When I decided to have a child many years ago, I did not say to my husband, “Honey, let’s have a baby so that about 13 years from now he can point out on a daily basis how stupid and square we are. It will keep us humble.”
Having a teen in the house proved to be very unsettling. He could be so sweet one minute and so exasperating the next. When he was little and saw me all dressed up for a special occasion, he used to gaze adoringly up at me and say, “Mommy, I can’t stop looking at you; you’re so pretty.”
Once when he was thirteen and I was dressed for a fancy evening out, I made the mistake of asking, “How do I look?”
His response was, “Gee, Mom, you really need to do something about that mustache.”
When he was little he used to beg to go everywhere I went. After thirteen, when I asked him to accompany me, he answered, “Get a life, Mom,” which I am pretty sure means “No thanks” but sounds much ruder.
He was with me once when I filled out a sweepstakes entry with a prize of a brand new Ford Mustang. He asked, “Hey, Mom, if you win that, can I have it? I will be sixteen in just three more years. We could save it.”
“Heck, no,” I said, “I would keep it for myself.”
He looked at me in disgust and said, “Mom, you can’t drive a car like that. You have to be kidding. You would have to lose a few pounds and get some different clothes and maybe change your hair.”
Gee, thanks, kid.
Three years later, as he closed in on that big 16th birthday, he began to prepare to become a licensed driver. To illustrate his method of preparation, I will tell it in a way I believe he would have told it to his peers.
HERE IT IS: A TEEN’S GUIDE TO HIS PEERS FOR PREPARING TO BE A LICENSED DRIVER.
Six months before you turn 16, begin studying your mother’s driving style. Be sure to offer plenty of constructive criticism. She surely will appreciate it, since she is over 40 and her reflexes are shot. Anyway, after two days of studying the state driver’s license manual, you know far more about driving than she does.
Do Mom a favor and give vulgar hand gestures to anyone who cuts her off in traffic. Keep up a steady stream of helpful suggestions until she threatens to make you ride in the trunk.
Start poring over hot rod magazines, trying to decide whether you should buy a brand new sports car or a restored ’57 Chevy. Ask your mom if you should get cherry red or jet black, hardtop or convertible, fog lights or neon ground effects.
Don’t worry about the fact that you have no job or money.
The first weekend after you finally earn you driver’s license, ask if you can borrow the car and drive to Daytona Beach for Spring Break. When she says no, don’t speak to her for three weeks.
Offer to run all Mom’s errands if she will just let you use the car. When you drive to the corner market for her, be sure to take the “scenic route,” which winds over twenty miles of country roads. Always “peel rubber” when leaving the parking lot, especially if there are any cute members of the opposite sex in the vicinity. When Mom and Dad ask why, only six months after you start driving, the tires are bald, insist that the tires must be defective.
Whine constantly about having to drive the family car, which is totally dorky. Never wash it. Always return it with an empty gas tank. Never check the oil, because if the engine burns up, maybe they will replace it with a better looking car. It does, and they don’t. Always refer to it as “the bomb” or “that piece of crap.”
Find a really cool car to buy, like a 1975 Camaro with a cracked block, a bent frame, bald tires, and 250,000 miles on the odometer. Promise your parents that you will never ask for another thing as long as you live if they will just buy it for you. They will say no.
Keep smelling salts handy for when Mom and Dad get the first car insurance bill that includes a teen-aged driver. When Mom shrieks that your car insurance costs more than the total of the obstetrician’s bill and hospital fees for your delivery 16 years ago, roll your eyes and slam the door on your way out.
Six weeks after you get your license, ask if you can borrow the car to go to the mall. They say yes, but instead you pick up a carload of friends and drive 60 miles to a fishing lake, where you have an accident. The car is not drive-able and they have to come and get you. When word gets back to the insurance company, they triple your rates. Now Mom points out that your insurance costs more than the Blue Book value of the car.
Look at the bright side. Now that the car has a wrecked front end, it looks almost cool. As soon as you can afford tinted windows, racing slicks, and a spoiler, you can stop wearing a disguise when you drive it.
Unfortunately, they are angry. Not only are you grounded, you have to do chores and yard work to earn your freedom back.
Your first chore? Dad says you have to clean up the yard today. “Pick up all the sticks that fell from the trees over the winter and stack them.”
You, the affected teen, whine, “What will I get if I do?” Dad answers, “Free room and board, meals, and laundry service. Get to work.” Mumble curses under your breath, and when Dad barks, “What did you say?” answer, “Nothing!”
Sneak out and don’t come back until dusk. Bring your girlfriend. They probably won’t yell at you in front of her. When they ask why you didn’t do the work earlier, act hurt and surprised and say, “You just said I had to do it today; you didn’t say what time.”
When they yell at you get started, whine that you haven’t had anything to eat all day. Slam cupboard doors and complain that there is never anything good to eat in this house. Make a sandwich and eat really slowly until it is almost dark.
Go outside and look around and ask, “Do I have to pick up ALL the sticks, or just the big ones?”
Mom barks, “All of them! Big, medium, and small! ”
Hold up a three-inch twig and ask, “Even this one?” Be sure to use a sarcastic tone.
Pick up a stick and throw it in the general direction of the trash pile. Make sure it lands three feet short. Sigh deeply and try again.
Pick up another stick. Sharpen one end with your pocket knife and try to spear a squirrel with it until Mom yells at you to knock it off and get back to work.
Pick up another stick and show your girlfriend the bug on the end of it. Discuss what kind it might be. Get your phone out and google it. When Dad yells, pick up another stick.
Pick up your girlfriend and put her on a tall stump and refuse to get her down until her squeals prompt Mom to look out the window and yell at you again.
Pick up another stick and try at least ten times to throw it back up into the tree until it gets stuck, so that you don’t have to walk all the way to the trash pile.
Find a stick shaped like a boomerang and try to get it to come back to you when you throw it.
Take a break and go in the house to get a drink. Come to the door and yell because no one put the ice tray back in the freezer after you took it out that afternoon. Wait two minutes then open the door again and yell, “Who drank the last Mountain Dew? Didn’t you see where I put my name on it? Geez!”
With any luck, it will be dark by then. Gather all the sticks you have picked up and put them neatly into a shoe box. If you did the job right, they should just fit. Whine about how tired you are, and why do you have to do everything around this house?
Ask if NOW you can take the car to the mall.
Point out that you can’t wait until you are 18 and nobody can tell you what to do. Mom and Dad will laugh and laugh then. You will have no idea why for at least another 10 years.