I looked out the window and what did I see?
T.P. hanging from the apricot tree
The night had brought me such a nice surprise
T.P. streaming right before my eyes
I could take an armful and fold it up
And save it for a day when my stash was all used up
Oh it was really so
But it was still a shock to me
T.P. hanging down from all of my trees (and the roof…and the cars…and the…)
In our various discussions at Segullah, one of the recurring themes I’ve heard is this: “I’m afraid of teenagers.”
I fear that somehow teenagers in this day and age have gotten a bad rap.
Oh, it’s perfectly understandable (some of them listen to really bad rap). I know well the mother bear that comes out as needed to protect one’s young. I’ve had to stare down a teenager or two in my day and, for various reasons, get between them and my babies. I even had to threaten one with a call to the police station after his parents seemed disinclined to do anything about the fact he had driven past my child on the way home from school and shot at him with a bb gun.
But the honest truth is, teenagers can be a lot of fun. They can sometimes even be helpful. And the hard truth is they need us—even when we may have forgotten what it was like to be a teenager (now there is as good a reason as any for repressing memories) or when we find them enigmatic or just plain scary. They need us–all of us–to love them.
Call me crazy, but I love teenagers. Soft snuggly babies are sweet. Toddlers are adorable. And it’s delightful to watch your kids start to grow into themselves as they head off into the school years. But honestly, I have a really hard time getting inside the head of a four-year-old. I will never understand why they persist in making up Knock, Knock jokes that aren’t at all funny or how they can find something as inane as a loud purple dinosaur or squishy puffy aliens that go around saying “Again, Again!” (yeah, my deprived toddlers did not have the luxury of knowing Dora the Expora [that's what I call her] or Yo Gabba Gabba) so entertaining.
But I do remember being a teenager…the awkwardness, the aloneness, and the angst. I remember it all.
I find teenagers to be really fascinating. The way they think (or don’t). Their complete incapacity for logic. And oh the emotions! (Do you like roller coaster rides?) Yet despite all of that if you watch closely you can sometimes catch them being generous, kind-hearted, open-minded and compassionate.
Here are a few other things teens can be good for: Increasing your emergency supply of T.P. Carting groceries from the car into the house (but only if you’ve purchased something of interest). Multiplying your grocery bill fourfold. Providing a good laugh. Running simple errands (as long as they don’t involve actual dialogue with other adults) and taxiing around small children (once you can breathe again after they’ve learned to drive–you might stop holding your breath, but you’ll never stop praying every time they put the keys in the ignition). Filling your heart with pride (the good kind) when they succeed. Breaking your heart into pieces when they choose to learn things the hard way. Keeping you on your toes mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally in ways you may never have imagined.
The other day I broke my teenage daughter’s heart. In frustration over my own failures I got after her for something she’d been working hard to do better at. “Why do I even bother?” she moaned. It was a sad echo of the same refrain from my own lips a generation ago. Later I apologized and I vowed to do better at catching her being good and letting her know how much I appreciated her efforts.
But that’s something we can do long before our kids are teenagers. For our own kids and for the kids–particularly the teenagers–around us. They are buried under the incessant onslaught of messages from the world that they are not good enough and that their worth and happiness should be sought in physical appearance, material things, substance abuse and sex. Sometimes they even get a little buried at home under incessant criticism of their own teen-ness. If anyone needs a village, it is an aloof teenager. They need us to be interested in their lives, to hear them, and to love them–even when we might not understand them.
A few years back a close friend of mine was struggling with her teenage daughter, who had previously been one of my young women and whom I considered a dear friend as well. Kate was on a hard and painful path. It was a difficult time for her parents. But my job was simple. I only had to love her. I prayed for her. I cried with her mother over her. And I kept loving her even when she didn’t love herself. I hope in some small way I helped her. I know she helped me. A few years later as she was coming back into herself and into the light, I was blessed–in a way I later realized was much more than coincidence–to be able to tell Kate exactly how much I loved her on what turned out to be her last day here on earth.
Now Kate’s bereaved mother and father love, embrace and encourage my teenagers–the ones who are mostly doing good as well as the ones who are struggling. And I’m blessed with a ward full of people who are (mostly) trying to love and serve my teenagers. Granted I notice the few disapproving faces when my long-haired son continually shows up late for church and frequently skips out on Sunday School. But mostly what I see are people who accept and love him the way he is (Tonya, if you are reading this yes, you and Steve are at the top of my list).
Those people mean the world to me. And they are the ones who make all the difference.