It is time to do an update on parenting a teenager, because I think the last update I gave was when Rob was in the worst part of the transition and I, as my brother remembered it recently, was wishing that either I or the children had never been born. I felt it had been a giant mistake to have children. I felt tricked by biology into doing something completely against my lifetime best interests in exchange for the very brief and pleasant and IRRELEVANT TO THE REST OF LIFE cute stage. It felt like the worst bait-and-switch of all: this PERSON didn’t seem anything like my BABY. I could feel the other four
wolves in sheep’s clothing children coming right up behind this awful one, and I didn’t know how we were going to make it through without ruining our lives.
My plan was to find all those posts and link to them, but once again I regret my apparent inability to grasp the use of helpfully descriptive post titles. Here are a few samples I found by searching for the word “teenager” in the year Rob was 13: This is a Stage That Will End; Biological Set-Up; Wan. (I would have SWORN a post called I Didn’t Sign Up For This would be another, but that one turns out to be a PTA complaint.)
The update is that things feel better now. MUCH better. I remember MomQueenBee saying something about each child having One Terrible Teenage Year, and me trying not to hope too hard that it was true. I’m not sure how long it DID last, and it’s not as if everything is lovely lovely all the time lovely NOW, but feelings of regret and questions about our survival have passed off, and it DOES seem like it lasted about a year. And in fact, things are so much better, I now think of the teenager years as one of my Preferred Stages. Like, some people love toddlers but dislike the Newborn Slug stage, while others are the opposite; it turns out that, at least with THIS teenager, teenager is another stage I like better than others.
What I didn’t like was the TRANSITION from Older Child to Teenager. We need a word for that, because I was thinking of that as “teenager,” and it kind of IS teenager, but it also ISN’T. Oh, I guess the word is “puberty,” but I think that’s kind of a gross word, the way some people feel about the word “moist,” and also, puberty can last for years and include several years of non-awfulness, whereas the transition to teenager doesn’t seem to line up with that. I think Transition to Teenager is an okay term, and I’ll just use that for now. Especially since I don’t think I need to talk about it anymore, except to say I hated it to the point where I really, no-exaggeration-for-comic-effect, genuinely wished I hadn’t had children. I say this so that if you get to that point and you feel the same way about it, you won’t feel like you’re the only one, and it may give you hope that it may not be a permanent regret.
But I feel like I also need to specifically clarify that all this surprised improvement doesn’t mean everything is great all the time, even though I know you know that. We have a 6-foot-tall child who sometimes doesn’t realize his voice and strength are now grown-man-sized, and that he needs to be careful how he uses them. He of COURSE thinks we are kind of stupid about a lot of things. He of COURSE thinks we are unreasonable about a lot of things. There are a lot of times when he acts like he has the worst case of PMS I’ve ever seen. He can be super sensitive about things, or super full of himself about other things, and there are still sometimes discussions where I feel like I’m defusing a bomb, and other discussions where I feel like everything was going fine and suddenly I stepped on a mine. But all this is as if I said I loved the newborn stage, which I do, and then clarified that I don’t love blow-out diapers, or when the baby spits up a whole feeding all over me and the recliner at 2:00 in the morning, or when the baby cries and cries and I can’t figure out what’s wrong: of COURSE those things happen, and of COURSE I don’t like them. Every stage has the parts we don’t like, even if we like the stage.
And I do like this stage. I’d rather try to figure out whether he’s allowed to go to the movies with a girl than to figure out if he can have a playdate at a house where the mom expects me to stay and talk to her. I’d rather make rules about curfew than bedtime. I like how little I’m involved now in his homework and his toothbrushing. Little kids say MUCH cuter things than teenagers do, but the trade-off is that teenagers tend to talk on topics I find more interesting. I like when we’re in the car on one of our trips, and he starts a conversation about why people say not-true or not-necessarily-true things (“Boys/Girls suck!” “Girls/Boys only like you until you like them!” “You were too good for him/her!” “He/She is going to be sorry!”) as comfort after a break-up. It’s fun when he says, “Oh, by the way, Josh is dating Abby now,” and then we talk about who Abby used to date, and how it is that all Josh’s exes are friendly with him even though he has so many of them.
This is also an update on student driving, because I think the last time I talked about that, the word “hate” was involved, and the tone of the post contained considerable despair. But after the first five hours or so (during which time he also had a couple of hour-long sessions with the driver’s ed teacher, which don’t count toward the 50 hours the parents have to do), things improved considerably, so that now I don’t really mind doing it.
And here’s the unexpected part: it’s been 35 hours so far of spending mostly-pleasant quality time with a teenager. We drive for an hour or so, then stop for lunch, then drive another hour or so. He’s good enough at it now that I can look out the window for the scenery as well as for Potential Death. There’s chatting. There are tacos. We decide where we feel like driving, and we go there; the other day, we went to a beach we’d never been to; another day, we drove past the exit we always take, just to see where a highway went after that. It’s a nice time, and that’s not something I expected when we were still driving agonizingly around a parking lot at 5mph.
Another thing I want to update is the social situation. Back when Rob was in 5th grade, I wrote a post about how he said he felt he was “the chosen one”: the kid who always got picked on and excluded. In middle school, sometime in 6th grade, this started to resolve: he made friends with a very social, outgoing, large-friend-network person—or more accurately, that person made friends with him. So then Rob started meeting other people in that group. Meanwhile, a child he’d had to be separated from in 4th grade because the teacher said they could not keep from arguing if they were within 6 feet of each other, turned out to be a “we fought because we were so much alike” type, and they became good friends, and THAT person was friends with OTHER people and THOSE people became Rob’s friends too. And also when he started middle school, there were extracurriculars other than sports, so he joined some of those and made more friends that way. (I wish they’d have some of these non-sport clubs in our elementary school, too: it seems like a shame that kids who play soccer can start bonding in kindergarten, but kids who like math or drama or debate have to wait for sixth grade.) So now he has a very nice central friend group, and also a number of specialized friend groups, and as far as I know he doesn’t get teased anymore than anyone else does.