Friday, March 24, 2006

I Was A Teenage Pain In The Ass ...

(This blog post is inspired by an event from today, talking with a friend about his teenage daughter.)

One day, oh, about a year ago, my mother and I were leaving a store. As we stepped through the door and headed for the parking lot, we spied a mother walking toward us. We knew she was a mother because behind her, about six feet back, was a sullen girl, about 15 years old, looking rather put out. Or disgusted. Either way. Most 15-year-old girls sport the same face when in the presence of a parent.

I turned to my mother and said, "I'm sorry."

"For what?" she asked.

"For ever being a teenager," I said. And she turned to me and said, with appreciation, "Thank you."

My mother and I are very good friends today. I won't say we're the best of friends, because I think it's weird to be best friends with your mom. She can certainly be your friend, but she's also always your mom. That's the alpha relationship. And frankly, I tell my girlfriends, to this day, things I wouldn't tell my mother. Which is as it should be.

But it wasn't always that way, the friendship between my mother and myself. When I was 15, my mom thought we should see a counselor.

Now, I may come across as biased here, but I was a good kid. No, really. I never did a single drug. Swear to God. Not a puff of marijuana, not a line of coke, nothing. I didn't drink in high school because the only thing anyone drank in high school was beer, and I think beer is disgusting. And I didn't hang around with the beer-drinking crowd, anyway. Our crowd proably would have tripped out on absinthe if we could have gotten our hands on it. We were the smart kids who disdained the other (read: more popular) kids for their sophomoric ways, no matter what year they happened to be.

I never cut a class. Never. (We're talking high school, here. I cut plenty of classes in college.) I never saw the point. Where could you go? What could you do? It's not like you could hang out at the mall at noon on a Thursday. And I was never the beach type, so I was never inclined to ditch on a nice day to lie in the sun. But more than that, I could just never think of anything that would be fun enough that would make up for the extreme shit I'd get into when I was found out. And of course I was going to be found out. So I kept my nose clean.

I didn't even know who my dean was. Seriously. After freshman orientation, the school kept changing around the deans and the alpha-slices, and I never bothered to keep track of who was in charge of my piece of the pie. So senior year, when my theater coach wanted to send me to my dean (for doing nothing that warranted a trip to the dean, he was just pissed at me; it's a long story) and got out his hall-pass pad in a huff and demanded, "Who's your dean?!" I said I didn't know. I wasn't trying to be a smartass. I really didn't know. I told him so, that I'd never, in all four years, been sent to my dean and that I truly didn't know who I should report to. He put the pad away and told me to sit down. I guess he wasn't pissed enough to look it up.

So I never cut class and I never drank and I never did drugs and I got reasonably good grades and I never ended up in the back of a squad car (knock wood - still haven't) and generally, I was the poster child for high-school cowardice.

But mom thought we should see a counselor.

Looking back, she didn't see any behavior that needed counseling. I think she was just at her wit's end about how to talk to me. I was, after all, a teenager. Teenagers aren't fit for polite society.

But what a hard time it is, 14, 15. Trying to figure out who you are, trying to separate from your parents, aligning yourself with friends, but finding out that friends are fickle and it's hard to find ones you can trust. You have to keep your grades up (college is looming) but you want to be with your friends, but you also just want to be alone because you think no one understands you anyway.

When I was that age, I tended to be alone. I wasn't interested in groups. If I interacted with a friend, I wanted it to be one on one. If I was in a group situation, I was always the quiet one, taking in the conversation without making a contribution. (I think that makes me a better writer today, actually.) I liked books. I liked music. My room was a shrine to Howard Jones. I liked movies. I was creative. I wrote. I spent more time in the kitchen. Then, as in my grade-school days, I got along better with my teachers than with my peers. To this day, English Teacher Dave is one of my dearest friends.

Solitary though I was, I craved attention. I thought a good way to get it was to act depressed. People would feel sorry for me, I figured, ask me if I was OK. Depression is a serious issue for a lot of teenagers, but I don't think I ever really qualified. I was just good at putting on the air. It clearly worked: My psychology teacher asked me to stay after class one day so he could talk to me about something I'd written. It raised a red flag. But once I realized that people were actually taking my words and lack of actions that seriously, I stopped. I wanted attention, not an intervention. I didn't become Little Mary Sunshine, but I lightened up.

I was thinking today about how I'd deal with a teenage daughter. (I hope to have one someday.) I think the only way to manage it is like an alcoholic: One day at a time. It's a phase, sure, but it's a long phase. It's not a rough week or two. No, we're talking years. I think teens turn another corner when they turn 16. Of course, then parents have a whole new set of worries. But between 14 and 16? Sheesh. Good luck.

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