My goal was never to be the “fun” mom. Sure, I wanted my boys and his friends to enjoy hanging out at our home. But thankfully, my self-esteem did not require the empty and fleeting adoration from adolescents that comes from letting kids run wild. And yet I found myself being the get-away driver one recent Friday night.
The plan was to have my sons and their friends (two fourteen-year-olds and four eleven-year-olds) over after school to hang out and then to take them to a high school basketball game. My husband was going to meet us there so that I didn’t actually have to attend the game. We were only five minutes from our house when my husband called doubting the location of the game. He was the only one in the high school parking lot. After checking the game schedule on one of the boys’ phones, we realized that there was no game that night.
I wish getting times and locations wrong was rare. Alas, that is not so. The evening stretched before us, and I had visions of complete chaos for four hours at our house. Brainstorming ensued. Movies and bowling were discussed and rejected. One idea emerged and won the hearts of all six boys: ding-dong ditching.
Most everyone has engaged in this childhood prank in which you ring a doorbell and then run away. I had done this a few times as a preteen, I’m pretty sure. But I never consented to my boys doing this around my neighborhood. We do enough things involving balls, Frisbees, and our dog to annoy even the most tolerant of neighbors. The twist this evening was that they wanted to prank a girl my son had a crush on. She was having a birthday party. He was in sixth grade. Crashing a girls’ party in sixth grade is very exciting.
I thought the ding-dong ditching might provide a diversion long enough to count as an outing, after which the boys would be content to sit in front of the Play Station or at least stay in the basement for several hours. I thought I could set ground rules and all would remain fun and innocent. And it did . . . for the most part.
Before heading out on our doorbell shenanigans, we regrouped at my house. I wanted to get my book for the peaceful intervals between the boys ringing doorbells and hiding. After finding the girlfriend’s house and “casing” her cul-de-sac, I asked why there were so many cars near her house. Seemed like a lot for a girls’ birthday party. My son told me that the girl was having a birthday party, not with friends but with family. I still thought it could work. I reiterated that this was to be fun—no property damage and no foul language. Annoying is fine; but we don’t want to cross the lines of inappropriate or damaging. All agreed and ran off.
I parked the car nearby and idled (it was 15 degrees F). I had barely found my place in my book when one boy ran back excited. I thought, “Wow, this will go faster than I thought.” I didn’t realize that the key to successful ding-dong ditching is ringing the doorbell enough times to provoke someone into coming outside. The boys hide nearby, and the boy who stays the longest “wins.”
They ran back and forth from the car several times. After the father and then the girl came outside and then went back inside, I assumed the prank was a success and over. We loaded back into the car and went around the corner to another female classmate’s home. The boys trotted off to ring her doorbell. That family wasn’t home. So I suggested we head to one of their friend’s house and then call it a night. Instead, they wanted to prank the girlfriend’s house once more. Just one more time. I agreed and off they went.
Of course, as they went along, they got bolder. My fourteen-year-old declined to go and waited in the car with me. After fifteen minutes, I told him to go up and get the boys. When the boys finally came back to the car, my eleven-year-old was very upset because he thought his friend had mooned the girl’s older brother, who had made it all more fun by acting angry and threatening.
“You mooned him?” I asked incredulously. The accused mooner and the other older boy assured me that he just acted as if he were going to moon him. A question of whether another boy had shouted profanity also arose. He said he only said “sheez” not the “s” word. As if it mattered at this point.
As the adult who set the stage for all of this, I had really not thought through my recourses should the boys exceed the boundaries. The only way to rein them would have been to trot up to the house myself. Embarrassment, or the possibility of it, can be a powerful stun gun. It would have had to become really bad for me to do that. I was prepared for any curious neighbors who might ask why I was idling across from their houses. I was ready to say, “Oh, I’m letting my kids ding-dong ditch a friend. We’ll be done soon.” But now, I can only anxiously await my next encounter with this girl’s family.
I’m hoping, since they have six kids, that they will have a sense of humor and not forever brand my kids as disrespectful and poorly raised. I’m hoping that they don’t think I lost my bearings trying to be the “fun” mom. I’m just hoping that they remember what is like to have six boys in the house and nothing to do.