I am the mother of a thirteen year old girl. She, in the spirit of teens around the globe, usually thinks I am uncool. Conversely, I often find her incomprehensible. Now I understand what my mother meant when she would wearily say, "Just wait until you have children." And then she would level the mother's curse,"I hope you have one just like you."
However, the curse didn't work on me. Instead, I have a daughter who is the person I would have liked to be at her age. Confident, intelligent, secure in her own identity and determined to be her own person regardless of what 'everyone else' is doing.
I became a teen in the mid-eighties. Shoulder pads, spandex and Madonna were all the rage. A shy child, I longed for acceptance by my peers, but rarely found it, unless they needed help studying or writing a paper. So I tried desperately to fit in. It didn't work for a number of reasons. I was socially awkward, preferring to discuss books and academic pursuits, while the "in" crowd discussed parties, make-up, boys and the latest hottie at the movies. Back then, though, they were 'fine', 'hunks' or 'awesome', not 'hotties'. Just one of the differences between my daughter and myself at her age. She uses a whole different vocabulary. Things were "fly" when I was her age. For her, they are "wicked" or "kickin'". And that's just the beginning.
My daughter is not the late bloomer that I was. She is poised, self-assured and a brain, with curves. With all that, blond hair and blue eyes, the next few years are going to fray my nerves.
I look back at the clothes we wore in the mid-eighties and cringe. Spandex, tight jeans (do you remember tight rolling your pants?), and loud prints. On the other hand, my daughter is into tye dye, baby tees and flared leg pants. She is my little neo-hippie. And even as trends come and go, she is comfortable with her personal style. She feels no need to conform to the fashion of the week. Fads and fashion trends don't carry the cultural weight they once did, it seems.
School is different now, too. I never had to have my booksack searched for weapons. It was not expected that a student might be packing a gun next to his history notebook. I never had to walk through a metal detector at school, either. We didn't have to wear uniforms in public school, my daughter does. Yet, in spite of the negative changes, she is also provided more opportunities to capitalize on her strengths with art classes and creative writing courses. I didn't have to write research papers in eighth grade. That was high school work. Advanced Placement (AP) classes were just coming into the schools as I was entering my junior year. My daughter is taking three classes this year, eighth grade, that will get her high school credit so she can take AP classes her senior year.
Finally, our biggest difference of all is one of attitude. My daughter is more interested in the world around her and around the globe. She has a better handle on the real world than I did at her age. She has responsibilities such as laundry (she's done her own for two years now) and cleaning the kitchen every week night. She knows how to cut grass, cook a number of different meals, surf the internet and budget her allowance. My parents didn't expect these things of me, or if they did, I was an expert at getting out of doing them. With the exception of the internet, which did not yet exist as we know it today.
My daughter is well aware that she will be responsible for paying at least half the cost of her first car. And she will have to pay the difference it makes in our insurance costs. My parents never expected these things of me. The economy was booming and if money was tight, I rarely felt the pinch. My daughter has grown up understanding the concept of "We can't afford it" or "Things are tight right now."
My daughter has never known a time without computers and video games. She can't remember the excitement of an all music video channel on cable. Though why it's still called MTV is a mystery. Or the bitter disappointment of living too far in the boonies to get cable. She will never know a world without cell phones and PDA's. And I don't mean public displays of affection.
Luckily, in spite of our differences, my daughter and I get along great most of the time. We share a love of reading and writing. We enjoy reading mangas together and watching anime. We spend weekends perusing the shelves at the local bookstores, then curling up in a chair and whiling away the hours reading. And spending all of our money. We like a lot of the same music, though she busts my chops about my love for eighties music. Yes, I loved Madonna, Bon Jovi, Duran, Duran, and any number of others. But we also talk about Hoobastank and Linkin Park. We watch decorating shows together on BBC America or sit on the front porch with her neighborhood friends talking about Johnny Depp's hotness and how boring the teachers are at school. Or how unfair some parents are about things like boys and clothes.
So, in spite of the many differences in our experiences as teenagers, we have found common ground. I hope that all the parents out there going through what might be the most trying time since the terrible twos will take the time to appreciate the gift of their teenager. Rife with negative stereotypes, the teen years are also years of tremendous creativity and potential. It is a time of figuring out who they are and trying to more fully realize that individual. I'm realistic enough to know there are rough patches ahead. Yet, I am hopeful enough to enjoy the fun times and look forward to watching my daughter grow from girl to woman.