I’ll tell you right up front that this is a feel-good blog about teens. Stop reading right now if you think that all teens are sneaky, up to no good, and downright horrible. That’s not been my experience.
A teenager dog-sat and house-sat for us this past President’s weekend. The same teen we handed our house keys over to last year when we left for a ten day stay in Guatemala. It was the summer before his senior year in high school. We came home to a note on the counter and the house as clean as we left it. Our dogs were walked and run. Our cats fed.
Jody and I spent President’s weekend with 4 teens. We promised our daughter a cross country skiing weekend for her birthday. Juan, Crystel and two of her friends came. I thought this might be a long weekend, one that you just try to get through. It was a long weekend and I genuinely enjoyed being with them. Lights were out at 11 pm and the teens were up at 8 am to start the day. Of course, we used some of the same techniques that Jody and I used when Juan and Crystel were little. Such as, “We’ll see you at breakfast.” Knowing that if the teens wanted to eat, that we would see them at breakfast and that if they didn’t want to eat we wouldn’t. Juan missed one morning.
The skiing conditions in Tofte, MN were satisfactory. As soon as the teens had their skis on they disappeared so quickly that I wasn’t sure which direction they went. Jody and I didn’t meet up with them until we had finished skiing several hours later.
We spent a lot of time in the car. A trip on Saturday and Sunday to Tofte to ski. An extended trip to Grand Marais. A stop at Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls. Being trapped in the car with teens could have been a nightmare but wasn’t. We took turns sitting in the cramped third seat of the van. Crystel and I had a competition to see who could have a straw stuck to their lip longest. I lost. I pretended that I was at the movies with her and tried sneaking my arm around her shoulders, to no avail. When Juan wasn’t sleeping he was beating me at electronic pool.
The most memorable and fun time with the teens was at restaurants. The rule at the table was no phones.
There was no bickering. No poking fun at each other. Which isn’t really ever fun if you think about it. There were times I laughed until my stomach hurt.
Of course, it wasn’t all rosy. It wouldn’t be real, then. After Juan mentioned for the third time that he wanted to go home, I told him that he needed to stop. That I had heard him but that we weren’t going home until Monday. He slept a lot. The same thing I did as a teen.
The following week was a middle school dance. Neither, Juan and Crystel wanted to go. Instead, they asked to have friends over. Jody and I would be working the dance as Police Reserve Officers while they would be at home. At one point when Juan, Crystel, and their five friends were gathered together, I said that if any of them smoked marijuana they were not to do it in or outside of our house. They all looked at me like I had lost my mind.
They were gathered in the front yard when Jody and I got into our car to leave. We were in our police uniforms and would be going right to the middle school. One of them asked me why I had said that. I looked at the seven of them and told them that I was fourteen once. Juan mentioned my book, House of Fire. He knew why I knew.
I pointed two fingers at my eyes and then I waved it in a circle at all of them.
“I’m watching you,” I said. “I’m watching all of you.”
Jody and I then left to watch someone else’s kids at the middle school dance.
It occurred to me as we drove away that I was making good at my spoken and unspoken promise to my children – That growing up, they would have a different life than mine. Both of them are 14. Their life is so very very different. I’m proud of that.