Last weekend our youngest son experienced a rite of passage we had hoped he could have avoided, unlike his older siblings. With much high-fiving from them, he joined their ranks, having come into contact with the local constabulary during a night out.
Parental shame is not something we take on board. We realised a long time ago that parenting has moments of exquisite joy and even more moments of worry, concern and disbelief over the antics of our offspring.
Living in Holland the drinking age for wine and beer is 16, with hard liquor restricted to over 18’s. I have no issue with this. Holland is not full of drunken teens, rather they learn responsible drinking while still at home, unlike many of their american counterparts who head off to college and binge drink.
Harry does not drink often but the two party nights of the year for him are Queens Night in April (think Mardi Gras without the floats) and Halloween, at least that’s what he told us last Sunday sitting pale and fragile ‘fessing up about the night before. I have to say that’s probably accurate as he’s never returned home totally drunk or stayed over at a friend’s to hide it.
Halloween was a big night. A group of friends had hired the local club, The Dive, for a costume party with everyone on board to have a good time. Harry in his wisdom decided to go dressed as a Dutch police officer. He’d purchased a police-hat from the local costume shop – who knew we had one?- and had completed the outfit with a tight black shirt, extra skinny jeans, shades and the requisite handcuffs and cosh. Even as an adoring mother I could tell this was more The Village people than The Wire but what do I know?
A group were biking and meeting at Winston’s, a short walk from The Dive, for a quick pre-party game of beer pong. If you’ve never heard of this game you obviously don’t have teen or college age children – yet. It saves buying drinks at extortionate prices at clubs apparently.
Leaving Winston’s in full regalia the group set off to walk the short distance to The Dive.
There is a certain rivalry between the local Dutch teens and their international counterparts. This is not anti-foreignors in any way, it’s the usual teenage antler-butting between different groups which is experienced all over the world, whether it be over different High Schools, football teams, or whatever.
Teen youths will always find some reason to exchange views with other testosterone fuelled males. During the journey Harry, Winston and friends ran into a group of Dutch stags and the general mouthing off between the two resulted in Winston trying (difficult given his slighty woozy state) to land a punch on one of the rival group.
My son, being appropriately attired, felt this was his moment to calm what could, in his opinion, have developed into an international incident. He is a calm and measured soul who would be an incredible addition to the diplomatic corp were his heart not set on a musical career.
Being the only one in his group fluent in Dutch he stepped into the fray to calm an escalating situation. It seems, by all accounts (and there are several) he acquitted himself well and calmed the situation. Hands were being shaken and an invitation extended for the Dutch kids to go along to the party, just as the real constabulary arrived, having been called by concerned neighbours.
The police force of our small town have little to do on a weekend except keep an eye on the teens. The police station is small and friendly and I am on first name terms with the officers since the debacle of my car being stolen. We may even exchange Christmas cards this year.
It seems Ingrid was the officer in charge and Harry was very happy to let her know, in Dutch, that the situation was fully under control, he had dealt with it and they needn’t concern themselves further.
Ingrid’s response is not recorded but Harry vaguely recalls that she had difficulty saying anything, being speechless with laughter for reasons which eluded him. He thinks it was at this point his handcuffs – one fastened to his left wrist – got entangled with the cosh he was waving around emphatically in his right hand and his hat fell off. Even he realised he’d lost all credibility at that point.
Names and details were taken, stern warnings issued and the rival groups sent on their separate ways, with Harry and co heading for The Dive where they had a pretty good evening by all accounts. So good Harry was brought home on the back of a friend’s bike, having lost the keys for his own and not being in a fit state to cycle even if he had remembered where they were.
At the front door he realised his house key was also missing and, using his initiative, phoned the house to be let in. This woke his exhausted parents and the dog, who felt the need to start howling at the unwelcome disruption to his sleep. The neighbours were not impressed. Harry was upright and didn’t seem too worse for wear, except for the precise enunciation of every word, a slightly goofy smile and a slight weave as he walked.
He paid the next day, a ghostly spectre, pale and haunted, worried and anxious about his criminal record and whether he would ever be able to drink again, or eat for that matter. It took several days before he felt normal. Laying in a darkened room he had time to reflect that sometimes a good night out isn’t so good in the cold light of day with a hangover, delicate stomach and a tough week ahead at school.
The house keys turned up in his jacket pocket but his bike keys are still missing, his bike standing forlornly all week in Winston’s garden. We picked it up yesterday in our car. A week on and Harry elected not to leave the house this Saturday night but had a few friends over for a quiet evening in.
From a parental point of view a valuable lesson learned by our youngest. Next year he’ll be on his own to have to make his own decisions and if he makes mistakes now we’re here to pick him up.
I wish we could have been as laid back with our other two, who are both much older than Harry and, despite their early brushes with the law, have turned into wonderful caring, compassionate and law-abiding adults. Although when I think about them Harry’s slight indiscretion pales into insignificance. Let me tell you about the night Missy . . .