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Wednesday, Oct. 09, 2002
As a source of endless amusement for the easily amused, I need look no farther than my front door. The insanity of having teenagers grouped in multiple clusters.

If you were to interview my three children, you would, in varying degrees, get the sense that they were living under a totalitarian regime with a ruthless savage at its’ head. If you waited a week, you might get the sense that they were the luckiest kids around.

Take last night. Schedules being what they are, there are times that we just throw the whole ‘family dinner’ idea to the wolves and put out the call. “Hey, everybody meet up at the Pizza Place.” This is an indication of available food, and the call is seldom missed. These kids, they can eat. They can and frequently do.

Beth arrived with paperwork in hand, which is never a good thing for a totalitarian dictator like myself. Paperwork in the hands of a high school senior has a way of translating itself into trouble, and trouble means money.

Beth: “Hey dad, I got my graduation announcements today.”
OF: “Wha. . .? What announcements? It’s October!”
Beth: “Oh no. . .no. This is the order form for them. Gotta get it in.”

So I peruse the glossy brochure, showing happy graduates in cap and gown, flashing their ornate graduation announcements (Genuine gilded borders! Classic script!) to beaming grandparents and proud friends. Everyone is happy to have one, everyone smiling with lovely white teeth. Beth poised expectantly.

OF: “Ah, here it is. Let’s see, the Mini-Pack of 25. A mere $144.00”
Beth: “Yep. Gotta get it in.”
OF: “Heh. Not from me you’re not.”

Resultant wailing.

Now, understand. It takes me a good 5 seconds to recognize the scenario, another 10 to review it, and the blink of an eye to make up my mind. And I recognize the psychology involved (“I got my announcements today”, indicating the event had already taken place and there was this trifling matter of money to be had) and I even am cognizant of the fact that teenagers are very expensive items to have around.

But the shoveling of money into the vast and churning industry that makes its’ living from parents like me is an act best left to those parents who have the disposable resources to do so. You know the ones. Everybody else’s parents.

“But Daaaad, everybody else is getting theirs NOW! I just can’t wait! Will you please listen to me?!”

Sure I’ll listen. Just allow me to listen to myself, as well. That little inner voice that says “Hey, we did the math down here. Glossy brochure is offering a ten cent card for 5 bucks a pop. Of course, that does not include shipping. And the gilded edge looks a little trashy. Let’s be adult about this.”

No, it was not to be. So I had a pouting 18-year-old on my hands. An unhappy and frustrated one. Who did what 18-year-old girls do best when faced with the totalitarianism of a myopic and thoroughly disagreeable dictator. She turned to Mom, my assistant dictator. Who can occasionally be legislated into a more benevolent view on these weighty matters.

She didn’t get very far with Mom, either. The issue of graduation cards was tabled, thrust into the never-never land of “We’ll see”, which is a dark and forbidding place. I don’t like to have stuff in “We’ll see” land, because stuff inevitably comes back to bite you from there. I prefer the instant “HELL NO!” approach. Gets a thing right out of the way. Erases with pungent clouds of chalk dust, it does. A few minutes of misery, then on to the next crisis.

Another thing I’ve noticed. These sort of scenarios always come into play before they’ve eaten. When they are at their weakest. Faint, with the alarming lack of nourishment that only a stingy dictator can provide. Three times a day.

My son Ben is the most obvious example of this. He shuffles to the table, having not had a mouthful of food in the past 30 minutes, looking for all the world like Oliver Twist. A more sorrowful picture of pre-mature starvation you cannot imagine. He beckons the waiter with a pitiful, bony hand.

“Could I please have a 14” pizza, stuffed crust, extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage and cut into 4’s?”

Oliver Twist had gruel, my son has stuffed crust pizza, it all fits somehow.

“Say Ben, you gonna eat all that yourself?” This from me, since I’m ever vigilant about the waste of resources and the necessary financial means to arrive at said resources.

“Duh, of course. I mean, there might be a piece leftover for a midnight snack or something. Why?”

Why, indeed. Coupled with approximately 48 ounces of carbonated beverages, Ben threshed through his square footage of dough and sauce with aplomb, occasionally coming up for air. Beth similarly forked lasagna from her dish with powerful strokes that betrayed her softball training. Ally and I sat and nibbled, the dictatorial heads of state, and awaited the inevitable. The amazing transformation.

It happens every time. Kids who were cranky and irritable urchins not 15 minutes before were now blissful and personable. Sunshine streamed through the restaurant windows, clouds vanished, cheery voices and laughter rang out. Much doting occurred, chiefly on the dictator who now seemed a much less grumpy old fart than a grumbling but lovable old bear.

I sighed and signaled the waiter that yes, the carnage was over and the table could be cleared of the wreckage of food, the last huge slice of pizza could be boxed for a ‘midnight snack’, the money could be taken and the tip left.

“Thanks for dinner, Mom and Dad!” They all have this habit of thanking us sincerely for dinner, I’ve not seen it amongst their peers too often, I’m not sure where or when they started doing this but it never fails to charm. Somehow it makes up for the ceaseless delving of hands into wallets and purses, the demands, the crisis management form of government where dictators sit at the head of a tiny kingdom.

I take my comfort where I can get it. Besides, I had a chance to get at that last slice of pizza. Just in case my son forgot about, just in case it might sit neglected for a few hours.

It’s been known to happen, you know.

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