Smells like teen spirit

Time marches relentlessly on and I’m starting to contemplate what 50 might look and feel like. An awareness that my stiff shoulders and creaking hips are unlikely to spontaneously resolve themselves has renewed my enthusiasm for remedial yoga. Meanwhile, a day spent in high-heeled boots at the weekend only reaffirmed my opinion that, when it comes to footwear, the only way forward is comfort first, glamour second. Unlikely as I am to undergo any surgical or chemical interventions in order to turn back the hands of time, the rest I’ll just have to suck up, particularly the disparaging remarks from my 9 year old daughter and her incredulity that unlike her firm, youthful flesh, mine is like – and I quote – “jelly”. Parenting clearly isn’t for the thin-skinned. Or, apparently, those with less-than-perfect muscle tone…..

Similarly, teaching isn’t a profession I’d recommended for the overly sensitive or faint-hearted. During the time I spent working at the language school, I must have taught hundreds of teens over the years. I’d love to declare all them to have been delightful young people, but that would be a bare-faced lie. Of course many of them were, but equally, many would have tried the patience of a saint.

My least favourite demographic in the classroom was the 14 to 17 year old boy. By turns, these individuals could be slothful or insolent, or both at once, a truly winning combination. One hot late-summer’s afternoon, I found myself teaching a new class which was composed almost entirely of 17 year old boys, who, it was soon established, were principally interested in girls, rugby and beer. The testosterone in the room was disconcertingly palpable. In my previous experience, this element had always been diluted by a less evidently hormonal contingent, or perhaps just by different hormones. I remember wondering with horror if this was the shape of things to come as far as my pre-teen son was concerned. Judging by the prevalence of fist bumping and pound hugging currently in evidence, I suspect that my worst fears may well come to fruition.

This isn’t to say that the teenage girls I taught were paragons of virtue. Occasionally the odd hungover 16 year old girl would attend a Saturday morning class in what can only be described as a triumph of hope over adversity. Sleep-deprived and decidedly green around the gils, I was usually left with no option other than to insist on the urgent acquisition of full-fat Coke and advise delaying the mastery of phrasal verbs until the following week. Grim as these times felt, they weren’t as alarming as the occasion when a lone teenager was waiting for me at the beginning of a lesson with his head on the table, only to lift his head as I entered the room and projectile vomit spectacularly. I don’t think I’ve received such an extreme reaction to my arrival in a classroom before or since.

As infuriating as a gaggle of teenage girls could be in some ways, I couldn’t help but sympathise. As a teenager, I too was afflicted by verbal diarrhoea and rendered helpless by hysterical giggling. However, there is nothing like the perspective of youth to jolt you back to your current reality. In open discussion about what it was like to be 17, one girl managed to completely take the wind out of my sails. After sharing my personal experience of being the same age, she pointed out that this was in fact “last century”. It was a good point and well made, leaving me with little choice but to call for break time and scuttle away to the staff room to have the midlife crisis I’d been putting off for some time.

It isn’t too far a stretch to envisage my own daughter as a teenager. There’s an abundance of sass, good humour, neatly balanced with sudden mood swings and drama. I can only hope that we won’t suffer the same level of histrionics from her as I did with a particularly unhinged student I taught a number of years ago,. One Saturday morning, quite literally as soon as my back was turned, she helpfully threatened to jump off the balcony attached to our second floor classroom. I was aware that three hours of extra English were a less than ideal way to start the weekend, but hadn’t thought my lessons were worthy of such an adverse reaction until that point.

The 9 year old student that responds to the question “How old are you?” with “I’m excellent” can lead to despair that your life’s work is all in vain. A catastrophic meltdown by your not-3-years-old-anymore child can have much the same effect. I’m reliably informed that this sentiment is only likely to get worse before it gets better as my children hurtle towards adolescence. I’ve seen what the future looks like through teaching and quite honestly, it isn’t always pretty.

As I contemplate the bumpy road ahead, I’m concluding that resistance is futile. I feel that I can only put my best foot forward – preferably wearing my comfiest shoes.

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