MEGAN NICOL REED
On surviving adolescents
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.