Tag Archives: Teenagers

Attack of the Killer Teens

Photo courtesy of www.cinemablend.com.

Photo courtesy of http://www.cinemablend.com.

This week, my youngest child turned thirteen, making me the mother of three teenagers.

For those readers who have raised (i.e., survived) teenagers, I could end my column here. There’s no need for lengthy anecdotes. Upon reading my first sentence, other parents of teens most likely heaved a collective groan, and instantly understood the prickly muddle of pride, anguish, adoration and frustration involved.

But for the benefit of the rest, I’ll trudge on with my story.

“I’ll take a hot chocolate with whipped cream and a large sausage Calzone,” my 18-year-old son blurted to the waiter before anyone else had a chance to order. It was his youngest sister’s 13th birthday dinner out, and he was starving.

Incidentally, that was after he had polished off a barrel of popcorn and a gallon of soda at the Island Cinemas, where I spent $60 and three-quarters of the movie covering the birthday girl’s eyes to shield her from what I realized was a totally inappropriate horror film.

The next morning, I got up early to drive my son to his first job at Yagoog Boy Scout Summer Camp. I tiptoed to keep from waking my new 13-year-old – she slept with me thanks to my stellar movie choice the night before – but I had no idea that I’d be tiptoeing around my son’s attitude all morning.

“Hey Buddy?” I gingerly hailed my son as he carried his sleeping bag through the kitchen, “I think you should wear a troop shirt instead, because there’s a pretty strict dress code for Scouts at camp.”

He stopped with his back to me, and like the demon-possessed character from the previous night’s movie; he turned his head slowly, squinting his eyes. In a low, guttural tone, which spewed pure aggravation, he muttered between gritted teeth, “I’m not a Scout, I’m on the Staff.”

Ten minutes later, my son appeared at my minivan, wearing his troop shirt and a scowl.

After a silent drive, we arrived at Camp Yagoog. While checking in, we realized that my son needed uniform socks, so we stopped by the Camp’s Trading Post to buy a few pairs.

Knowing I was about to leave my only son there for the rest of the summer, I was feeling generous.

“Hey Buddy, don’t you need one of these belts like the other Staff had on their shorts?”

My son spewed, squinted and gritted, “NO, MOM, my shorts have a built-in belt,” stated in such a way that implied, “you idiot!”

That was it. Something in me snapped. I dropped the socks and announced, “Buy your own socks. I’ll see you on pick up day.”

I could see mild panic in his eyes. The six pairs of socks would wipe out his spending money, and he had no way of cashing future paychecks without a ride to the bank. And then there’s the issue of his laundry.

I stormed out of the Trading Post to find my minivan.

Three yards from the store, I was seized by a rush of overwhelming realizations. This person, my son, was a huge bearded ball of contradiction. He wanted nothing to do with me, yet he was totally dependent on me. He believed he was omniscient, yet there was so much he needed to learn. He was technically a man, yet he behaved like a petulant boy.

Despite the fact that my lioness instinct was urging me to cut the apron strings and go, I didn’t want to leave him on such a sour note. I found my son in the Trading Post, still looking stunned at the socks.

“I’m sorry,” he offered, “I didn’t realize I was being disrespectful.”

Leaving the camp and my son behind, I wondered what it is that possesses teenagers. An instinctual drive to alienate the tribe and strike out on their own? Raging adolescent hormones? An underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex? Evil mutant zombie demons?

Whatever it is, I’m scared and my teenagers are too.

But I learned an ironic lesson from that inappropriate horror film: When things get really scary, parental guidance is strongly suggested.

Pretty scary, hu?

Feel it in your rear

“God help us all,” is often muttered in response to news that a teenager has begun driving. Other responses include, “Run for your lives!” “Hit the dirt!” and phrases implying apocalyptic events.

We all universally recognize that teenagers don’t know much about life, and that placing one in control of a one-ton combustion engine with the intent that he propel it over concrete at high speeds, is really stupid when you think about it. Nevertheless, our laws provide that 16-year-olds can drive, so we put our parental instinct aside and allow them to do it.

My son has his learner’s permit, and until I rode in the passenger’s seat while my sloppy, brace-faced teenage son lurched our minivan along the open road, I had no empathy for my parents. Now, I feel their pain.

It was June 4, 1984, my birthday, and I was twirling the barrel of my curling iron through my bangs for maximum height. I heard my mother’s voice calling from outside our brick ranch, “Sweet pea! Come out here a second!”

I tsked loudly, rolled my eyes, and ignored.

“Honeybunch? C’mon, it’ll only take a sec!” she continued, eventually appearing at my bedroom door. In classic teenage style I sassed and whined at my mother, annoyed by what I saw as her rude interference with a crucial task in my routine – curling my bangs.

Eventually, I succumbed to her pleas, but not without attitude. I appeared outside, slump-shouldered and eye-rolling, where the cause of her interruption was revealed: on our lawn sat a pale blue 1974 Volkswagen Beetle tied up in an enormous yellow bow.

I offered no apology for my embarrassing behavior. Instead I screamed and ran to claim the gift, which I assumed I wholeheartedly deserved.

That day, I had to deliver pizzas for our Varsity Letter Club fundraiser. My father thought this was the perfect opportunity to use my new Bug. There was one problem that my father cast aside as a minor detail – I didn’t how to drive a stick.

My hair properly coiffed, I jumped excitedly into the driver’s seat and awaited my father’s instructions.

A gruff, ex-college football player, he was not accustomed to being delicate. He operated on pure instinct, street smarts, and gut feelings. I, on the other hand, had no innate abilities, instead relying on conscious analysis to learn. My father didn’t use maps, instructions or cookbooks. I relied heavily on them. He was not articulate, using facial expression and volume to communicate. I spoke in great detail to explain my thoughts. So, when it came time for me to learn how to drive a stick, we were not exactly a good match.

After several stalls, I eventually got my new Bug onto the road. I made every first-timer mistake: revving the engine, sputtering and stalling, rolling back after stopping on an incline, riding the clutch, and constant lurching. Each time, my father bellowed, “Easy, easy! No, not now! There, there! Now! Shift! The clutch, the clutch!” I could not process the words he was blasting in my ear and continued to grind, lurch and stall.

Being the typical hormonal teenage girl, I soon began to cry as my father’s frustration mounted. “Feel it in your rear! That’s how you know when to shift!” No matter how hard I tried, I could not feel anything in my rear or anywhere else for that matter.

I was able to hide my tears at the first few pizza deliveries, but after more yelling and a near catastrophic stall downhill from a barreling coal truck on Route 286, I was soon a blubbering, red-eyed, snotty mess.

“[Sniff, snort] Hello Ma’am, I, I, I, [sniff, rubbing nose with sleeve] believe you ordered two [hiccup] pepperoni pizzas?” I managed to say after ringing doorbells. “Oh, Sweetie, sure! Do you want me to order more? Would you like to come inside and sit for a while?” my customers would offer upon seeing my pitiful condition.

I somehow managed to deliver all the pizzas without anyone calling child protective services, but was devastated at my complete failure to “feel it in my rear.” It was not until I drove alone on the road in front of our house that I was able to think for myself. Without anyone to tell me what to do, I quickly learned to drive a stick like a pro.

I never really felt anything in my rear as a teenage driver; however, I can now say that riding in the car when my son is driving could be described as a huge pain in the butt. Perhaps that is what my father was referring to. Regardless, my childhood experience taught me to hold my tongue when my teenage son is driving so he can think. Parental instinct may urge me to scream, “Holy Mother of God!” and grab for the emergency brake, but I’ll sit quietly and allow him to figure it out for himself.

365 days and counting

“You think you got it bad now,” other moms cautioned when my kids were young, “just wait ‘til they’re teenagers.”

Like the weird sisters of Macbeth, they’d give each other knowing glances and chuckle, as they watched me nearly amputate a foot while trying get my screaming toddler’s stroller onto the escalator at the mall.

I thought those moms were too old and summarily dismissed their annoying prophecies. Besides, back in the “olden days” kids played outside unsupervised all day while their mothers lounged around in crinolined skirts, smoking cigarettes, polishing silver, and watching “I Love Lucy.”

No wonder their kids turned out to be horrible teens. I firmly believed that whatever stage of parenting I was experiencing was the worst one, and no one was going to convince me otherwise.

This month, my eldest child turned 17, and it occurred to me that only one year of his childhood remains. I’m not sure if I should celebrate or burst into tears.

The first time I held my son in my arms, I felt an awesome sense of love and purpose. In an instant, my own needs shifted from my top priority to a distant second, and the funny thing is, I couldn’t have been happier about it. I can’t take credit; it was merely a consequence of animal instinct, and like any mama bear, squirrel, or flamingo, focus on my own survival automatically switched to the endurance of my offspring.

Although it is initially a joy to put our children’s needs ahead of our own, over time the task of parenting gets bothersome, frustrating and let’s face it, downright terrifying.

Nowhere does this fact of life become clearer than in parenting teens. I hate to admit it, but those cackling witches at the mall were right as rain.

When my son turned 13, his head didn’t spin, his eyes didn’t roll, and foul expletives didn’t burst forth from his mouth. No, he was the same kid he’d always been. When he turned 14 we saw subtle changes – his first shave, a deepening voice, reluctance to accept affection. How cute, we thought.

We drifted contentedly into our son’s teen years, comfortably secure that our teenager would never be a problem, because we were good parents and had raised him right.

But soon after the candles on our son’s Rubik’s Cube-shaped 15th birthday cake were extinguished, a new period of parenting ensued, which might best be described as “Armageddon.”

Suddenly, the bathroom door was permanently locked. Our son stopped making eye contact. A foul smell hung like a green fog in his bedroom. He snickered secretly into the phone behind his barricaded bedroom door. When we managed to come face to face with him, he was always asleep.

In what seemed like an instant, the sweet boy we had known all these years turned into a smelly undisciplined stranger who, apparently, hated our guts.

At night we lay in bed, our minds racing with anger, frustration, guilt, and panicked thoughts of our son’s future. Desperate, we listened to other parents of teens, and found out that the hell we were experiencing was actually quite common.

Apparently, just as new hairs sprout from a teen’s body, a budding new attitude develops in the teen brain. The once dependent, reverent child suddenly thinks:

“There’s nothing that I don’t already know. I will now run my own life. I find you totally embarrassing, and reserve the right to roll my eyes in pure disgust whenever I see fit. I will, however, continue to associate with you so that you can buy me a car, electronics, clothing of my choice, pizza for me and my friends, and a place to sleep until two in the afternoon. Oh, and don’t forget to save upwards of $100 K to send me off to college so that I can reenact ‘Animal House’ at your expense.”

With one year left before my son leaves the nest, you’d think I’d be chilling champagne and making plans to fumigate his room. But ironically, I’m melancholy and must resist the urge to become one of the witches, warning young moms to appreciate the days when their biggest problem is getting the stroller onto the escalator at the mall.

Instead, I’ll remind myself that every day of parenting a child is precious, and I’ll savor the next 365. And counting.

A Midsummer Night’s Scheme

At the Drive-In

Image by Jim Rees via Flickr

On any given summer night, the teens of our great nation take to the streets of their respective towns in search of something fun to do. They can be seen outside pizza joints, ice cream stands and movie theaters, doing what teenagers do best – hanging out.

Except for certain insignificant differences like parachute pants, banana clips and Pat Benatar, things were pretty much the same when I was a teenager.

After summer chores like grass cutting and weeding green beans, usually tempered with an hour or two of laying out coated in tanning oil, I was released by my parents to find whatever fun was available in our little town.

The first step in hatching a plan for the evening was a telephone call to my best friend, Patti (except for that boring summer when she had a boyfriend.) Such calls were always made from the candlestick phone in my bedroom. The second step was to confirm that neither of us was invited to a party (a rarity) or had a date (almost never happened.) The final step was to decide on transportation, which was almost always my dad’s enormous 1977 Chevy Blazer.

I picked Patti up at her house, and after applying copious amounts of lip gloss and making sure our bangs looked just right, we would cruise the town.

Our journey usually started with a drive by the local arcade. “Games 101” was a hangout of sorts, and although Patti and I didn’t really give two shakes about Asteroids or Ms. Pacman, we knew that the arcade was a veritable Command Center where all information on teenage social events was collected.

Sometimes we scored big and received word of a bonfire in Bennett’s woods or a party at the house of a classmate we all referred to as “Meatball,” but usually, Patti and I drove around for hours, all glossed up, trying to not look too desperate.

Some nights, Patti and I would scrape together a few of our fellow goofy girlfriends to pile in the Blazer and go check out the Drive In Movie Theater. The Palace Gardens wasn’t cheap; however, and we refused to spend our hard earned grass cutting/ice cream scooping money on overpriced admission. There were certain well-known strategies of avoiding the normal fees, and we employed them all at one time or another.

On nights when the Palace Gardens offered a one-price-per-carload special, we discovered that we could pack nearly a dozen teenagers, big bangs and all, into the Blazer. On regular admission nights, we would stuff two friends into the dog crate my father had built into the back of the Blazer in order to reduce our expenses, and had a great time trying to keep a straight face while driving by the ticket booth.

If we were feeling particularly daring (or cheap) we would sneak through the woods surrounding the Palace Gardens, and crawl through an opening in the fence to gain cost-free entrance into the theater. On one such occasion, six of us made the attempt as a group.

We had heard the rumors that the management was cracking down on teens who refused to pay by lacing the fence with some kind of foul concoction made from watered down cow manure. We all knew that nothing could ruin one’s chances of getting a boyfriend like stepping in poo, so we were all particularly cautious that night

Using hand signals as if it was some kind of special ops raid on an Al-Qaeda compound, we snuck through the woods and permeated the fence without being hit. Or so we thought.

The nightly double feature included the new hit “Porky’s” but we weren’t interested. We headed straight for the large group of loitering teens near the concessions. Just before we reached the group, we realized that one of our comrades had been hit.

“What’s that smell?” Peggy whispered. Our sniffing noses quickly found the source of the pungent odor – Andrea’s Jordache jean cuff had been tainted by the enemy’s foul biological weapon.

Poor Andrea was a goner, but the rest of us had a great time mingling among the cars under the stars on that balmy summer night.

And now, when I see today’s teens acting out their own version of A Midsummer Night’s Scheme, I remember my youth, smile, and hope that all their dreams of summer fun come true.

Dissecting the Teen

SCENE ONE: (Mom cheerfully sweeps kitchen floor. Front door opens. Brooding Teen in hooded sweatshirt enters. Without looking at Mom, Teen shuffles down hall toward bedroom.)

MOM: (Hurriedly following.) “Hi Honey! How was school today?”

TEEN: “Nghu.”

MOM: “Hmm? What was that?”

TEEN: “Nghoo.”

MOM: “I’m sorry, Sweetie, but I couldn’t hear what you said. Give it to me one more time.”

TEEN: “Ngood.” (Teen slams bedroom door, leaving Mom alone and dumbfounded in hall.)

END SCENE.

This little vignette is reenacted over and over again in our house. Day after day, week after week, month after month.

Now that my son is a full-fledged teenager, all affection, conversation and attention are forced under threat of house arrest, or bribed with expensive electronics, edible treats, or cold hard cash.

His father and I used to rock his world just a few years ago. He would burst out of school each day and find me waiting there to walk him home. His eyes would light up, and he would often run at me full pelt, plowing into me with open arms. He would linger a few seconds so I could run my hand through his sandy colored hair and kiss him on the head.

But then, he became a teenager.

When he first started withdrawing from us emotionally, I panicked and thought, “Why did I let him watch that PG-13 movie when he was twelve?! And, he’s always resented me for those cute bowl hair cuts I used to give him. I knew I never should have spanked him when he put that waffle in the VCR! Oh God, what have I done!?!”

We worried and watched, waiting for a call from the police informing us that our son was holding the school principal hostage or that he was hitchhiking across the country on an historic crime spree.

Even though the police never called, we feared that our son’s withdrawal from us was clear evidence that he was on the brink of some kind of teenage nervous breakdown, all caused by our overbearing demands and inadequate parental nurturing.

Eventually, we did get reports of our son’s behavior, but not from public authorities or school officials. Other parents told us what our son was doing outside our home.

“My daughter told us the funniest story about your son at supper last night – apparently he had the whole literature class laughing yesterday at school.”

“That skit your son did for our Cub Scout den was priceless. We videotaped it!”

“Your son was so chatty and polite when I gave him a ride after football practice yesterday.”

“You must be so proud that the Biology teacher played your son’s cell project video to all the classes. It was so well done.”

Initially, we thought, “Are you sure you have the right kid here? Our son is the one that never wears anything but that hooded sweatshirt, doesn’t make eye contact and grunts. What skit? What cell project?”

Slowly but surely, we began to dissect this brooding man-child living in our house. By examining his separate and distinct parts, we started to understand the creature our son was becoming.

We discovered that our son isn’t an axe murderer, he’s just a teenager.

Outside our home, he is a smart, funny, outgoing football player, scout leader, band geek and math tutor. When he gets home, he withdraws and hides his burgeoning personality from us, afraid that we will interfere or attempt to change him. His “split personality” enables him to grow, mature, and as much as we hate it, become independent from of us.

We have to let our son create himself, whatever that creature may be, and in the meantime, we must learn to find complex meaning in the grunts and grumbles he emits.

For example, “Nghu” really means, “Wow, thanks for asking about my day at school, Mom – it actually went quite well despite the fact that I missed you terribly and couldn’t wait to come home and eat your delicious home cooking.”

Nowadays, when I force my son to let me hug him, I interpret the pained expression on his face to mean, “Mother, my gratitude and respect for you are so intense that I can only bear it for a second before I must shove you away.”

Another thing I’ve learned: Asking one’s teen for a kiss on the cheek definitely requires bribery. Pepperoni pizza and chocolate chip cookies work for me.

[See the hilarious Neuron Cell project video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OH37g_KDM_s.]

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