My youngest daughter was recently home from school for fall break. She goes to college in New Orleans (as did my older two) and she’s acquired that slightly jaded, sophisticated air that the city seems to impart. Been there, done that, dude. This is a city, after all, that boasts drive-through daiquiris, karaoke laundry mats, and over 150 festivals a year, all of them involving copious amounts of alcohol. Temptations are plentiful. Local law enforcement tends to sport a relaxed attitude toward alcohol consumption (you can drink in college bars with only a school ID regardless of the legal drinking age of 21) and it’s not illegal to walk the streets carrying a cocktail “to go” cup. For students who’ve grown up in the Bible Belt or the Midwest or even New York, it’s an eye-opening experience. You either learn to hold your liquor, or you become a raging alcoholic.
I generalize, of course. The truth is, even as a frumpy, middle-aged woman, I love New Orleans. I love the history and the culture, the French joie de vivre, the emphasis on good food, good booze, and good company. Where else in the country does Happy Hour begin at noon on Friday and extend into the wee hours of the night? New Orleans gave us jazz but it also gave us the Sazerac, the Hurricane, and the Ramos Gin Fizz.
Despite their urban sophistication, I’m always apprehensive when one of my college-aged children comes home from New Orleans. Chattanooga, for all its revitalization, is still primarily a small town. With small-town police officers who take their roles as defenders of public sobriety seriously. Cabs are hard to come by after a night of heavy drinking. The downtown bars close at 2:00 p.m. but the free electric shuttle stops running at 11:00 p.m.
We thought when we moved off Signal Mountain into a two bedroom condo downtown that it would make it easier for everyone. Easier for our adult children to party with their friends and take a cab home and easier for us to sleep knowing they were only a few short blocks away and could get home safely. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way.
Jordan’s first night home, she walked into a bar where there were literally “only six people I didn’t know.” A good time was had by all and at 2:00 a.m., the time she had told me she’d be coming home, I woke up. I won’t go into the angst of being a parent waiting for an adult child to return home after midnight. Suffice it to say, my father used to wait up for me. And now I wait up for my children. It’s crazy, given the fact that in New Orleans they probably don’t get home before 4:00 a.m., but you see, I don’t know about it, so I sleep like a baby.
At 2:00 a.m. the first of many texts arrived. Don’t worry, I’ll catch a cab. Followed by, The cab isn’t coming. I’ve called twice, and then, I’ve walked to my friend Kelly’s house, and finally, There’s some guy here who says he’ll give me a ride. The last one caused a frenzy of return texting. Don’t catch a ride with a stranger! Where are you? I’ll come get you!
Twenty minutes later, she was home. This was at 3:30 a.m. and I’m the first to admit, I don’t do well without my eight hour beauty sleep. The screeching was long and sustained. No doubt the neighbors enjoyed every minute of it. She, for the most part, was fairly sober and handled my display with a blasé smirking that further enraged me.
“Mom, I’m an adult. You can’t wait up for me anymore.”
Eventually, I ran out of steam and we both went to bed. The next morning she awoke, sweet and contrite, and apologized for texting me eight times over a two hour period. She had thought that by texting me repeatedly, she’d be putting my mind at ease so I could drop back into a peaceful slumber. Apparently, she had been “overserved” at the bar (said with a giggle), and the decision to text had been a bad one. She had not caught a ride home with a stranger (I’m not stupid, Mom) and her ride had not been drinking (Seriously, Mom, I’m not stupid), and I really shouldn’t wait up for her anymore because she wasn’t a child. She was an adult.
I could only look at her and remember my own father sitting in his wing back chair in his robe, his eyes bleary, his hair standing up in outraged peaks around his face while I argued with boozy breath that he shouldn’t wait up for me. I wasn’t a kid. I was an adult.
“You won’t know what it’s like until you have a child of your own,” he’d said.
Forty years later, I get it.