Forget about the babies, save the teenagers

Look, I love babies. I adored my son even though he sometimes seemed to be silently criticizing me from his carseat when I was trying to find my car keys and trying to find my wallet and trying to answer the phone and had yet to brush my hair. For days. However, this is what he required: diapers, bottles, a laundry basket he slept in until it etched a grid on his naked scalp and we transferred him into a portable crib where he slept, splayed on his back, lightly covered with a small blanket and his best pal-the big-headed cat. He had a swing where he swung watching a strange English TV show called "Mr Blobby" and he had some cute outfits and a bunch of hand-me-downs and some used baby clothes because who the hell spends money on stuff a kid can wear for a month? He took tubs with his daddy and he was bundled in a baby sling and people would peer down at him and say, "Oh my god, what a beautiful baby!" And he was.

And then, it got different. His stepmother suggested he live elsewhere, he behaved badly in school, he was no longer the peach his pretty day care providers wanted to hug and kiss. He was a teenager and he was full of contradictory impulses and his skin broke out and people stopped telling me he was the most wonderful boy in the world even though I knew he was. That's because I'm a huge fan of teenagers, their intensity, morbidity, wit and defiance. But I fear for their safety, their happiness, their very survival when the most popular movie/book is an allegory about them killing each other, when suicide continues to beckon them closer to the abyss, when grown-ups spend so much of their time trying to stop getting older, shirking their responsibilities and talking endlessly about their worries and concerns.

Do people think kids just disappear between 13 and 18? When they were babies they were inundated with activities, wiggle worms, mommy and me, baby yoga and stroller aerobics and lots and lots of stuff. But teenager have nowhere to hang out except those places that usually get them in trouble, illegal house parties and empty houses and the street. They are followed by the police and menaced by gang members yet no one recognizes their affinity for hanging out, for socializing and writing poetry. Babies don't write poetry! Babies don't want anything but to hang on your neck, drool, eat, get their diapers changed and have you stop trying to teach them sign language. Babies are loners and find boxes on their heads highly amusing. They are like cats, fascinated by things dangling above them and bags and shadows on the wall. Teenagers need to be engaged and taught stuff and then left alone to hang out. Teenagers love jobs. Babies are lazy and often oversleep.

Your children still need you. They care about what you think. Your baby never did. Your baby was an adorable monster who never gave a fleeting thought about anything you did or said. Your teenager is watching you. Your teenager needs you to say something when a kid is shot, possibly for resembling a thug, when other kids are killing themselves or one another. You need to say something when they fail and you've forgotten how to comfort them because they are hard to hug. Hug them! And stop hiring people like me to tutor them unless that tutor understands that part of their job is to reassure them and help them feel better about themselves. I heard a parent interviewed about the latest suicide that claimed the life of a boy, a seventeen year old boy who chose to jump in front of a train in a town that is often described as the happiest town in America and this parent described the local high school as a pressure cooker where kids live in fear of their grades falling, their test scores tanking or their sports abilities not being great enough to get them into whatever college has been identified as the one they need to be accepted by. And we don't tell them it just doesn't matter that much. High School is temporary, College is all about finding people just like yourself to be friends with and professors who will actually teach you something great. Tell the truth about babies so they stop having them.

I had a friend attempt suicide in high school. Her parents were alcoholics, the sort of alcoholics that drink all the time. Her house was always dark. She was beautiful and she shoplifted, she was brilliant and she dealt pot and I remember thinking, why doesn't anyone help her? I couldn't do much. I was a drunk and had been raped by my first date ever and couldn't talk to my parents about anything because all my mother ever did was scream. But I kept thinking, who cares about us? Doesn't anyone realize we're children still?


Popular Posts