Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Four teenagers in the family? Yes, sir, may I have another?

In a few weeks, my daughter Melanie will turn 13. When that happens, we will enter a six-month period in which we have four teenagers in our family at one time.

Specifically, our oldest four will be 19, 16, 15 and 13. I will freely accept offers of prayers, happy thoughts, and Prozac.

(SIDE NOTE: "Prayers, Happy Thoughts and Prozac" could be a good name for a band. Or at least the name of an album. I'm going to form a band not so much to make music, but just so we can use that name.)

This stretch of parenting four teens will end fairly quickly because my oldest, Elissa, will turn 20 in March. Twenty is a weird age. It's only a milestone birthday in that you leave one decade of life and enter another, but it doesn't get you anything in the way that ages 18 and 21 bring new freedoms and legal privileges.

I remember being 20. It was a long time ago, like centuries ago, but I remember it. I remember having more hair (and none of it being gray). I remember being able to go directly from a dead sleep into a fast morning run with no need to "warm up." I remember going to college every day and then working 6-8 hours at night and thinking nothing of it.

I also remember regularly making foolish decisions, so I guess you take the good with the bad.

Anyway, on the surface, having four teenagers in the family at the same time would appear to be a nightmare. And it certainly does have its challenges, from the mood swings to the school drama to the brain damage.

Yes, brain damage. Anyone who has parented a teenager, or even dealt with one, will tell you the only way to explain their behavior sometimes is that they must have suffered some sort of cerebral injury.

And indeed, the teen brain really is still under construction, busily forming the connections and functions that serve a person well later in life.

During those years when the contents of a teenager's skull are being built up, they do things that are puzzling to a rational (and even a not-so-rational) adult. You have to roll with this. Guide them, correct them, help them, sure. But in the end, acceptance is a lot easier.

Still, looking at the big picture, it really is a fun adventure when you have teens in the house. Their friends come over a lot, they keep you busy, and they tend to be noisy, irreverent, and altogether a good time.

Which is what I try to remind myself whenever they frustrate me, since it's guaranteed that I will miss the chaos of these years when it's all over.

I'm interested to see how it will play out when little Jack, our youngest at age 7, is a teen. By then, Elissa and Chloe and possibly Jared will presumably be out of the house, and Melanie will be knee-deep in college, leaving Jack to navigate those years with just his parents and a bunch of pets left behind by his siblings.

Being so much younger than the others, his experience of teenager-dom will be a little different than theirs. It will, in fact, be much like mine. My elder three siblings were 16, 14 and 12 when I was born. Which meant that by the time I started school, they were all either out the door or well on their way.

So when I was a teenager, it was just me, mom and dad living together. It couldn't have been nearly as loud and raucous in their house then as it is in mine now.

But I was definitely just as brain damaged, maybe more so, than my own offspring. Some things, it seems, never change.

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