Perhaps it should say long-leggedy teenagers, instead.
Ask any middle-aged parent about teenagers and the response is liable to be an audible sigh accompanied by a visible shaking and dropping of the head. They are capable of things that are utterly breathtaking to the parents – where in the hell did that come from? – to be immediately followed by an equally breathtaking lapse of the most basic common sense. As I pause on the threshold of having three kids within the teen pipeline, Youngest on the verge of entering and Eldest on the verge of exiting with Middle in the…middle, it occurred that I exist in a perpetual and abiding state of PACE (Perpetual Annoyance and Chronic Exasperation), far different from what I recall during their early years when it was a given that the onus of most personal care and thinking fell upon me instead of them.
It was easy to remember when they were tykes that the burden fell upon me for the majority of their care. But the tykes grow into more adult-sized bodies, albeit often disproportionate with feet and/or hands placed upon the extended limbs that don’t quite mesh the rest of their forms. The result is a sense, and I freely admit unfounded, that this life-size ersatz adult should be able to think with the structure of an adult mind. This isn’t to say that I expect them to understand much about the adult American world since most adults don’t seemingly comprehend it either, with it’s opaque financial and cultural structures that defy understanding and increasing security structures that discourage even questioning. It’s a common recurring misconception of mine, that believes that possessing size 12 feet also confers a degree of common sense when the reality is that the visible body’s size is wholly unrelated to their ability to think and use even a minimal degree of common sense. Seriously, I’d expect that such a possibility would even remotely cross your mind…as my blood pressure increases over the short period of time.
But what happens to the teenage brain over the pubescent teen years is far different. Feet grow and body hair develops, but the child’s brain is doing things that have taken the breath of neuroscientists away. With the development of the MRI and CT-scan machines, someone had the bright idea of doing periodic brain scans for the same children – akin to snapshots – at regular intervals over the course of years. The upshot of these scans was the realization that the brain of the typical kid was literally rewiring itself with new pathways being formed over the course of years. When I first learned this, my response was so when I told her to take out the trash on three different instances, it didn’t happen because the requests were stuck in synaptic construction traffic. This knowledge is a sop to the frustration when clothing is strewn about, milk left and requests/commands ignored; but the accumulation of stuff still drives my blood pressure upwards and leaves me wondering, what else to do?
But for all of the teeth-grinding frustration, there are moments when I realize that despite the haywire thinking processes, the kids are developing character and making choices that reflect a growing awareness of the world and their place within it. This character, and the understanding of the difference between right and wrong, is something that I consider even more important than the developing ability to think. This is the literal framework within which they will think as adults, the lens that focuses their decisions reached after thought, consideration or perhaps the occasional coin toss. Until they’re on their own, all that I can do is try to bite my tongue – or not bite theirs – and hang onto the knowledge that this too shall pass when their brains catch up with the rest of their bodies. The effort until then is to talk with them and try to help them develop the structure with which they can think their way through problems and questions. It should also go without saying that the character work has to continue as well.