On Saturday night there were sixteen of us asleep in the house. This is not unusual. Of course I use the word ‘sleep’ loosely. My husband John and I were asleep, our 11 year old son and his mate were doing a brilliant job of faking sleep and as to the teenagers, four aged 16-17, six aged 19, sleep arrived somewhere between three and four in the morning because when I woke the house was ghostly quiet.
Friends look askance when we tell them we have a house full of partying teenagers.
‘But I thought you did that last weekend?’ they’ll say and we’ll look at each other and say, ‘Oh yeah, we did.’
Believe me there’s nothing I love more than a quiet Saturday night. The kitchen table invisible beneath the weekend papers, a fire blazing in the grate, a movie selected on Netflix, a new novel for bedtime. For me these are the hallmarks of my perfect night.
Instead there will the insistent beat of drum n bass, a top line of voices and laughter, synced to escalate in volume in line with the music. There might be vomiting (it has been known). There will be a forest’s worth of roll ups smoked outside the front door, an army of half drunk tin cans in the playroom.
So why do we do it? The reality, I think, is that someone has to, we live literally, not just metaphorically, in the middle of nowhere so where else are they going to go? Plus it’s a hell of lot safer having your teenagers partying while you’re on hand than the disaster that is the unmanned, parentless house.
How often do we overhear the words ‘so and so’s got a free house this weekend.’
My heart bleeds for those poor unwitting parents who are going to come back to shattered carpets, filthy paintwork and the pervasive scent of split beer.
We were victim to an illicit Facebook party back in the day. My son, then 16, held a party while we were in Cornwall protecting my sister’s house from a similar mishap (they were away in Greece, we were babysitting their teens, oh the irony). In hindsight the damage wasn’t too bad. We live in a sixteenth century farmhouse it’s withstood centuries worth of pillaging and plundering and can certainly cope with fifty bevved up teens. The thing that really bothered me – apart from the rather heartbreaking deceit – was what could have gone wrong without any adults present to pick up the pieces. We have a thatched roof, no need to spell out the risks. What if a child had cut themselves, broken a limb (we are forty five mins from the nearest A&E) or, God forbid, fallen asleep and choked on their vomit?
It took a while for our trust to be rebuilt and we did it by allowing him to have small ‘gatherings’ when we were present. Over the next two years of sixth form we got to know my son’s circle of friends well. They would crash at our house after a party – six of them crammed like sardines into my son’s bedroom –and more often than not our house was the party. We established some unbreakable rules. The party must be banished to the playroom (mercifully far from our bedroom, we can’t hear anything), no smoking inside, no drugs. Oh yes, the thorny issue of drugs. I am eternally grateful that my husband’s job as a festival promoter gives him the inside track on the worst drugs doing the rounds, things with names that are actually numbers, 2CB anyone?
Having your teenagers partying under your roof gives you an unrivalled opportunity to look into their eyes, if something is going on we are going to know about it. And on balance I’d rather know.
My daughter turned 17 recently and requested a party. Here we go again, we thought, and we stipulated thirty friends maximum and agreed to go out for dinner until ten. Turning into our drive we saw immediately the cluster of kids smoking outside the front door, thirty MINIMUM.
‘And there’s at least another thirty dancing in the playroom,’ said the ten year old, thrilled.
We did a quick recce – nice kids, everyone said hello – and retired to our bedroom or at least I did. My husband spent the next two hours in our bathroom peering out of the Velux window, eyes narrowed like Robert de Niro in Meet the Fockers.
‘Man down,’ he said, an hour or so later, charging downstairs.
Said man had mixed ‘anti-biotics’ with booze according to his friends. We chose not to believe them. He seemed pretty out of it and I was all for calling the parents but instead we decided to have him stay the night with another friend to monitor him. We shut the party down, twenty minutes early, and everyone was very nice about it. In the morning the boy concerned – well rested after eight hours comatose on the sofa – cleared up single handedly before he ate his bacon sandwich. He was radiant with health and utterly charming.
Here’s another thing you learn when you see your kids’ friends slightly pissed, guard down. They really look after each other. If someone’s throwing up, someone’s looking after them. If someone’s having a bad time, a friend will take them home. If someone splits up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, they will not be crying alone. Getting to know my children’s friends has given me a view into the modern teenager. They are unanimously kind, funny, intelligent, polite. And they are welcome any time.
*Lock up your booze, your good glasses and any breakables you care about.
*Don’t bother to replace tired carpets, get them cleaned instead.
*Always assume they are lying. ‘Anti-biotics’ do not give you pupils the size of dinner plates.
*Find a good housesitting company for when you go away. Leave your house unguarded at your peril.
*Don’t bother providing booze, they will bring their own and you’re just adding to the problem.
*Do have an endless supply of bread, cheese, bacon, pizza for 3am larder raids – lining stomachs can only be a good thing.
Clare Empson is the author of HIM published by Orion, out now.