Thrill Ride of Parenting Teenagers

thrill ride of parenting teensPlace every thrill ride in Florida end to end as one long ride and they still could not scare, shake, rattle and roll, nauseate, induce screaming panic, disorient or to give that negative-G, freefall-in-the-dark experience like parenting teenagers. As a writer, I try to learn from my life experiences so I can portray my characters with more depth. Sometimes my life is so odd I don’t think readers will believe such experiences. Raising a teenager falls into that category of too weird to be true. The following comes from my journal.

Once my daughter was safely out of my sight in college, I staggered away from the recent years in search of a solid, level place to recover. I was reminded of a curse: May you live in interesting times. This essay is about one interesting event in that thrill ride known as parenting a teenage daughter.

My daughter’s freshman year of high school was marked as the time we most often denied ownership of Jessica, whose name means Gift of God. Conversations often began with “that child you wanted to have” or “your daughter” and followed with the shocking news of what she did. If she put off studying for an exam until the night before the exam, she was “her mother’s daughter.” Her struggles in math were attributed to my genetic influence. Her need to have the last word in an argument was chalked up to Hubby’s genetics even though his mother, father, sister, and grandmother were always gracious, patient endearing people as far as I could tell. Both Hubby and our daughter possessed a seriously dangerous belief that they could be right despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. As much as we tried to deny her, she was thoroughly a product of our genetics and our parenting, but other outside influences gradually took control of her. Forces of peer pressure and hormonal impulsiveness struck us like rogue tidal waves. We were at the mercy of forces greater than us and we sought refuge and peace in tiny increments to keep going.

We previously dreaded phone calls from telemarketers, but that year we welcomed them as a chance to chat with someone who wasn’t bringing us bad news about our daughter. We subscribed to twelve magazines and two newspapers that year through telemarketers. We didn’t have time to read them all. We were too busy separating truth from the lies we wanted to believe.

Like the time the little darling at fifteen years old started receiving calls from a friend of a friend whom she described as someone who “likes” her. She strategically omitted that this someone who likes her was twenty years old. Of course, she was flattered by the attention of an older man and never stopped to consider why a twenty-year-old man would pay attention to a minor. She lived in a world where she knew everything and adults were marginally functional idiots. We were kept around, tolerated I suppose, simply to tend to her needs.

By the grace of God, my husband and I discovered this 20-year-old someone’s identity and age before the relationship moved beyond kissing. The joker called our house at 11 p.m. on a school night and asked to speak with Jessica. Well, since her well-bred friends from grade school knew better than to call after 10 p.m. I assumed it was one of her new public high-school friends, the kind whose parents gave them the freedom to run the streets until 2 a.m.

“Who is this?”

“I am [name changed to protect his identity] Doofus, Jessica’s boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend? And how is it that we haven’t met you?”

“Well, we haven’t really been on a date yet, but we’re talking.”

In teen-speak, ‘talking’ didn’t mean talking like people do in conversation. It was the equivalent of having his posse talk to her posse in preparation for actually talking to one another. Consider “talking” as a meeting of the tribes. Once the couple actually met face to face on a date, the term changed to “hooking up” which could also mean that they were engaging in sex, but at this point in the conversation and Doofus’s relationship with Jessica I was not compelled to dump his bloody corpse at the police station.

“And which school do you attend?” I asked.

“I’m not in school.”

Silly me and my assumptions. “What does that mean, exactly?” Jail? Dropout?

“I’m twenty.”

“Well, Doofus, Jessica is fifteen. She might have told you she was older, but she’s fifteen.”

“She told me you were cool with our age difference.”

“She lied. Until a few moments ago, I didn’t know you existed, so how could I possibly be cool with an adult dating my minor daughter?” At this point in the conversation, my husband sat bolt upright in bed and held his hand out for the phone. I held up my palm to signal that I would take care of this.

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

“Yeah, you must know that you’re looking for trouble by fishing in the kiddie pool. I may be cool about not judging people, but honestly, as an adult, I have to tell you that you need to protect yourself. Parents will wonder why a twenty-year-old isn’t dating other twenty-year-olds.”

“Oh, Jessica’s real mature for her age.”

“Or you’re just immature for your age.”

“Why are you being mean to me?”

“I am treating you like an adult. Let me explain it in terms you can understand. My daughter is a minor and you are legally an adult. If you give my child a beer, a cigarette or have sex with her, then I will make sure you go to jail or the hospital and then to jail.”

“But she likes me.”

“Of course she likes you. Teenage girls are awed by the attention of adult males. But tomorrow you will call Jessica to break off this relationship.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“That’s true. Listen. If you were twenty-five and Jessica was twenty, I would have no business getting between you two because you would both be adults. So if this is real love, it can wait until Jessica grows up. Then she can make decisions like an adult. Until then, I am in charge of her welfare. And don’t assume that you can sneak around to see her even if she suggests it. This is a small town and news gets around eventually. If you continue to see her, then I will get a restraining order. Is that clear?”

“Yeah.”

“Goodbye.”

The next morning Doofus, the 20-year-old coward, called Jessica and blamed me for making him break up with her. Very mature. Jessica labeled me a hateful person and accused me of ruining her life. She really said those words just like a soap opera actress. Fortunately, Hubby was foraging in the fridge when Jessica stormed into the room.

“But I looooooove him,” she wailed.

“Perhaps you do. And when you’re a legal adult you two can run off to China if you want, but for now, you are a minor and he’s an adult. He could go to jail for dating you, so think of breaking up as a way of keeping him out of jail.”

“You just don’t understand.” She searched for support. “Dad?”

He shrugged out of the fight since I had volunteered to handle it.

“What is it exactly that I don’t understand?” I asked.

“We’re only five years apart.” She then pointed out two May/December marriages of our friends.

“That’s an excellent argument. Yes, sometimes people of different ages fall in love. However, they are all adults.”

“So? Five years doesn’t make a difference!”

“At your age five years is a huge difference.”

“Prove it.”

“Okay.” I held up my hands.

Hubby spewed cookie crumbs. “NO!”

“Honey, I got this,” I said.

parenting teensHubby stood by eager to countermand my decision if he disagreed with it. As the head of household, he had the right and duty to make executive decisions. This was one of the few times I wanted to assert my authority as Queen of the castle, to figuratively throw down my scepter to challenge the upstart princess.

I told Jessica, “You can prove that a five-year age difference doesn’t matter. You can date any ten-year-old you want.”

Her face contorted into gasping disgust as if she had found half a worm in her apple. Words swam in her head. Finally, she shuddered and spat out, “Oh, my God, mom. I could never date a boy in grade school.”

“That,” I said in a soft voice, “Is a five-year age difference.”

The realization struck her like a slap. She looked to Hubby for support and found him suppressing a grin. She took a deep breath and spun on a heel in retreat. She slammed every door she passed on the way to her room.

Hubby mimed applause while I took a bow.

To all my friends with teenagers, take heart. When you are in the midst of an estrogen or testosterone storm with your teenager, remind yourself that this time with them will pass. Perhaps like gallstones, but they shall pass. Keep your seatbelt securely fastened for the ride.

Postscript: This article was originally published in 2006. Today my daughter is married with children of her own and I get to enjoy a front-row seat as she and her hubby face the thrill ride of parenting.

The Mom Squad

When my daughter Jessica joined the Junior Varsity Cheerleading squad in high school, I never suspected how much it would demand of both of us. Sure, the girls cheered at football games and basketball games, but these activities merely fronted for the real action—competitive cheerleading. Not for the poor or faint of heart, competitive cheerleading demanded $800 for uniforms, pom-pons, ribbons, shoes, team socks, and the requisite gallon-size bucket of glitter, on top of two-hour practices six days a week.

The girls took cheerleading seriously, but the cheerleader moms treated the whole thing like a holy mission. Many had been cheerleaders at this same high school not so long ago and longed to cheer again. When I say that the mothers wanted to cheer again, I mean they had their own team.

cheerleaders in pyramid

The premise of the mom team was that we would surprise the girls by performing a cheer for them the night before their first big competition—the State Cheer & Dance Championships in Jacksonville. I was easily ten years older than the other mothers, so the idea of joining a cheerleading team made me laugh. Come on, the mothers begged. You’re not dead yet, they teased. Besides, it’ll be such fun. How hard could it be?

At the first meeting, the coaches assessed our skills. Sure, our tumbling runs included front rolls, one-handed cartwheels, and jumps, but those were as challenging to us as full-twisting back somersaults were for the girls. As a whopping size eight, I was recruited to be a base, that is, to hoist another mom in the air with the help of a partner. The coach announced she would videotape our practices. I seconded the motion for insurance purposes. We held our clandestine practices at the home of one of the coaches. A few of the moms had–let’s call it–new equipment they wanted to display, so they suggested we buy uniforms. The majority voted instead for navy shorts and matching T-shirts. Thank you, thank you. My original equipment did not need to be showcased in tight clothing. Aside from the promise of fun, cheerleading offered a chance to counteract the effects of gravity, so I threw myself into learning to cheer.

The cheer routine seemed as complicated as a music video. I kept colliding with my neighbors because I’d step left when others stepped right. I felt like one of the hippos in Disney’s cartoon classic The Fantasia, if they had been clumsy. Risking injury and loss of dignity, I still wasn’t having the promised fun.

One mom, a size zero who yearned to be mistaken for her daughter’s sister, served as a ‘flyer,’ meaning one of the women hefted overhead. One afternoon, she came to a practice fresh from a massage and since none of us could properly grip her perfectly toned, oiled calves, we kept dropping her. To make the situation worse, the flyer pleaded to the coach for different bases.

Two of us assigned to lifting Mrs. Size Zero had never cheered before and apparently had to be reminded of this dreadful gap in our education. To her we were posers and she felt obligated to call us out. Oh, the shame.

The coach yelled at us, so I asked her to show me how to do it the right way. Hey, I can play stupid. I really enjoyed watching Mrs. Size Zero slide down through the coach’s expert hands. The coach switched to practicing dance steps without another comment. At last, the promise of fun had come through.

We used the same so-called music the girls used for their cheer. Imagine a blaring radio that switches channels every twenty seconds. Add the sounds of glass breaking, horns blaring, highway traffic and rap chants then amplify that noise to the decibel level of a jet engine at takeoff. More than dance, more than gymnastics, cheerleading demanded much from us individually and in teamwork.

Months of preparations culminated in the one and only live performance of the mom team. Never mind the broken elbow suffered by one of the moms—a trooper who continued through the routine—we had survived. We proudly inhaled handfuls of Advil while our hysterically-amused daughters and spouses congratulated us.

The next day Jessica’s High School Junior Varsity girls’ team took second place in the State Cheer & Dance Championships in Jacksonville, Florida. They won first place at the Florida State Fair and second place at the American Open. The Varsity team was equally impressive.

Jessica retired from cheerleading her sophomore year to devote time to a social life and studies. So, at age forty something, having followed my daughter into cheerleading, I followed her out and gleefully retired my pom-pons.

Note

This essay first appeared in Tampa Bay Sounding is a publication of Mensa. I changed the names of the other moms because some of them scared me and might hunt me down.

Giving Thanks to Mrs. Cline

Mrs ClineBless you, Mrs. Margaret Cline, wherever you are for being an encouraging, brilliant English teacher from Dunedin High School in Dunedin, Florida. A grammar stickler, Mrs. Cline took me in after I was tossed from another English class for arguing with the teacher who insisted that y’all was a valid second-person plural pronoun. Egad.

While sorting through a file cabinet of old essays, I came upon this one from her class written umpteen years ago. Wanted to share it with the world as a testament to Mrs. Clline’s kindness and generous spirit.

This essay later served as the basis for a performance that put me in the winner’s circle of my high school talent show.

Snoring Oak

When Mrs. Cline reads poetry in class, she challenges us to close our eyes and imagine seeing life from a different perspective. Her voice had a lulling rhythm to it and the next thing I knew I was standing in a forest.

I tried to walk, couldn’t and looked down to see what my feet were stuck in and I saw roots and bark. No kidding. I was a tree. Okay, so I’ve found that different perspective my teacher talked about. About the time it got boring a little dog wandered over to me. And hey, no, stop that, ewwww. Do I look like I need watering you little fleabag? How disgusting. I didn’t feel right until the next rain. Guess that’s what the saying means about feeling right as rain. Looking around I was as tall as the five-year-old oak in the back yard. Oak is cool, much better than being a whiner like Willow. Weep, weep, weep. She’s a one-tree pity party day and night.

One day two kids climbed up in my arms and the boy told a joke.

He said in a squeaky voice, “knock, knock.”

The girl said, “Who’s there?”

So the boy said, “Ida.”

“Ida who?”

Then the boy blurted out, “Ida like to kiss you” and then he got her in a lip lock.

She slapped him off the branch and called him Booger. Well, Booger didn’t seem to mind the slap so much because he stayed to help her down and off they went.

For seasons after that the other trees called me Love Nest, then one autumn Booger came back talking to himself. His voice was deeper and he had hair on his face, but it was him. He walked right up to me and cut a heart and initials on my side. A tattoo at my age? My mother would kill me, but then I looked around and realized I was pretty much on my own. That was terribly sad. The crows aggravated my depression when a huge flock of them landed on me and held a screech-off contest and dropped you know what on me. Hey, put your fertilizer on the ground, I said, but I guess I don’t speak bird because they kept at it all day.

Near dusk that little dog approached me. Yeah, like my day couldn’t get worse with the noise and the feathers and the bird poop, but the dog did the strangest thing, charging and leaping up my side and sliding down with his nails. He did it three times before he got some real traction on my mossy side and oooooooh that felt so good when he dug into that moss. Suddenly, he got really barking mad. Would you believe the whole flock thrashed out of my upper branches like the dog was going to get them? What birdbrains and what a good little doggie. Yeah, okay, take a victory pee, you earned it. Whatever.

Booger returned with Slap to show her my tattoo. Guess Slap liked it because she kissed him which led to cuddling which was followed by Booger gathering bright red and pumpkin orange leaves for Slap. She held them up to the sun and smiled. The colors were awesome, so I looked around to see which oak dropped them. I looked up into a rainbow of gold, red and orange that outnumbered the greens and browns, discovering these colors were mine. It was a short-lived glory because they fell off leaving me bare-bark naked.

Eventually, of course, everyone else was bare too which made it less embarrassing, everyone, that is, except a Fir tree to the north. There he was still fully green after first snowfall. He bragged about his stamina, completely ignoring the fact that he shed all year. Yeah, buddy, like that layer of needles just happened to blow in and land under you. Willow told me I was being cruel then she wept about it. Sure, I felt bad about it, but later that winter when the guys with the chain saw came and cut him down I felt truly horrible. After that nightmarish sound stopped and Fir fell to the ground, I told him I was sorry I needled him. He laughed. Willow forgave me.

By spring I was almost as tall as the other trees and sprouted more leaves with each shower. Summer brought back Booger and Slap wheeling a small cart with a tiny screamer in it. Looked just like a one-tooth version of Booger. Seeing little Booger made me sad. I whispered that I wanted to know where I came from. The elm nudged me with a limb and told me to look to the north. There beyond the Fir stump was a mammoth oak tree, broad and sturdy like you could pick up the earth using it as a handle. The elm explained that the giant oak was the granddaddy of all the oaks in this forest and that I came from him or one of the other oaks that had came from him. We were all related.

That knowledge changed my view of life. Even squirrels don’t bother me since I calculated that they planted more of my acorns than they ate. Real joy came when we trees noticed little bristly sticks poking up through the ground around Fir’s stump. The forest filled with joyful leaf-clapping laughter.

I felt a tugging on my shoulder and wondered if Booger was putting up a rope swing for his little screamer. It was Mrs. Cline’s hand.

“Have you been paying attention to the poem?”

It never pays to lie to a woman who looks over her glasses at you. The truth blurted out. “No, but I have been thinking about seeing things from the perspective of a tree.”

“A tree?” Her eyebrows rose and she gave me that look she gives to poor excuses. She said, “You can use that inspiration for tomorrow’s writing assignment.”

So I did. Ta da.

And I earned an A.

Bless you, Mrs. Cline. Great teachers like you are heros, unsung, underpaid heros. May God richly reward you for your generous, loving kindness. You helped me survive high school.