Ah, thirteen, that magical age that most parents dread. And with good reason – the teen years are notorious for being way worse than the terrible two or troublesome threes ever dreamed of being. My teen years were every bit as dramatic as any soap opera, and I’m sure everyone can relate.
An avid diarist, I read back through some of them once some years ago and realized that a.) as a teen, I was truly awful and b.) if my kids are anything like me, my uppance will come. All my teenage entries were generally some sort of variation on the theme, “Blah blah blah my life is awful blah blah blah everything sucks blah blah blah no one likes me blah blah blah I am undateable blah blah blah my life is over.”
Naturally, being a teenager, there was a whole lot more swearing in there. There were even some pictures cut out of magazines and taped in for posterity and late-night drooling. There were also the requisite doodles of hearts and boys’ names.
Not all of this drama was of my own making, however. While it’s true that my teen years started off with a bang, they also ended with a bang, and both bangs were somewhat at my dad’s expense. See, to start off with, I got my period, something I’m sure will make all the fathers out there groan in dread (at least, it makes Seymour groan in dread as Tadpole creeps ever closer to Teen Town herself – every time I half-jokingly say that if I didn’t know better, I’d think she was PMSing, he insists that that’s not funny).
I was at school when it happened, thank goodness, so both my dad and I were spared the embarrassment of his having to help me through that. Also, having been through two sex ed classes by then, I thankfully had some idea of what was happening, so I was slightly less alarmed when it actually happened than I might have been otherwise. But only slightly.
My wonderful guidance counselor got me all squared away and sent me back to class and when I got home, I told my dad what happened. It was his custom to spend large chunks of time sitting out on the porch watching people go by, although in our neighborhood, the only people who really went by were the neighbor kids as they left our house to return to theirs and the guy who lived down the street from us and worked at Pioneer (which was right across the street from our house). Nevertheless, Daddy sat out there to people-watch, and the front porch is where I got the talk.
You know which one I’m talking about.
He sat there with his arms on his knees and his hands half-folded in front of him and stared off in the direction of the neighbors’ house. For a long time, he said nothing. When he finally spoke, though, he said, “You keep your pants up till you get married. But if you get into trouble, don’t go do something stupid. Just come home and we’ll figure something out.”
When I unexpectedly got pregnant at 19, he was the only one I wasn’t afraid to tell. All he said was, “Well, I tried to teach ya to keep yer pants up till ya got married, but ya didn’t listen, didja?”
The bang that closed out my thirteenth year was rather less expected. After my mom died, my dad hit the bottle pretty hard and when I was 13, he suffered a stroke. The doctors thought it was because he drank so heavily for so long and then stopped suddenly. It was pretty serious, but fortunately for him, I was home at the time (I was a goody-two-shoes) and able to get help for him right away. He eventually made a full recovery and spent some time in a rehab facility, too, so I spent the rest of the year living with my aunt and uncle in the next town over.
My guidance counselor, the wonderful lady who helped me out with my first female experience and whose nap was interrupted during sixth grade camp, lived in the same town and was kind enough to let me ride to school and back with her every day so that I could stay in the same school district for the rest of the year. It was a hard year for me, going from the relative freedom I’d been used to to living under someone else’s rules, and I know I didn’t make it easy on my aunt and uncle, either.
But I strongly suspect my kids will more than make up for any gray hairs I may have given my relatives. And I have four of them to survive.
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