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When people learn that I had a baby seven years ago, at 42, they often comment, ''I bet that keeps you young.'' I gather they are referring to the age-defying effects of chasing children around the backyard and watching Teletubbies. But I wasn't young when I had Jane. I already had two boys who were putting gray in my hair, and I added two stepkids when I married the man who would become Jane's father. So keeping me young was really not possible, nor has reinvigoration been the gist since.
One Wednesday last summer, for example, at about 8:30 in the evening I started a bath for Jane and her two friends, the Bacha sisters, at our house for a sleepover because all are attending basketball camp together. Once they were situated in their bubbles I went downstairs to call my 17-year-old son, Vince, on his cell phone, since he had never come home after getting off work at the pool.
Vince walked in just as I hit the kitchen. Since he had been in the house all of five minutes since school let out, I suggested that he stay in for the night. No way, he said; he was only here to pick up his stepbrother, Sam, 16, so they could go "chill at Trav's."
What exactly is involved in chilling at Trav's I will leave to your imagination -- God knows it's had a vivid dramatic life in mine. In any case, feeling that enough chilling at Trav's had gone on of late, I denied permission for the excursion. Shock, outrage, and furious debate ensued. The main arguments offered were that they were teenagers, it was summer, and I was stupid.
I had to interrupt the showdown to go upstairs, get the girls out of the bath and deliver them to my husband for bedtime reading. Then back downstairs to continue ruining teenage lives. Disgruntled, Sam and Vince fled to the basement to play electric guitars and mess around on the Internet.
Meanwhile, in the living room, my eldest son, Hayes, 20, and his girlfriend, Dana, were home from college and entwined on the couch watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. It was a delightful episode in which a necrophiliac is suspected of raping a girl in a coma. I was not yet finished folding the laundry to this stimulating accompaniment when my husband appeared at the door to tell me that the girls could not fall asleep and were now in our bed.
I dashed upstairs to move them and sing ''Over the Rainbow.'' Though this song offers serious challenges to a person of such limited vocal talents as myself, I find its plaintive, desperate vision of a happier future in a more welcoming place often fits my mood at this time of the evening. I had to cut off in the middle of the lemon drops, however, because I thought I heard the front door creak open and shut. But no, when I got downstairs, all the prisoners were still in their cellblocks.
I tried to stay awake to keep the situation under control, but at 10:45 I gave up and crawled into bed beside my sleeping husband and miniature dachshund. About an hour later something woke me. I rushed downstairs and the TV-watching son confirmed my suspicions: ''They just rolled,'' he said matter-of-factly.
Indeed, my car was gone from the driveway.
The next half hour was devoted to reeling them back in by cell phone and confiscating car keys. Brief curses and imprecations were exchanged, with plans to continue disciplinary action on the morrow.
If you think a perimenopausal woman goes right back to sleep when awoken at midnight, you are quite mistaken. I had finally dozed off at around 3 when again something woke me.
Dammit, Vince, I growled. But it was little Jane, half asleep and weeping with embarrassment, having uncharacteristically wet the bed. I dragged myself up to help and comfort her. Fortunately, the Bacha sisters slept through this phase of the action.
Back in bed, now with husband, dachshund and daughter, I began to worry about getting up at 6:30 to get the girls dressed and ready for camp. My husband, wide awake at this point, went down to lower the volume on the video game being played in the basement, which somehow thumps directly into our mattress.
A couple of hours later the alarm indeed went off, and I started making pancakes and finding shoes and fixing ponytails for Wacky Hair Day. Though there was little danger of seeing Vince and Sam before noon, I meditated on the details of their punishment (inevitably less draconian than it should have been; I am notorious for the lameness of my penalties). I fed the dog and the cats and helped Hayes cook his organic steel-cut oat groats, because it's not just teenage girls who eat fad diets anymore. I filled the girls' water bottles and sent them out to the car. Then I tossed back a couple of Aleves with the last of my coffee and started out on another day of rejuvenation.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2008.