I've developed a possibly irritating tendency to ask people what they remember about their adolescent experiences in hopes of developing some idea of how to effectively parent my own adolescent.
(If you've stopped returning my calls, I understand.)
Last night, driving home with two exceptionally smart women, the question somehow led to the subject of the moments when we first realized that we were smarter then most other people. For B, it happened in adolescence during a social studies group project. She wondered why the other kids were wasting so much time and doing so many stupid and pointless things, until it dawned on her that their brains simply weren't working the same way hers did.
E had to think about it a bit, but told us about her first major interaction with a teacher who was just flat-out wrong. She tried to correct the teacher, and we all know how well authority figures take being told they're wrong.
I remember pointing out to my folks that the direction they had drawn the bathroom door opening and the location of the mirror meant that anyone sitting on the west side of the dining room table would have a direct view of anyone sitting on the toilet if the door was inadvertently opened. I noticed some impracticality about the way the stairs came down into the garage, too - the cars were going to get in the way of the doorway, or something.
What do you mean, your parents didn't design and build a house around you when you were a kid? How did you climb up into the rafters of your house if the the drywall was already up?
One thing I remember about my childhood is spending lots of time thinking and figuring things out for myself. I remember thinking about ways to weave hair together, and trying it out and realizing that I was braiding. I can tell you where I was sitting and what doll's hair it was, too. Ditto with loops of yarn that turned out to be crocheting: I was sitting on the left end of the couch and the yarn was red. I remember how smart I felt when I figured out that the freeway exit numbers correspond to the mileposts and that a solid yellow line means do not pass.
Twelve spends a lot of time on her own, but what if she doesn't think about things?
Okay, okay, I heard it. She probably thinks about something, even if it's just how cute Niall is and how Harry is her favorite.
I also wonder if Twelve is ever going to experience the kind of existential clouds that pretty much all of the adults I know live under. What do I want to be when I grow up? What do I want out of life? Am I making a difference in the world? Am I really happy? Twelve doesn't seem to be asking any of these questions, and as we discussed last night, it's the interesting people who do.
B added that adolescence was when she developed a critical perspective on life. She read The Beauty Myth and realized that her bodily self-hatred wasn't coming from her, but from the media, and began to fight back. I didn't discover feminism until adulthood, but I was completely miserable in middle school, so complacency was never an option for me either. I worry that Twelve will be complacent. She's popular, attractive, tall, privileged, and verbose, so she doesn't have much to fight against. The world works for Twelve. I almost wish someone would tell her that she can't do something because she's a girl - then she'd have something to get riled up about.
What if Twelve just grows up and gets a job that she likes, keeps it until she retires, and that works for her? I don't understand people like this. I hear they exist, but I have no category for uncomplicated contentment. I cannot fathom doing the same job for several decades - or even for several years, to be perfectly honest. I am too busy getting bored and asking those damn unanswerable questions.
As we concluded in the car last night, it would be okay if Twelve does just grow up and choose a career. I don't have to understand her - ever. Hell, she can take care of me in my old age, since clearly I am not contributing the maximum amount to a 401(k) at the moment.
Popular, confident, content ... it's a good thing she looks like me.