Food for Thought
T-E-E-N-A-G-E-R Spells Trouble!
As anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of such a look knows, there are few things that can warm the cockles of the human heart more effectively than the starry eyed gaze of a small child who lets you know that they are happy to see you. Before the less sentimental of my readers reach for the barf-bag, I urge you to be honest about this - however much of a tough guy/girl you may consider yourself, you must admit that there is something deeply flattering about the way that younger children put their affections so clearly on display. They will, all too soon, learn to play the games people play; not to mention how to dam barao so that you are the one imploring them for more, as far as attention and affection are concerned.
I was thinking about this recently, after I got a text message from my six-year-old goddaughter. I have been missing her very much recently, and so had the bright idea that she could mail me one of her drawings to keep me company while I'm travelling. She likes this plan, and so I received the following response by SMS - bear in mind, she is just six - "dear FarHa khala, I will send you a beautiful! picture" (sic), followed by a couple of those symbols for smiling and kissing. Her enthusiasm for the idea and her confidence in her ability to deliver what is required of her are quite evident from the unconventional placement of that exclamation mark.
Alas, this delightful childhood persona with its enthusiasm and capacity for unashamed affection has a time limit. If you have ever had anything to do with raising children, you will know that everything changes when you're dealing with teenagers. Well, not everything perhaps, but way too much nevertheless. Perhaps that's why they are so delightful when they are little - they are totally win you over, and lull you into a false sense of security, before the change comes. By which time you already love them too much to do the wise thing and run for the hills…
The good news is of course that in most cases, the teenage period also comes with a timeframe of sorts. At least, in theory! Forget the notion that the nightmare has passed when they turn 20. But for example, by the time they are in their mid to late twenties, your children may once again begin to resemble normal human beings - in some cases, even seeking out your company.
On the other hand - and I can't lie to you - there are those who take an unconscionably long time to grow up. And of course, there are those who never grow up. In any case, the thorny question of when people grow out of being teenagers is one on which the jury is still out. So enjoy your (mostly) sweet little ones while you can. And above all, take lots of pictures and video footage. You may need to spend considerable time poring over these at a later stage, to remind yourself why it was that you ever wanted to have children!
A German friend of mine was recently reminded of this when she returned home late from work to find that her 18-year-old son and his friends had apparently taken over her living room. She has been concerned lately about the fact that he can now legally buy alcohol, but this was worse than she had expected. In her own words, "There were glasses and bottles everywhere, and broken chips all over the floors and furniture! Then I went to the bathroom, and one of my perfume bottles was missing!"
To make matters worse, her son was nowhere to be seen. She lost no time in despatching the other teenagers to their own homes, before heading down to the basement, to her son's bedroom. There she found him passed out, caught in the tangle of his belt and the headboard of his bed; he was lying at a very strange angle, with his legs on the bed and his head hanging down from the side. After she had managed to wake him - with some difficulty - it became clear he was under the influence.
She got him upstairs and had left the room briefly, when she heard a clicking sound that drew her back to the living room. Her son was sitting up – barely - and flicking his lighter on repeatedly, in very unsteady hands. She lost no time in taking the lighter away from him, since in his inebriated state it constituted something of fire hazard. And she wasn't reassured when she asked him why he was doing that, and he replied that he felt there was some dust in his lighter and he needed to get it out by switching the flame on – immediately!
Her son fell asleep on the sofa while she was vacuuming the carpet and furniture, so she decided it was safe to leave him there for a bit and went to brew some coffee to sort him out when he awoke. But she found herself once again drawn back to the living room, this time by the sound of his voice. To her amazement, she found him talking animatedly although there was no one there. When she asked him who he was talking to, he replied with some irritation, "To my friend, obviously!" and mentioned another boy's name. It turned out his friend was invisible. By this time, she was beginning to get quite worried and asked him if he knew who she was. His irritation was even more evident when he replied, drawling "Yes, you are my mother!" At that moment, she must have wished she wasn't.
Before anyone gets too carried away with criticisms of Western decadence, it must be pointed out that teenage behaviour in South Asia has changed radically - and not for the better - in the last decade or two. The magazine India Today has done a series of stories revealing that many Indian teens (particularly those living in urban areas) display attitudes towards alcohol and drug usage, as well as casual sex and violence, that would be horrifying to their parents. Bangladesh has had its own challenges to deal with, particularly with regard to the easy availability and inevitable allure of drugs.
On a lighter note though, I was recently reminded that there is hope - even for teenagers! My friend's daughter, Karoline, is part of a group of 17-year-old schoolmates who have signed a contract to do odd jobs in order to raise funds for a project of theirs. Among other things, this includes a commitment to working on a shift basis at a fairground, where the teenagers are required to take turns wearing a giant squirrel suit. With the weather in Europe getting increasingly warmer, this is a far from comfortable task.
It was made even more uncomfortable by one person choosing not to show up for their shift, because they wanted to go to a birthday party instead. I was impressed when Karoline, disappointed at her friend's lack of reliability, chose to step up and do back-to-back shifts to compensate for the other person's absence. I mean, one shift in a giant squirrel suit is bad enough, but to voluntarily undertake two (because of her commitment to the group's best interests) is pretty darn impressive - and in fact, would be, in the case of most adults!