Sunday, October 26, 2014

The last of the teen years

By the time you read this, I will no longer be the parent of a teenager.

For the past 13 years there has been a teen in this house. First Born celebrated her 13th birthday in the fall of 2001. Just after she turned 19, Second Born joined the same willful, exhausting ranks. I should have gotten hazard pay for some of those stages.

The majority of days with a teen at home were actually easy, breezy, beautifully written as picture perfect moments that would make great Hallmark card scenarios.

Some days took a year to go by.

Our years with teen girls included a large dose of mood swings and watermelon lip gloss. They went through jeans faster than the Real Wives of New Jersey pull each other’s wigs off. It has been a period chock full of highs and lows, of muddling through the rough spots and bonding over Gilmore Girls episodes.

But I think we could learn a few things from teenagers and about them, and maybe even about ourselves.

For instance...

Teenagers know everything. Don’t bother to try and prove your point – you are clueless. And teens don’t care if you know more answers than them on Jeopardy. They are pros at the eye roll, the shrug and the grunt, if they react at all.

Siblings will fight like cats and dogs, more so if at least one of them is a teen. They consider it a birthright. Rarely, however, will you witness a stronger response for protection duty than that of a teen whose sibling was wronged. My favorite line when First Born found out her younger sibling was the victim of some verbal bashing: “I’m the only one who gets to pick on my twerpy little sister! Who was it??”

If a teenage girl defines you as “sort of a jerk” you have just been beyond insulted. It’s not a spontaneous reaction or an emotionally charged conclusion. She observed the person you are in circumstances within and beyond your control. Just calling you a jerk would not have covered that final essay in her head.

Teens will point out that we consume too much butter or salty foods, then pour half a bag of shredded cheddar on the macaroni and cheese they eat three times a week. The following Monday they might announce they will only eat lettuce for the next ten days. Even restaurants don’t know whether to fill up the salad bar or keep the spinach artichoke dip coming when they see a teenage girl entering the premises.

A young child is often filled with hugs and “I love you” moments just because you are Mommy or Daddy (or a goldfish). It is genuine, spontaneous, and just plain adorable. That same phrase from the lips of a teenager means that after late nights and long mornings, arguments and silent treatments, seeing the best in them and also facing the best of their worst, you’ve done all right by them. I’ve always thought of that “I love you” as priceless.

By the time they are heading toward that 20th birthday we have gone from catching our children when they fall to watching them from the sidelines and standing quietly in the background. We hold our breath and witness them taking flight, and we continue to hold our arms out just in case they need a gentle, nonjudgmental place to land.

I have learned that as my kids have grown I’ve experienced a freedom I’m not quite sure what to do with at times. There are days when I suspect that I’m the one who isn’t completely ready for the next thing.

So what can we learn from teenagers?

Maybe we can learn to fly.

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