In Monday’s post, I summarized the first morning of my husband’s and my attempt to have a long-awaited honeymoon in downtown Chicago over the Thanksgiving weekend.
First, our trip was cut short, by a day, by our 22-year-old son/babysitter Vlad—with no explanation. We accepted this because we needed him. If we had confronted him about going back on his promise to watch our 6- and 11-year-old sons Patrick and Luke for the four-day weekend—a gig that my husband promised would be “worth his while”—perhaps he would have backed out. We’ve learned that Vlad is unpredictable, but it’s not his fault: 22-year-old brains aren’t fully developed.
Second, on Thanksgiving morning, our 11-year-old Patrick accidentally stepped on our three-month-old, four-pound puppy’s leg, necessitating a visit to the emergency vet clinic—and a potential end to our honeymoon altogether. But tiny Teddy turned out to be alright, so I unpacked my suitcase and started a glass of wine.
Two and a half hours later, at 2:30 p.m., Vlad, Patrick and Luke met us downtown for Thanksgiving dinner. Vlad refused to dress appropriately, then felt embarrassed in his ripped jeans, but that didn’t affect the rest of us. So we sat at our table of five, talking about Teddy’s injury, Patrick being guilt-ridden, and Luke seemingly being unfazed. I then asked Vlad all about his fall term in college, his new major, his classes, his love life. We were all chatting happily away when Luke started talking about fire.
“A fire?” I asked, jolted into super-alertness.
“Vlad let me try to start it, then let Patrick try to start it, but we couldn’t do it. Then he went out to the garage to find matches.”
“What?” I asked, unable to process what he was saying.
Vlad interrupted Luke and explained that he’d gotten out the automatic lighter, and they’d all tried to light it. He’d actually handed it first to Luke and then to Patrick to let them try it out. (The lighter is childproof, so you have to use your thumb to slide the top button forward, as you use your index finger to depress the “trigger” to start the flame). Unsatisfied with this lighter, Vlad ventured out to the garage to look for matches to continue his fire-starting activity, but he was unsuccessful. He stated that all fire-starting attempts were very logically done in the kitchen so he had access to water. And Vlad explained all of this as if it were completely normal babysitting behavior: “Hey, bros! What should we do today? Let’s start fires! And let’s be smart about it and light them in the kitchen!”
Stunned, and knowing that my husband would deal with Vlad, I directed Patrick and Luke to walk to the bathrooms with me. Outside the restroom doors, I confronted them.
“When did this happen?”
“Yesterday, after you left.”
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think about it,” said Patrick. And, parroting Vlad, he explained, “And we were in the kitchen, so we had water right there.”
“Oh my God! No more fire! Oh my God! Do you feel safe with him?”
“Yes,” said Patrick.
“Yes,” Luke agreed. “But he’s not letting me have dessert.”
“Yeah, he’s trying to get Luke to eat better,” explained Patrick.
“So, he’s acting like he’s your parent regarding food, but he’s letting you try to start fires…”
“We won’t play with fire anymore. We promise.”
Looking at them, my eyes to their eyes, I said, “You have to promise that, if anything weird happens—anything— you will me immediately.”
We walked back to the table, with me half-expecting to see Vlad’s lifeless body splayed across it. But he was alive—and had been sufficiently shamed, according to my husband. He later explained that he only needed to say six words: “Don’t f..k this up for me.”
Vlad promised that there would be no more fire funny-business, and that’s when I, transformed from relaxed honeymooner to hyper-alert Mom, noticed the two martini glasses. Vlad, who had driven Patrick and Luke from the northern suburbs to downtown—and was supposed to drive them back home—had been drinking martinis, unnoticed, which shows you how relaxed my husband and I had been…
I’ve mentioned that 22-year-old brains aren’t fully developed. Right?