There is something about back to school that makes even the looming prospect of death by refrigeration seem a small price to pay for the end of summer.
As much as we miss the small nation of teenagers who overran the house from June to August, it is hard not to enjoy the Chipotle-free feeling that settles over the furniture when they have mostly returned to their dorm rooms.
There is no such thing as endless summer, no matter what the posters say. It's just an expression used by surfers and parents to convey completely different sentiments. Like "surf's up" and "cowabunga."
It's uncanny how much overlapping jargon there is between parenting and surfing. I realized this the other day as I came across yet another stockpile of cocktail ingredients while cleaning out the teenager-occupied areas of the house.
"Cowabunga!" I said to myself. "These kids are making an awful lot of artisanal cocktails under their beds."
They're not old enough to be making artisanal cocktails, of course - there was not a single garnish among the supplies I found stuffed into backpacks with their teen-a-palooza ticket stubs - and they know nothing about simple syrup - so I found myself confiscating a lot of artifically flavored rum and vodka and some very questionable beer-type products. Maybe one of them was planning a shrimp boil?
We have some very strict rules about alcohol in our house - the most obvious being that liquor is consumed by permission only, is not stored under the bed and is never, ever shared with non-family members under the legal drinking age, which I believe is 35.
I have been very busy the past few months, but my sense is that some of these rules may have been broken. Along with many smaller rules governing things like good taste.
From blueberry vodka to cinnamon whisky, my liquor cabinet now bulges with big-flavored contraband. This year's back to school cocktails have a little bit of a Willy Wonka feel to them. Serve with fast-food burritos and anything else you can eat from a bag. Cheers!
Smells like (Blueberry) Teen Spit
1 and 1/2 ounce blueberry vodka found in basement and likely consumed straight from bottle
Pour contraband vodka over ice into highball glass. Add club soda and garnish with lime, because you're not a teenager anymore.
Candy From a Baby
1 ounce Sazerac Fireball cinnamon whisky found under teenager's bed and also likely consumed straight from the bottle
Pour into official university glasswear of your choice and sip slowly while looking at baby pictures.
Photo: Sazerac Fireball cinnamon whisky - which I actually enjoyed. It was like a little mouthful of red hot candy.
For more back to school cocktail ideas, click on the yellow post-it note in the sidebar.
Nothing brings a teenage girl so much happiness, as far as I can tell, as the opportunity to weep over tragedy in the lives of attractive fictional teenagers. Cupcakes, maybe. But it's a close call.
When the opening of the latest weepy teenage romance movie, If I Stay, coincides with back to school week, the teenage girls who hang out in my kitchen could not be happier/weepier. They beg for ticket money, for the car, for the opportunity to cry all over again with the movie version of the book they have already cried through twice. They have watched the movie trailerliterally, likea million times.
How can I say no? They're going to pay me back, probably. They've finished their homework. Possibly.
A day later they do it all over again.
Now the soundtrack is everywhere I go. It's playing in my car, on my office computer, on the girl's iPad. Today is the greatest day I've never known, Can't wait for tomorrow, I might not have that long...
My own teenage girl could not be happier/sadder. She's making plans to cry through it again before the week is out. She's trying to talk me into going with her and her friends. "Oh god," I say. "You know I don't like sad movies."
She gives me the same look she gives me when I say I don't really like cupcakes. It's a mix of pity and resolve.
It is useless to resist a 16-year-old girl in the grip of happiness/sadness. When it comes to feeling, teenage girls are all in. Outpourings of emotion are meant to be stoked, provoked, amped, prodded, tweeted - but most importantly - shared. It does not matter how much I protest about my schedule, my preference for funny movies, my boring, old-person sense of been there, done that, know the ending. I'm pretty sure I will be going to see this movie.
The remake of the Smashing Pumpkins song, "Today," already has me feeling a little happy/sad. It is entirely possible, that someday, looking back, the greatest day I've ever known will have a teenage girl in it.
It will be really expensive and I won't have any say about the food or the music or anything else, but still.
In hindsight, it is easy to see how we were led down the bunny trail.
At 16, the girl is an impeccable strategist, capable of exploiting every shift of mood and circumstance. She has a long history of successful campaigns, going as far back as the toddler years when she would appear next to my bed in the wee hours holding teeny-tiny toddler footwear in her hands and insisting that it was time to seize the day.
"Shoes?" she would say, raising her teeny-tiny eyebrows at me in an expression that said, "I can't believe you are still in bed at 3:45 a.m., you slacker, but I have things to do and I need your help with my Cinderella shoes."
When she decided to launch Operation Get a Pet, the outcome was never really in question.
Her father and I were 100 percent opposed for a lot of good - but ultimately irrelevant - reasons. He works 100 hours a week and I have 100 part-time jobs. We live in a house that contains about 100 acres of laundry-covered floors and is overrun with teenagers. We recently discovered that a family of mice had moved in as well, living under conditions that almost certainly outranked the teenager-occupied areas of the house for cleanliness.
Operation Pet was a no go.
But where we saw an impenetrable, unshakeable, resolutely anti-pet Household Position, the girl saw only opportunity. Among other things in her favor, her brother's return from college for the summer was the perfect showcase for her to star in a limited engagement of The Good Teenager.
While he demanded to use the car, she offered to pick up my dry cleaning. Where he left half-eaten burritos on the furniture, she made crepes for dinner. He drank all the beer in the guest refrigerator; she greeted me at the door with a glass of wine.
At work, she text-bombed me with photos of kittens. We are not getting a cat, I told her. But she already knew that. The cat was a red herring.
Recently, I came home to find her cat-sitting. The cat must go, I said firmly. She sighed, gave the cat a sad hug and complied. That is the kind of teenager she is.The kind who doesn't argue. Which as our parents could have told us, but didn't, is the kind you should fear most.
The cooperation continued unabated, while at every turn, her brother continued in his role as The Teenager Who Makes the Other Teenager Seem Reasonable. How was he supposed to know I needed my car to get to work? The keys were just sitting there.
Last week, Operation Not a Cat went from planning to execution. She googled pet shops and rabbit rescue centers. She made phone calls. She made lists. In between running our errands, she ran reconnaissance. She began talking about her new pet as if it was a bunny accompli. There was some last minute psychological warfare: she'd probably have to decline a lot of invitations to hang out with boys in order to spend more time with her new bunny.
Then she picked me up from the train station one evening and drove me straight to the pet store. Just to look around. Earlier that day she had done the grocery shopping, texting me to ask: What is Dad's favorite dinner? It wasn't even skullduggery at that point.
When we passed the first two pet stores and the girl was still driving, it occurred to me that we seemed to be heading to a particular pet store, but what did that mean? She had done the grocery shopping! She was so cheerful! She was singing to the radio! She was adorable. She was practically throwing off light.
We were headed for a pet store where a small black and white rabbit waited in a glass enclosure. Something told me this was not a coincidence. And that something was a sign with her name on it.
We took him home. We named him Napoleon. What else could we do?