yummy treats and licking the wrappings. "Someday I'll even be a mother-in-law."
I reached for another Reese's.
Then I prayed: "God, you were there during the colic, Little League, and training-bra eras. You made them the great teens they are today. You'll always be there for my children and for me, no matter what. I have only three; you have billions. What an expert! I guess I can trust you to do a little guard duty."
Rachael Phillips, a freelance writer, is on full-time duty with her 3 kids and 1 unworried husband in Indiana.
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Mom On Guard
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