Ain’t Youth Grand?

It’s a humid evening in June of 2001, when I, and my friend, Jayne, join the throngs of parents taking their children to the big NSync concert at Skydome in downtown Toronto. Our teen daughters, best friends, generate enough electricity between them to power ten city blocks of concert halls.

My own enthusiasm pales in comparison since, elected to be the evening’s chauffeur, I dread the thought of battling freeway congestion after an already long day fighting deadlines at work. I also feel rather petulant at the thought of having to fork over a sinful amount of cash for a parking spot that will no doubt still be a long hike away from our final destination.

Since the plan is to deliver the girls to their gate at Skydome and then meet up with them after the concert at a pre-selected spot outside the gate, I also wonder how Jayne and I are going to kill the next four hours without having to spend a week’s pay on designer coffees (or something stronger) in exchange for an air-conditioned place to rest our laurels.

Imagine our relief when we discover that Skydome’s Windows Restaurant has been converted into a “Parents’ Lounge” for the evening, complete with loads of couches and club chairs, a large-screen television playing music videos at one end, and overhead monitors at the other end broadcasting a variety of sporting events. It’s spacious yet cozy enough to allow tired moms and dads to deflate for the next couple of hours.

The relieved facial expressions around the room tell me that I’m not the only one here who is über-grateful. To boot, there is a refreshment station set up with an unlimited flow of complimentary coffee! Suddenly, life is just one big ol’ box of chocolates (Hershey’s rather than Lindt, mind you—but plenty good enough).

The boom-boom-booming bass vibrations that pound from the stage area beside us, and the eardrum-shattering screams of thousands of teenaged girls (proof that our kids are at least getting our money’s worth) is a small price to pay for the luxury of having a relatively comfortable place of our own to inhabit.

Of course, the stage itself is obscured from our view with a number of strategically placed tarpaulins. I suppose this is only fair, since the ninety-buck admission we were forced to pay for our kids did not extend to the ones who actually toiled for it, so I suppose it’s understandable that we should be banned from goggling at the mighty NSync through a wall of warped Plexiglas.

Securing a spot at a table that overlooks the equipment area behind the stage, Jayne and I pass the time watching a parade of roadies scuttling back and forth, back and forth. I’m aware that roadies travel and work with the band, but I’m still not sure what it is that they do exactly. For four hours, we entertain ourselves watching them pace from one corner to another. And here I thought that politicians were the only ones who’d mastered the art of appearing to do something while doing a whole lot of nothing.

I am also now convinced that roadies are mass-produced from one original roadie-mould. No matter what era we’re in, roadies never, ever change. And I mean that literally.

I think that the roadies working for NSync were somehow teleported into the present day straight from a 1970s Black Sabbath/Led Zeppelin/whatever concert. They all look identical: long hair, either big and bushy or straight and stringy; stubbled chins or unkempt beards; scruffy denim jeans tight enough to emphasize the roach-clips in their pockets; sweat-stained tee shirts emblazoned with either obscenities or dumb platitudes; and frozen grins that say, “We’re cool ‘cause we’re with the band…and you’re not.”

The high point of Jayne’s and my evening arrives not a moment too soon. The tarpaulins block the front of the stage, but not the back. Our eyebrows rise at the sight of three members of NSync racing offstage and down a backstage ramp between sets! As they bound into view, roadies scatter like bowling pins and hover around the sidelines like seagulls circling a pack of French fries. The boys in the band huddle behind a stack of equipment, attempting to perform a lightning-quick costume change. I know it’s “them”— the flash and glimmer of their elaborate costumes draws our attention like lips to chocolate.

Later, Jayne and I brag to our daughters about the fact that we got to see NSync “take it all off” backstage (nah nah nah nah nah). The girls respond with “you-are-soooooo-pathetic” eye rolls, until I offer up a detailed description of the costumes we saw. There is a wide-eyed moment of silence, followed by screams. Lots of screams.

Basking in my newly acquired limelight, I proceed to boast that, although my view was somewhat obstructed, I had actually glimpsed the tighty whities of one of the four high-priced bottoms as it struggled into a very snug pair of jeans. The face hadn’t been visible, but I’d had the pleasure of observing some real-live NSync butt! This revelation elevates me to about as close as I’ll ever get to achieving celebrity status in the eyes of my daughter and her friend.

By ten-forty-five, you would be able to hear a pin drop in the lounge, if it weren’t for the continuous boom-boom-boom-screeeeeaaaaaam-boom-boom-boom-screeeeeaaaaaam. Parents from wall to wall are slumped in their chairs, limp as overcooked noodles, chins propped up on knuckles, eyes half shut. We are all beyond fatigued.

Suddenly, without warning, an explosion of sonic magnitude rocks the lounge. As my daughter later explained, “…they do the most awesome fireworks displays.” Awesome, indeed. It is quite a sight to see 300-odd exhausted men and women awaken instantly. Jayne and I come this close to experiencing the first of many teen-induced myocardial infarctions (I’ve learned a lot from watching Grey’s Anatomy). I wouldn’t have been surprised to see ambulance attendants flooding the place with gurneys.

With my heart still skipping double-double-dutch, I have quietly resumed praying for the show to “just end now, dammit,” when those nasty little NStinkers do it again. I swear my feet actually lift from the ground for a split second. The second blast is our cue to haul it out of there and begin the trek toward our designated meeting spot.

The number of parents waiting around for their children is impressive. There are hundreds. Such a sight, you would never have seen during my childhood years. Back then, if we weren’t old enough to drive to an event on our own, our “concert experience” consisted of staring at our idol in a teen magazine while listening to his latest 45.

Finally! At eleven-thirty, our rosy-cheeked, laryngitised, starry-eyed daughters race up, shrieking with excitement. Throughout the entire ride home, their ongoing description of the show comprises only those words you’ll find in a thesaurus under “awesome.” The girls thank us over and over again. Jayne and I grin at each other. For this one night, we are their heroes. We have successfully granted the wishes of two very grateful teenaged girls. And we have also received a rare and unexpected treat in return.

The evening’s adventures have taken both of us on an emotional trip of our own, back in years, back to a long-faded time when the bigger-than-life rock stars of our dreams left us overwhelmed and suffused with such giddy excitement that we, too, screamed until we could do no more than whisper.

When my weary body finally folds itself into the welcome embrace of my bed, well past the witching hour, I can’t contain my smile as I drift off.

Ain’t youth grand?

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Is that sweet child of yours about to enter the teenage twilight zone years? Then listen up … you need to prepare your mind now for the long journey ahead.

Abig jen1I was looking back the other day through my files and found an article I’d written during my daughter’s teenage years. I’m happy to say that she has grown into a wonderful young woman who makes me proud to be her mother. I am also VERY happy in the knowledge that not only did I survive her teen years, I know I’ll never ever have to go through them again in this lifetime!

For now, I’ll share with all you parents out there the 20 lessons that I learned when my baby became a teenager*:

(*Note: I wrote this as the mother of a girl child, but I’m sure that some of it may apply to boy children too!)

20 things you will miss when your daughter turns into a … TEEN

It’s inevitable. The sweet little dumpling you rocked in your arms and who idolized you for so many years will eventually morph into an extraterrestrial creature that wisecracks about seeing your photo in the dictionary under the definition of embarrassing.

This transformation takes place around the same time that the suffix “teen” appears at the end of “thir.” The alien creature will become human again as soon as that suffix disappears, but until then, be prepared to find yourself looking back wistfully to those long-lost days of unicorns and rainbows. Here’s what you’ll miss:

  1. Adown the slideYou will miss having an excuse to go “whee” down the corkscrew slide in the playground.

Back then: An outing to the park was as much fun for you as it was for her. After giving my toddler a few perfunctory pushes on the swing, I’d race her to the corkscrew slide and challenge her to go down with me. Did I look ridiculous, shrieking as I spiraled down at the speed of light? Not as long as I had my toddler (in other words, prop) on my lap.

Now: As the mother of a teenager I am expected to act my age at all times, especially when I’m near a playground. No more sliding down the corkscrew. Not only would I be disowned faster than a pair of no-name jeans, I would need a chiropractor to help me walk upright again.

  1. You will miss hearing genuine compliments about your appearance.

Asad mommyBack then: I could be wearing old sweats and no makeup and if I stuck a sparkly clip in my hair, my daughter would gaze up at me and say, “Mommy, you look bee-yoo-tee-ful!” It’s extraordinary how oblivious young children are to their parents’ flaws. My little girl was the only human being with 20/20 vision who after seeing my naked body, actually said with a straight face, “Wow! Your boobies are big!”

Now: Having a teen and self-esteem at the same time is virtually unheard of. The kindest compliment I’ve received on my clothing in recent years is, “That colour doesn’t look bad on you. But you really need to suck in your gut.” Most of the time my teen feels that it’s her duty to break the news to me that: my outfit looks too youthful (“Are you trying to look like a teenager or something? Not even close!”); or too old (“If your hair was white and you had a few more wrinkles, you’d look just like grandma!”); I’m having a bad hair day (“You really need to go to a good hairdresser mom. And soon!”); or my face needs work (“Some more makeup would probably help, though it’s going to be dark where you’re going, right?”)

  1. AhugsYou will miss all those touchy-feely moments.

Back then: The opportunities for hugs and cuddles seemed endless when my child was little. Then it happened overnight…I was rebuffed so often I developed a habit of sniffing my armpits before approaching her.

Now: Any attempt to touch my teen elicits the facial contortions of a slasher-movie audience. This reaction evolved around the same time that her bedroom walls began to disappear under posters of boys wearing pants that are eight sizes too big…around the same time that the heavy bass thumping of music that gives me the urge to steal hubcaps began seeping from under her bedroom door. Which I am now forced to slam shut on a regular basis.

  1. You will miss learning the lyrics to all those silly kids’ songs.

AWheelsOnTheBusBack then: I knew every lyric to every song by every children’s entertainer from every PBS TV program. My voice may have sounded like nails on a blackboard to anyone else but in my daughter’s eyes, I was Aretha Franklin.

Now: If I were to attempt to decipher the lyrics of her favorite songs, I would have to filter her music through high-tech high-frequency decoding equipment found only in a CIA lab. Even then…

  1. You will miss taking bubble baths together.

Back then: I would fill the tub with clouds of fruity-smelling bubbAbubble bathles and warm water. Then I’d dive in with her. We’d make soap beards and play hairdresser, sail boats with little wooden men on them, and only come out once the water turned lukewarm and our skin looked like an apple doll’s.

Now: By the time I get my turn in the bathroom, I have to shampoo, soap up and rinse at Mach speed. Why? Because I’ve learned the hard way that the hot-water tank will have no more than a half-teaspoon of hot water left in it if my teen has showered before me.

  1. You will miss playing with toys.

AbarbieBack then: I’ll never forget the Christmas that my daughter got a toy kitchen and a collection of miniature groceries from Santa. I was mesmerized. This was exactly what I had pined for throughout my childhood but never received. Before the day was over, I had “fried” plastic eggs and bacon on the stove, mixed pretend cake batter in a tiny blender and put “perishables” away in the fridge. Other Christmas mornings I got to dress Barbie and Skipper in sparkly evening gowns and drive them around the living room in their own flashy pink convertible, whip up an assortment of pasta dishes with a play dough pizzeria, construct big gaudy bracelets and rings with a jewelry maker, and bake two-bite cakes in an Easy Bake microwave oven. Saying a final farewell to all of these toys at our yard sale was far more difficult for me than for her. No wonder…she was all over the cash proceeds faster than flies on roadkill.

Now: I have zero access to any of my teen’s belongings. I am forbidden to set one toe past her bedroom doorframe without a formal invitation. Sometimes when she’s not around, I sneak in like a common thief to borrow a lipstick or a bracelet or something else that I can no longer afford to buy for myself since her upkeep has drained my wallet of all disposable funds.

  1. Ajen & santaYou will miss visits from Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Back then: I’ll never forget the look of pure joy on her face the Christmas morning that we stamped big boot prints in the snow outside and told her that they belonged to Santa. Or the time she wondered aloud if the Easter Bunny was small like a real rabbit or adult size? And, how can he be strong enough to carry a basket that’s big enough to hold eggs for every child in the world? Ah, the innocence. The day that she asked me if it was true that no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny existed (thanks to a little blabbermouth at school during recess), I was devastated. Of course, I recited the whole song and dance about Santa being embodied in the spirit of Christmas and so on. But things were never the same. No more milk and cookies (or beer and peanuts—different strokes for different folks). No more Easter egg treasure hunts or tooth fairies. The magic had ended.

Now: These days she has no problem pretending that Santa is real, as long as he always makes sure her stocking is filled with makeup and other goodies and leaves an extra gift or two under the Christmas tree. In her own words, “Hey, as long as he continues to bring me stuff, then yeah! I do believe in Santa!”

  1. You will actually miss planning birthday parties.

Abirthday partyBack then: Believe it or not, you will have fond memories of all the birthday parties that, at the time, you bitched about having to plan. Back then it was just another major chore on my endless to-do list. I still remember counting down the days, buying trinkets for goody bags that ended up costing more than the gifts she received, making theme cakes with sunken areas that I had to camouflage with extra icing, planning game and craft activities (and wondering how the hell we would fill the time if the kids finished too early), buying party hats and blowers, balloons and streamers. Sighing in relief at the sight of the last kid toddling out the door. The warm and tingly feeling of satisfaction that I—supermom extraordinaire—had thrown a roaring success of a party. And, of course, getting to play with all those neat birthday gifts.

Now: My party-planning services have been terminated. “Nobody has birthday parties anymore, mom!” Instead, it’s now dinner out with her BFF (compliments of my credit card and chauffer services).

  1. Aone who knows everythingYou will miss your reputation as “the one who knows everything.”

Back then: When they are little, you are looked up to, mimicked, worshipped. You are no less than a God in the eyes of your child. I felt immortal during this time. Nothing I said or did was ever wrong. She believed that I knew the answers to absolutely everything. I even began to believe I knew it all. It was a blast while it lasted.

Now: Before you know what’s hit you, you are knocked back down to earth with all the subtlety of an anvil against steel. Overnight, your teen becomes an authority on pretty much everything and you are nothing more than a grunting Neanderthal, rated one notch above an amoeba on the intelligence scale.

  1. You will miss being able to choose their clothing.

Ababy dressBack then: I used to delight in dressing up my daughter in pretty little ruffled dresses and colourful socks. Cute little Mary Janes and sandals. Tights with rows of lace across the bum. I used to be able to shop for her clothing at any old department store.

Now: Unless it has a specific logo emblazoned on it, it’s “lame.” Accompanying me on a trip to Walmart? “Please tell me you’re kidding, mom!” Once or twice I was foolish enough to throw caution to the wind and buy her an item of clothing that I thought was cool. “Thanks anyway, mom. But I think it would look a lot better on you,” she said, patting my head like I was a good dog and returning to her room, from where I heard muffled giggles. Needless to say, standing for hours on end in Return Here lines is not how I enjoy spending my time. She is now master of her own clothing budget. And I can’t help but smile wistfully whenever I pass by a rack of little pink frilly things.

  1. Akids menuYou will miss paying Kiddie Menu prices.

Back then: Family dinners out were so simple. And affordable. We would order from the adult menu. She would order from the kiddie menu’s selection of $2.99 meals that included a drink and dessert. We were happy. She was happy.

Now: When teenagers eat at restaurants money is no object. Why would it be when it’s not coming from their own pockets? And they eat like hogs. Family meals out are no longer enjoyable when the bulk of your dinner conversation consists of, “NO! You canNOT order filet mignon, a jumbo shrimp cocktail, or just one beer!”

  1. You will miss having an excuse to watch Sesame Street.

Abert & ernieBack then: We used to watch this warm and fuzzy show together on a daily basis. I think I enjoyed Ernie, Bert, Oscar, Elmo and Big Bird as much as she did. I even learned a small vocabulary of French words, as well as how to count to ten in Spanish.

Now: It’s hard to admit this, but whenever I’m sick in bed, alone and feeling pathetically sorry for myself, I tune in to Sesame Street and guess what? I begin to feel a little better.

  1. You will miss experimenting with their hair.

Afirst day of schoolBack then: My daughter’s head of gorgeous hair fell to her derriere by kindergarten. I bought the whole colour spectrum in hair clips and ribbons and spent ages styling her hair into French braids, ponytails, pigtails, updos. Then again, now that I think about it, she also spent a lot of time kicking and screaming while I combed out tangles. I take this one back. Was I nuts? I should have just given her a pixie cut and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Now: My teen refuses to leave the house unless her hair has been washed, moussed, blown dry, hot-ironed, combed into perfection, and inspected before every mirror in the house. Once she’s done I am not allowed to walk within three feet of her in case the breeze I stir messes her hair. If we’re in a car no windows can be opened, not even a crack—God forbid that her father should fart. All this for hair that just hangs loose and straight.

  1. You will miss attending recitals and school plays.
    Sort of.

AballetBack then: Your big reward for all those Saturday mornings spent racing to get your kids to their dance (or whatever) lessons? The recital. I’ll never forget the whirlwind of excitement leading up to my daughter’s yearly dance recitals. Dolled up in costumes befitting a Las Vegas revue (and costing almost as much). The relatives, stiff and uncomfortable in their dress-up attire, hunting for seats amidst the pandemonium of other families hunting for seats, and pretending to be delighted that we invited them to kill their entire Saturday afternoon in an over-heated auditorium. Watching performance after performance of hopeful ballerinas and tap dancers, the nerve endings in my hands numb after hours of clapping. Then finally! My own amazing, oh-so-talented daughter on stage, her awesome 60-second act making every minute of the past butt-anesthetizing three hours and forty-five minutes worthwhile.

Now: On a typical Saturday morning you will find me snoozing under the warmth of my comforter until my stomach tells me it’s time for brunch. Sunday mornings too. Um, remind me again what I’m supposed to be missing here?

  1. Arosy teethYou will miss seeing the world through the eyes of a child.

Back then: Since the passing of my own childhood, I had forgotten the wonders of the zoo until I observed the animals once again through the eyes of my child. Every outing, no matter how trivial, becomes a great adventure when your youngster paves the way to revisiting so many long-forgotten joys.

Now: The same events as seen through the eyes of a teen are “borrrr-ing” and “gross!” They now prompt remarks such as, “Give me a break” or “You’re so corny, Mom!” or “Puh-leeze.”

  1. You will miss taking photos of big toothy (and, at times, toothless) grins instead of smirks.

Asmiling jenBack then: My little daughter was a photographer’s dream. Within ten seconds of spotting a camera, she would transform into a supermodel, hamming it up, her beaming grin filling every frame.

Now: Before she agrees to appear in a photo, her hair must be styled to fall at the perfect angle over her shoulders. She must be wearing precisely the right colour of lipstick, eye makeup, etc. She will permit you to photograph her only if she’s wearing specific outfits and accessories. You must cool your heels while she determines the right pose. And after all that, she will not smile. Spent a fortune on orthodontics? Nobody will ever know. Her teeth will never appear in a photograph.

  1. AhalloweenYou will miss raiding her Halloween candy sack.

Back then: I took my daughter out trick-or-treating and she was thrilled to dress up in the simple costumes I made for her. Thrilled to be parading through the streets after dark. Thrilled to see so many other ghosts, goblins, witches and ghouls. Thrilled about all that candy! Back at home, we would empty her sack on the kitchen table and sort through all the candy, gum and chocolate bars. I would allow her to munch on some right there for good measure, but then I would have to “put away the remainder for another day.” Translation: Mommy and Daddy get to eat everything else since she’ll forget about her candy after about a week. Unfortunately, her capacity to forget soon dwindled.

Now: On Halloween night the only way I get any candy is if I shortchange the kids who come to my door. Of course, now that my daughter no longer goes out trick-or-treating, I don’t even get to do that anymore since she’s taken over the shelling out duties and elbowed me out of my job.

  1. You will miss reading picture books.

AbookBack then: I’ve always been a bookworm. When my daughter was little, I read Dr. Seuss instead of Stephen King. I delighted in reading children’s picture books. We took weekly trips to the local library to stock up. Every evening found us curled up together at bedtime, journeying to worlds where animals dressed in handsome clothing and threw tea parties, where good fairies and justice existed, where I was able to revisit the classic tales that my own mom had once read to me.

Now: I have all the time in the world for Stephen King, John Grisham and James Patterson. My daughter and I continue to make trips to the library but she goes her way and I go mine. Still, I often find myself in the children’s department sorting through the picture books, smiling at the sight of Green Eggs And Ham. Someday, I hope to read them all again to a grandchild on my lap. Mind you, that someday had better be far, far in the distant future.

  1. abc bookYou will miss your freedom of speech.

Back then: Once upon at time, my husband and I could say anything, right out in the open, including curse words, without our daughter comprehending any of it. How? We’d spell. It was fabulous, just the way I’d imagined it would be if I could speak another language that nobody else could understand. Well school ruined everything. I can still remember the day our freedom vanished for good. We were at the dinner table and her dad and I were discussing Christmas shopping. Without a second thought, I spelled aloud, “…we should go out this weekend and get the B-E-T-S-Y W-E-T-S-Y D-O-L-L and the B-L-I-N-K-Y W-I-N-K-Y D-O-L-L H-O-U-S-E.” A forkfull of spaghetti paused mid-air between my daughter’s plate and her mouth as she squealed, “Betsy Wetsy and the Blinky Winky doll house? That’s exactly what I want! Oh boy!” Oh boy, indeed.

Now: My husband and I have not had a decent argument in ten years. The only way we can discuss important issues privately is to leave the house. The same kid who cannot hear me shrieking at her to come to the table for dinner from the room next door can hear every syllable whispered in my husband’s ear while we’re in the basement and she’s in her second-storey bedroom with her stereo on full.

  1. You will miss all those odd-looking Mother’s Day gifts made at school.

Amothers day broochBack then: I still have the lopsided, neon-painted popsicle-stick box she made in third grade, filled with crudely cut blank squares of paper, intended as a box of note paper for my desk. The page on top still has her hand-printed message: “Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, No Mom Is Prettier Or Smarter Than You.” (This is a good example of the type of compliment that I don’t think I’ll be hearing again in this lifetime—See #2.) Next to my popsicle-stick box sits a pencil holder made out of a tomato soup can with two lumps of putty molded over it and little plastic jewels pressed randomly into the putty. It came to me with a construction paper gift tag that read: “I Love You, Mommy!!!” I have gifts from every elementary grade and I’ve kept them all. They mean so much more to me than a bouquet of flowers or a greeting card. And I really, really miss receiving them.

Now: My teen works part-time and loves to shop, so my gifts nowadays are pretty decent. But they will never compare to my nouveau art brooch that she made for me in sixth grade.
Abig jen2

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