Rites of Passage 2*






The teenager in our house is squeezing in a lot of socializing as his college start date looms closer. The momentous event of finishing high school only months ago has been discarded like a snake’s skin. He hasn’t given it a second thought.

There’s a pattern to his preparations for a night out. What to wear? How do I look? He wishes he has a sister to consult at these times. I try my best to be a humble substitute. Youth feel a lot of pressure – thanks to social media – to look ‘on trend’, as close to their interpretation of perfection as possible. I think back to my own teenage years. Angst ridden they were too. But personal appearance didn’t play such a crucial role.

When he leaves, always in a hurry regardless of the hours at his disposal to get ready, he routinely slams the front door behind him – despite continued protests from his parents (teenagers have short memories!). The house settles back into itself.  I can almost hear it sighing with relief. As indeed do we, his parents, who are enjoying a new freedom now that he is finding his place in a bigger world.

Last night I gave a carload of them a lift to a friend’s place for a party to celebrate the last of their tribe turning 18 (which is the drinking age in this country). Preened to the hilt and chatting like women they left behind a trail of mens aftershave and hairspray when they got out of my car. I thought how handsome they looked with their button up shirts and comb over hairstyles. In amongst the cajoling and staccato conversation (there were 2 more people on the other end of cell phones partaking in the banter), I learned that one of them was being ribbed for going out with his girlfriend instead of his friends. I smiled at this and secretly applauded him for his strength of character.

(mums are there for transport and for other necessities of life such as food, not for partaking in peer group conversation. It’s amazing though what can be heard by keeping quiet.)

They disembarked awkwardly, bottles clanking together in plastic shopping bags, the promise of an exciting night illuminating their faces. From the Birthday friends’ place they were heading to the city to a nightclub, no doubt to officially mark his ‘coming of age’. My son had already told me that he hoped another friend wouldn’t ‘peak too early’ and thus he would have to escort him home. I admire the loyalty these young men have for each other. Some have kept in touch since they were 5.

I also admire their stamina and energy, happy as I was to return home to the couch and a night of TV. Did I really have that much get-up-and-go at his age?

They are a shrewd lot, preferring clubs and bars in the CBD that have minimal or no cover charge. Their favourite venues sell vodka for A$4 a shot. I shudder when I think about how dismal these haunts must be.

He stumbled in at 5am this morning. We were sleeping lightly thanks to Sydney’s late summer humidity, the hypnotic whirring of a fan our only comfort against a blanket of oppressive heat. As usual his entry was loud, bumping into furniture en route to his bedroom. As if his feet had grown longer since he left the house only hours ago. Or he had forgotten how to put one foot in front of the other in the interim.

Sensing that we were awake he came into our room, wanting to share his adventures before he collapsed into a heap on his island of a bed. They had travelled far: after feasting on T bone steaks at the Birthday person’s house (at least his parents had the sense to give everyone a good feed before any serious drinking got under way), they went to The Argyle in Sydney’s ‘The Rocks’ district. Only to be promptly removed. The security guard was convinced that they must be on drugs by the way they were dancing. They tried to reason with him, explaining that they only had 4 drinks under their belts and no drugs had been consumed. But he wouldn’t budge.

Next they stood at the end of a nightclub queue in Kings Cross for ½ an hour (I could visualise a ragtag ensemble by then), only to be refused entry at 1.29am due to Sydney’s lock out laws taking effect at 1.30am. What a perfect opportunity to sober up! I wisely kept this thought to myself. Next stop Newtown where they found a rooftop bar and DJ. What the law makers don’t get in this part of the world is that people will find somewhere else to drink in the early hours. I empathise with the Newtown regulars who are now having to deal with the fallout from Kings Cross, especially as Newtown is known as a gay friendly precinct.

He said good night as the morning sun made its shy appearance through the plantation shutters. I knew that when he surfaced next, at around midday, the greeting wouldn’t be so warm, monosyllabic at best. Therein lies the Jekyll and Hyde of every drinking age teenager’s DNA.

I am sure I am not alone when I say it is always with another sigh of relief when I hear him fumbling for his key and trying to unlock the front door, a taxi purring behind him in the driveway.

Not that long ago he was running for the bus, school tie and shirt tail akimbo. And now the world is his oyster, for better or for worse.

*See my 1st October 2015 post for Rites of Passage (1)