I can’t recall the first time it happened but I do remember that it was so funny to me and my older brother when my sister came home late one night after spending some time with friends. It must not have been too late because my brother and I were still up which was rare in our home because mom and dad believed that a good night’s rest was essential to our growth and required for a parent’s sanity.
“Where have you been?” I can hear my dad asking, his rich baritone voice asking my sister down the hallway and through the echoes of time.
“With my friends,” I imagine her responding as she did many times over the years.
“Do you know what time it is?”
“I’ll ask again, do you know what time it is?”
“It’s after ten dad.”
“No, it’s past the time I asked you to be home.”
“Okay, it’s ten-of-five.”
“We were worried.”
“I’m late by five minutes dad, geez.”
“It may seem like five minutes to you, but to me and your mom it is an eternity. Please don’t worry us like that again.”
I am sure that throughout that conversation my brother and I were snickering; evil little imps who found pleasure in the anguish of the older sister who was the apple of our fathers’ eyes. Until that is, it was our turn to be chastised for being late.
You would think that being boys my parents would have cut us a bit of slack. On the contrary, it seemed as if mom and dad were particularly worried when we were out because they worried about that age old notion that when boys are being boys, nothing was sacred and nothing good could come of boys running amok.
The same conversation was repeated, over and over and over again through the years – even into adulthood. Dad would stay up, sometimes with the light on, sometimes with the lights out but he always waited up for us to come home. As a kid I thought it was to make sure that he could torture us to death and make us loathe living in their home for all the annoying rules.
“You know we love you, right?” Dad would say at the end of each lecture about being prompt, being trustworthy, being considerate because making rules and keeping them were important. But every time I was late, I came to despise the oppressive nature of that late night conversation. If you’re so concerned about me getting enough rest, why are you keeping me up for another hour past midnight to lecture me about being late? I would ask myself. Clearly I had made it home, I did not have wild and crazy friends and I almost never got into any trouble that required intervention by the local authorities. Why the hassle?
Then one night, my brother and I pulled up to our home in Samoa. The light was out but the door was unlocked – it was always unlocked because my parents had another rule that sometimes drove us crazy: our door was always open to anyone who needed rest, food or an ear to bend. We were a haven for weary souls in need of comfort.
We didn’t hear dad’s voice asking that same, tired and tiresome question this time as we slipped into the door. We thought we had dodged the conversation altogether and crept as softly as big, teenage feet could carry us toward our room. The place was intensely silent and we did not want to disturb our slumbering household when out of the darkness we heard the sound that still haunts me to this day – a single, solitary sniffle.
Dad flipped on the light and without saying a word, directed us to sit down in front of our mother. In the past I would have been flippant but my eyes did not need to adjust to the light to know that we had done the one thing that we never wanted to do – make our mother cry.
Unfortunately, we found out that night through our father that this was not the first time mom had shed tears over our absence in the home. Mom cried every single time we were delayed. Mom would beg my dad the moment we didn’t come home on time to, ‘go out and look for them,’ because something might have happened to us and she would continue to worry, cry and agonize until we finally, casually strolled in like we did that night.
We would also find out from dad that night that mom made dad stay up until everyone in our home was accounted for, safe and tucked away. Mom was a very light sleeper so any time there was a ‘bump in the night’ she would jump out of bed and make sure that everyone was okay and still in bed before getting back into bed herself.
That night, we made a pact with our parents – that if we were going to be late, we would call to give mom regular updates until we were safely home. The pattern continued until mom passed in 1993. If there is one thing I hated more than anything, it was seeing my mother cry unless they were tears of joy. I never understood her constant concern and anxiety until I had kids of my own and found myself repeating the same behavior my parents did so many years ago.
As parents there is nothing that makes us more uneasy than the thought of our children not coming home. We agonize and we stress until we are certain, until we have visual confirmation that our child is okay. Our children may hate it, just as I did when I was a kid but I hope that they understand how much we care for them and worry for them every moment they are away. When that feeling is reciprocated by a child, there is no greater joy for a parent.
So don’t worry about them being angry, upset or annoyed when you’re giving them that late night lecture about being home on time because it is a reminder to them that someone is concerned and loves them more than anything else in life.