Never turn your back on a pack of puberts – they can smell your fear

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* Editor’s note: Debra is taking the weekend off to celebrate her son’s 31st birthday. For your reading enjoyment, here is a column that ran in October 1996, about Jimmy’s 13th birthday party.

Why don’t I just go down to the tattoo shop and have “sucker” emblazoned across my forehead. I was tricked. Conned. Duped. And I can’t blame the boy alone. There were nine little accomplices. And they knowwho they are.

It all began when my son caught me in one of those states of exhaustion when I respond “Yes, dear” to just about anything if it will buy me a moment’s peace. He wanted a sleepover birthday party with a couple of friends. Yes fine, whatever, just let me close my eyes for two minutes.

When the reality of a pack of puberts* spending the night sunk in, it was too late. The invitations had already been signed, sealed and delivered. A feeling of doom settled about my shoulders.

I coped by refusing to think about it until the morning of the Big Event. The doom yielded to panic. I wondered if the boys’ parents would feel as hesitant about leaving their children as I was about keeping them.

Most of the parents, wearing giddy grins, shoved the boys inside my door and leaped like wood nymphs back down the walkway to their cars. Others, laughing maniacally, just slowed down and heaved the boys out onto my lawn as they passed.

The joys of raising adolescents must be universal.

As the boys gathered on the back patio, I discovered more than the agreed-upon three friends. We ended up with 10. (Now, if you happen to be my son’s math teacher, and you’re reading this, we’re going to have a little talk about the child’s addition skills in the near future.)

I remained calm. Never panic around puberts. They can smell fear.

I barbecued hamburgers and made lemonade, while the boys sat around chatting and making rude noises. Nothing more obnoxious than a wayward paper cup in the pool occurred.

Surely the other foot would fall. To my amazement, they were relatively well-behaved. They played video games, watched a movie and had a pillow fight on the front lawn. It was almost (dare I say it) enjoyable.

The boys started yawning, said they were getting tired and arranged their sleeping bags on the front lawn. My boy informed me they were going to play Truth or Dare and call it a night.

The sleepover was a resounding success. I stretched out on the couch in front of the television, feeling pretty good about my obviously superior parenting skills. I turned on “Saturday Night Live.”

That was my downfall.

I’ve never actually seen an entire “Saturday Night Live.” I’ve never even made it through the monologue. All I need to do is see the credits and the Z’s start floating up from my throat. Last Saturday was no exception. And the boys leaped through their window of opportunity.

About 1:20 a.m., I woke up. I decided to check on the boys before turning in. There they were, huddled up together in their sleeping bags. It was a bit chilly, and the little dears had pulled the sleeping bags right up over their heads, with only their little baseball caps showing.

Little darlings, all. So obedient. So sweet. So good. Really good… too good.

I had to look.

I lifted the flap of one of the sleeping bags. Instead of a shivering boy, I found a row of pillows with a baseball cap resting on top. I pulled back the next sleeping bag and the next. Gone. Empty, every one.

In the animal world, mothers resolve these situations swiftly and succinctly: They eat their young.

Oh, if only my crockpot could have held them all.

I spent the next half hour driving around town in my pajamas at 1:30 a.m. looking for anything that moved, but I was two steps behind them. The only trace I could find of a group of unsupervised puberts was a house covered in toilet paper.

They were lucky I didn’t find them. Android Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator” would have been more merciful. I think I even had one glowing red eye.

Call me the Mominator. And I’ll be back. Oh yes, I’ll be back.

I pulled into the driveway just as they were diving back into their sleeping bags. My son stepped forward, claiming responsibility. I told him to save his confessions for church and asked him if the words, “dead meat” meant anything.

The boy launched into a lengthy, desperate explanation, reminding me that our own home had been TP’ed a few days earlier, which necessitated a TP job in retaliation. “Besides,” he pleaded, “Toilet paper is biodegradable.”

Environmental correctness didn’t impress me. He wanted to know what his sentence would be. I told him I’d decide in the morning because if I handed down consequences at that point in time, he’d likely be grounded until his 35th birthday.

“Can I have another sleepover then? ”

The fact that the boy is still alive is a testament to my self-control.

* Pubert: That stage of a boy’s development just between childhood and adolescence, when they smell like wet goats. All the time. No matter how clean they are. Even if they’re dry. Nowadays, they’re called “tweenager,” which is really just a bit too precious to capture the alarming reality of 11-13 year old boys. Those who have raised one, or some, will back me up on this.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at; read more of her work at and


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