Recently my son has attended several birthday parties – one by one, his friends are turning sixteen. Soon it will be his turn, and I’m left wondering…Sixteen?! How is that even possible? It doesn’t make any sense, considering how young I am…or used to be…
Can you remember being sixteen? Not the “Sweet Sixteen” pruned to perfection by our selective memories, with the harsh edges worn smooth by the passage of time – no, I mean, the REAL sixteen. The sixteen where a pimple on the end of your nose before a dance sent you into a hyperventilating fit of pique. The sixteen where you acted as if you knew everything, because deep down you were sure you knew nothing. The sixteen where it seemed like everyone you knew wanted to talk to you about THE REAL WORLD and YOUR FUTURE and HOW YOUR DECISIONS NOW WILL AFFECT YOUR LIFE FOREVER, and all you wanted was for them to leave you alone and let you listen to loud music in your room, away from all of their irritating and pointless questions. That’s the sixteen I’m talking about, and let’s face it, for a lot of us “sweet” isn’t our adjective of choice to describe it.
Don’t misunderstand me. I have fantastic memories from my teenage years of wonderful friends, many of whom are still in my life today. Just this morning I spent over an hour on the phone with a dear friend I’ve known since junior high. But there is absolutely nothing on this great, grand planet that could entice to me to revisit those difficult teen years all over again. In fact, I believe I would not be overstating my position in the slightest when I say I would rather pull out all my nose hairs one by one with a tweezer while listening to a recording of Roseanne Barr signing the National Anthem on continuous loop than to spend even one minute of time being sixteen again.
Did that sound bitter?
I hope not. I love to take frequent excursions down memory lane. I have stacks of old photo albums, and enjoy the occasional foray into the pages of my yearbooks. There was a lot of fun packed in those years, happy days dotted with inside jokes and memorable road trips, good music and better friends. But I believe it can be easy to forget the debilitating anxiety that seems to be a constant companion of the coming of age years. The stomach churning obsession of young love, and the pressing desire to be, if not popular, at least accepted; to be unique, but not weird; to be independent, but not alone. And let’s not forget the constant pressure to make the right choices, to follow a foolproof plan ensuring we would make a good life, in the real world…a world which, as we all know by now, is a figment of some sadistic high school counselor’s imagination anyway.
Yes, it can be easy for me to forget the avalanche of insecurity being sixteen entails – and even easier to forget my son is experiencing all those things, and more, right now, with an intensity of emotion I’ve likely forgotten as well. I find myself tangling with him lately, usually over things that I am sure aren’t that important, yet seem to top his list of concerns. I’m forgetting what it was like to spend every day tromping through the predatory social jungle of high school. It’s been years since I’ve experienced the thrill of obtaining a driver’s license, or the crippling fear of failing final exams. I might want to think I remember everything he’s going through, but let’s be honest — I don’t.
But I do remember enough to realize I don’t want to go back there again. With that in mind, I need to make a conscious effort to lighten up, and stop sweating the small stuff as he navigates these high school years. Sixteen is no cake walk, after all…
…and every John Hughes movie ever made can back that statement up.