Friday, September 3, 2010

Music and Teenagers

I have been listening to a great deal of old music lately.  When I say old music, I am referring to music that was popular during my junior high and high school years (1977-1983) - you know, waaaay back then.  Seems like a really long time ago, but yet, when I hear the first chords of Bohemian Rhapsody or the first piano taps of Open Arms, I could swear it was just yesterday, so transported am I by the melodies of my teenage years.
My reaction to the music is a visceral one; I can almost smell the old rock gym located next to my junior high school when I hear certain songs.  I can hear the cacophony on the bus ride home from school and I feel the angst and confusion I went through during these years when I listen to the melodies,  Watching old videos on Youtube brings the past back even more concretely as I watch the people, the fashions and hear the music, I can feel the period in a real way.  I wouldn’t go back to that time for all the money in the world, but neither would I trade a moment of it all.

I guess I am stuck on this time frame in my own life because my children are now in the midst of middle and high school and all that goes along with it.  Their experiences and frustrations have brought my own feelings to the forefront of my mind.  I can now see the experience from both sides, as a teen and as a parent, and although I still have a lot to learn, my experience as a mom does give me some insight that I  missed on my own trip through teenage-hood.  I can now see that many of the things I sweated were actually small in the grand scheme of life.  Ah, the sweet vision of hindsight; why are we not allowed to experience it from the get-go?  Well, there’s no value in that, I suppose.  We would miss too many beneficial, yet often painful lessons if we skipped directly to hindsight.

Hindsight does help me as a parent, though.  It allows me to understand the importance my teens place on the small things.  I helps me not to pooh-pooh my son’s concern that his name be written in black Sharpie on his athletics t-shirt not green, when my 45 year old brain wants to scream “WHO THE HELL CARES WHAT FREAKING COLOR YOUR NAME IS WRITTEN IN ON THE BACK OF YOUR SHIRT?”.  I can stop myself before I scream (most of the time. Okay, some of the time) because I know that he cares and because he cares, it is a big deal and I need to give the situation its due credence.  Having sweated the small things and remembering those feelings of anxiety - that I if I didn’t do things just so, everyone was going to be looking at me and, inevitably, to my mind, laughing at me, I am able to empathize with my child and perhaps make it a bit less stressful for him.  That is my hope and my aim, anyway.

Having had a few bumps in the road of life, I have developed great compassion for human foibles.  I understand that ones' mistakes do not define a person.  I understand that a bad choice is only a mistake if we don’t learn from it.  Yes, having made some bad choices, and (not just) a few mistakes along the way, I have a measure of compassion for my kids and their shortsightedness that I would not otherwise have.  So, when they do get into trouble, I believe I am able to look at the situation objectively (mostly) and be there to help them through it, instead of berating them for their immature stupidity, the latter is, trust me, often my first instinct.  I thank my teenage self at these moments as I struggle to understand my teens' choices and extend a hand of grace to them.

I would love to be able to shield my kids from all of life’s heartaches - from bullies, peer pressure, wrong choices, anxious moments, etc., but I know I can’t.  Moreover, I know I shouldn’t.  They need to go through a degree of discomfiture in order to be balanced, compassionate, contributing members of society some day.  They need to know how to work out problems on their own.  They need to learn that not everyone in their orbit is a nice person; there will be people with whom they do not get along.  They need to learn to forgive others and themselves when things go wrong and mistakes are made.  This is life and failure to equip them to handle real life would be the least loving thing I could do for them as a mom.

Now, that is not to say I am throwing my teens to the wolves in some Darwinian experiment, hoping that they will survive the fray.  No, I am not abandoning them completely to their own devices; that would be foolhardy.  What I am doing is loosening the reigns of childhood a bit, allowing them the opportunity to learn from experience as well as by example.  By allowing them to make their own decisions and face the consequences when some of those decisions don’t work out so well, they will learn invaluable lessons (this is my hope and prayer).  Being the parent of teenagers is much harder than I ever thought it would be, and I thought it would be hard.  It is a struggle and a lesson in restraint, compassion, empathy and humility - Every. Day., but I am willing to forge on for their sakes.  Every now and then, I see a glimpse of the adult each of them will become and it gives me hope that we are all on the right track.

Who knew I would learn so much and gain so much insight on a musical journey down memory lane?  What unexpected lessons have you learned lately?