Adolescence across the generations

As Alfs hurtles toward adolescence, I am having more and more flashbacks to my own adolescence. Some of those memories are fine and nice. Most, though, make me cringe inwardly, and sometimes outwardly, too.

Mother and Son
“What?” he asks when that inward grimace rises to the surface.

“Nothing,” I say, trying to suppress the memory again and appear fine again.

“No, really,” Alfs asks, “What?”

Sometimes I give in. Sometimes I tell him about the moments when I felt particularly foolish and was sure that everyone was looking at me. Or the moments when the feelings went beyond foolish to absolutely mortified and wanting to crawl under a rock. The missteps and misunderstandings. After all these years, it’s amazing how those memories make me feel small and lost all over again. Adolescence, it seems, dies hard.

Everyone goes through it

The only reassuring thing about the trials of adolescence is that truly everyone has to go through it. So far I don’t know anyone who has made it through those years unscathed. I can talk with friends about having done dumb thing, how confusing it was at times, and so on, but even now we are reticent to get into details. Of course, at the time I was sure my mother could not possibly understand what I was feeling. Oh, she would say “I know,” but she couldn’t possibly know, could she? I remember resolving not to say those words to my own children.
Now I watch my own son make his way, and it can be wrenching. I remember taking similar steps and risks, with good and less-than-good results, trying to figure it all out. When one of the less-than-good results happens for Alfs, I bite my tongue. I don’t tell him, “I know.” He doesn’t want to hear that from me, an old lady for whom adolescence happened centuries ago. I try to be quiet but there, let him feel what he is going to feel and be available for however he needs me.

Shared experience

Those times often are when the memories surface, when the cringe rises from deep within. Sometimes it’s appropriate to share the memory and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the retelling helps him know he’s not alone; sometimes it serves to make him feel better by letting him think that as stupid a thing as he thinks he did, him mom did something much, much stupider. Sometimes nothing I say or do can help. He just needs to get through it with the passage of time.
I can’t possibly know the exact feelings my son has, but I have a pretty good idea. Those adolescent feelings and some experiences are rather universal it turns out. I can’t save him from adolescence, as much as I would like to. I can’t feel those feelings for him, or shield his ego from hurt or embarrassment, or make different choices. It’s something we all just have to go through, and hopefully come out the other side a little more wise and compassionate. And with some cringe-worthy stories to tell our children one day.

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