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My life is defined by *Zits and I’m good with that

By Dalene Rowley

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.


About Dalene Rowley

Began blogging as a legitimate way to avoid housework and to keep a journal of sorts. In her other life she wants to be excellent at a number of things, but in this one she's settling for baking a mean sour cream lemon pie, keeping most of the points on her quilt blocks in line, being a loyal friend and aspiring to moments of goodness as a wife and mother.

30 thoughts on “My life is defined by *Zits and I’m good with that”

  1. Beautiful. Thank you. I am back in the world of teenagers via a new marriage and my heart is once again being stretched and torqued (is that a word?) by the incredible, impossible world of adolescence. This post is helping me. You are helping me. I love your teenagers and you.

  2. Great post. I am an adolescent mental health therapist, and so I see all sides of teenagers. I sometimes wish that parents could hear half of what is said to me in sessions – it is beautiful and heartbreaking. They would have more compassion for these young people, I'm sure.

    I'm glad others out there appreciate teenagers – they are on a crazy ride.

  3. Oh how I needed this today. I am really struggling over what my (almost) teenager DOES (or doesn't do) compared to WHO she is. She needs to hear more of the positive from me.
    Thanks D. And If I get too frustrated, can I bring her over to your place?

    P.S. The Princess told me last night that ~L "has the coolest clothes ever".

  4. Mel–thanks. I hope you know you're another one of the people right at the top of my A-list.

    Amanda–I would love it if you could share more of your insights–either in the comments here or (even better) as a guest post. Please e-mail me @ henfeatherzATgmailDOTcom if you're interested in doing a guest post on this topic.

    Suedonym–I'm telling you, having a kid co-op or "kid swap" isn't such a bad idea. Hang in there. I think The Princess is lovely.

  5. I love teenagers too. call me crazy, but I do! Of course, I don't have any of my own yet, but I'll come back to this post when I do to remind myself of how special they are. THanks for such beautiful insights.

  6. so beautifully written Dalene– would you mind lending me some of your clarity and talent?

    I ADORE my teenage boys. They are so much fun and are constantly teaching me new things. Teenagers really DO care about what we think and our conversations and rich and deep.

  7. I absolutely COULD NOT have made it through the insanity of my childhood (and young womanhood) without my YW advisors (at least two that I am thinking of right now).
    I am FOREVER grateful for the love they showered me with. One, after I had TP'd her house earlier that week, just happened to drop by after midnight (when my parents were out of town) and poured out the vodka I was drinking. She very nearly saved me from my step father–except that I absolutely refused to tell her. She drove around for hours begging me to tell her what was going on in my home…and when I wouldn't–she held me until I cried it out. I think things had to work out like they did…so I don't regret not telling her.
    I believe what you have written from absolute experience.
    I pray there is a woman in my child's village who will
    step in when I fall short. And I do fall short.
    I am inspired by this post to try ever harder. Thank you for writing it.

  8. I miss my Kate. Those were some hard years. I was the family friend making all the right decisions, probably causing her parents even more grief because they couldn't understand. I love that family dearly.

  9. Dalene, I love this.

    I am in the middle somewhere.

    I have worked a lot with teens at work and church and really enjoy them, even those with the "troubled" label. I see so much good in them and never cease to be amazed by the strengths of the youth around me. I have defended teens when others say bad things about them. Besides the good, they are a lot of fun!

    I think where I become afraid is, wondering if I have the parenting abilities with the younger age children that will build a foundation strong enough to help us all through the teenage years, if that makes sense. I hope I do. I know there are no guarantees about them no matter how much I love them or do right by them. I hope I have the love and patience and fortitude to be what my teenagers will need from me. I hope that if it ever gets really bad, I will hang in there with them and change where I need to as well.

    I know there's more to it than that, but I can't find the words just yet.

  10. I can hardly stand how much fun my older kids are. Every year they get more rational and interesting and amazing (and they all started out amazing!)

    I've always wondered if maybe I was just too dumb to realize I should be afraid of teenagers. But I'm really psyched about these next few years.

    Thanks, Dalene!

  11. The teen in me honors the teen in you.

    Well done, well said, and well lived, my friend. I love them too.

    So much more to say, but I can't find the words.

  12. This was such a tender and moving piece. I'm terrified of my children turning into teenagers because I can't even figure them out now. I can't imagine throwing hormones into the mix. But on the other hand, it is so delightful when my 8-year old and I have a real, honest to goodness conversation. So here's hoping for that future.And thank you for reminding me of it!

  13. This was lovely Dalene. I'm terrified of the teenage years. I dread them. I didn't like teenagers even when I was one – didn't understand them at all and lived in fear of their opinions. I worry about suddenly becoming uncool and unloved.

    You give me hope.

  14. First I have to say – Holy Cow Melody! Congrats!!!

    Dalene, your post has made me cry. You are a beautiful writer and awesome at putting into words some of my feelings. I am so saddened when I see what goes on in the world surrounding kids now. I thought it was crazy when I was a teen, but boy oh boy, has it gotten worse.

    Teens need adults to love them regardless. of anything. I see so much pain in their eyes, too many are left to fend for themselves. Even in "good, mormon homes" there is too little communication and I see parents scared of their teens. I remember too well not being able to talk with my parents, and I promised myself that when I had kids that would change. Granted, sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get them to share anything, but it's so worth it when they do.

    We were just commenting tonight at how we've lost any 'us' time. Just when we got two out the door and we thought we had a minute to ourselves, in walks another kid with friends – but it's okay. I always wanted to be the house where kids would congregate, so how can I be upset when that actually happens? I try my best to just let kids talk and not butt in. But I am not shy about giving my opinion on things either. One of the best things we did is to put crayons, markers and coloring books on the coffee table – now they just come over, color, and talk, talk, talk – oh and listen to music.

    Don't even get me started on music nowadays! Come on people, we need to wake up and help our kids out. I cannot believe some of the yuck that is out there – and parents have a bigger influence than they think in what music your kids will enjoy. Start guiding them when they are young – don't just turn on Radio Disney and think all is well. #3 asked for a song today and we pulled up the lyrics and were SHOCKED. And we are a pretty liberal music house. Just guide them, don't let them make choices blindly…sorry, that's obviously touched a nerve with me today.

    Anyway, I firmly believe that we are raising a very important generation of young people, who will have many great responsibilties in the future, and it is up to the village (that's all of us) to guide and teach them.

  15. Just a side note – I read somewhere that our brains continue to develop until age 21. I think that explains alot. On thing we cannot afford to do is to stop being attentive after high school graduation. Trust me, crazy things are just beginning in some ways.

    And lest anyone think by my music rant that I am old and stodgy, let me assure you that I love all kinds of tunes. Some of my faves being old punk rock and most indie music.

    I just had to say that because I'M NOT OLD, I'M NOT OLD, I'M NOT OLD – oh crap, yes I am…who am I kidding? I just don't want to be uncool too…

    Just wondering, does anyone else still feel like a teenager? Because I still have the same insecurities I've always had…I think we are all just looking to be accepted and loved, no matter the age. I'm not sure it's something we ever out grow.

    Sorry so long, it's actually quiet in the house and now I'm rambling…I'll stop now.

  16. Tonya, I love what you wrote. I love the color crayons idea!! And thank you for the music reminder. I put off popular music right after college (traded it for Irish folk). I worked with teens, and my supervisor compelled me to listen to the current music so I could relate better to my teenage clients. I had a great time with it!–There is good amongst the filth!

    And yes, I still feel like a teenager in the ways you describe!

  17. As a teenager (actually not that long ago), I stayed out of trouble. Looking back at the hormones, the feelings, the journal entries (so dramatic!), and just the kind of world that I grew up in…I have no idea how I did it! And then I realize it wasn't me. It was my parents, my friends, my YW advisors, and my teachers. My parents were a support and trusted me to be the person that they could be proud of. My friends supported and made good decisions with me. And my young women's advisors told me how wonderful I was every chance they got. I wanted to live up to the praise that they gave me. I wanted to be the kind of person whose coolness would last beyond senior graduation. I would look at the loving and supportive women around me and see the kind of "coolness" that lasted, the women who were beautiful, kind, and just put-together. So. To you women of Segullah- writers, readers, etc. You are the kind of women that helped me last through those teenage years. Thanks. 🙂

  18. Reading this post brought back so much of my own teen years. I am grateful for those who loved me in spite of me. I am also learning a lot as I have a 'tween now. (This wasn't even a defined stage when I way young!)

  19. Sue, definitely take hope. I love my teens, they are hilarious, inventive, surprising, fun, and a joy to be around. Just like there are no babies quite as cute as your own, there are no teens quite as terrific as yours when they get to that age. Don't dread it. It comes on gradually anyway, thank goodness.

  20. I don't mean they don't also drive me crazy, leave food-encrusted plates all over the house, and often demonstrate total lack of judgment. But I still love 'em and like to be around them. I will miss these years when they're launched into the world, the time goes SO FAST.

  21. mellocello–I'm glad to know us crazy-about-teenager people are not alone. Enjoy when the time comes.

    Michelle L.–You're very kind. That's one of the things that is so amazing–that with all that's going on in their lives and in their heads they can be thoughtful and they really do care even when they don't show it.

    Thankful–I so appreciate your comment. I too recall how much it meant for me to have people believe in me when I didn't believe in myself or I couldn't see the way my my parents believed in me. I add my prayers to yours for all of our sons and daughters.

    Stacie–Me too.

    Wendy–I don't know why, but I have a special affinity for the troubled ones. I understand your fear–I have the same fears and I've been at this for awhile. I'm sure you'll do just fine. When the words come, I would love to hear the rest of your thoughts.

    Justine–That's how I feel, too–it gets more interesting and more amazing all the time. I'm afraid about how it will be when they leave me, but my empty-nest friends assure me that's OK too somehow.

    Geo–You are an example to me in this regard. There is a reason the YW love you so.

    Tiffany–Thank you, too. I won't pretend I have the kids figured out, but I sure am enjoying the ride.

    Sue–I wish you the best–you'll do fine. And you'll still be cool even if your kid pretends he or she doesn't see it. I have no doubt. (But I need to add a disclaimer here: I have no illusions about being cool. Somehow for most kids it doesn't seem to matter. I think what really speaks to kids is when people are genuine. They're so much more mature than some adults in that way.)

    Tonya–I guess we're even then because every time you bear your testimony you make me cry. And you are so not old and stodgy! All the kids love you guys and I so much appreciate the good influence you and Steve are around my kids–particularly the ones who tell me "Music is my life." Thank you! And yes, I think all those parts of us–the little girl, the awkward teenager, etc.–stay with us no matter how old we are.

    Amanda–I believe that is the effect true charity–the pure love of Christ–can have on people. I still feel blessed by people who think better of me than I probably deserve–they make me believe I can be better.

    Rynell–You summed it up perfectly–those who love us in spite of us. I need that just as much now as I did then!

    Jeans–It is a bit crazy, isn't it? But crazy good and crazy fun and really never a dull moment.

  22. One big reason why you're so good at your job is because you like young adults. On Wednesday, I was talking to a guy who makes over $6 mil a year and has attended numerous training seminars on "Gen Y'ers", and he told me the things that college kids want is quick access to money and free pizza, and don't really care about how stable their jobs are, or what their companies are involved in.

    My point is that he – despite his millions of dollars, prestigious degrees, and numerous topical seminars – doesn't get it at all, and you get it without any of that*. And that's what makes you great for managing young adults where you do.

    * Except maybe the millions of dollars thing… perhaps you were holding out on us!

  23. Doug–I miss working with you! Thank you. As for holding out on the millions, I wish! But seriously, if it came down choosing between millions and some of the life-changing experiences I've had connecting with people, it would be no contest. Relationships and what you learn from them are the only things you get to take with you. I'm hanging on to that.

  24. I tried to write a comment here last week when you wrote this. I won't go into all the boring details of how many times I wrote it, but for whatever reason it never showed up here, although it told me I had already commented!

    So, here is a smaller attempt to tell you that I loved this post. I love how you think and write about teens. I learn from you each time.

    I don't like how hard things get raising teens. And I know I don't have it as hard as some who have more teens in their home. But it IS hard. I struggle everyday hoping I am doing/saying all the right things and that some of it sticks.

    You're great!

  25. Lisa–thank you. I'm sorry about your comment (that happened to me once, too). But thanks for trying again. I learn a lot from you, too. Hang in there–I think you're doing great!

  26. My little guy just turned 4. The night before his birthday, I went in to check on him and give him a kiss on my way to bed. Looking at him sleeping, I burst into tears. For some emotional reason, I was so sad to see my little 3 year old for the last time, for tomorrow he'd be 4. I wasn't ready for him to grow up. Can you imagine the emotional roller coaster I'm going to be on before he becomes a teenager.

    (Can I still give him a kiss on the forehead after he's gone to sleep when he's a teenager. That's all I need to know to get through it!).

  27. m&m–crazy yes. Just not so crazy!

    debbie–I can't even tell you how many times I've planted a kiss on my kids' foreheads while they were sleeping. And even when they're in that stage where hugs aren't so cool with them you can almost always get away with a back rub or back scratch. I hope my youngest (now nine and still huggable–thank goodness!) will still ask me to be sure and get "the corners" (his shoulders) when he's eighteen.


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