Most of the fears you have as a parent involve unlucky things, unfair things. Accidents and disasters, illnesses and tragedy. Most of the fears you have as a parent involve things that aren’t supposed to happen.
But the scariest nightmare of all is neither an accident nor unlucky. In fact, you’re lucky if it does happen. It’s what you want to happen. It’s how life is supposed to go. Your children are supposed to live healthy lives and grow up and become teenagers.
Too bad it sucks so much when they do.
The other day I was having lunch on a restaurant’s outdoor patio when a family settled in to the table next to me. It was Mom, Dad, and Teenage Dirtbag. It was a gorgeous, sunny day with a nice breeze, the mood at the restaurant was festive, and everyone was having a good time.
Everyone except Teenage Dirtbag. And obviously Mom and Dad too, since they were with Teenage Dirtbag, whom I shall now and forevermore refer to as “the Scourge of Moldavia,” and in being in the company of said Scourge, they couldn’t help but be dragged down into his buzz-killing Sarlacc pit of gloom.
He sat there silently throughout the whole meal, clearly having the time of his life, by which I mean “having whatever the exact opposite of ‘having the time of your life’ is.” His parents tried their best to ignore him and enjoy their lunch, but that’s like trying to ignore a black hole as you brush past it. (Emphasis on hole.) I don’t remember what the kid was wearing – I’m pretty sure it was all black – but I do remember the scowl. I’m acquainted with that scowl. We go way back.
I was a teenager once. And I was an asshole too. Part of that was because I am just an asshole by nature, but part of it was also due to the fact that I was a teenager and puberty and goth and parents just don’t understand and awkward phase and yadda-yadda-yadda. That phase of your life is fraught with challenges, all of them more dire and world-ending than the last. It’s not a lot of fun.
Everyone knows that being a teenager sucks, but it doesn’t suck as bad as being around teenagers.
It doesn’t matter if they are being sullen and snotty or mirthful and manic; it’s all just varying degrees of obnoxiousness packaged inside ill-fitting clothes. Becoming a teenager is part of growing up; of course, so is realizing, once you’re no longer a teenager, that you despise all teenagers. When you’re little, you want to be a teenager. When you are a teenager, you want to be an adult. And when you’re an adult, you hate everyone younger than you and you want to die, which, good news: you’re going to, and soon!
I would’ve hated the Scourge of Moldavia no matter his mood, purely on principle. But while seeing him happy and hyper with a pack of his friends (a group of teens is called “a pack”) would surely have irritated me to no end, it wouldn’t have made me as scared as seeing him silent and morose and so completely disinterested and disengaged did.
Despite the myriad anxieties that will come with parenting a teen (sex, drugs, drinking, grades, driving, jail, etc.), the one I’m most worried about, the one that comes to mind when I witness a scene like I did at lunch last weekend, is the one where my happy-go-lucky kid isn’t happy any more, and doesn’t talk to me anymore, and doesn’t want to be around me anymore (though I could use a break right now for like five minutes okay buddy why don’t you go play with your toys by yourself for a little while?). Because that’s the one that seems most inevitable.
Right now, my son is a happy guy. (When he’s not whining or crying or throwing a tantrum, that is.) And while I know there are well-adjusted teenagers (I used to watch Beverly Hills 90210), I also know that some level of angst comes with the territory. I’m just hoping his fun, happy personality weathers the teenage storm and emerges unscathed, because the last thing I want to see is my smiling little guy evolve into a scowling, surly punk who wants nothing to do with me and listens to terrible, terrible music.
The good news I have about ten years to steel myself for and try to prevent it. Hopefully the Insane Clown Posse will be long gone by then.