The Teenage List

As Published in Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.

By Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser June 23, 2021

This was originally published in Brain, Child Magazine.

True confession: one early spring Sunday afternoon when the new, deeply sleep-deprived parents seemed to have stumbled into the co-op en masse, I found myself there, too. I peered over a baby in a bucket carrier. “You’ve made a terrible mistake,” I nearly warned those beaming, proud parents. “The baby’s cute now, but you have no idea.” Although Sunday was barely half over, it had been a long weekend with my 16-year-old. I caught myself just in time, cooed at the cute baby, smiled wanly at the parents, and pushed my cart away. No idea, I tell you. I lingered in the vitamin aisles. I didn’t need vitamins. I needed to delay my return home to my sullen teen.

Eventually, I proceeded to the checkout. While I placed items on the conveyor, I flashed back to those childbirth classes we’d attended eons—almost lifetimes— earlier. What a huge waste of time they’d been. A better idea: do something—any- thing—to prepare parents for the inevitable. I don’t mean preparation, as in learn algebra, so you’d be helpful to an eighth grader struggling through the equations. My notion of adequate preparedness veered closer into Scared Straight territory. I thought to myself that parents of infants needed to know the truth—that their babies’ plush feet and pearly toes will some day be large and stinky.

Later that day, the teenager shifted. Rather than exude sullenness and hostility, he started to tell me what was wrong, and I was reminded he was capable of doing more than grunt, slam doors, and pull the covers over his head—and text, of course.

In order to maintain something approaching equilibrium that tumultuous spring, I started to jot a list of observations about teenagers. The list helped me to realize that for all the reasons I nearly traumatized those parents with starry looks emanating from their baggy eyes, I actually do love my adolescents (I have two, and counting; two more will get there, even though I’ve begged them not to). These are observations, generalities, and particularities. Good luck, fellow parents.

A teen boy’s voice cracking is one of the cutest sounds in the world.

At some point around the time your kids turn into teens you’ll remember all the rude things you said to your parents.

Teenagers have had years to perfect their abilities to hone in on your weaknesses. During adolescence they go for the big reveal.

Teenagers can make you madder than even toddlers.

No one tells you to savor adolescence the way they tell you to cherish babyhood. There is probably a reason for this.

Only when you have teenagers do people start to tell you the teenage years are the toughest.

Watching your teenager not do his or her homework is akin to listening to fingernails on chalkboard.

It’s advisable to have cash on hand. Teens like cash.

Having spent years making someone go to bed, you find yourself spending years waking someone up.

See macaroni and cheese in the fridge. Go to bed. Teen wakes up in the middle of the night. No more macaroni and cheese for the kids’ lunches.

Four meaningless words to teens: “Clean up the kitchen.”

Four more meaningless words to teens: “Turn off the lights.”

Teenagers cannot distinguish whether the bath mat or the towel is meant for the floor. So they tend to leave both on the floor.

Who needs that pesky cap on the toothpaste? Your teen just lets it goop at the end and continues to use it.

Teenager’s line for the ages: “I don’t need you for anything—except rides and money for food.”

The lone night you are enjoying an adult night out is the night the teenager wants a ride.

Every once in a while, your teenager will compliment you—and you’ll feel as if you’ve won the lottery.

Teenagers are needy and overgrown creatures. It’s that simple.

Here’s what teenagers want: to do whatever they want and have it all turn out well without requiring any effort on their part. This is what adults want, too. Adults know this is a fantasy, though. Teenagers don’t... quite.

In conclusion: during adolescence the rules seem to change quite suddenly. There isn’t an announcement of this when your child turns 13. One day you realize you are just...stuck with new, unexplained, seemingly inexplicable rules. And it’s then you realize that all along you’ve been worrying about the wrong things. But then, your teenager does something kind of amazing like direct a Stoppard one-act or create a masterful risotto or help someone in need or teach your preschooler French and you realize your teen will be all right—and so will you.