I was exhausted and needed a bath, but with my husband and sons at work all day and my daughter mysteriously quiet upstairs in her room I’d made real progress on my novel. Now, despite the fact it was still early on a Saturday evening I was ready to exchange my gym shorts and ragged t-shirt for an even more comfortable pair of pajamas and settle in for an evening of sudoku and mindless tv. But as I stepped from my office into the entry hall a swish of lacy skirts on the juliet balcony above my head stopped me mid-step.
“Why are you dressed up?” I called to the high-heels above. My sixteen year old daughter’s blond head leaned out over the railing.
“I’m going dancing,” she said.
“When?” I asked, only half-annoyed. Saturday night was swing dance night at a local church, complete with non-alcoholic refreshments and hawkeyed youth ministers. My daughter and her friends attended often.
“Now,” she answered. “Can you drive?”
Passing fingers through hair that hadn’t seen a comb since yesterday, I sighed. “Sure.”
I shoved my feet into a pair of old sneakers and she came gliding down the stairs, stunning in a flirty tight-bodice party dress with a swingy, above the knee lace and taffeta skirt. Cinderella going to the ball. I would be playing the disheveled mouse-coachman. But if she’d wanted her mom presentable in front of her friends, she should have given me more warning. I grabbed my keys and followed her out the front door.
“Who are we picking up?” I asked as we pulled out of the driveway.
“No one,” she said. “We’re meeting there and another parent is driving us home so you don’t have to worry about that.”
Hmmm. Since when did she meet her girlfriends at the dance? They traveled in packs, usually swarming at someone’s house beforehand to primp and giggle.
“Who are you meeting?”
“A friend I met at the Chemistry Olympics at the university last week.”
“A COLLEGE boy?!” I started looking for a place to turn the car around.
She made a face that said I was being intrusive. “He is in college, but he can’t drive yet. He’s sixteen like me. He’s a genius in math and science so he went to college early. He’s really nice. He’s at the Jazz Festival and saw a poster about the dance and texted to invite me to meet him there.”
I forced myself to remain calm. Okay, my daughter might be all dressed up and on her way to meet a serial killer posing as a teen genius. On the other hand, Jazz Fest was going on in a park near the university and just blocks from the church so he really could be a young Einstein who’d invited her to the church dance on the spur of the moment.
“Text him,” I said, continuing to drive while mentally cursing the fact I was dressed like I’d been doing yardwork and so not fit to simply go into the dance and play chaperone. “Tell him he must come out and meet your mother before you can go to the dance.”
She huffed, but her fingers flew. The buzz back of the return message came almost instantly. She held the phone screen before my eyes as we waited at a stoplight. “He says he’ll come and meet you. Satisfied?”
“No, but okay.” The light turned green.
“Oh, Mom, wrong turn. The dance is that way.” She pointed in the opposite direction of the church. Then seeing the expression on my face, she explained. “The dance isn’t at the church tonight. It’s at another place. Because of Jazz Fest.”
“What’s the name of this other place?”
“The Wine Garden.” The name was barely out of her mouth before I’d turned the car toward home.
“That’s a bar!” I said.
She argued with me all the way home. Then we argued some more as I yanked a brush through my hair, pulled on a pair of dress slacks and a blouse, did a 30 second make-up sprint across my face, and doused my un-showered self in perfume. The dance wasn’t in the bar area, she said, it was in the restaurant area. And it wasn’t a bar. It was an upscale wine emporium and restaurant. Everyone was going and boy-genius was a super nice guy who’d never invite her to anything bad.
I ached to say she couldn’t go. Sixteen, high heels, lacy party dress, BAR. A mother’s nightmare. But saying she couldn’t go simply meant she might meet Young Einstein another time, another place. Nope. Best handle this now. I was going with her. I was going to meet Young Einstein and make sure he wasn’t really Frankenstein.
The area around the “wine emporium” was crowded with cars. We’d driven around the block three times looking for a parking space when her phone buzzed.
“He and his dad are at The Wine Garden. His dad won’t let him stay because they’re serving alcohol. So he can’t meet me there.” She sounded deflated. Cinderella wasn’t going to the ball.
“His dad is with him?” Was it true? Or had Frankenstein realized the village maiden was meeting him with a chaperone and chosen to hunt easier prey? I decided to put it to the test. “Tell him to meet us at the ice cream parlor on the square.”
The square was packed with people. Pierced and spike-haired goths rubbed elbows with long-haired professors, sandaled hippies, suit and tie theater goers, middle-aged date-nighters, teens on skateboards, and a host of others who drifted over from Jazz Fest. The crowds promenaded the perfect four square blocks around the beautiful baroque-style courthouse, ducking in and out of taverns, coffee shops, pizza parlors, burger dives, bookstores and antique shops.
He was waiting for her outside the ice cream shop, standing with unselfconscious confidence between a crowd of tattooed bikers with their tube-top-leather-pants ladies and a group of thirty-something stroller-pushers. He was tall and handsome, as dressed up as she was, and definitely sixteen. I liked Young Einstein on sight.
He watched her walk up, smiling like he’d won the lottery. He shook my hand politely and took us inside to meet, not just his father, but his whole family. He offered to buy me ice cream. I declined and he took my daughter off to buy her a cone. I waited until they were near the front of the line, then joined the line and bought my own. I sat in the front of the shop with his family chatting over sundaes. He and my daughter took a small table at the back of the shop. They talked and laughed, ate ice cream, and looked like they were having fun.
I was sure having fun. The ice cream was delicious, the parade of people strolling around the square beyond the shop’s huge glass windows was fascinating, and Young Einstein’s parents were charming. After ice cream we all joined the promenade. His family and I trailed a discrete half-block behind our daters, pausing to window shop antiques and toss tips into the open violin and guitar cases of street musicians.
Strings of soft white lights sparkled in the trees surrounding the courthouse creating a fairytale-like atmosphere. The night breeze caressed us gently as we progressed around the square. It was all so perfect. I admit as I watched Cinderella and Young Einstein circling the block before us, I was imagining years of happy dating through college followed by wonderful in-laws and smart, beautiful grandchildren. For me the promenade ended too soon. We all shook hands, my daughter gave Einstein a chaste but happy hug, and we parted to find our separate cars.
“So,” I asked, trying to control my enthusiasm, “what did you think?”
“He’s really nice. Good friend material. But it wasn’t a love connection.”
A few days later my sister and I sat curled up with coffee on the soft leather chairs of her husband’s man-cave – allowed to be there because the men were out. My daughter came in and perched on the ottoman between us.
“Tell auntie all, sweetie,” my sister teased. “Any cute boys in your life?”
“Well,” my daughter glanced at me, “I’ve only been on two dates with two boys so far. Mom went with me on both of them.”
My sister nearly spewed her coffee. “She went on your dates?” I could hear the outrage in her voice on my daughter’s behalf.
My daughter nodded and then, to my everlasting delight and my sister’s complete astonishment, she said, “Yes, but I actually like it when she goes along. At least,” and here she gave me a stern look, “until I decide if I like the boy or not. Then, if I do, she’d better stay home!”
Do you ever get overprotective with your teen? I’d love to hear your stories. Please click on the number near the title of this post and share your experience or just leave a comment to let us know you came by.