Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Top Five Uses For Teenagers

"Few things are more satisfying than seeing your children have teenagers of their own." - Doug Larson

"The Internet has been a boon and a curse for teenagers." - J.K. Rowling

"Teenagers blithely skip off to uncertain futures, while their parents sit weeping curbside in the Volvo, because the adolescent brain isn't yet formed enough to recognize and evaluate risk." - Michael J. Fox

Okay, so the previous two posts (The Top Five Uses for Cats and The Top Five Uses for Dogs, in case you missed 'em) were a lot of fun to write, but they missed one of the most important questions heads of households can ask: what in the heck do I do with the fuzzy human creatures that co-inhabit this place?  I mean, cats can kind of slink off to be by themselves a lot of the time, and so long as you keep them reasonably well fed and watered and their litter boxes clean (ish), nobody's going to haul you away for cat abuse.

Now, granted, that duct tape thing I keep hinting and giggling at, you probably shouldn't do if your desire is to not be charged for animal abuse.  Remember: thought experiment only.  Be the Schroedinger....

Dogs present a similar case: while generally needing far more interaction with us than their feline counterparts, they are still pretty okay with walks in the yard a couple of times a day, a cleaning up of the poop every few days or so, and whatever happens to fall on the kitchen floor when you're cooking (which is, I admit, quite a lot in my case).  In return for all of that, you get a (dog's) lifetime of foot warming, face-licking love.

And then there's teenagers.

Let's face it, there are more teenager jokes out there than I have room to write here.  At the risk of offending someone, I won't suggest that perhaps there's a kernel of truth behind the jokes, but I will, at this point, dive right on into a list of the Top Five Uses (that I can see) For Teenagers

5.  Reminding us that we were once that age too

Yes, it's true.  I was one.  You were, too.  I pulled some of the exact same feral male stunts that the boy teen used to pull, and I dare you to tell me, ladies, that you didn't do the same as a female teen.  Of course, it was a different world back then.  Of course, we could go to a party without fear of drugs being slipped into our drinks back then.  Of course, nobody really did drugs back then.  Of course, my neighbors were Ward and June Cleaver to one side and Ozzie (with an ie, not with a bat-eating y) and Harriet on the other side, back then.

How many of you thought "Yeah!"?  Mm hmm.  No, life wasn't all Nehi and sunshine back then, either, but our brains don't want to remember the dreary parts.  So here we are, stuck in the present, and when we get a teenager in the house challenging us on our fearful imagery of Life As It Is Now, sometimes it does take us back there.  You know--Back There.  Back when gas was cheap, and West Point was difficult, and dinosaurs roamed the Plain, and so on.  

4.  Cogito ergo sum

You know what that little scritch of Latin means, right?  "Cogito ergo sum": "I think, therefore I am," (ish).  The idea is that we exist and thrive as human beings because we have the ability to cogitate.

Fortunately, cogitation is one thing teenagers are quite good at forcing us to do.  Ain't it?

Part of it is that "Because Mommy said so, Dear," is no longer an acceptable response to the "Why?" query.  No, trust me--just don't even try it on a teenager.  I mean, yeah, especially don't try it if you're the daddy, because that'll result in an extremely weak debate position for the man of the home, but don't even try it if you are the mommy.   It.  Just.  Won't.  Work.

I often joke with my co-workers about how their kids are still pre-teens, and so "you still have your brains."  To those whose kids are over the age of 25, it becomes, "hey, you got your brains back."  The joke has some truth buried in it, though, doesn't it?  To a teenager, questioning everything--authorities, parents, rules, the need for algebra classes, everything!--is just part of the human growth and development process.  That, in turn, causes us to cogitate on how best to answer, because the easy response just doesn't work on someone who has now completed Ms. Murdock's sophomore debate class. 

We really have to think now.

And you know what?  Sometimes the reason for things really is just, "Because ___ said so."  Why, for a really basic and easy example, is the speed limit on one stretch of road 40 mph, while it's 45 mph just a few hundred yards further?  Because the traffic engineers said so, that's why.  No, such an answer doesn't satisfy a teen any more than it satisfies me.  Often, such eventual ends to the logical path make us question our own sanity. 

But because we question, we are.

3.  Getting stuff done around the house

I know, I know.  Those of you who truly know teenagers are snerking about this one.  "Teenagers--get stuff done?" you're saying as you chortle along.

No, really.

We give teenagers chores, right?  We make it part of their "household duty" and offer to either pay them an allowance, or not withhold food, or allow them to keep their precious iPads and such, or even all of the above, as reward for the accomplishment of said chores.  And thus and therefore, sometimes our teenagers thrill us by actually doing them.

They never, ever do them correctly.  Out of the cupboards we pull pans that have, theoretically, been washed and dried and are ready for use once again, but one glance inside tells us they couldn't have been more than barely rinsed.  We open our t-shirt drawers to find our white work shirts are now pink.  The lawnmower blade gets broken--and the engine shaft warped, to boot--because somehow it ran itself over the only stump in the entire yard.

Luckily (and hopefully) those are the exceptions.  And all the while, we counsel, we cajole, and we compel.  "It's for your own good!" we explain, telling them that if they grow up without a strong work ethic they'll be Forever Failures, and we'll always know that they failed because we failed.

You don't want to make your dad a failure, do you, kid?

Let's be honest for a sec, though.  Teenagers (any who're still reading): sometimes, it's not all about you.  I know that's hard to believe, but it's not.  Sometimes there's just a simple reality going on that the Jetsons weren't real (go Youtube it if you don't get the reference), and the dishes won't scrub themselves.  Somebody has to do the dishes, then, and hey, you've got the short straw right up to the point where you can afford your own luggage and car insurance.

Hey, it's not like I'm asking you to plunge the toilets.  I still do that.  Just--get the dishes done, okay?  Please?

2.  Reminding us of the nature of the human condition

There's nothing quite like trying to get a teenage boy to come clean on the mental process that led up to one antic or another when his mouth is saying "I don't know" while his face is confessing that "the girl made me do it."  As long as the authorities weren't involved and no nine month or more permanent medical conditions were incurred, it's rather easy for us to chuckle about the situation after the fact, but at the time it's extremely frustrating.

I must note that teen girls are every bit as challenging.  "I don't know why my underwear were on inside out when I came home incapacitated by brandy" is just--well, wrong on so many levels.  Nothing else has quite the capacity to turn a normally peaceful adult man into a raging gun-toting boy-hunting lunatic. 

Then again, maybe it's not all bad.  After all, we tend to forget all about young passion and the troubles it presents when we happen to be looking from the perspective of the daily angst of work and water fountain rumors and paying the bills and going to PTA meetings and driving the kids to soccer practice and--well, and so on.  Then we're smacked in the face with it by our teenagers' goofy, hormone-addled antics, and first we get worried, and then we get angry over being worried, and then at some point we finally simmer back down and--well, I can't lie.  It makes me grin.  Human condition, indeed.

Through it all, our teenagers live, and they love, and they somehow make it to adulthood regardless.  Just, I should add, as we lived, we loved, and we somehow made it to adulthood regardless. 

1.  Carrying on

There truly is a circle to life, a continuity that is cute enough when lions and giraffes sing about it in cartoon movies but which really smacks you in the face at some point later on in life.  When we were kids, the world was all about us.  Then we had kids, and the world became all about them.  Then they have kids, and the world gains a whole new perspective, filled with grandparent jokes and "see, they really did turn out just like you" gloats.

We love them, we send them off to college, we celebrate their achievements, we wish we could do more for them as they launch into a life of their own, and regardless, for the most part, they go out and do okay.

Just like we did.


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