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Middle School and The Teenage Years

Your humble columnist is about to find out the difference between stereotype and reality when it comes to feeding and caring for a teenager under his roof.

I exited my old car and hustled up the steps of my neighborhood branch, two books to bring back and new ones beckoning from the shelves. I picked up Thackeray, Philip K. Dick, and James McPherson’s most recent Civil War paen to Lincoln’s military genius.

My tastes are diverse; it’s true. My family sometimes laughs at my obscure choice of books to read at night before I sleep. But now that my daughter has a Kindle Fire, books made out of paper and ink and cardboard and glue begin to seem a relic, like phone booths or turntables.

She’s a digital native you see. Dad is an immigrant.

Our little rosebud turns 13 this fall, on the precipice between bud and blooming flower. The thought of living with a teenager moves from stereotype to reality before mom and dad’s eyes. 

Everybody loves little children, but most roll their eyes when it comes to teens. Professionals will dispassionately warn you of your dawning irrelevance to your teen’s world view and increasing importance of their oh so smart friends.   

Their brain wiring is not finished yet for a few more years and they are prone to bad decisions if left to their own devices (and car keys). The news is filled with daily horror stories about teens gone wrong, and teens in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most teenage bad decisions take place in relative obscurity and don’t make the news. But our teen's blunders are coming I’m sure.

Her expanding freedoms are measured in wireless devices and babysitting jobs, with car keys and spots on real payrolls to come. It’s a time fraught with giddy exhiliration and hormonal highs and lows, as Mom and Dad prepare to spend quality time staying up late and fretting, knowing all too well of the random dangers of cars on the road late at night, the sometimes intoxicating combination of hormones and hubris that often define our youth.

In my case the fears revolve around the sort of karma that certain kids’ parents would warn us about during those years of ours. “I wish nothing more for you than to have one just like yourself.”

That's chilling. I wasn’t the best-behaved teen. I managed the grades and made it through to college and a marginally responsible adulthood by some standards. But I was a hellion of a teenager, always seeking out the very rock-and-roll thrills and vices that every good parent wants to keep away from their kids as long as possible. 

Now karma may well dictate one “just like myself” as my reward. I try not to be troubled. Most teens today seem smarter than I did at that age.

Amid it all, she’s sticking with her scout troop and plays ball at NASA and reads a lot and studies foreign languages and memorizes pop songs and parodies. She makes her Bat Mitzvah soon and plans to continue as a helper at her religious school.

She seems to be a good teammate and friend. Our pride knows no bounds. But times can be hard for a teen.

The temptations and scarifications are many: drugs, alcohol, sexual identities, body issues and self-esteem, peer pressure, and the general weirdness of a society at times that seems to be coming apart, live, on your wireless device or other nearby screen.

Most parents don’t seem likely to leave the robust economy or abundant advantages and resources left by earlier generations to them.

But my near-teen rosebud is great company these days, when she’s not in a pout or consumed by a screen. We can now read some of the same books or watch the same films and have real conversations about them. 

We can go for a brisk walk through the neighborhood and keep each other company, discussing everything from urban wildlife to inappropriately clad joggers to her trepidation and excitement about her first day at her new middle school. As long as she will talk, I will listen.

Someday soon in a blink she’ll be calling or texting from somewhere out from under our roof, a life and race of her own to run.

Andy August 05, 2012 at 06:53 PM
You literally couldn't pay me to be that age again. Now get me to a driver's license and all that goes with it (read: girls) and I could repeat those years like a hamster on a wheel. That awful, awkward, in-between age is sometimes a self-determining hurdle for those that might be a bit wobbly. The Rosebud, however - thanks to the even keel and open mind of dear old Pop, I'm sure - sounds like she has it under control as it can possibly be. Wonderfully, honestly, thoughtfully said, Rob.

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