The teen years are stressful for those going through them. Puberty comes crashing in any time between the ages of 12 and 16, estrogen and testosterone fighting for space inside a body that is growing in too many directions at one time. But hey. What about the ones on the other side of those swings? Those who pay for hot lunches and gym shoes and nail polish? Not only do we have to put up with I-pods and cell phones, but we have to learn to speak a whole new language in order to be understood. It is as if we have stepped over the threshold of reality into an entirely new universe.
Life seemed so much simpler when our kids were toddlers. The years between two and, say, five, are probably the most rewarding for all forms of parental figures. We can do no wrong; our children hang on our every word. They fear and revere us. They bounce around from moment to moment wanting only to please those in charge. Pick up your toys? Of course! Eat your spaghetti? Of course! Clean your room? Of course! We speak, they listen, and things are ideal.
Then comes those “cute” years, say, six through nine. Everything they do and say is cute, especially when they pout and say “no” with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Pick up your toys? No! I wanna play with ‘em a little longer. Eat your spaghetti? No! I want pizza instead. Clean your room? No! I gotta have twenty dolls in the corner! They are starting to catch on to the power of being an individual. They still brush their teeth and do their homework and go to bed pretty much on time, but they learn to manipulate the world by talking or playing or whining, probably all three.
By the time middle school comes around, there is a slight Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-ish personality starting to surface. Football games and study nights with friends start to take on a bit more significance as our middle schoolers begin to feel the strength of their own convictions. Pick up your toys? Oh please, I don’t play with ‘toys’ anymore. Eat your spaghetti. Red sauce? I’d rather have cheese. Clean your room. Oh mommy dear and/daddy dear — it is clean! A little clip in their voice should be the giveaway that they are catching on to you.
Just when you think you have settled the beast that rustles inside your child, their high school days hit you right between the eyes. Music becomes some thundering beat with alking rather than singing; wearing jeans that cut low enough to show off underwear or vertical fissures becomes the fashion statement of the day. Homework becomes an enigma. School semesters are identified by fall, winter and spring sports, and words like Paris and Pink suddenly take on a whole new meaning.
You wake up one morning sprouting antennae from your head. Your voice becomes a booming echo down an empty tunnel or a high-pitched squeak riding the airwaves. Suddenly you speak a foreign language: ρτε τα παιχνίδια σας (pick up your toys in Greek); съешьте ваше спагеттио (eat your spaghetti in Russian), and 投入您的衣裳去, (Chinese for clean your room). Their eyes become glazed and their expression reminds you of eating a lemon. One day you are a friendly, loving parent, the next moment you are Godzilla’s cousin. You don’t know what you are talking about ― your ideas or so old-fashioned they will be amazed if you make it to 50.
How did this happen? How did we fall off of our pedestal? One moment our child is reaching up to be held, the next moment they cringe if you hug them in public. Is this the reward for all of our hard work? All our love?
Well, trust me. This too will pass. As your children approach their twenties, they are amazed at how smart you’ve suddenly become. Your old-fashioned ideas transform into newly discovered truths of their generation. The older they get, the more human you become. Your antennae suddenly don’t seem so out-of-place; as a matter of fact, they kinda look cute on your old frame. You find a common ground through life and all its ups and downs, and they finally understand what you’ve been saying all these years. Words and ideas flow once again, and your pedestal gets packed away somewhere deep in their heart, only to be pulled out when you are not looking.
Either that — or you have finally learned to speak Chinese.