Girlfriends’ Guide to Teenagers: Smells Like Teen Spirit—All Over My House!

May 21st, 2010

Last Friday, I titled my blog, “We’ll Remember Always, Graduation Day” and was told several times by readers that I needed to clean up my syntax. Really?? Doesn’t anyone remember the Beach Boys’ cover of a song that was first made popular by my mother’s heartthrobs, the Four Freshmen? It’s a song title, people!

So, for those of you who may have taken a pop cultural nap over the last twenty years, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the title of an album and song from Nirvana. Remember them?

“With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us.
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us.”

Anyway, I now know well what Teen Spirit smells like. It’s got a kind of sweet smell that lies somewhere between a newborn’s breath and vomit. It’s full of health and vigor and danger and risk. All I know is, I got a good whiff of it last weekend.

I’ve been around the most beloved and wonderful kids who are getting named MVP and Most Like to Be Made President By Acclamation (thereby skipping the filthy business of getting elected in today’s political process) and matriculating to good colleges or graduating college and taking up their adult journeys. Some of them might be my own offspring and others are dear to me as part of the community that helped raise them, but I’ve been told I’m never to name names so…

Last weekend, the daylight hours were devoted to end of season lacrosse barbecues and religious instruction for Confirmation and other such moving and inspiring illustrations of hope and faith in the generation I helped populate with my own contribution of two boys and two girls. I actually made Tollhouse cookies from scratch and did some of their laundry and was grateful for the privilege.

But, to quote Mick Jagger, “The sunshine bores the daylights out of [teenagers]” and I saw the smoke signals over my own home that an ill-conceived party was brewing somewhere in my village. This was a party at a house that was rented for the day. No parents, on the premises or not, and certainly no homeowner’s insurance to cover accidental death or maiming. As if that weren’t bad enough, the kids throwing it were charging admission.

Parents of tweens, take it from me: Parties that start after 10pm and charge admission are Bad News. There are millions of them on your horizon and most of them are as risky as you fear. Kids who throw parties when their ‘rents are out of town or are completely naïve about what kids will do “with the lights out” almost never charge for admission. Teen promoters are well aware that they can only demand money if there are no people with fully developed frontal cortexes involved and way too many kids with no ability to successfully predict the consequences of spontaneous and silly decisions are invited, in the hundreds.

Not only was I once a teen that believed no party was complete until someone threw up in technicolor from all the wine drinks with screw tops that looked like Kool-Aid, but also I’m no stranger to parenting teens. I have a nose for that kind of teen spirit. Nonetheless, I’m also resigned to the fact that three of my kids are now “legally” adult (who the hell thought 18 years on earth indicated a sound mind?) and I try to give privileges where deserved.

Go ahead and throw the first stone; I know I’m indulgent and weak-spined at times where my kids are concerned. Chalk that up to decent kids who have stayed out of jail and not made me a grandmother prematurely, mixed with the effects of brain damage and fatigue at mothering four teenagers at one time.

Still, forewarned as I was, I hired a driver to deliver my kids and stand right outside the door to stack them and their friends inside his car like cord wood if necessary to bring them all safely home. But at 2am, I was wide awake, texting my kids till my fingers smoked and learning that they hadn’t found the driver and that they’d found other rides home. Do you know what that feels like to a mother?

Other rides home? That’s like getting a text that they’ve swallowed glass and don’t know yet if it will slice through their esophaguses! All you can do is wait and pray. These are the times when I couldn’t care less whether my precious children shake hands with adults and look them in the eye when introduced or hand-write thank you notes in a timely fashion. All I want is for them to LIVE!

Once again, they did live, and I am truly grateful. But here is what I learned from this agony: Teen parties are sometimes as horrifying as I imagine. Just as I learned that rock festivals like Coachella are a lot tamer than those of my own youth, I learned this weekend that teen parties are more outrageous than those of my own wild youth in their yearning for extremes. More sex, more alcohol and more MORE characterize these “revels.”

I don’t know if our kids are more easily bored, more protected and hovered over by us Boomer and Gen-X parents, or more insanely pressured by a world that looks as though there is no abundance in their future—only shortages of work, of the assumption of safety and continuity, and of natural resources. Sometimes I worry that teen spirit occasionally smells like fear, and that us grownups are partly to blame.