Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Crying Uncle: No One Can Strike Terror in the Heart of a Grownup Quite like a 16-Year-Old Girl

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Crying Uncle: No One Can Strike Terror in the Heart of a Grownup Quite like a 16-Year-Old Girl

Article excerpt

Many people call me "Father" (I'm a Catholic priest), but I've only had three Clays of on-the-job experience as a full-time parent. My sister and brother-in-law took their oldest off to college and asked me to watch the other three, ages 16, 13, and 9, for a few days.

Now I've always gotten along with these kids. They're easy kids, good kids. And I'm the original Uncle Buck. When they were really small, I once fed Katie and Kim Jell-O and whipped cream for breakfast as we watched The Little Mermaid on video. My sister was not impressed. Fourteen years later I was getting a second chance.

Kim, the now-16-year-old, had been involved in some typical teenage stuff the year before. Nothing really serious. Still, I was to make sure she was in by midnight each night.

The first night she didn't even go out--stayed home and played Uno with us. The next day she went out to the mall with her friends, and returned home about 7 p.m. The third night she came to a summer play in which the youngest, Christine, had a role. We got home and ordered pizza about 8:30. "I'm home free," I figured. "Kim hasn't even come near breaking curfew."

Then it happened. The words struck terror in my heart.

"Uh, Uncle Rick, I'm, like, going over to Kelli's. I'll, like, probably just, like, stay over there tonight."

My sister's instructions hadn't prepared me for this. I'd heard of gambits like these. Even played a few of them myself back in the day. What do I say now?

Firmly, betraying no sense of anxiety (I hoped), I confidently (I hoped) replied, "No. The deal was you would be back here at midnight every night."

"Well, let's call my Mom!"

"Kim, you know she's out of cell phone range." (This was in that ancient time pre-2006 when not every teen on earth was texting every other teen 24 hours a day.)

"Like, my Morn always, like, lets me stay over at Kelli's."

"Yeah, well, your Morn isn't here. I am. So be back by midnight," spoken calmly (I hoped) with no trace of my skyrocketing anxiety.

No yelling. No drama. The other two are puttering, unfazed by this exchange. I'm thinking, "I have this under control."

Wrong.

From 8:45 on all I can do is think of Kim. All my Jesuit training prepared me not at all for the next three hours. Jesus' time on the cross was much shorter than this.

What do I do if she's late? What do I do if she doesn't come home? What the heck is Kelli's number? Why didn't I get it before Kim left? What if she comes home smelling of beer? …

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