By Debby Shulman
Sometimes our worlds collide.
I don’t mean in an astrophysical way, but more of a “Freaky Friday” way, in which your kid says something and you are hearing yourself … or a version of yourself that you haven’t spoken to in well over 35 years. Mind you, I’m not waking up in the body of my 16-year-old (hang on, that comes later), but I am for sure going down the rabbit hole, back into my own 16-year-old head more often than not these days.
And it’s dark in there.
Little phrases and facial expressions resonate a long forgotten attitude, when I pretty much thought I knew it all and had it all figured out. Conversations about boys, colleges, and annoying teachers bring me back to a chapter in my life that I had completely packed away because pain has no memory. I don’t remember experiencing this much déjà vu with my boys, but then again, mothers and daughters are an entirely different species.
Comments she makes hit me like a ton a bricks: I hear myself. I hear my 16-year-old-self and I cannot say a thing.
It’s not about me this time. It’s about HER.
Our teens truly believe they have got it going on. Forget about our authentic “been there, done that” — they are ready to take on the world, one eyeball roll at a time. They think we are dumber than a bucket of rocks and the fact that we have made it this far must shock them. And when they are particularly annoyed with “our outrageous ignorance”, they speak loudly and painfully slow, as if talking to a foreigner who needs directions to the airport. “YOU … DON’T … UNDER … STAND … ME!! UCCCHHHHH!!!” Forget about it. They don’t want to hear from us, even though we truly do understand.
We have become incredibly accurate fortunetellers. Can you stand that? Theresa Caputo has NOTHING on me. We can predict when bad stuff is going to go down because we’ve seen the bad stuff up-close and personal. A bad “Turnabout Dance” after-party? Yeah, I ran into the street wearing nothing but a toga (during the dead of winter) so my father could rescue my bestie and me in his Buick Skylark from a party gone terribly, horribly wrong back in 1981. But because there were dinosaurs back then and no such thing as television, our teens don’t believe we have experience in the art of escaping dangerously coked-up, drunk thugs dressed as cute seniors wearing togas. Get it?
So when she appeared shocked and aggravated that I accurately predicted a certain, unfortunate outcome, “That boy is headed for T-R-O-U-B-L-E” — I had to Freaky Friday my response so I didn’t hit her over the head with my slow motion, “DUH”… And yet, to be fair, I remember my own mother declaring that my new freshman friend Kathy was a ‘bad seed’ (those were her EXACT words) and I would have to limit the time I spent with her … as in none. And just like my daughter, I felt so annoyed by her opinion and quite confident she knew absolutely nothing about anything and yet, by the time sophomore year rolled around, Bad Seed Kathy was in parochial school under the watchful eyes of some very badass nuns. Hmmm.
How’d she know that?
My keen predictions range from the sublime to the serious, but regardless of what I do or say, it’s believed my humble offerings of wisdom bear little truth, carry no weight, and resemble the squawking of some wild bird caught in a trap.
The fact is, at 16 years old, I wouldn’t want to hear me, either. Damn. Truth telling again … I can be terribly annoying.
So, if I woke up as my daughter and she woke up as me … what would happen?
I would relish the chance to look in the mirror at the younger me. No crow’s feet, no stretch marks, no college tuition, no gray. Ahhhh, the beauty of a day when all I would have to do is skip through the hallway, wearing sweatpants, snap-chatting girlfriends, and eating bad salad and French fries from a sketchy cafeteria. Bliss, right?
But then maybe the hard stuff might hit – you know, the stories they don’t ever share because they messed up or someone they love did. The whispers that start with, “Did you hear about …” and end with a story I for sure did not need to know about. I suppose my Freaky Friday Fantasy does not allow me to indulge her friends with heartfelt advice about choices they will encounter down the road, because that’s not what SHE would do.
What my daughter would do, and what I have learned from her, is to listen with an open heart – (she never judges, unlike her mother), and drops everything to help someone and stays around to see it through.
And maybe because our worlds are colliding, it would give me a chance to make it right with someone this time around.
And maybe if she woke up as me, after examining the sheer terror of what 50 years can do to a body, she might face a day of hard work, meetings, laundry, and a dose of REAL life that make her a bit more reflective on how it might be that I know a little bit more. Dealing with the stress of three kids, paying the bills, getting the dog to the vet, and then getting that phone call that starts with a whisper, “Did you hear about…” might help her appreciate why I wait for the garage door to go up on Saturday nights, why I text her repeatedly to make good choices, leave scary newspaper clippings on her bed, and tape inspirational poems on her mirror. Maybe she’d get it. I think she might.
I need to remember those emotions more often.
I need to Freaky Friday my 16-year-old self so I CAN be more sensitive to how frustrating it must be to be caught between girlhood and adulthood – believing you know it all but then finding yourself bugged out and scared when bad stuff happens.
But like the book, I would like to believe that as she gets a little older, she realizes my wisdom comes from living a parallel life, one that looked and felt like hers … more than she will ever know. I made the same mistakes, I took the same risks, I kept the same stuff from my parents. And now it’s my turn to think about what that’s like from her perspective.
Freaky Friday, for sure.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois. Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice.