Crash. Bang. Screech. Welcome to Planet Teen. Don’t bother griping about the rough landing. We’ve heard it all before. No one ever sees it coming.
“Just yesterday I had a rosy-cheeked cherub and today I have this…THING full of sulk, smell, and oh so important opinions.”
Ellen- Blah, blah, blah. We hear you, but it is time to focus or you are going to get bamboozled and blindsided by the natives.
Erin- We’ve been here about 25 minutes longer than you have, but in the constant turnover that is Planet Teen, that qualifies us to dispense some knowledge. We’re here to provide newbies with some guidance, veterans with some commiseration, and decorated war heroes of multiple tours with glasses of wine.
Ellen- Don’t be stingy. Wine for all! It’ll make us funnier and the teens more bearable. But keep in mind, we are all you have at the moment. The more veteran guides are busy having a collective nervous-breakdown—something to do with driver’s licenses, SATs, and prom dress cleavage.
But never mind that, first steps first. Before I open the door, you might want to take shallow breaths or at least pull your turtleneck up over your nose. Erin will demonstrate.
Erin- The first thing you’ll notice is that even the atmosphere is different: you can feel it in the air and probably smell it, too. Planet Teen pulses with electric, frantic energy and smells an awful lot like the inside of an Abercrombie and Fitch store. Except when the wind changes. Then it just smells like B.O.
Ellen- Sad, but true. If only it had the lighting of an A&F store, then the terrain wouldn’t drive you insane.
Erin – Wait, before we get to the terrain, we must warn you about the earthquakes that will knock you on your bum faster than you can say, “What do you mean you want me to drop you off around the corner and wait in the car?” The ground is a-shakin’ and a-shiftin,’ people, and no expert in the world can predict when the quakes will hit.
Ellen- A “D” on a test? Wuteva. Missing headband? Total building-dropping, house-leveling, bridge-buckling quake. Some people may say that Planet Teen is hostile. I find it more of a shifting, puzzling, exasperating landscape.
Erin- Ah, yes, the landscape. It is messy, and oh so energy-draining. I’m not talking, “Hey there’s a shirt on the floor” messy. I’m not even talking a pile of Legos or naked Barbies. I’m talking that it’s a stinky, nasty, smelly armpit of a place littered with dirty socks, muddy cleats, damp towels, skeletons of projects past, and snack wrappers.
Ellen- Just trash really. Trash everywhere. Even for the roll-with-the-punches Mommas, Planet Teen will break you.
Erin- It was the towels that blindsided me.
Ellen- It’s a cold, damp place for adults because the natives of Planet Teen line their lairs, formerly known as their rooms, with damp towels. Maybe the humidity is good for their skin.
Erin- It can’t be the Aspergillus nidulans (that’s your basic run-of-the-mill mold for you newbies—you get up close and personal with this stuff on Planet Teen). If you are rolling your eyes, thinking, “Why are these chicks hung up on towels?” What’s so sensible about that? Well, for one thing, it is because they never get hung up.
Erin- And my son can empty an entire linen closet in seven days. If you think for a moment this is not impressive, bear in mind that we have enough towels for SEVEN people.
Ellen- Pfft. Daughters are so much MORE in this arena. Coco (13) uses a hair and a body towel with each shower, and I have the water bill to prove that she showers more than your entire family of seven. She has even been known to take MY previously used body towel, hanging on MY hook. So I double your son, Ace (14), and raise you a disgustingness factor.
Erin- I think we’ve talked about motherhood not being a pissing contest, but, sure, you can take that prize.
Ellen- I knew it!
Erin- But even if you adjust to the messy terrain, terrible smell, and your cold butt having to dash down the hall to scrounge for a towel, you are still at a disadvantage. This planet is under Survivor-esque tribal rule.
Ellen- Only you can’t vote anyone off. You’re stuck in this mess together until college. And even then I think you are supposed to let them back in during holidays.
Erin- Oh, the challenges they toss your way. They sling them faster than Jeff Probst on Red Bull, but their hands-down favorite is the teenage version of Chicken. Every day, sometimes FIVE times a day, they are throwing down the gauntlet to see which of you will back down first. It cannot be you. You thought the Terrible Twos were hard when you could still wrassle them into the car. This is the same thing—only now you are looking UP at them.
Ellen- And then there is the language barrier. Teenagers compose fiction they dispense as fact as effortlessly as breathing. You would think only major Planet events would warrant this level of creativity, but it starts slinging without rhyme or reason. It’s just crap I have to slog through every day to get to the real stories, no matter how boring. It just makes me tired.
Erin- And the really wonderful whipped cream and cherry on top is their indignation when you suggest that their story might be two degrees south of complete BS.
Ellen- And then there’s the Planet Teen code.
Erin- That’s right. On top of shifting landscapes, cold derrieres, and the language barrier, you need to learn their secret codes and cryptic handshakes if you want even a remote handle on what they are thinking. This means you need to learn every last text acronym, read every last Tweet, and check out every last Facebook update. I kid you not: the tribe is a-rumbling even when the natives look all tucked in and cherubic.
Ellen- TBH, the tribe will ambush you if you are not alert. JTLYK, you can readily get translations on Google. So CYA and get on over there, FTW.
Erin- Oh, and hide your valuables, or at least your eyeliner and straightening iron.
Ellen- The natives, or at least my daughter, are like magpies. Oooh! Shiny pretty thing over here! Aaahh! Sparkly, fun thing over there. These things get whisked away, never to be seen again. It is a little infuriating. Makes you feel like dementia is setting in early.
Erin- But maybe we are making you nervous. So far we’ve only discussed the perils and maybe frightened you with our obsession with towels (it’s serious, people). We did say we were going to give some navigation guidance.
Ellen- Communication is the key. I know it sounds basic, but it’s true. If you can keep the lines of communication open, the natives won’t take over.
Erin- It does not hurt to have strategies and to use what is available to you. In this case, I’m talking about your car. If you have a teen, you live in your car. If you don’t, I want to move where you live, so send me your address.
For the rest of us, accept your lot in life as taxi driver and use this to your advantage. There is real power in talking in the car. Teens don’t like direct eye contact, so side-by-side looking out the window is ideal.
Ellen- Yeah, they are kind of like tigers—don’t look them directly in the eye. Or is that werewolves? Anyway, be ready for them to spill the moment their tushies hit the seat. There is only a fifteen minutes difference between getting the story and “Nothing happened today.”
Don’t talk on the phone and turn down the radio (that way they won’t be obsessed with changing the station immediately). Your job is to hold your tongue.
In fact, I joke that I want my tombstone to read, “She gets props for all the things she didn’t say.” Come to think of it, I am not joking. Dead serious. This is THE key to happiness with your kid on Planet Teen. Hold it until you HAVE to say something. Otherwise, everything comes out like a Charlie Brown teacher.
Erin- So here’s The Sisterhood Secret: Cultivate a passive, non-judgmental face. One great piece of advice Ellen gave to me that works like a charm is the non-committal “huh” or ”um” as they relay the story.
Ellen- I also use it with crazy people, but a hormonally driven teen is about as crazy as you can get really.
Erin- Use that non-judgmental demeanor and your handy ambiguous grunts to mask your utter dismay when you hear things mentioned like your teen’s friend is running off with the circus. Or that he is considering not going to college because he has plans to turn your basement into a video game console repair business.
Ellen- Don’ t react immediately or you’ll shut them down. Remember you need as much information as possible so that you can sift through the BS to the nugget of truth.
Erin- And buck up, Visitor. Remember that for all the crazy, rocky, smelly, damp, and silly things rocking Planet Teen, you and your child are not adversaries, but fellow travelers trying to make it to the next stage with your sanity intact.
Ellen- This is temporary visa status, not permanent residence. Did you notice that this excursion has just begun? We’ve barely moved away from the transport door. But, look behind you, the next wave of newbies is already moving in behind you.
Erin- A temporary visa is more than enough on Planet Teen, so bring the wine, the Starbucks, a plucky attitude, and a sense of humor. We’re all going to figure this out together, but we are going to need the fortification. And we’re off. . .
By Ellen Williams Erin Dymowski