*I wrote this last year but never published it. I found myself having a similar discussion with a friend recently and thought, what the heck. Let’s put ‘er out there.
I was joking around with a friend’s kid not too long ago and he made a comment about how grown-ups get to do what they want. I was flippant about it and said something like, “You got it, kid. Go clean your room after you fetch me a glass of wine.”
But his comment has stuck with me.
Most of my friends have kids in the eleventeen age bracket. Any kid between the ages of 10 and 17 makes me so happy. It’s like hanging out with people puppies. House-trained but clumsy people puppies.
Teenagers are funny and they’re curious and they’re smart. They’re battling all the demons I mostly conquered years ago. Everything is new, even when teenagers are acting blase about something—that reaction is new and they are just trying it on for size. They’re confident but vulnerable. They’re still silly but also very adult. They’re at that point where they can imagine themselves as grown-ups but they still have so much to learn.
When you’re a kid, you rightfully believe: It’s good to be a grown-up. We get to stay up late and go to bed without brushing our teeth. We can drive ourselves wherever we want and we don’t have to go to school every September. We can watch movies all night long and eat pizza for breakfast. And that is all true and all wonderful.
But, I wanted to say to this teenager: Stay young.
Being an adult is really, really boring. Get up in the morning, do another load of laundry, unload the dishwasher, sit at your desk, answer questions about things you don’t really care about, ask questions about things that don’t affect your life, mow the lawn, stress about the retirement fund, get an oil change, visit the doctor and hope it isn’t cancer, try to figure out why your spouse is so distant, take the bread out of the oven and have dinner.
This American Life (I know I’m an over-privileged middle-aged white lady who will never be shot for the color of her skin and who will never be beheaded for covering the world’s biggest news stories that never get run anyway and yes I listen to This American Life) ran a piece in which Molly Ringwold watched The Breakfast Club with her 10-year-old daughter. It was a touching piece and I’ll admit I teared up a little. It was sweet. And, I discovered two things.
1) I wish I were friends with Molly Ringwold. 2) Everything looks so different when you get to the other side of the age bridge.
While talking to this kid who didn’t want to go back to school, this kid with high school coming down the pike, this kid with college around the corner, this kid with everything ahead of him, I wanted to change places. In that moment, I wanted to start over.
I wanted to be able to eat a cheeseburger and fries with my best buddy. I wanted to go back in time and actually say yes to the people who asked me if I wanted to spend a year in the Dominican Republic instead of saying no and spending my summer cleaning houses. I wanted to go back and show up at Wheaton where I was supposed to go to college instead of flaking out and spending the semester working as a receptionist in a hospital lab where I would regularly hand plastic vials to men who needed to offer up a sperm sample and where I would be told to retrieve whatever body part was placed on the pathologist’s delivery table. I wanted to go back and actually move to New York after college instead of moving to Portland because I was in love with someone who hated cities. I wanted to go back and work harder to get published instead of staying up late working in a bar and openly loathing anyone in clothing that wasn’t purchased at Goodwill.
Suddenly Freaky Friday held new meaning. It all looks so different from the other side of that bridge.
But, I don’t need to be Jamie Lee Curtis to figure out pretty quickly that since everything is still new to a teenager and to someone in her 20s, all those emotions and all that heartbreak is crippling because you don’t have the experience to trust all can be well again. Every hurdle feels like the end of the world. Every insult cuts too deeply. Every argument leads to a breakup. And that’s how we become who we are, whether it makes you stronger or terrified, every heartbreak and every triumph leads us to where we are.
And, god, it was all just so exhausting, wasn’t it?
If I’m going to be honest with myself, I have to admit, if I had made different decisions and gone to a different college or walked down a different career path, I would still be here. I may not be in Maine, but I’d still be in some house making some decision about something that doesn’t really matter, placing labels on spice jars and wondering what kinds of plates I should purchase. I may not have met or married Groom and it’s likely I’d be divorced because Groom is my best match and I’d be on some weird existential Quixotic journey to find a missing piece that doesn’t really exist. If I went back, I wouldn’t know the people closest to me, the people I called when Groom broke his leg and the people I called when I had back surgery.
Good luck, all you teenagers out there. Call me you need me. I’ll come over from my side of the age bridge to bail you out, to tell you that boyfriend or girlfriend didn’t deserve you, to give you some money for a car, and to write you a reference for a new job. But, come to think of it, I won’t trade places with you.