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David McGrath column: Don’t leave teens home unsupervised

Summer may be the ideal season for travel, but with it comes worry over leaving teenagers at home unsupervised.

Our darling kids, of course, never would have dreamed of having a wild party in our absence. So when Marianne and I had a chance to fly to San Francisco, we barely felt the need to articulate any rules. And when my sister-in-law offered to look in on the kids and the house, I thanked her but said she shouldn’t trouble herself. You could tell from her face she felt I was bragging. Think what you want, Sis, I thought; my kids aren’t like yours.

Days later, we arrived home from Frisco to a clean house and no surprises. I joked that it smelled a little bit like cigarettes in the front room. Dad, they laughed, you’re probably smelling the neighbor’s lawnmower. They must cut their precious grass three times a day.

And that was that.

Until a year later, in June, when Marianne greeted me at the door, holding a school yearbook one of the kids brought home.

“What’s this?” I said.

She bookmarked a page for me, pointing to an inscription inked in the lower right: “I’ll never forget when your folks were in California and you had the most awesome kegger of all time!” It was signed by a classmate.

Disappointed? Sure. I spoke to all three, issuing a standard lecture about risk and trust. But I couldn’t work up any anger, and I wasn’t really shocked. For I knew in my heart that kids, through nature and nurture, behave remarkably similar to the way their parents did.

Flashback a few decades when my mom and dad vacationed in Marco Island. My father’s last words to me and my five brothers: “Make sure there’s not another soul in my house while we’re gone.”

Oh, yeah, sure, Dad; we would never.

And certainly we did not — for the first two days. After all, it takes time to hatch a plan. My assignment was to acquire liquor from Walgreens, where my buddy Bobo was a cashier. James, the McGrath ladies’ man, would invite girls. And Charlie would round up the usual Doyle, Iverson, Michau and Booth boys and act as bouncer.

On the evening of our illicit party, disaster struck. Uncle Eddie, my mother’s brother, was at the front door. He was there at my father’s request to make sure the “animals” were behaving. He looked around the house as we sat tensely on the couch, trying to appear interested in a baseball game on TV. And then I heard him open the refrigerator. Yes, the fridge where alcoholic beverages were being chilled for the partygoers. After several seconds, we heard the refrigerator slam shut. Eddie clomped back into the living room, made a disparaging remark about our idleness, and then left with his signature farewell line: “Can’t make any money here.”

My brothers were visibly relieved. I acted nonchalant, preening over my own brilliance, having mixed several fifths of rum into a couple of cases of Canfield Cola quarts with twist-off caps. Thus, it appeared to Uncle Eddie that nothing but soda was in the fridge.

So we partied heartily that night. Food, rum and cokes, and loud music for which Zeke Michau had wired speakers throughout the house, the yard and garage. It didn’t quite match our expectations, as the females left early, probably smartly, before it was even dark. So it ended up mostly a stag affair, with a poker game in the garage, which devolved to wrestling matches on the concrete, oily floor. Covered in grime, we draped the garden hose over the awning support and took showers on the driveway. Charlie said we’d better not dirty the good towels, so we drip dried by running up and down the sidewalk.

When my parents got back, my father rooted around the premises for clues that might expose our subterfuge, to no avail. Like my children a generation hence, we felt blissfully in the clear.

And then one night, months later, our parents came home from the neighborhood improvement association meeting, their faces stern, their minds concocting punishments for us all. Mrs. D., a well-intentioned resident on our block, had remarked about the phenomenon of naked boys running past her house at dawn on a Sunday morning.

The lesson here for all parents: Teenage Ferris Bueller Syndrome is as old as mythology and doesn’t appear to be abating in the near future. If you must travel in the summer, take the teens along or get a sitter craftier than Uncle Eddie.

I know, I know: your kids are not like mine. But all that means is they have different tricks up their sleeves.

David McGrath of Hayward is a retired English professor, the author of “The Territory,” and a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion pages. Contact him at profmcgrath2004@