“Work in Progress”

First day of high school    The opinions of our children can cause exasperation, wonder, amusement or thoughtful reflection particularly when the opinions are unsolicited and erupt from those in their early teenage years. If you are a parent or even a close relative of one, you become aware of this “growth” period immediately. Prior to the onset of the freshman year of high school, mothers, formerly impeccable with not a hair of their natural color out of place, nor a smudge of misplaced mascara, could be seen bouncing from meeting to meeting, juggling all manner of balls in the air and managing this feat without breaking a sweat or a fingernail. Fathers, standing tall, would proudly keep one hand on their the wallet, the plastic sleeves filled with a chronological collage of their little one, ready to let it drop to its full length of 20” should anyone unwittingly ask to see the latest photo of junior.

    Then the moment arrives; the first day of high school. Not only are parents left wondering, “Wow, that went by fast. How did I end up here?” but they encounter a moody, unrecognizable stranger living in what used to be their child’s bedroom. Oh, the old, loveable personality visits once in a while, but frankly, the visitations come and go with shocking irregularity as if stuck in one of those revolving doors found in a five star hotel. The sudden fluctuation leaves one’s head spinning. Just when you think the happiness and gaiety has returned, it’s been replaced with moodiness and condescension while you simply went out to get the mail.

      Parents of such precocious, eye rolling, “they just don’t get it” teens can be easily identified. For women, the battle to maintain their god given hair color becomes fierce as gray streaks sizzle to life with alarming alacrity. Peaceful mornings become a thing of the past as the effort to get the little darling up and ready for school begins at 7:00am and ends with a supreme challenge of beating the tardy bell at 8:50am. What mother hasn’t felt the thrill of victory of accomplishing that very feat considering when they left the house, it was 8:45am, she had already lost one fake eyelash, was wearing two different shoes, the notes for her business presentation are sitting on the kitchen table, the child is putting his pants on in the back seat, wearing two different colored socks and they live 15 miles from the school. Oh, did I mention her silk blouse is inside out?

     For men, the change is more subtle. Formerly, insightful in speech and deliberate in action, they find themselves beginning a sentence only to lose their entire train of thought after three words. The phrase “I’m going to the gym” becomes their escape mantra. It is not uncommon for the men, rattled by the continual emotional flux to unintentionally mistake their wife’s perfume for their cologne. Mother and father, an eyebrow raised, begin to level accusatory glares at their partner. Crow’s feet begin to leave evidence on both parents but, of course, on men the look is distinguished. Gray hair begins to haunt the men as well but almost entirely around the temples. Frankly, the bastards weather this “transitional” stage much better than women. However, unless the husband decides to take up pipe smoking, indicating he is taking the whole “distinguished” look to a brand new level, there’s no need to worry.

     At this stage, a parent may wonder if their precious child will ever come full circle. Will this son/daughter ever rejoin the fold and tame the chaotic emotions threatening to up heave what was once a harmonious family, most of the time? Will these unrecognizable mutant teenagers live long enough to see their twenties? The latter question is melodramatic, of course, but parents have been known to mutter the question under their breath.

     The truth, fortunately for most parents, is yes. As my son progressed through the school years, each phase brought highs and lows. One high was catching the last pass of the last game of the flag football season and running for a touchdown. His school suffered a humiliating defeat: 28-7 but he only remembers the touchdown and the feeling of euphoria as his teammates rallied around him. He endured the unfortunate ordeal of a personality clash with a teacher and dealt with bullying in middle school. During this formative period, we acted as his voice, his champions so to speak as most parents are. After enjoying a successful stint of homeschooling, we silently approached his first few days of high school with trepidation. Wanting to fit in, like most high school newbies, he resorted to a heretofore hidden dry sense humor which served him well. Imagine my surprise when, after only one week, a dizzying number of kids seemed to know him by name and I hadn’t been called to the principal’s office.

  In this first year, he has ridden the freight elevator from his original high grade point average straight down to just above the bargain basement levels. He has suffered the heartbreak of his first real crush and has decided, albeit begrudgingly, his parents may be right about one or two things, after all. Like the metamorphosis of a cocoon to a butterfly, I’m watching my son slowly grasp the value of making better decisions. Every once in a while, the lights are on and there actually is somebody home. The realization is exciting and not just because I’m tired of hearing my own voice. Some of those decisions aren’t going to be easy, some of them are going to hurt and many will go against the wishes of his friends. The fracture we are experiencing as a family is this: these are no longer solely our decisions. He’s testing his wings. Not every choice he has made so far has been wise, but he’s learning. What’s promising is twofold. He’s made a couple of sensible decisions about schoolwork and achieved a measure of academic reward. Secondly, he’s discovered, to his surprise, he rather likes the feeling.

    My one sister has two boys. She once confided to me, surreptitiously, her older son was so moody and disdainful throughout high school, he drove her to distraction. When he began looking for colleges, she offered him a one way ticket to Alaska. They lived in Iowa. Both her sons have come full circle, are amazing men and she is deservedly very proud. We haven’t reached the point of dropping our son off at Alaska Airlines, yet. So far it’s been three steps forward, two steps back. The positive is beginning to outweigh the negative. Besides, I have to confess my husband looks rather dishy with a smattering of gray at his temples and so far, he’s shown no interest in picking up a pipe. As for me, my hairdresser is a genius with color and styles my hair so the bald spots where I pulled my hair out aren’t noticeable. Furthermore, false eyelashes are highly overrated. Let’s be honest. We are all works in progress.

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