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The Teen Years

Picking my daughter up at cross-country today, I thought I’d get out of the car and say hello to a few of the girls. My daughter met me midway and, as I took her hand, she pulled it back and said—a little hysterically, I thought—“What are you doing?!”

“I want to say hi to some of the girls,” I said. Mental note: no more holding hands in public.

“How about you say hi to them when you don’t look quite so. . . funny?” she said, trying to sound sweet. Failing, I might add. I looked down at my outfit of choice, hung my head and walked back to the car.

“So this is what it’s come down to,” I thought sullenly. As loving and awesome as my children are, I’m beginning to see hints of what other parents have foretold all these years: the dreaded teen year attitudes. “Oh, that won’t happen in our house,” I always said, so glibly. What a doofus those other parents must have thought me. Not unlike when I said I’d never drive a baby around in the car to get her to sleep.

And while I’m happy that I haven’t experienced flat-out disrespect and anarchy (which I know can come from even the nicest kids—right, Mom?), I do admit that I was flummoxed. Used to be, I could lick my thumb and use it to clean around their mouths. Now I have to be sensitive to the fact that pretty much everything I do in public may embarrass them, including standing quietly.

I’ve found that teenagers also don’t like it when we:
• Sing along to the car radio, particularly 1970s music, and even more particularly when there is a friend in the car with them.

• Chair-dance in the car. Evidently our role in the vehicle arena is strictly that of chauffeur.

• Remind them the activity they’re attempting is one we’ve been performing for 40 years and therefore we might know something about it.

• Offer opinions on their clothes, hair, jewelry or skin care. Or anything, really.

• Start any sentence with “When I was your age. . . ” As far as they’re concerned, that was 600 years ago.

• Kid around with—well, pretty much anyone. Again, parents at this stage are in the “to be seen and not heard, and rarely seen at that” category. Shelve the personality. You can reclaim it when they leave for college.

The first time my typical banter with a restaurant host embarrassed my kids, I was angry, hurt and defensive, and said, “If my personality embarrasses you, children, it’s going to be a long puberty.” It’s hard on the ego to realize these people—for whom you would give up your life without hesitation—think you’re an idiot. It was at that restaurant I vowed to continue being myself.

These kids are figuring out where they fit in the world. And that’s a good thing, a natural thing, a healthy thing. They’re pulling away because they know it’s a safe time and a safe place to do so, to try out this thing called “independence.” They’re too old for juice boxes and too young to drive, and that’s a really confusing, anxious time for a lot of kids. I need to respect them and their struggle, while continuing to respect myself. If my self-
respect evokes their occasional embarrassment, well, so be it.

I’ll never again be allowed to wipe their mouths with my thumb, but if I can hang in there for the next few years, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll hold my hand once again.
No matter how funny I look.

Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at maggiesimone@verizon.net.

Photo above: © Scott Griessel | Dreamstime.com


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