Scouty pointed out a group of posturing fourteen year olds, yesterday and said, "Mom, are those adults?"
I told her, "No, honey. They're teenagers."
She asked about how somebody gets to be a teenager and why they exist. I explained that some people are kids and some people are adults, and in between, when you're a really big kid, but a really small adult... you're a teenager. I told her, "Teenagers scare adults because they think they're smarter than they are. Teenagers especially scare their parents because they start going places by themselves and getting to those places in cars." I almost started to tell her about bad teenage boys and how everything gives them a boner, and how, if you give them a clue that you like them at all, on any level, they'll do everything in their power to get a chance to touch your boobs. But, no matter how impassioned I am about shielding my daughter from the hormones of male youth, I don't think we're quite ready for that, yet.
She asked me, "Do the parents love the teenagers?"
It seems like that would be a difficult question, seeing as how I'm a parent and we live in a neighborhood where a crowd of delinquent youths walk around with a boom box playing eminem. They're astoundingly unlovable. But then, I pictured my girls as big, strong, scary teenagers, and how much I'm going to love them, how proud of them I'm going to be for the fact that they've survived the world and grown, and I just know they're going to be smart and funny and awesome. Oh god, it's too much. I love the teenage thems so much already.
"Yes," I said. "The parents love the teenagers very much, and that's why they're so scary. They don't want anything bad to happen to the teenagers, but the parents have to let them out into the world to learn how to live."
"Does everybody have to be a teenager?" she asked.
We had a long discussion about how, when you become a teenager, you get to do lots of awesome things that you can't do when you're a kid. "Like drive a car," I said. "Or go to a movie with a friend without parents. You can get into a car with a boy, and when he brings you home, me might kiss you."
"Or get into a car with a girl and she might kiss you," Scouty said.
"That's true," I said.
"What else can you do?" she asked.
I started to go over the list of things I got to do for the first time as a teenager and froze. Besides driving around kissing boys, I couldn't think of a single thing I did as a teenager that was even kind of mentionable to my four year old daughter. I don't want my children doing those things!
But oh... those things!
I remember nights in college where I was positively squirming out of my skin with being alive. My hair long down my back, with glittering ribbons, smoke stained fingertips, wine stained tongue, and a boy with a fiance who professed his love for me over a secret five-dollar bowl of spaghetti at a restaurant around the corner. We walked home, tight against the storefronts and one another, sticking to the shadows.
I remember illicit medicine against the back of my throat and sparking wonder at the strangeness of the whole, wide world.
I remember my husband as a kid, somebody else's baby, my dear darling friend. Fading blue eyed and curled around a bottle of whiskey in a tattered armchair in our rented house.
I remember the floor was perpetually sticky with spilled beer and humid association. We were always laying around on one another, fitting languidly together, our familiarity radiating heat. We were devils, if you didn't know us. We were devils, and we meant it.
And wait... I don't want my children living that way! ...Right? I mean, how could I handle it? I want them to be virginal, sticky-palmed girls with limp hair and big toothed lisps, who collect plastic horse figurines well into their twenties. I want them to be ready for sex around the time they're ready to drive, which I'm estimating will coincide with thier thirty-fifth birthdays. That's what I want, isn't it? To keep them from the world so that they don't get hurt. So that they don't get taken advantage of. So that nobody wants to keep them and stifle them and stop them from growing and being brave.
Yeah. So maybe I won't actually be buying Scouty her first plastic horse figurine for her birthday next week. Wouldn't it be awesome to collect these, and like them better than people, and talk to them like they're your friends?
I don't think teenagers will ever stop being scary to me, at least not until my girls have outgrown them. The truth is, though, that I don't really hate them. Not even the gang of immaculately unlikable boys who play eminem as they wander my neighborhood, lowing the value of my property and scoffing at my fat-butted nerdiness while I'm bent over at the waist planting my garden.
As far as teenagers went, I was probably the worst kind you could be, without actually spending any time incarcerated. I understand that they're just squirming all over with the liveliness of still being children, and that they're handed the world and they have no choice but to take it and abuse it. They have no choice but to live like they're invincible, because... like I tell Scouty... If you're a kid, you're not going to die for a very, very, very long time. A time so long that it's impossible to imagine.
I think back on being young, and it seems almost that long ago. I guess that mostly, my girls are just lucky that they have being a teenager waiting for them, and I'm only scared of it because I'll never be one again.
Me, circa 1997-ish.