The whole episode began when Dree, my 16-year-old daughter, asked if 15 kids could come to the house after a football game. She promised to keep them in the backyard and tell me if anyone got out of control. “Sure,” I said, cool mom that I am. “You can handle it. Let me know if you need me.”
But that evening, when I saw headlights beaming into our living room, it seemed an army of cars was approaching and at least 50 teens were making an assault on my house. I stood guard at the front door, my six dogs beside me. Dree hopped out of a car with a boy three times my husband’s size. Several other supersize teens climbed out of their parents’ SUVs, their pants slung so low that their entire boxer-shorted butts stuck out. As panic washed over me, Dree rushed to my side. “Mom,” she implored, “go inside. I’ll take care of them. Why are you out here, anyway?”
“There are a hundred kids here,” I said stiffly. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Go inside, that’s what.”
A giant disguised as a boy picked up one of my small dogs. “Dude, lookit’s a rat,” he said unhelpfully.
“Excuse me?” I yelled a little too loudly. “That is my dog. You are at my house. Don’t you ever call my dog a rat.” I took back my poor, insulted pooch.
Under my breath, I said to Dree, “Get them away from the front yard. If they do anything, I swear I’ll lose it.”
“Mom,” she said, “you have lost it. Go inside!”
“OK, but what are you going to do about these 200 kids?”
Rounding up the other dogs, I stormed away, stopping to turn and announce, “Look, don’t mess around or you’re all out of here. I mean it!” I stomped up to my bedroom to try to meditate. All I could think about were the thousands of kids in my backyard.
But Dree soon came into my room and tapped me on the shoulder. “Mom,” she began, “you are the most embarrassing person in the world. You completely humiliated me.” I started to defend myself, but she pressed on. “No, Mom, be quiet. You yelled at my friends! You told me I could handle it, and then you acted like a complete bitch.” How dare she call me a bitch? Besides, I pointed out, there were millions of kids outside.
“No, Mom,” she said firmly. “There were 12 kids, and they’ve all left, because they think you are psycho.”
“Leave me alone, Dree,” I pleaded. The door slammed, and soon tears were rolling down my face. I realized that the whole scene had catapulted me back to when I was nine and my sister and her friends did tequila shooters and streaked naked across our lawn whenever our parents were away. I would hide in my closet, convinced that something awful was going to happen. Ever since, I’ve been afraid of partying and losing control. Now this “cool mom” was acting like the frightened little girl of 33 years ago.
Returning downstairs, I cracked Dree’s door open. “There were really only 12 kids here?” I offered meekly.
“Yeah, and they’ll never come here again.”
“Probably not,” I agreed. Her long legs swung in adolescent fury. “I messed up,” I admitted. “I’m sorry.” I wasn’t a frightened nine-year-old anymore; I was myself, in this moment, owning up to my knee-jerk reaction.
I crawled onto her bed and felt her anger soften. Dropping both my pretense of coolness and my freaked-out reactivity made it safe for her to show her own vulnerability. “Mommy,” she said, “I’m glad they left. I was kinda scared.” Turns out that she too was worriedthat she couldn’t keep the party from going over the top.
“Me too, baby,” I said, pulling her close. “Me too.” But we weren’t scared anymore.
Mariel Hemingway is an actress, a producer, the president of the lifestyle company In Balance, and the author of the memoir Finding My Balance. She lives with her family in Southern California.