I’m rereading a book I read when I was about 16, The Catcher in the Rye. If you took refuge in books as a teenager, then you probably know about Holden Caulfield and his beef with ‘phonies’; they were mostly adults, and they were mostly bullshitting him.
If your parents or the adults in your life are disengaged, then being a teenager sucks. That age is so tender. They are children, they are starting to look like adults. Their brains are exploding with childish things and grown up things and hormones, and everything else. If old man time gave me a free pass to go back, I wouldn’t. I suffered intensely. In fact, my brain froze on teenage mode all the way through my 20s and even beyond, because I didn’t mature properly. The reason I didn’t, I think, is because I didn’t feel ‘seen’. I wanted so desperately for an adult to understand even an iota of where I was coming from. But they couldn’t.
I wonder can I give this to my children – I really want to. What do I mean by being ‘seen’? (It sounds bloody awful, doesn’t it? Like something from a compulsively cheesy American TV drama.) I mean: That they feel loved for who they are, no matter what. That they feel adored for the ‘bad bits’ as well as the good bits. Actually, that they never learn there is such a thing as ‘bad bits’ within the young self. There aren’t.
I try to watch my language with my children. I try to say things like oh that’s naughty behaviour instead of you are a naughty boy. I read it in some parenting book somewhere. Do children pick up on such nuances of language? I don’t know. I’m winging it like everyone else. I tell them I love them, a lot. I hope that whatever I’m doing, that by the time they are teenagers in a few short years, they will still be talking to me. Really talking to me.
I really hope that by then, I will have given them the tools to slash through the confusion that settles in adolescence. I want to show them that most of humanity is not phony, but utterly glorious in its inescapable spectrum of joy to sorrow, ugly to beautiful – and utterly reliable in its passage from darkness to the surety of light.