Every parent that finds themselves charged with the care of a growing teenager will tell you that they often long for the halcyon days of the terrible twos. From vitriolic tantrums to the liberal use of the word “no”, life during that time seems as carefree and simple as one could ask for. Who’d have thought you’d ever be missing your child hollering blue murder in their stroller.
Much like an infant before they learn how to scream in tones that are too high-pitched for even dogs to hear coherently, a “tween” is a joy to be around. Not quite a kid, and not yet a young adult, the hormonal beast that lies dormant belies none of the horrors just lurking around the corner.
That first pimple, that first hair, that first sullen glance from across the room. None of these things have yet to spoil the mood, and it often leads parents into a false sense of security. Their kid isn’t a problem. They’re the chosen ones, and life will continue to be calm as still waters across a summer’s pond.
It always starts innocently enough. For boys, you have to start wondering what they’re up to when you’re not around.
You see, boys will sort of blurt out, as a brag, usually, whatever crime they’ve committed. If they’ve made a fort out of the dining room table, using your curtains and sheets to complete the project, they’re practically pulling you into the room to check out their handiwork. Or, if they’ve made a shuttle craft to launch into space, and have decided the cat was to be their astronaut, you can count on the fact that you’ll hear about it before you bump into it.
Fast forward a year or so…whenever you ask what’s going on, the only thing you’ll be met with is silence. Or, if you’ve got a talkative teen, the word “nothing” becomes their newest catch phrase.
What “nothing” brings to the party can send a chill down the spine of the strongest caregiver. For a teenage boy will more often than not up the ante on their accomplishments. Where once a daring adventurer lived, you now have an evil scientist. Hairspray becomes a blowtorch. Chemicals in dad’s workroom beg to be used in new and horrifying ways. Electronics go from functional to multi functional in one quick swoop.
In short, the safety and peace of mind you once enjoyed under your roof suddenly finds itself usurped for a quiet terror as he explores new realms of “how does this work, and why”.
Now…to be fair, teenage girls can also be a handful, but in a very different way. For one thing, shopping for something “precious” for your little princess becomes an exercise in financial terrorism as she suddenly learns the word “label”.
With a boy, you’ll often get this too in the here and now. But it’s only for specific items. With a girl, it’s all about “more”. And while it’s about “more”, it’s also about “less” sometimes. Fathers have to fight the urge to lock up their little girls at the first sign of a halter top, or short shorts.
Mothers now find themselves in a power struggle as her sweet daughter suddenly pours it on to exercise her own “adult” independence. That sweet top purchased at Sears she happily wore last year suddenly isn’t “right” for her, and she’s hell-bent and determined to correct that terrible wrong. And you might bear witness as her babysitting money finds itself applied to things best left on an older woman walking under a lamp-post downtown after dusk. Or, you’ll be at loggerheads with her as she’s spent all her savings on a pair of boots that you know she’ll outgrow in less than six months.
And it doesn’t stop there.
There’s the age-old battle of having a phone of her own. And then there is her angst over not being able to wear makeup. It could be her wanting a bra long before she actually needs one, or worse, not wanting one when she truly does.
Then there is that dreaded moment when she suddenly “falls” for a teen idol. His music is everywhere. His pictures are everywhere. Every single word uttered from sunup till sundown either involves him directly or indirectly. Then there are the tears when you sadly have to tell her she cannot go to his concert in the city on the other side of the province. Or worse, he comes to your city, and you have to be the ogre that informs her that the $150.00 concert ticket is not going to happen.
The unrepentant weeping and misdirected recrimination flow aplenty as you suddenly find your sweet little girl replaced with a hormonally charged megabeast that will blame you for every single unfair thing she has happening in her life. Daddy gets off scot-free as mama ends up longing for the days where she found her little darling upstairs making princess cupcakes out of her expensive liquid makeup and talcum powder.
But then, little brother still has a few tricks up his sleeve. You see, as he gets older, he learns the art of deflection. What actions he owned once are now the fault of some friend you’ve never met. That, or some truly permissive parent comes into your life one day, and dogs your every waking moment with “well, Gil’s mom lets him play street hockey past ten pm. Or Jack’s dad bought him a Playstation 18. You’re constantly on guard as every single “why can’t I, he does” filters through the atmosphere towards your punch drunk ears.
And what also comes home to roost…the isolationist that once was your happily social child.
Where once a kid gladly shared their day’s adventures with you, now some sullen, silent pod person stands. They beeline for the fridge, then up the stairs, under the guise of “have to study”, not to be seen until mealtime. And that can become problematic in itself. While some will come down, inhale their plate in silence, and bolt back upstairs to their sanctuary, others need to be dragged out of their self-imposed fortress, built to keep anyone above voting age out through a complete lack in sanitation or available floorspace. This, of course, also becomes a power struggle, as you, the parent, try to be respectful of your teens privacy, but cannot ignore the constant “I can’t find my socks/video game/headphones/dog”, or the smell of rotting autopsies emanating from beneath their door.
You pray for strength…and wonder why you’ve been smited from above!
Most parents are intelligent enough to not allow computers or phones into private places within the home. They know inherently the dangers of the www, and private conversations between teenagers that can literally take place over seemingly endless hours more often than not lead to no good. In saying this, they also learn too quickly how much of a drag they are as complaint after complaint, month after bloody month work at unravelling the once peaceful environment that was their castle. Someone elses parent invariably comes into the conversation, followed by sulking, dramatics and eventually the silent treatment. And once the teen realizes they’re not benefitting from these tactics, they will start to spend a lot more time away from home.
Now, that in itself isn’t so bad. But where you run into trouble is when the daughter is babysitting, allowing her all the time she needs to sit and talk, endlessly, on someone elses phone. Or the son that heads out to a friends place, where no parents are about, and what they didn’t get to do at home, they, along with a buddy, are now doing, unsupervised.
Fast forward a few days, and one formerly healthy computer is in need of a trip to Best Buy for a viral cleanup…a parting gift from “www.doubleD.com.”
Your teen eventually will grow up and out of this, but for four solid years you will notice the colour of your hair fading to white. You will not have a penny to your name, as these incubi that replaced your loving children siphon every spare cent you have from your wallets. You’re going to know angst, tears, silence, recrimination, the battling of wills, stress beyond anything imaginable, as well as the introduction of a brand new vocabulary unofficially known as “Teen Speak.”
But…you’ll also know great reward. For the little things that you once took for granted, now, when they happen, will mean that much more.
Mother’s/Father’s Day will sometimes result in something so thoughtful and touching, you’ll find that your heart will fill to bursting.
A little “thank you” or “I love you” will sound that much sweeter.
Finding the dishes done without harping will bring you a smile you didn’t think you had inside you on a day when you needed one the most.
Sharing a discovery with them, or being able to comfort them when life deals them disappointment, because they knew they could come to you with it, and did so, instead of remaining silent.
Things like this make that journey worthwhile, and give you the strength to let them live another day.
They may tear your heart out, or bring you to the breaking point. They will definitely crash test your patience. But keep this in mind during the most difficult moments….someday, they will have kids. And you can sit back and snicker silently as they find themselves in exactly the same predicament you are in.
Karma is a bitch. So is a grandparent coming to visit with a bag full of sugar.