On sur­viv­ing ado­les­cents

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - Do write. megan­ni­col­

Ican touch my nose with my tongue. Dank. Yeah, I know this guy who can put his whole fist in his mouth. Woah, se­ri­ously dank. Look how many moles I have. Mole, mole, mole, mole ... I hov­ered in the kitchen, half — lis­ten­ing in on them. Five teenagers draped across my liv­ing room. It was twad­dle, the most inane of con­ver­sa­tions, and yet part of me longed to take part. Not to gaze that dopily at my navel but to be ac­knowl­edged, to be seen by them. To show them my party trick, to count my scars. Look: here and here and here.

To have them un­der­stand I was more than just the nag, the killjoy, the bleary-eyed woman with mad hair who had told them to put a lid on it at 2.17am the night be­fore.

I’ve feared ado­les­cence ever since I be­came a par­ent. The sul­len­ness and the se­crets, the dan­gers and the de­sires. It’s not that I was a par­tic­u­larly bad ado­les­cent — oh, sure, I had my mo­ments, yet I knew the po­ten­tial, knew the risks. And, stupidly, I kid­ded my­self that this knowl­edge would some­how in­su­late me; some­how safe­guard my chil­dren from the full ex­tent of its aw­ful­ness. But, fore­warned is not al­ways fore­armed. Know­ing your beau­ti­ful baby will be­come a ter­ri­ble teenager does not make it any eas­ier when that in­no­cent in­fant morphs into some­thing mon­strous in com­par­i­son.

Know­ing your fair-headed boy will one day find you want­ing does lit­tle to lessen the blow the day he hap­pily tells you you’re a dick.

Two years ago, at the first signs of de­fi­ance, of dis­en­gage­ment, I steeled my­self. This is it, I thought.

Hold tight. You’re in it now. With hind­sight , though, I see that 12 was noth­ing. Twelve was a walk in the park.

Don’t worry, a friend said to me. He’ll come back to you. And then she chuck­led, a lit­tle un­kindly. Yup, she said, 14-16, those are the gnarly years. I won­der that I didn’t grasp this ear­lier. At high school, every­one knew you steered clear of the fourth for­m­ers. No longer paral­ysed with the ter­ror of be­ing turds, not yet sad­dled with ma­jor ex­ams, they were the ones who thumped you on the arm when you’d just got your rubella shot, who helped them­selves to your sally lunn.

How is she do­ing? What is he up to? This is what we ask one an­other, fel­low par­ents of teens. And what we mean is: help, I’m all at sea here.

We are look­ing for con­so­la­tion, com­pany in our mis­ery, back-up in the trenches, a rud­der. We com­pare notes. Uh-huh, she’s re­fus­ing to go away with us this sum­mer, too.

We seek re­as­sur­ance. Nope, he won’t get out of bed ei­ther.

And even though we think we are dif­fer­ent to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, that some­how we alone have re­tained our youth into mid­dle age, we don’t get them any­more than our par­ents got us. We are re­lieved when we read that re­cent stud­ies re­veal a third of un­der-25s don’t drink. And puz­zled. What’s wrong with them? We strug­gle to take se­ri­ously their on­line friend­ships, un­der­valu­ing the strength of the bonds they forge through so­cial me­dia. We worry about their ad­dic­tion to Fort­nite, blind to the game’s joys.

Trag­i­cally I find my­self think­ing of the ways in which I can prove my cool­ness. And then kick­ing my­self when I try too hard.

I should know bet­ter, for I have been on the re­ceiv­ing end of the friend/the lover who won’t let go, who , ig­nor­ing all your sig­nals, per­sists in cling­ing on. It never ends well. Why, I ask my­self? Why am I both­er­ing?

I would never nor­mally pur­sue some­one who treats me with such dis­dain, whose sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity masks a gen­eral clue­less­ness, who en­gages with me only when they want some­thing from me. I can but think it is be­cause he leaves me dan­gling. Mostly obliv­i­ous to me, oc­ca­sion­ally he throws me a bone, an of­fered rather than grudg­ingly ac­cepted cud­dle, a gen­uine dis­play of in­ter­est in my day, and it makes me hunger af­ter more.

The irony is while my el­dest would es­cape me, it is as if my youngest wants to crawl in­side me, so in­tense is her love and af­fec­tion for me right now. And I try to re­mem­ber, even when she is in my ear, talk­ing fu­ri­ously, be­fore I am yet awake, to en­joy it while it lasts, for this, too, shall pass.

Know­ing your beau­ti­ful baby will be­come a ter­ri­ble teenager does not make it any eas­ier when that in­no­cent in­fant morphs into some­thing mon­strous.

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