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The hardest years

What good are teens, anyway? The kids were far more reliable up to age 12 than when they became teens. Both our kids love animals, and they traded off chicken care as youngsters. The flock needs to be fed and watered and the eggs gathered every day. You know the teenage years are hitting when they nitpick “You should take care of the chickens! You eat more eggs than I do!”Our son forgot to care for the birds and they had run out of food, so at 9 a.m., with many hours of peaceful teenage sleep still ahead of him, our teen awoke to the soft and gentle clucking of a chicken in his bed! He sat up quickly, awakened by the clucking. “What’s this?” he demanded with a look that said, “You’re waking me up at 9? What are we, Amish?” The startled chicken did what birds do so well, right there.”Son, it’s not the Blue Bird of Happiness, but the Chicken of Depression. Time to get up!” Eventually, I took the chicken chores upon myself. That animals must not suffer trumps a learning experience in responsibility for teens. The teens were happy about this development at first. I told them that they should be ashamed, that they were more reliable at 10 years old.They began driving, the older boy first. He took to wielding the automobile rather well, but needed bad experiences as a teacher for every traffic law, it seemed. You’re familiar with the impressive police helicopter the CSPD uses to spot the bad guys? We’re so proud. Our son bought that helicopter for them with his unending fines! At one point, the lad experimented with simply not showing up for traffic court. For his sentence of community service, someone found him a broom that fits his hands; and, for 55 hours he swept and hopefully thought about things.The girl was better with traffic laws, but the act of driving had its challenges. She was doing so well, undoubtedly helped by me in the passenger seat pushing on the imaginary brake pedal. About a quarter mile from a side street I told her, “You’ll be taking the next right.” Which she did. She simply cranked the wheel over. Silly me. That she would slow the car down before a hard right turn was just an assumption I had made. Our minivan heeled over like an old sailing ship in stormy seas as I raised my voice above the squall of tortured rubber, “Whoa! Whoa!”Are your children fairly cooperative and helpful youngsters? Expect some genetically predetermined changes as they enter their teens. Girls become shapely. Boys develop whiskers and a fairly bad smell, a smell that you’ll want to make them aware of. Both sexes instinctively develop expert eye-rolling ability and, of course, the heavy sigh that says so much without words. You feel as though the roles are reversing. You are treated as the clueless child, and they have all the answers. With skin breakouts comes crankiness; yet, you feel sorry for them. They didn’t bargain for a mood roller coaster and are doing the best they’re able to in a sea of “sink or swim” hormones.As they get used to their new body chemicals, your teens can be fun. They develop a self-assured cockiness and a dry wit. A strange mix of adult and child emerges that is vexing and laughable all at once. Our son came home one day from his first real job at the Burger Barn, very impressed with his manager. The Burger Barn, being a bit cheap with their young employees, charged for the employee’s lunch food. Our son is a country kid and figured he’d save the lunch money by bringing a sack lunch from home. There he was at lunchtime out in the dining area with the customers, in his Burger Barn cap and Burger Barn shirt and Burger Barn apron eating a PBJ out of a brown sack!”The manager was so nice,” he said. “She came over and told me that she really likes peanut butter and jelly and offered to trade me two burgers for my old sandwich! I didn’t even have to pay for the burgers; she just gave them to me and took the sandwich away.” My laughter perplexed him. I explained a little more of the adult world to him, that restaurant employees eating out of a brown paper bag is probably not the best advertising. I explained she’s a nice manager all right, but her motivation may not have been completely altruistic.The lad was with me on an errand to straighten out a policy cancellation issue with our insurance company. A few weeks before, I had stopped in the insurance office to write a check for everything due or coming due. The sweet insurance lady had overlooked one policy on her computer. This was a critical policy that triggered a discount on all the rest, a discount that was quite significant. I was not pleased about it being canceled and she was apologetic but explained that the policy had been “canceled by corporate” and might not be reinstated.At that moment, the only teen in the room spoke up. The teen that was becoming less of a boy and more of a man month by month said, “You – you canceled my dad’s policy? Why, that doesn’t sound like something a ‘Good Neighbor’ would do!”The nice insurance lady turned red as her hair and redoubled her efforts on the computer and the phone, as my good son and I laughed and chuckled. The tension was gone and the problem solved.At some point, our teens begin to remind us of ourselves, reflecting some of the ways we think, act and talk. We share their triumphs and console their losses as we always have, but more and more we find ourselves laughing with them, sharing insight and yes a little wisdom. They stumble some, and fall now and again if we are wise enough to let them, and they hit their stride in their 20s. Mom and dad don’t seem as exasperatingly clueless as our young folks deal with a world full of “parents” that tell them what to do but don’t love them. It’s a hard edge that they experience out in the world, and we must let them so they may earn their accomplishments and become adults themselves. If teens weren’t so difficult and trying at times, the accomplishment of growing up would be slight indeed.We must allow them the messiness, the unpleasantness that comes with breaking out of childhood. Letting them screw up can be a hard thing for parents accustomed to always sheltering and protecting.I remember my little girl’s questions long, long ago when she was still very young and loved our chickens in her perfect little world. “Daddy, come see! A baby chicken is trying to come out of the egg! It pecked a hole and I can hear it inside!” We went together to watch the wonder.She could not endure the plaintive peeping any longer. “Daddy, can I help it? It sounds so sad and it’s taking so long to peck out of the egg. Can we break the egg open and let the baby chicken out?””No, honey, we mustn’t help the baby chicken. Honey, if we do help it out, it will die. As hard as it is to wait and watch, the chick needs to struggle. It has to break out on its own, to inflate its lungs, to earn its place in life in the world.”And so it is with us all.Tom

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