Saturday, 25 October 2014

Teenage Wasteland

“I’ll be 13 in like, 3 months” said the boy to his parents, and quite frankly a little too offhandedly considering the grave ramifications of such a statement. And there it was, out there like a giant elephant, sucking all the air out of the room.  
Up until this point the family was content to exist in a lovely state of denial, devoid of any sullen teenagers and the accompanying eye rolling, incessant texting and schlumping around the house muttering about how their parents are deliberately trying to ruin their lives.

The parents looked at each other and simultaneously attempted to rearrange their facial expressions to something less horror stricken.

 “Mom, are you crying?” asked the boy.

“Dad, why is mom crying? Oh my god…you’re crying too? What is wrong with this family?”

The parents knew then that the winds of change were blowing through the household and troubled winds they were, for they would bring parties with girls, and mood swings and general grief for both child and adult alike, and the parents knew this because they had both been teenagers at one point. They recalled the hormones and acne and moping, and they realized almost at once that it was indeed payback time.

The man, in particular, remembered certain events in his own family that had turned his parent’s hair gray. There were three of them, all two years apart, meaning of course that for a time, all were teenagers at once. Looking back, it wasn’t even really a fair fight and it remains a miracle that the parents never went over the edge and shot any of them.

The sister was the oldest, so her role was to begin wearing down the parents first in order to widen the path for the two brothers. And so, despite her accident prone nature, she somehow managed to get her driver’s license and subsequently had to make the first call home to announce that she had driven the car into – or more accurately through- a snow bank and could someone please come and get her out? In short order, the sister became quite adept at running out of gas and sliding into ditches, but her specialty was bumping into the other vehicles in the driveway. It was a mystery how someone so athletically inclined and who could expertly navigate a sailboat through a crowded start line at a race could not park in a double wide driveway without bashing into at least one other car.                                   
In the years that followed, the brothers also each managed to crack up different cars to various degrees. At one point, the younger one somehow actually careened off the side of the house, but by that time the wagon was so beat up, the parents may not have even noticed the new scrape. The middle brother nearly wrote off the Toyota, while skipping school no less, thereby earning points for a double whammy. Actually, he was on a lunch break, but by the time the police were finished charging him, it had run into third period thereby requiring a call from the vice principal.  I think by the end, the parents were told by the insurance company that if they filed any more claims, they would have to hand over one of the children to complete a two year internship at the brokerage.
The other unenviable duty the sister had to perform was to be the first to vomit in the car after calling for a ride home after a party. So, not only was the father forced to stay up until midnight to play taxi but he had to drive home in a stinky station wagon. The upshot of this was the parents became wise to the dangers of picking up drunks, and would usually encourage a designated driver amongst the teen’s peers.

The brothers, being boys and exposed to the general short circuiting found in the brains of all teenage males, were prone to wreaking havoc and causing stress for the parents in other areas. Jumping off bridges at the Green River, jumping over cars in the parking lot at the ski-hill and driving around aimlessly at night with four or five other dimwits in the wagon, trying to relieve boredom by committing various acts of mischief and general civic damage.

“Why is there a yield sign in your bedroom?” the father would ask.

“We found it in the ditch.”

“Well. Take it back, and make sure you bolt it on properly. You could cause an accident”

All three of them it seemed, were able to eat their own body weight each week, so the mother took to shopping at the No Frills, stocking up on bulk items with the non-descript yellow labels.  Entire loaves of bread would disappear between after school and dinner time, and enough milk was being consumed to sustain a small village in Tibet.  Amidst this, the house somehow became a favourite hangout for various hungry teens and the brothers were fond of feeding their friends at odd hours.

“Where are all the hamburgers?” the mother would ask.

“We ate them last night when we got home.”

“At midnight? Tell your friend Danny to eat at home once in a while.”

It was around this time that the father started drinking Guinness, the only beer he could find that none of his offspring were willing to steal.

Remarkably during this time there was only one suspension from school, involving the elder brother – a non-incident really - that was more of a misunderstanding between him and the vice principal as to the definition of mooning. The youngest brother did manage to get himself placed on academic probation (or as some may say, kicked out) from university. Twice.  Fortunately, the father had pursued a similar route in his academic career, so this provided a sense of camaraderie between them, thereby lessening the fallout. The mother was not impressed.

The mother was a worrier at heart, so the older two at least had the sense to lie to her when they took the younger one to his first Grateful Dead concert. She found out eventually, but by that time, so many concerts and road trips had passed that her coping strategy was to stay at the cottage all summer thereby avoiding the gory details. She would leave them money for food, which would be subsequently divided into an equitable 80-20 split between beer and food. She had an inkling, but they never looked badly malnourished, so all was well.

To round things out, there were speeding tickets, break-ups and the inevitable crappy fast food jobs, which made the parents realize that whoever had the audacity to say that your teenage years are the best of your life, obviously never vomited out the back window of a Ford Tempo doing 120 km, because the driver refuses to stop, while the other four occupants of the car are singing Iron Maiden’s Run to the Hills at full volume, even though there is no radio.

Remembering all of this, the boy’s father looked at his son, a boy of twelve and three quarters, and realized that it’s not just the parents who will suffer but the teens as well, and this gave him a small measure of comfort.

Then again, the sister did turn out okay with a Doctorate in Rehabilitation Science, although she still insists on driving like a blind person. The youngest (much to his mother’s relief) finished his schooling before he was thirty and found a career as a chef and later became a teacher. The elder brother also became a teacher and actually went to work for the Principal who many years before had suspended him in the name of all things decent. He also keeps a blog, which his son never reads. Hopefully.


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