I like to tell people – especially ones I know who are struggling with teenagers – I’m living proof that it will all be okay. Seriously. It will. When those teens are pushing every button, rolling their eyes like they live with the Dumbest People Ever To Walk The Planet, know in your heart that they will in all likelihood turn out just fine. The eye rolling will eventually cease, and they’ll take their rightful place as productive members of society.
At the risk of blowing my own horn, I feel like I qualify as a decent member of the human race. Have I found the cure for cancer? No…but I’m doing my part to make things better in our own little part of the world, and that lands me on the side of the angels. (Metaphorically speaking.)
But it’s likely there were a good many days when this happy ending seemed a bit out of reach. From my parents’ point of view, that is.
When BrightSide and I talk about our teenage years there’s this metaphorical wilderness between us – we had too many differences growing up for there not to be one. BrightSide grew up in the same small town his entire life. He graduated high school with kids he knew from preschool, for Pete’s sake, and everyone in town knew who he was. (And I do mean that literally.)
By contrast, I moved four times between kindergarten and 12th grade. Three areas were large, anonymous, Navy base cities. The one exception would be that somewhat traumatic move before my senior year of high school (you can read about it here) to a tiny New England town, a quaint location that (ironically) had a great deal in common with BrightSide’s hometown. Which naturally meant I felt like I’d moved to Mars.
At any rate, it’s safe to say we had radically different childhoods, but that’s not the part that tickles me when the subject of our teen years comes up. It’s the way BrightSide throws something out there like Man, if we’d met in high school… and then gives me The Look.
Now, there are several upbeat ways you could finish that sentence, but that’s not where BrightSide’s headed. (“But how do you know, Laura? Maybe he’s saying you would have been high school sweethearts.” Well, I know what this particular phrase means because we’ve actually had this discussion.)
What BrightSide’s truly saying is “Man, if we’d met in high school there’s no way in hell we’d have gotten together.” (No, really, it might sound harsh but this is literally how the conversation went.)
You see, BrightSide was the golden boy. (Sorry, man, but you know it’s true.) He was the popular guy who played all the sports. The one who went to Homecoming games and actually had school spirit. He listened to the weekly Top 40 countdown. He was a conservative preppy – I believe he described his own wardrobe as clothes that were “timeless” – who was friends with everyone but also comfortable enough with himself to make his own choices. In other words, BrightSide was a disgustingly well-adjusted teen living the Mayberry experience.
(I’m sure none of this comes as a surprise to those of you who know him.)
** I’d like to note here that I really did search for an appropriate picture of me to include in this post, and this led to an interesting discovery. I have lots of pictures of toddlerhood through middle school and a few from my early high school days, then they don’t pick back up until my high school graduation. It’s like a giant photographic black hole in my adolescence entitled “The days of which we must not speak.”
So as for me? Think less Mayberry, more Brenda from “Beverly Hills, 90210.” (Hopefully minus the whininess.) Sure, I played soccer and did well in school, but I also wrote dark poetry and joined the drama club. I listened to the Cure, the Smiths, and Violent Femmes. I broke curfew and had boy issues and basically caused my parents stress to no end. There was also a period involving a lot of black clothing, which apparently would have been a real deal breaker for BrightSide. Basically, I was the antithesis (oooh, points for vocabulary) of everything the teenage BrightSide personified. Who knows…had our paths collided in high school we may have caused some kind of cosmic tear in the fabric of the universe.
(Of course, this also means that any high drama brought on by our own kids in their teenage years falls squarely under my karma payback. Damn it.)
All of this ancient history only goes to show how I can claim to be hope personified for weary parents of teens everywhere. If I could pass through those tumultuous years of adolescence and grow into the person I am now, your kid can do it, too.
Be strong. Have faith.
And may the force be with you.