1999-2019: From Being A Teenager to Having One
There’s a multitude of reasons why having a teenager feels weird. Partly because I don’t feel much older than 15 myself, but also because as the mom of a teenager, you suddenly become acutely aware that they’re on the precipice of making memories that will stick with them forever. Some memories will be formed after huge moments, monumental firsts, and some will be a little more subtle. Just that rusty reminder of what it felt like to be alive that hits you suddenly, as you roll down your minivan windows and crank up the volume as you roll into kindergarten drop-off singing about Gin and Juice. It feels like yesterday. But suddenly your yesterday is their tomorrow. As you roll up your windows and fight back tears the other part of being a teenager sweeps through you. Sitting with a group of friends and laughing into the night never knowing it would be the last time you’d all be together before life took over, taught unfair lessons, while introducing grief and ending innocence simultaneously.
And then comes the scary bit of raising a teenager, the moments you know are unavoidable but you hope you’ve equipped them with the tools to make good decisions. Drugs, drinking and driving, naïve innocence with an expiration date.
But to juxtapose those moments of fear, you lull back into the beautiful moments you know are sitting right around the corner too. The moments that give you the slightest tang of jealousy knowing the heart-pounding joy many firsts create. First kisses, first loves, newfound independence and the confidence to take on the world.
And then there are the unknowns, because it has been 20 years since you were that 15 year old you still feel inside, things have changes dramatically. The landscape of being a teen in 1999 to 2019 have varied wildly. Yes, technology being the biggest factor, a seemingly permanent connection to everything leading to worrying disconnection from everyone. But also- limitless knowledge. The world in a click, an entire universe to be traveled and boundless innovation to be had. So, while I am encouraged by where all this will take us, where our kids will lead, I’d be remiss not to admit I’m sad there are a few things they’ll miss.
Yes, in some ways we are living in a time where people are writing more than ever. It’s just in texts riddled with bad grammar, letters thrown together that only mean something to people born after 2000, and the inability to read tone. While old-school hand-written notes carried the same ambiguity on tone, there was something about seeing the other person’s penmanship that lent itself to know hoe they felt. That first note from a boy you liked, scratched out in hurried boy writing, passed through note-pigeons to you. When you unfolded the note you could almost hear him saying those words, see his smile as he asked if you had plans on the weekend, and feel the nervousness in the paper. In one hand-written note you could see how hard they pushed when they crossed their Ts, how your best friends would curve their Ys, add hearts to Is, and figure out complicated ways to fold notes, origami in its most useful for. We drew smiley faces and funny faces and invented the hieroglyphics of emojis with pens that changed color and a really boring chemistry teacher.
Monday Morning Shame- With no Evidence
When you made a fool of yourself at a party, when you broke up with your boyfriend, fell flat on asking someone out, got in a fight with your best friend or had a major wardrobe malfunction on a weekend, the lead up to Monday morning felt like an eternity. Monday morning came and you could feel the attention as you walked into school like a red-hot laser beam. Monday morning was the debriefing zone with a military like precision. Who did what, with who, and why. But, as the week went on, and more teenagers did teenagery stuff, life went on and people forgot that you had never really drank before and threw up all over the bushes in front of all the most popular seniors. Most especially, other than eye-witness accounts of just how many planters you took out on the way to the back deck, there was no evidence that any of it happened. As high school continued to roll on, and you made your fair share of questionable decisions and enough Sun-In for every not-quite-blonde in the country, outside of your close friends, no one was the wiser. Gossip would swirl, and people took photos, almost all of the unflattering pictures were taken by the yearbook photographer, but other than the one friend that actually got pictured developed, your antics were largely undocumented. Certainly nothing was ever posted for a few thousand followers to see. We were dumb, we made bad decisions, but none of it followed us any further than Wednesday.
Cruising- From Bikes to Cars
Ah, yes. The hallmark of party-finding, and friend-locating before there was an app for that. Before social media check-ins and Snapchat locations, we had to physically head out and look for our friends. It started on bikes. No helmets, sometimes up to three kids on one bike until that momentous day that the first of our group got a license, and the keys to her dad’s station wagon. We’d head out, meet up, and figure out where everyone was spending their weekend. Sure, there was the odd party planned on the Friday at school, but more often than not, plans changed, parties got discovered by parents, and we were forced as a student body to convene in the Burger King or 711 parking lots to make plans. We were project coordinators and by sheer commitment to party, we found each other, someone to drive us to the next stop, and if we were lucky, beer.
Having to Wait
Even in 1999, nothing happened quickly. From gossip spreading, to your favorite band coming out with their newest album, absolutely nothing was instantaneous. We sat by my ghetto blaster for hours trying to catch my favorite song to record it, we had to wait for the new movies to move out of the bigger cities and come to our out of the way towns. We still used the postal systems for letters from friends that moved away, and we could hardly contain ourselves when the one cool store in town got the newest jeans we’d seen in Sassy or YM, and we sat in front of MTV to see what videos landed in the top ten again this week. There were no influencers that couldn’t be found on MTV, no curated video montages of our friend’s summers away, and no other way to know how a boy felt about you than to convince your best friend to call him with you already on a three way call and prod him for answers. So much of the excitement lived in the anticipation. It was so rewarding for things to take time, to snag the new Britney Spears song on the top ten radio show without too much preamble from the host, but enough that you didn’t miss a beat. In the years directly preceding instant gratification, we can all recall exactly the number of sounds our dial-up internet would make as it tried to connect, and the absolute horror when we discovered our parents set the internet to automatically disconnect if there was a call coming through.
So yes, having a teenager is weird. It makes you scared, it makes you excited, nervous, and sad all at once. I’ve read so many articles that talk about raising responsible teens, tech savy teens, safe teens, and happy teens, but I wasn’t prepared for how much of a teenager I’m feeling watching my oldest become one. I wasn’t ready for how much I remember of feeling like I did at his age, how it feels like just yesterday. What I miss about being 15 in 1999, and mostly, how much I miss my incredibly high metabolism and ability to sleep the whole night.