Monday, September 27, 2010

Back like Favre: Parenting teens a bumpy ride

As Eminem says: “Now I’m back...” Why do I quote Eminem instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger in terms of “I’m back?” Well... because I am back; the Brett Farve of columnists, and because Eminem is popular with teens, silly and this is going to be a column all about teens and the myriad wonderful, wacky and “oh-my-gosh-why?!” things that they do. It’s also about how you, the parent, can survive those seven years of teen-ness.

I have two teens living under my roof right now, and have two sons in their mid-to-late 20s who had to pass through the teen years in order to get to their current, mostly mature ages; “mostly” being the operative word. True, all four children also had to mosey through infancy, toddlerhood, elementary school and the sixth grade to get to those teen years, and I am therefore qualified — as it were — to discuss all of the trials and tribulations of those particular ages. But trust me: No stage, absolutely no stage of their growth and existence is as crazy-making as the teen years. None.

Those first few months of life with colicky kids, exhaustion and sleep deprivation in general? Tame compared to the sleepless nights presented by loud sleepovers that haunt, annoy and frustrate one deep into the wee hours of the next morning. And then your teen starts driving, breaking legal and parental curfews and ignoring the sound of their cell phone ringing as you frantically call to find out where the heck they are, and why. So you are forced to sit up past 11, 12 or one o’clock, fuming and frightened, until they casually and defiantly saunter through the kitchen door.

Potty training? Please. A walk in the park when confronted with the ca-ca you must occasionally clean up due to a lapse in judgement from the teenage brain; part and parcel of the teen years, and a real, scientific truth about adolescents and their brain function. Scientific or not, the mess can be more foul than the dirtiest of diapers and soiled Pull-Ups.

But, of course, it’s not all sturm und drang. It’s really wonderful when your newly minted teen begins to morph into their young man or woman-ness to be. There’s something about the manner in which they begin to carry themselves that signifies a burgeoning sense of self-confidence. Even the beginnings of pulling away from Mommy and Daddy, those baby steps of independence, while a little disconcerting to the mommy and daddy, also brought me to a new level of growth as well; they were/are growing up and becoming a more fully formed person, in turn helping me to form a new identity.

After about age 14 or 15, I also delighted in the return to a bit more pleasantness in conversation. The “I hate you’s” (yes, yes, it can happen) and “You’re so stupids” become less a mantra and more of a once-in-a-blue-moon vent. I noticed — and dear Lord, please let Jack return to his boyhood sweetness soon — that around sophomore year I was actually, if only occasionally, complimented and my opinion or help was now sought out after a few years drought.

At any rate, although I am no teenage parenting professional expert by any stretch of the imagination, I am nonetheless a seasoned veteran, and I hope to offer pointers, pondering and predicaments to aid all of us in the care and feeding of the teen wolf.

Someone once commented that “raising teenagers is like nailing Jello to a tree.” Perhaps it is an apt metaphor — and a hilarious one at that — but maybe together we can, in fact, actually nail a bit of the wiggly stuff to a tree. We’ll at least give it a shot!

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