Thursday, September 15, 2011

Because I Said So: Eat, sleep, go to school: forgettable life of a teen

When I started writing this blog, my kids were 9-, 6- and 5-years old. One of them wasn't even born yet! Now, as they get older and increasingly more private and awkward and, frankly, embarrassing, it becomes more and more difficult to write about the specifics of them for the public to read.

But it's also part of my job.

I wrote about C for today's column. Not just about him, but about all teens everywhere. It's hard raising a teen, but it's even harder to be one. Can you remember it? Being a teenager and having to deal with school pressures, peer pressures and parents? I wouldn't do it all again for a hundred dollars.

So this column is about my own 13-year-old, but not just him. It's about me and it's about you and it's about all of those cute little kids out there who are growing and morphing into something truly odd and a little frightening: the teenager.
There is an oddity inside my home. Under my roof lives an alien creature nearly 51/2 feet tall and all arms and legs. And feet. It communicates through a series of grunts and shrugs and text messages. There is a very good chance it is either eating or sleeping right now.

It is the teenager. I don't claim to have discovered the species. It's not the first of its kind, I know, but what scares me is that it is not the last, either. Not by a long shot. By my calculations, we will eventually have three living and eating in one house all at the same time.

The horror.

Where can enough food be found? What will conversations sound like with bleary eyes buried in phone texts and only a guttural growl à la Chewbacca given in response to a cheery "good morning!" (at noon!)? Will clothes one size too small be in fashion by then?

My current teenager is forgetful. This is in the case of "Don't forget to take out the garbage" and not "Don't forget there's chocolate cake." His lapse in memory is a recent development and one that is not at all welcome. Dealing with career and family is difficult enough. It's frustrating having to deal with myriad wants, needs, complaints and whining, and then come home from work to get it all over again from a house full of kids. Selective amnesia is of no help whatsoever.

I'll admit I was caught off guard. A rookie mistake. I was stymied by my otherwise good kid's sudden case of scatterbrain, unsure of how it could have crept up so suddenly and with no warning. And then I attended open house at White Station Middle School. I spent an entire day one evening moving from classroom to classroom and visiting all of his eighth-grade teachers so they could illustrate what a day, a week, a semester in their classes will look like.

Most of the teachers began their presentations with "As your child has probably told you ... ." Only they didn't follow that up with "... I'm hungry." What they followed it up with was an overwhelming list of upcoming projects, syllabi, schedules and expectations.

Suddenly it all made sense -- the insouciance, fatigue and lack of concentration. Sitting in a desk with tennis balls on its metal feet, my own mind was bombarded with the memory of what it was like to be that age. The students experience a daily stream of facts and figures, essays, fictional and historical characters, theorems, formulas and hastily eaten lunches. There is bell work, class work and homework. There will be a test on this.

Sip from the fountain of youth and once again be so young? No, thank you. Not if it means being made to drink from a fire hose of knowledge for 180 straight days. It's a pressure I'd blocked out until that open house, a scab best left unpicked. I only wish that, like a teenager, I'll be able to forget it all again as soon as possible. And then take a nap after another snack.

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

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