Monday, February 7, 2011

Teens in Transition

Our oldest daughter turns thirteen in a few days. But enough about her. I am turning into the MOTHER of a teenager in a few days. 

Of course, I may have some leeway before achieving official Mom of a Teen status, because turning into a teenager isn’t an overnight process. We’ve seen signs of encroachment since she turned ten, flashes of attitude and outgrown clothes and a sudden eagerness to take showers without anyone asking her too. But they’re right there inside the girl who is still willing to hold my hand sometimes when we’re out in public, who asks me to comb out her hair at night, and who is in the middle of a determined quest to read every single Trixie Belden book in the series in chronological order.

So I presume that for at least a little while I can continue my non-teen-mothering ways, sleeping secure at night knowing that my children are under the roof with me, confident that her parents or other trusted adults are the only people driving her in a car, and withdrawing television privileges in the case of rampant sassback.

But it’s a temporary comfort. I remember a call from my sister; she had been disciplining her middle son over something, and realized that she was tilting her head up to look into his eyes. “Now what do I do?” she lamented.  Since he’s passed safely out of the teenager years and into adulthood, whatever she came up with – I believe it involved threats of withholding automobile access, and keeping her sense of humor  -  must have worked. 

I suppose the timing of my official transition to Mother of a Teen depends mostly on our daughter; the first night she doesn’t come home at the appointed time, or the afternoon she says “Don’t worry, Rachel’s driving me home!” Maybe it'll be the strains of the Smiths' music from behind closed doors, the first notes of "How Soon Is Now" confirming that no one knows misery like Morrissey.

Or maybe there will be one pivotal moment that moves her - and me - across our respective thresholds.That's how it was for me.

I was fourteen in 1980, about to enter high school, and spending my last summer as a camper at Camp Gorham; the next year I'd be on staff. My parents were willing to send me for two weeks and I saved up my babysitting money so I could pay for another two. That year there was a counselor named Doug who was four years older than me and a certifiable Stone Cold Fox. For those readers not alive during the Johnson administration, Stone Cold Fox was a '70s phrase denoting a person of the opposite sex whose features are so arresting, I suppose, that they freeze the viewer like a statue.

I still spent about half my time in the horse barn, whispering my admiration into the ear of a horse named Bulldog and dreaming of becoming a cowgirl. But I spent the rest of it being pulled to Doug like metal shavings to a magnet. I took his sailing class six times, and elbowed other kids in the solar plexus when they tried to take the empty seat next to him at mealtimes. 

I wasn't even cowed when he said to me at lunch one day, in a speech full of awkward silences, that the Camp Director had suggested that Doug needed to sit with some other campers sometimes and that maybe I should go back and sit with my cabin mates at another table. I had the temerity to say, "I only came over to ask if I could get another apple for Bulldog."

One night there was a dance and like all the oldest girl campers, I primped and preened and prepped for hours beforehand. Walking to the dance by myself, past  a darkened staircase in the ranch bunkhouse, I was startled when Doug jumped down off a railing and landed beside me. In the purple twilight he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "Hey, fox," he said, before turning and running away.

My poor parents dropped off a horse-loving bookworm at the camp gates; the girl they picked up was an insufferable know-it-all, swimming laps in the pool of her own lovesick misery.  

In short: I was a stone cold teenager.


  1. Ahhh, the memories of teenagerhood. But no need to worry - Rachel will never be allowed to drive.

  2. Rampant sassback...damn girl, you are good! I'm going to try to fit that phrase into all my upcoming conversations...whether I encounter any or not.

  3. I will give you some rampant sassback the next time I see you. It will probably be CnC related. Promise.

  4. Ah, my Doug was a Camaro-driving tennis instructor. No wonder I ended up in a sling with an injured shoulder from hours trying to perfect my serve that summer.

  5. Sigh. Everyone needs a Doug, don't they? Well, everyone except my way am I ready for that.

  6. Thanks for a great read! I was plunged headlong into "mother of teen" status yesterday as both my children turned "13". Wow, not sure I'm ready for what lies ahead...maybe we need a support group!

  7. Nancy, I burst out laughing reading the words "Stone Cold Fox"! Can't remember the last time I heard that phrase. I loved the story but boy, I sure can't place my moment. Going to an all-girl Catholic high school and being slightly younger and much less developed than everyone else didn't help matters.

    I hope Rachel passes through her teenage years with a minimum of discomfort for both of you!


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