When I was in high school, I attended a party at a classmate’s house on a military base. Most of my friends were a few years younger, so I volunteered to drive them home. When it was time to leave, the three friends I expected joined me. So did five others. I was driving my father’s pickup truck. It was winter. It was cold. Everyone had to squeeze in.
Amazingly, everyone fit. Few people in the truck were comfortable, but it was tolerable for a 20-minute ride. Unfortunately, our ride ended when the gate I used to arrive at the base was closed for the evening and I didn’t know where to find an open gate. It quickly became part of a comedy of errors involving eight passengers trying to give directions at once. Every direction led to the wrong way. We were lost, minutes from my friend’s home. After almost an hour, we found the main gate and escaped. I began dropping off friends at their homes. Some arrived just before curfews, others after.
Needless to say, I got home late — very late.
As you might expect, my parents were waiting. When I walked in the door, they were staring at me. I was expecting a severe talking-to. Instead, all I heard from my father was, “Erick, go to bed.”
By the time you become a teenager, you know your parents well. You know what upsets them. You know what pleases them. And you know sometimes you just don’t know anything about what they’re thinking.
That’s what awaited me the morning after my unexpected journey.
I never had a curfew as a teenager. My parents expected that I would tell them where I was going and when I’d return. Coming home two hours late broke that agreement. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a cellphone. It didn’t matter that I had been trapped on a military base with no apparent road signs to direct us to the main gate. It didn’t matter that I had done the right thing and offered rides to those who needed them. What mattered was that I should have remembered what was expected of me.
Being a teen is about being given increased responsibility and then being watched as your parents see if you can handle it. At least, that’s what being a teen was like for me. Not all parents are the same, and not all parents are good at letting their children grow up. But every teen is on the same journey, and at the end of that journey is adulthood.
When I woke up, I was ready to take responsibility for my mistake. I was prepared for punishment. That punishment never came. Later I learned, after I went to bed, that my father got mad at my mother for waking him for no reason. He knew I was responsible and she did, too. I’m sure if I’d made the same mistake twice, the response would have been different, but I never did.
Today I still remember the lessons I learned that night: Ask for directions, even if you think you know where you’re going. Always find a reason to laugh, especially when you’re lost. Be generous; there’s always room to give one more person a ride. The most important lesson: Don’t let others worry, especially your mother.