Oh to Describe the Teenage Years!

More from a surfeit of material than a lack, I haven’t been blogging much of late, although my desktop is cluttered with half-finished posts. That’s partly because I’m currently trying to meet the financial demands of an expat with spawn in an international school and a serial travel habit rather than a wandering hippie type.

It’s also because, while we’re still on the dog-ate-my-homework theme, I’m trying to fit the bulk of my workload into the school term, or when Zac’s away, so that holidays can feel like holidays, even if I do write about them afterwards. (Travel writing trips, while fascinating and fun, are very far from holidays.)

Couple that with a pathological inability to stay off social media, Vanity Fair and that hilarious Gif of the cat and the lizard in the bath, while “working” online, and – well, you have one neglected blog.

One of the big blocks is the teenage thing. Like any rational parent heading into the teen years, I’d expected hell on earth: grunting, tantrums and a parenting role reduced largely to personal chef, occasional taxi service and (in my case) erratic ATM. Much to my surprise, I’m very much enjoying it, especially now I’m outsourcing the taxi piece to Go-Jek.

Man Cave

While my spawn is far from a grunt-free zone, particularly when in the throes of jetlag – who knew he could sleep sitting up without support?! – he is, as we parents of teenagers tell one another when someone else’s graces us with a sentence or even a full paragraph, “positively talkative”.

Further, we get on very well. I LIKE seeing his face come to life as he chats to his friends. And I’m not resentful that it rarely does when he’s chatting with me. Although I miss the days when I had a readymade cinema buddy at home, he condescended to see both Spectre and Star Wars with me.

Distance is, obviously, de rigeur at this age. I’m his mother. He’s both a teenager and a male one. If I were his best friend, or even close to that, that would be intensely unhealthy. While I feel privileged that we just spent a month living on top of each other again without conflict – in England, Paris and Slovenia – it’s nice for both of us to have our space again.

I vividly remember the teenage transition from parents with feet of gold to parents with feet of clay. In fact, I have never again been so certain about anything as I was about absolutely bloody everything aged 15. But, possibly since my feet of clay have been on display since Zac was teeny-tiny, I’ve caught a lucky break.

This may sound negative. It isn’t meant to. There are many, many interesting and rewarding aspects of finding yourself the parent of a teenager – a process that seems to happen overnight. It’s fascinating to watch a child transition into a young adult.

The physical side is mesmerising. So seamless was the voice breaking that we spent several evenings discussing whether it was happening. After a few tense months when Zac seemed permanently stuck at slightly shorter than me, he now out-tops me even when I’m wearing heels. I’ve seen him sleep for 18 hours and wake up visibly taller. It’s jawdropping.

Teen boys do strange things to the domestic economy. One of Zac’s friends, a surfer, described an entire baguette, with lashings of meats, cheeses and a packet of cherry tomatoes, as a “snack”. Food-shopping and cooking become a delicate balance between battling middleaged spread and meeting the gobsmacking energy requirements of a slender teen with a turbo-charged metabolism who’s shooting up a centimetre or more each week.

The art, for the record, is finding high-cal snacks you can keep in the house WITHOUT being tempted to consume them yourself. In our case, these are: honey-roast peanuts, ginger ale, ginger biscuits, Nutella and sliced bread. We started, of course, with healthier options – cheese cubes, almonds and cashews. Shortly thereafter, I burst out of my jeans.

Obviously, the intellectual side is great. The conversations that emerge when your child has knowledge you don’t are just fantastic. The ideas a bright teenager with a surrealist bent can generate are awe-inspiring. And he can be laugh out loud funny.

The emotional side, too, is almost entirely wonderful. I love hearing about the ins and outs of teenage life, the friendships, the psychological development, the…… And here, you see, we hit the wall.

For this is the problem as a writer. Observing interesting things, having interesting experiences, and turning them into more (or, in this case, less) polished prose is something I pursue for both work and pleasure. The teen years make wonderful material. And it’s material I can’t, as a (quasi-) responsible parent, use.

To state the blindingly obvious, the teen years are when young people discover themselves, create their own space and build their own friendships and relationships. To do this, they require space and privacy. I’m lucky that Zac allows me a lot further in to his particular journey than many young adults do. And I’d love to write about it. But I can’t. Because he’s not material. He’s not a product. He’s my young adult son.

You see, you don’t have to go full Madonna to be an embarrassing parent. (If your experience of the internet is purer than mine, let’s just say she shared a picture of her 15-year-old in his underpants with around 6 million followers on Instagram – and tagged it #nosausage. He now lives with his father.) All most parents need do to be embarrassing – besides existing, which often suffices – is drop a childhood nickname in public.

In blogging terms, almost all funny stories (travel or otherwise) are out, because they’re embarrassing. His personal relationships are off-limits, because they’re private. Even in the classroom there be dragons.

I could, of course, just write about the safely funny stuff. The teenage grunting. The time he required a day off school even to enter the Musée d’Orsay – and he LIKES the Impressionists. The time he attempted to pickpocket the hotel room key rather than inspect a masterpiece of Slovenian architecture (in fairness, he did have a point).

But then I run the risk of turning my spawn into a caricature teen boy. And he’s more than that.

Luckily, unlike this family, I’m not a famous blogger. Further, blogging is only a portion of what I do nowadays – being economically dependent on selling a narrative of your life has long seemed precarious and potentially invasive, and seems even more so as social media comes to dominate what used to be the web – and only a fraction of that enters the home space. Still, even at my level, the intersection of public and private is a difficult one to navigate.

So, I think, for now, I’ll just say: #teensaregreat. The young adult years are fab. But, sadly, I won’t be writing about them very much. Although, now I’ve got this off my chest, I hope to write much more, and about many, many other things. Like, ya know, travel, and culture, and art, and fun, and life.


Thanks to Albert Leung for his image, A Modern Man’s Cave, creative commons on Flickr.com

5 Responses

  1. Rosita says:

    Hi, Thea, I have a new puppy, as you can confer at this text I wrote.
    Potcake’s story:
    I was really wanting to have another dog to make company to Cleo, our beloved Yorkshire Terrier, but, instead of buying a purebred puppy of a foreigner breed, I decided to adopt an unwanted puppy at any animal shelter, so, I visited AUfamily (which can be easily translated from my pretty average Portuguese to my pidgin English as “WOOFamily”) to see just some dogs. Despite the fact of promising myself that I would adopt an adult rather than a puppy, first I looked puppies area. And then there was Potcake, an eight-months-old puppy. Gorgeous, floppy-eared, brown Potcake, who didn’t seem to know how to be a puppy at all. I simply loved her bright green eyes, a remarkable trait of her mixed heritage, as she was a purebred BSD (Brazilian Street Dog, a mixed breed dog, who can be called as being a “mutt”, “mongrel”, or even our local term “vira-latas”, a Brazilian slang term for street dog which means, in a most rough way, “those who turns rubbish”, although I personally think this term pretty pejorative). Her story was very sad: she was spanked by her owner, who let it without food or water or human care during weeks. Maybe bad karma follow him. She was found starving and sick, with both anemia and babesiasis, but, luckily, she don’t have none sequelae. Potcake, like me, was a survivor of her own story, and nobody can imagine what occurred with she on a not very distant past, but, now, she was ready to receive so much TLC from a good family. I was shocked with her story and promptly decided that there was my dog, both because I was touched by her history and loved her appearance, but, also, because according to my beliefs (spoiler alert: we aren’t talking about religion, but yes the most profound beliefs of one person, independently of its religion), no one human being should mistreat none living creature, specially a dog, who I consider as a holy creature, because God gave us dogs to show us what’s unbreakable loyalty and unconditional love, that can exceed all form of borders and even other lives (yes, despite the fact of being born and raised by a catholic family, I believe in both karma and reincarnation). Yet having already inflicted two dogs on our small, long-suffering family, there was apparently no space for poor, forlorn Potcake, but I was decided to keep it with me. Even if she resolutely refused to play with her ball, or her squeaky toy, or show any interest in the foods I desultorily threw, and demonstrated that it was a couch potato by lying on a orange hammock with me, at mommy’s room. I am fresh back from a trip to Santiago, and gripping with the vicissitudes of local internet connection, when the gate opens.
    Some weeks ago, we took Potcake again to the shelter, to being sterilized, and the vet said that, after this surgery, dogs tend to be obese both due to an improvement on their appetite and lack of exercise, so, he said that Potcake really need walk, like all dogs. He also asked if Cleo used to walk.
    “Ehhh…no! She isn’t sterilized and it’s pretty scared of being at the street, even with me”, I say, laughing.
    “It’s totally wrong! TOTALLY! All dogs need walk, independently of the fact of being neutered/sterilized or not! ALL DOGS!”, he said, firmly.
    Mommy and I hold a summit meeting. Although she isn’t a big fan of dogs, specially one of mixed heritage, and I’m an assumed dog lover, who’s a big contrast, we ARE, we decide, going to do this properly. So, I pick a black leash, who was of one of my dogs that died just a few years ago, and took Potcake for walks on the front of the condo or at an old park, like a pedigree dog of a foreigner breed. We will spend a small fortune on stupidly expensive pet food so that she gains weight. She might started her life as an abandoned and mistreated puppy, we conclude, but Potcake’s lifestyle aspirations are firmly cosmopolitan. Obviously a puppy that deserve to walk at Miami Beach, Fifty Avenue and spend a holiday at an all-inclusive resort on paradise Bali. I’m just kidding, but, if you give me the chance, I’ll certainly do those things with my dogs, specially one who suffered a lot on its short life. And so it begins. Potcake does not like her leash. Nor does I like the idea of walking a dog. I literally have to drag her out of the house. And also myself, because, despite the fact of being a dog lover, I don’t really appreciate the idea of walking a dog. Yet, the more we walk her, the more socialized she becomes. She stops and sniffs at other dogs – occasionally yapping at them, rather unnervingly. I interact with other dog owners, as the dog lover teenager that I am. In one night, I decided to pick Potcake to my room.
    “Only that night”, I tried promise to myself.
    It takes me approximately three seconds of inspecting the terrified, disoriented creature in the sofa to conclude that Potcake is somnolent, and, when I took it, she bit me on the right arm.
    “Mommy!”, I screamed.
    “What occurred?”, she asked, both nervous and somnolent.
    “Potcake bitten me!”, I said.

    “Wash and put a bandaid on it”, mommy said.

    I was concerned about the risk of contracting rabies, so, I dig out Potcake’s vaccination book. She has not had her rabies shots yet. Drug! It means that I would die on a horrible way, of rabies. Aaarrrrgggghhhhhhhhhh! I washed frenetically my arm, but I was really concerned about catching rabies, although I really wouldn’t like the idea of killing poor, forlorn Winnie to make rabies test, who consists on sending a sample of animal’s brain to lab, but I certainly wouldn’t do that with a puppy that suffered a lot on its short life and was only wanting a lovely family to give it so much TLC. One of the benefities of living on a city? Your favorite restaurant can be distant of your home, but there’s no problem, since drive-thru restaurants exist on your city and you can eat your favorite plate when assist any movie/documentary/TV program at Netflix. I am immersed in a nonsense movie when Potcake jumps on the couch and starts running up and down it. This seems both odd and unlikely to improve the cushions, so I pick her up and put her on the floor. Potcake jumps back on, and, finally I notice that it was wagging its sable-like tail, it’s too obvious that she just wants to play with me. At the middle of night? No way! I’ll not pay attention to a hyperactive puppy. Oh, OK, Potcake, you won! I’ll play with you! So, I get down of the couch and thrown Potcake’s favorite ball. And she go to pick it. Yes! I won! And nobody can imagine my happiness who was impregnated at my face at this moment.
    One of our friend’s baby had routinely play with Cleo, and she wanted to know our new puppy. Ignoring all advice from interested parties of ‘for god’s sake, get rid of the mutt’, and breathing a quiet sigh of relief that I’ve mentioned nothing about having a new dog to the neighbors, but they probably had noticed until that, mommy and I decide that we will go walk her properly, and bring her a toy to play with while Cleo’s also wanting to play. I delve deeply into the complex and wonderful world of canine breeds and animal health books, and I solemnly decide that I need to train Potcake, as I did with Cleo, but, first of all, we bough a toy for Potcake, who is, after all, only a puppy – and a much-loved puppy, with lots of canine and human friends, as one of our friend’s daughter. And so, they finally visited us, or better, Winnie. “Oi [Hello]”, the child says, brightly.
    “Au au [Woof Woof!]”, she said, pointing to Cleo, although she wasn’t obviously referring to Cleo, but yes to Potcake.
    Mommy seemed a little surprised, but take them through. Potcake was on a cage, pretty isolated from Cleo, both food and water bowl untouched. She was growling and snarling to Cleo, and brought her own toy to our friend’s daughter. They looked at each other, without saying nothing. Despite her sad start on its life, Potcake’s always doing funny things, that make me laugh. I scream like a girl and leap in the air. I am, I decide, smiling, definitely a dog person. So, what do you think about my new puppy story?

  2. susan says:

    Theodora, Sine who writes a blog titled Joburg Expat would probably be very helpful with some tips about South Africa. She and her family lived there and she keeps up-to-date with events and people living there.

    Enjoy reading your tweets and Facebook so much!

    Kind regards

  3. Hi Thea, I love your blog! I am also a mother, homeschooler and world traveller. In 2014, our family of 7 visited 20+ countries. I also have a travel blog and as a courtesy wanted to let you know that I have quoted you on my blog. I love the image of balancing middle-aged spread and meeting the gob smacking energy requirements of a slender teen boy!

    • Theodora says:

      Thanks, Nicole! Would be great if you could also link to the original post if you’ve quoted extensively. Theodora

  4. Nicole Blyton says:

    Haven’t quoted extensively but did link to the original post. Thanks again for a great blog!

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