in the land of teenagers

I have a wooden sign resting on the windowsill above my kitchen sink that reads: Hire a Teenager and continues in smaller letters beneath: While they still know everything, and every time I see it am reminded of this brave new world in which I live.

Some days I walk around my house feeling as if I have landed in a foreign country.  The people I live with look like me, fundamentally, but their dress, language and attitude often seem to belong to another culture.

I live in the Land of Teenagers, not very different from the Land of the Lost (complete with grunting and snarling) in that one minute I was minding my own business, skipping through my grand parenting adventure, and in an instant my raft was shot over a cliff and I was surrounded by baby velociraptors who were a little bit scared and confused but mostly wanted to bite me.

Like the zombies in my new-favorite-show The Walking Dead, perfectly reasonable and likable children are transformed overnight into raging narcissists with only their own personal survival at stake. Subtract that crazy lust for blood and flesh and it’s pretty much what it’s like at my house each morning before school.

I woke up late one morning last week and naturally, that meant that my freshman daughter would still be in bed as she lately requires my assistance in rising each day. I burst into her room and she sprang up in her bed as if it was on fire, her corkscrew curls standing up in every direction. She had about five minutes to tame her locks, print out a school paper and apply the requisite amount of eye makeup before it was time to leave.

I staggered downstairs and found the older daughter, who drives the other one to school, literally stroking her long hair, a la Marcia Brady, and looking miffed when I asked why she didn’t get her sister up.  “Not my problem,” she hissed, and I knew better than to mess with her. She sat and watched from a stool while her sister and I scurried around getting a lunch together. Our neighbor, who also gets a ride to school each day, arrived and stood in the kitchen watching for a bit before yelling “Shotgun!” and sashaying outside.

Survival of the fittest at its finest.

But the kids also recognize, on some level, the grossness of their behavior. The girls are the ones who dug up that silly sign from a stack at a wood shop in Vermont over the summer. They came running up the stairs to where I was poking around cutting boards and salad bowls and tongs to show me their find. “You have to get it!” they told me.

When my oldest child was overtaken by the teenage body snatchers, I wasn’t so surprised. He was a prime candidate for surliness and impulsive behavior and seemed ripe for the picking.  But when even my easygoing third child fell prey to mood swings and snappy retorts, I realized that the teenage funk was an equal opportunity invader.

Even my sister-in-law, whose daughter is a great girl with a big heart, complained the other day that at 15, she was getting a little mouthy. Say it ain’t so.

It’s hard to imagine, even after living with three vitims of the terrible teens, that my little guy, who’s 8, will ever succumb to the perils of post adolscence. I watch him sleeping in my bed some nights, his little mouth parted showing the big gap where three teeth used to live, and I can’t imagine him pimply and petulant. That’s the yummy part about having him in my life though, a reminder of how sweet they all used to be.

I’m generally skeptical of older parents who assure me that kids come back around, just as I was sure they’d never go south in the first place. But just this week, I’ve taken hope it might be true.

Facebook has long been the hallowed ground for my teens — a place where no moms are allowed.  They have all adamantly refused to friend me, and even the third child, who agreed to be my friend in her successful negotiations to get on Facebook last year, quickly reneged and dug in her heels.

But this Sunday, as I was lying on my bed reading the paper, I heard my cellphone ding and saw I had a message from Facebook and had to rub my eyes and look again. It said that my 19-year-old son who’s away at school had just friended me. I quickly clicked the button and saw that, indeed, a request had been made, and I knew, like that crazy earthquake not long ago, that something big had just happened.

I think he might be coming around.

This essay was originally posted on Patch on November 10, 2011.