Two of my three children are now teenagers. 13-year old boy-girl twins. I’ve thought a lot about (multiple) teenagers: hormones, braces, driver’s licenses, dating each other’s friends, swim suit choices, sleeping in, homework and grades that matter long-term, acne, silence, grunt-based conversations, food and more food.
But I hadn’t thought a lot about how other people would see my kids differently now until we were on a family reunion vacation to Florida this December. Three times during the week, I noticed people reacting negatively to my teenagers.
Once at the airport when they fumbled with taking off their shoes, jackets, belts, jewelry and wrestled with carry-ons, tickets (now they were required to hold their own), passports, scraps of paper in their back pockets, iPads, and all of that for their younger sister.
Again when all the relatives, except three teenage cousins and I, boarded a bus and we had to scramble to get on or risk losing the family for the rest of the day or the rest of the week.
And again when they took seats on a crowded boat and wouldn’t give them up. They were saving them, as requested, for the younger cousins, so the teenage cousins could hold the younger ones on their laps and thus save boat space and save their aunts’ and uncles’ tired arm muscles.
People don’t roll their eyes at the elementary-age kids who struggle with all this junk at the airport. They don’t mutter under their breath at the mother fighting with a double stroller and diaper bag and multiple infants. They don’t argue that toddlers be kept from keeping up with their family on a bus at Disney World or that babies can’t jump in line after getting lost in the scrum of vacationers.
Okay, maybe some people do, but then they look at the babies and they are oh.so.cute. Chubby and baby powdered, cooing or waddling in flannel snowman footie pajamas. The elementary school kids say something precocious and everyone laughs and the parents are forgiven for holding up the line.
Ideally, teenagers wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. But they aren’t perfect. I’ve been lost in crowds myself, as a full-blown adult. Ideally, they wouldn’t fall over when taking off shoes at the airport or fail to tie them quickly after security. I don’t think they are embarrassing themselves on purpose. Ideally, no one would get in anyone’s way and everyone would be kind and gracious. But.
What I noticed that week was that (some) people instantly think the worst of teenagers. They seemed to expect teenagers to misbehave, act selfishly, and generally waste everyone’s time. And teenagers don’t have that adorable baby fat or diaper butt or cute, cuddly clothes that disarm people and make strangers give them the benefit of the doubt. Neither have they developed full-blown, confident adult ways of apologizing, thanking, or explaining themselves.
No one helps me anymore when my husband travels and I’m home alone with kids. No one thinks I’m a hero anymore for 35 travel hours with children and no spouse. Cute kids used to be a free ticket to board early, budge a few places, gracious restaurant service, an excuse for looking raggedy and exhausted. Oh I know that boarding early is helpful for young families and that I don’t need to board early, in fact I don’t want to. I know they don’t always mean gracious restaurant service, sometimes they mean meltdowns at the table and ketchup on your white shirt. I also know that those cute kids are a load of work and a bigger load of stinky diapers and that they are a really good excuse for looking raggedy and exhausted. I’m just saying that I realized my kids don’t get the benefit of the doubt. I don’t either.
I realized I don’t get the ‘your kids are so cute we will forgive you for the social faux pas you are making.’ My kids aren’t cute anymore.
Of course, I still think they are cute. I can see what few others can. I look in Henry’s eyes and see the eight-month old taking his first step. I look at Maggie and see those red lips she was born with that made people say she was born with lipstick on. No matter how beautiful or handsome they have become, no matter how stinky their feet and smelly their pits, no matter how weird their clothes and bizarre their slang, I still see at least a tiny element of cute.
You might not think my teenagers are cute. I probably always will.
Image courtesy of Photo Magic, Alexandria Minnesota