Lydia and Kate have three husbands and six kids between them (seven if you count Lydia’s teenage sister). They are not clinically insane but they are getting perilously close. They blog on important parenting issues like: going to the bathroom unaccompanied, having a phone conversation without screaming in the background, sleeping for more than 90 consecutive minutes, and how early in the evening they can start drinking. You can find them at: http://rantsfrommommyland.blogspot.com
I’m not easy to live with. And this time last year, you could easily multiply that “not easy” by say… infinity. I was 7 months pregnant with the third little terror suspect. I was also working full time at a high stress job, as was my husband, whom we call the Cap’n. But there was a little problem, my 18-year-old sister, Lucy.
Lucy’s mom (my stepmother) had died six months prior. Lucy had never gotten along with our dad and their relationship had gone from bad to worse. Plus, she had come to the conclusion that feelings were bad. So she decided not to have them anymore. Beer – good. Drugs – good. Partying – good. School and feelings – bad. And though her friends were loyal and loved her, many of them were either junkies or on parole so it wasn’t exactly a wholesome environment, unless you’re Caligula.
Also, she wasn’t going to graduate. And she didn’t have a license. Or, health insurance. This girl was such a train wreck that actual train wrecks would see her and pause and be like, “That is such a shame.”
So the Cap’n and I thought – hey, we have a guest room. We have (almost) 3 small children and no money. Why doesn’t she move in with us? It will be like Teenager Spring Training, for when our little terror suspects are big. But…it was going to be a culture shock. When I say that my husband is old fashioned, I mean Victorian. My dad, on the other hand, is a Stalin-quoting, anti-establishment, former hippy. So let’s just say that the home environments were going to be a little different. (When the Cap’n learned that Lucy had been having sleepovers at her boyfriend’s house for two years, he promptly developed an eye twitch.)
But Lucy said she was serious about changing her life and we were serious about helping her do that. Which is how The House Rules were born. Together, we would create them, and then everyone would be on the same page and it would work out great. In fact, it was going to be awesome. Because I was a very naughty teenager. Therefore I was totally qualified to parent one. Yeah…
The rules are below. Following each one, in italics, are the things I would have added, had I known what I know now.
1) Treat everyone with respect (no matter how annoying they are currently behaving). Grown-ups and teenagers have extra responsibility here because the little terror suspects are watching and listening. (Respect includes property – like the fact that you stole my hair dryer. And my nail polish. And every CD from 1998-2005. And that you ate my $9 wedge of Brie as an after school snack. Also, you are not respecting me when you scream “YOU ARE NOT MY MOM!” because I grounded you for getting suspended. The point of this being; don’t eat my cheese. Oh, and if you could resist teaching my 6-year old the word ‘douche’ that would be great.)
2) No drinking, no smoking, no drugs. Drinking and drug use equals rehab or eviction. Not a nice rehab, either. (Do you recall the rehabs that are “exposed” on shows like Dateline? That’s what I’m talking about. Let’s put it this way: you’d prefer jail. )
3) 100% honesty – about classes, friends, boys, money, etc. You don’t have to disclose everything but if asked – you must answer honestly. We promise to do the same. (Becoming a master of evasiveness does not really jibe with the 100% honesty policy. But I understand. Because sometimes I spend too much money at Target and then have to try make sure the Cap’n doesn’t realize it without actually lying. It’s hard. So I’m actually in awe of your mastery of the art of evasiveness. Do they teach that in high school now? Along with how to text 100 words per minute?)
4) Must help out around the house without anyone bugging you to do so. (That includes picking up after yourself. That means not leaving a trail of flip flops, hoodies, and books from English 12 that you are not reading in the family room so that by the end of the week it becomes an enormous pile of crap dubbed “Lucy North”)
5) You do chores. We pay you. (Garbage night is on Monday. Every Monday. Monday is the first day of the week. Every week. Should I text you the day of the week? Would that help you remember when Mondays occur?)
6) No friends over unless the Cap’n and Lydia a) know them and b) have given their permission in advance. Probably none until first set of grades show everything is going well and we have adjusted to having the new baby around. And absolutely no one in the house when the adults aren’t home. (You see the baby is about to be born, and there’s going to be breastfeeding and that means boobies. Out. Where your friends can see them. So, our house isn’t going to be a good spot for entertaining. Also, your last set of friends were hooligans. Also, you don’t qualify as ‘the adults’.)
7) Be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there. (When you move across the USA — at great heart ache and expense – and into your pregnant sister’s house so that you can focus on education and possibly even graduation, you might not want to cut class – or your pregnant sister may lose her Schmidt.)
8) Curfew is 11. (11 o’clock AT NIGHT. I didn’t know I would have to clarify AM or PM, but thanks for that little education. Duly noted.)
9) All school assignments go on the big calendar in kitchen so that everything is turned in on time. Lydia reserves the right to be a bugger about school and Lucy reserves the right to tell her it’s all under control (provided she is maintaining a B average or better). (No, I am not micro-managing you. I am *parenting* you. Good grades are important. That means studying. And IM’ing people on Facebook does not count as “doing research”.)
10) No sleep-overs. (We would have been happy to renegotiate. Had any of your friends not been DUDES.)
So, how did it turn out? She broke a couple of rules and taught the kids some inappropriate dance moves. Our time together was horrifically stressful and wildly successful. Here’s the success part: Lucy finished 11 classes in one academic year (with a 3.9 GPA). She graduated with multiple honors and a scholarship. Barely studied for SAT’s and got 1840. She has insurance and is a licensed (though by no means safe) driver. She is currently a dorm-dwelling college freshman who never returns my phone calls (until there’s a crisis). We miss her a lot, especially on Monday night.