Wednesday, March 14, 2007


By Mary Andrews

Remember when they were sweet little bundles of joy that counted on you for everything? Remember how only your voice, and touch, and hugs could make everything alright to the little darlings? And then they turned two—remember the terrible twos?

That was when they started striking out on their own. They crawled away, then toddled, then ran, and got into things and began to plot and plan. Remember when silence became a call to arms?

Well, you survived it once, so cheer up little buckaroo, you may not have the stamina that you used to have, but you’ve age and wisdom on your side, right? Right? Oh well, you can use that as a mantra while you stare at the ceiling through the darkest of nights.

As I recall, during my terrible teens, my father told me that the older I got, the smarter he’d be. So that was the good news.

The bad news is that the terrible teens don’t really have to wait until your offspring turns thirteen. Nope. That was the biggest surprise for me. I mean, one minute you’re a dedicated soccer mom taking everybody everywhere, cooking, cleaning, washing, becoming a cub scout leader, learning the names of the Transformers/Pokemons/Power Rangers, or whatever the cuddly little creature of the week is, and then, just when you think you have the swing of things—BAM—your not so little darling’s head spins.

That’s right, just like in The Exorcist. They metamorphosize into a great pea spitting beastie that just won’t see reason anymore. Doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it? I mean, we all know there are hormones involved and all, but how do you combat this? Who are these body snatchers, and how do I get little Johnny or Mary back?

I gave this a great deal of thought before I started this article. In fact, I thought I actually knew what to say. But then I decided ask some of the teens, any of the teens, I came across what they thought about the situation, and sure enough, they did not mention a single thing I was going to point out.

And I think that is exactly why we have problems with them. When they first started talking, it was great, but then they never stopped, and in self defense, we stopped listening. I believe I heard somewhere that in the first six years, a child learns more than they will for the rest of their lives. That’s quite a few questions, and in the end, we give out and they find their answers elsewhere.

I’ve always found it sad to watch young intelligence flounder for lack of their mom’s and dad’s time, or patience, or understanding. Parents, unwittingly, cultivate this chasm for a long time before they fall, headlong, into it.

And, of course, we can hardly turn back the hands of time enough to remember some of the really dumb things we did as kids. For example: I remember waaaaay back when I was around twelve, I was left to babysit my six siblings, and somehow a picture got knocked off the wall and the glass broke.

Now, this was one of two very special pastel landscapes that a dearly departed relative had drawn. It was invaluable to my mother, and I knew how upset she would be. So I decided I would fix the glass—by welding it together with a match.

I still remember this line of thought very clearly, though I have no idea why it never occurred to me to take the picture out of the frame first. Perhaps I had seen a documentary on blowing glass or something, and I still have problems with proper sequencing. But the point is, it really seemed like a good idea at the time and, of course, it wasn’t.

I believe it took a couple of weeks for my mom to actually notice the broken frame and burned hole in that lovely landscape, but she did, and I don’t especially remember how bad the repercussions were. But the memory of being so stupid stuck with me. And I think it is a good thing to remember, because we aren’t born with a full comprehension of cause and effect. We learn it—eventually—just as our kids are now.

So I polled as many teens as I could get answers from, and you know what I found out?

First; that their time was as valuable as ours. Very few of them returned my questionnaire.

Second: That their opinions were as diverse as ours.

A thirteen year old girl chose the music of Casting Crowns (a Christian group), and her favorite movie was Aquamarine (“because it’s good”). Her favorite books were Nancy Drew Mysteries (“I like mysteries”). She wished “to have no fear of tumbling,” and if she could change anything in society, it would be for “the killing to stop.”

A fifteen year old boy chose the music of As I Lay Dying (“good clean metal/scream sound and the lyrics actually mean something”). Favorite movie: The Omen (“It’s original and awesome.”) Favorite book: The Series of Unfortunate Events (“detailed, interesting, and extensive vocabulary”). He said if he could have one wish, he would want to “control time.” “Personality clashes” among friends frustrated him, and at school he had problems with “people not knowing what the hell they’re saying or doing.” He felt like “slave labor” at home.

When I asked what he would change about our society, he answered, “get rid of all the ignorant bastards that have no f**king clue how to live a sociable, civilized life.

I remember asking him a year or two ago, why he wore those big old baggy pants that the boys like to almost wear. (You know, the ones that show their underwear at the top.) Back then, he told me it was cool and made him fit in better, but when I asked him this time, He answered, “They’re just comfortable.” But don’t they get you in trouble at school? “Not if I wear a long shirt.”

Hmm, go figure. That’s why I like loose clothing, too.

Though the terrible teens are destined to clash with us, it does not have to be such a horrible right of passage. I taught my three boys how to play chess, Magic the Gathering (a card game), and Dungeons and Dragons. I watched the shows they liked (still do) because it gave us common ground, a form of equality, and a line of communication. It kept me in tune with them despite our age differences, and while I taught them how to role play, we discussed important values. We made each other aware of things that mattered, and I came to trust their judgment more.

Our society has taken away the old family structure that this country was built upon. No amount of government legislation can give it back. As parents, we have to reclaim it on our own.

The old golden rule (“Do onto others as you would have them do unto you”) should be revived within the family. We spent all their lives teaching them not to touch the hot stove, and to wash behind their ears. That was our duty. But it is their duty to want equality, and respect. We get used to bossing them around, to not listening; we are only trying to protect them. But eventually, just like the terrible two year old, they have to break away. And you will reap what you have sown— in triplicate.

But, fear not, this too will pass. If you were smart enough, or fortunate enough, to expose them to other (friends, family, church) folk who can stand in for you when you are no longer in power, they will have good resources to fall back on. (It really does “take a village….”)

Ultimately, your respect, understanding, and unconditional love will bring them back around. So each day, sit down to at least one meal with the television off (VCR on) and talk…and listen. Open lines of communication. Listen to the words of the music they like. Go out of your way to watch programs and movies with them, play twenty questions. Learn a craft together, build a birdhouse, become active in Scouts.

Sooner or later, you may discover that they have become conscientious and sensitive, even intelligent, young men and women. And believe me, you don’t want to be the last one to realize it.

‘Til then, remember the mantra: “The older you get, the smarter I am…the older you get the smarter I am…the older you get….”

Thanks for hearing me out,
Mary Andrews.


Pauline B Jones said...

Great article, thanks for sharing it! As an empty nester, I can remember laying in bed at night, waiting for my teen to come home from a date, thinking, this parenting is HARD.

The good news, they DO grow up and you DO get to be friends with them again.
Perilously yours,

Lea Schizas - Author/Editor said...

Excellent read, Mary. Loved the analogy to the movie Exorcist. Boy can I relate. :)

Lea Schizas