Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Have a Teenager. So There.

Fortunately, our sojourn at DFW on our return from Mexico was only as long as it should have been. After going through immigration, customs, and back through security, we needed another terminal. DFW being laid out such that you very nearly might as well take a cab from one terminal to another, to the SkyLink we went.

(I am pretty sure that the SkyLink drivers assuage the boredom of driving in endless circles by racing each other around the track. Can't say I blame them.)

A group of young women joined us at the next stop. They were probably college students - I think I saw a vaguely collegiate logo - but they seemed younger, in keeping with the standard academics' observation that they keep getting younger every year. They were dressed in that carefully fashionable way that stops just short of hyper trendiness, and they had a familiar look about them and a familiar feeling attitude toward me. Of course, I could be projecting all of this or making it up entirely, but when I am confronted by a group of fashionably dressed 18 to 22-year old women, I experience an acute feeling that's equal parts pity, disdain, and intimidation.

Pity at either my feeble attempts at fashionability or my complete lack of fashion sense. Today, a combination of both; I borrowed Twelve's Toms as effective cross-climate traveling footwear but am wearing them with ankle socks, leggings, and a t-shirt. Not quite a Twelve-sanctioned outfit, but an excellent air travel ensemble, and one in which I feel perfectly fashionable enough except in contrast to a pack of 20-year-olds with their leggings and boots and huge shiny logo bags and their immaturity masked by insolence.

Disdain at my clearly advancing age, as I am obviously no longer eighteen and therefore am no longer a threat. It's a complicated disdain, though, because I am both older than I look (this trip without Twelve, several new acquaintances reacted incredulously to the fact that I have a thirteen-year-old) and a harbinger of things to come. Someday, my dears, you will look like me, so don't look at me like that.

You'll look like me if you're lucky, that is. I often want to take these types of young women by the shoulders, give a firm shake, and tell them to start wearing sunscreen every day, right now. It's your only hope of looking as good as I do when you are 33, I'd tell them warningly, and this is about as good as it gets in the age-defying business. (It's true. I am regularly told that I don't look my age. Either they're right or they're lying, and that conspiracy would be one heck of a waste of time. I've done daily sunscreen for over a decade and am a dedicated proponent of the sun hat. I am ahead of my time in the sun-avoidance game and if I get skin cancer it will be a particularly ridiculous irony.)

Intimidation because I am an adult woman of a certain height and a certain class status and a certain race and a certain bearing, and people react to me a certain way. I read recently that people are quicker to assume that higher-status people are angry, and that helps explain why my students didn't connect with me when I dressed more a bit more fashionably. It's something I tried last year in an attempt to be more relatable, and it had precisely the opposite effect, I now think; they thought I was mad at them when in fact I was simply not smiling every second. The three-inch wedges were probably a particularly big mistake - and I was just thrilled to have jeans long enough to wear with three-inch wedges!

In my lifelong quest to escape my inner scared twelve-year-old's insecurities, it's possible that I've overcompensated. After high school, I realized that an effective way to develop self-confidence is to just pretend you have it, since (I decided) nobody can tell the difference. Somewhere along the way I somehow became actually confident. It helped to realize that nobody cares (which is applicable to an awful lot of circumstances) and that I don't care if they do anyway.

It's that last bit that Twelve and I might never have in common. Well, the first one too, since I'd lay even odds that Twelve maintains the ability to look cute and fashionable long beyond age 33. (Okay, now that I think about it, I've never really looked cute or fashionable in my entire life. When I do now, it's carefully calculated and I usually feel like an imposter. Classic and elegant are safer feeling fashion adjectives for me, and you don't have to buy clothes as often.)

However, I don't detect any scared seventh grade insecurity in Twelve. She seems perfectly comfortable with herself and her social role. She is popular - last time I checked, she and L were the most popular seventh graders - and she admires at least one of the eighth graders but is not too intimidated by her to chat about the other girl's new hot pink Juicy Couture hoodie (*gag*). She has spent enough time with adults that she's annoyed by at least one friend whose behavior is consistently annoying (I'm pretty sure that she never shuts up; I don't know how Twelve can stand it). I think she's got a lot of capacity to be overbearingly confident, and I highly suspect that she's already begun to alienate less-confident peers with her taken-completely-for-granted comfort with and confidence in herself. Even if it takes a hit in the next few years, heaven forbid, I am at least confident that it will eventually return.

Anyway, as R and I jolted our way to Terminal Whichever, enough of the 18 to 20-year-olds chatter drifted toward us that I suddenly turned to him and said I'm not sure if I'm quite ready to get Twelve back tomorrow. It had been a lovely week of tropical vacation, and listening to those girls reminded me of just how much energy it takes to effectively spend time with a thirteen-year-old daughter. You have to be totally focused on her; for one thing, she notices if you aren't paying attention and gives you a hard time about it, and for another, it takes effort to respond in a way that keeps her involved in the conversation.

I had not quite put those pieces together until just then, as I started to prepare for re-entry into the world of emails and meetings and people wanting things from me. I knew I had been feeling stressed out about it, but thought it was just that there were too many threads that I needed to re-gather (yes, I'd been reading Sherlock Holmes on the Kindle during the trip). I realized that there's even more legitimacy to the I Have a Teenager thing than I had previously thought, and it's important to set aside that time and mental space.

So, all of you people who want little pieces of me, you can stick it where the sun does not shine. I Have a Teenager, and that takes time. I'm not available for meetings from three pm to bedtime, most days, and I'm not going to go out of my way to arrange to be gone overnight unless I really want to. The pay is lousy and the hours are inconvenient, but it's what I'm doing now and I'm not going to take any crap about it. 

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