You may recall I wrote in April about how children aren’t assholes, when I realized with shock that older kids are only terrifying in groups and from a distance. I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping this in check when we go to the park, and we’ve had no incidents that make me recant that. But there’s still one thing that always hung at the back of my mind.
There are two levels to my terror of teenagers. First is that I remember being a teenager, and I was a monster. Until I was 16 I was angry, spiteful, petty, and downright rude. I tend to assume that all teenagers in a group are misanthropic sociopaths. Second is that I was also picked on pretty ruthlessly until I was 16; I was the fat girl, the ugly girl, the weird girl, et cetera. When I see a large group of teenagers it doesn’t matter that I’m nearly 25 and moderately confident and successful — oh God I’m 15 and I’m fat and they’re definitely all going to pick on me when I leave. It’s irrational, but it’s also practically Pavlovian.
Today Miles and I went to our apartment complex’s pool, and as usual it was empty. The fringe benefit of working at home — apparently I’m the only one taking my kid swimming at 2 in the afternoon. Rock. We do our thing, and after about 45 minutes a hoard of teenagers joins us. As you can expect, I’m paralyzed in terror.
There’s seven or eight of them, ranging (I’m guessing) anywhere from 17 to 12. The youngest of them can’t swim, so he stays in shallows with me and Miles. We kind of chat, and I try to stay as unassuming as possible. I hear a couple comments about, “Oh, look, a baby!” but otherwise they generally go about their business, shoving each other into the pool and whatnot.
Miles started to play with them, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were all cool with it. They all let him push them into the pool. They learned his name and engaged him in play. They got worried one time when he stumbled and fell into the pool without warning. They tried their damnedest to help me keep him away from the deep end — none of us succeeded in that, though thankfully the deep end isn’t very deep and has enough of this weird ledge that I was able to keep footing. They even made a point of catching him if he tried to jump in before I could make it to where he was — one of the guys even catching him when he took a leap into the deep end unexpectedly. They didn’t even get upset when Miles had to inspect their bikes.
They had fun with him, and he had fun with them, and in turn I had fun with them. We got into some low-impact conversations between casing and catching Miles, and they seemed like decently intelligent, nice kids.
It’s generally said that teenagers get a bad rap, that they’re in the awkward position of being treated like children and expected to act like adults — and there’s a lot of truth to that. Despite my lingering issues left over from high school and the cultural programming that teenagers are something to fear, I got to learn firsthand today:
Teenagers can be pretty cool. Congrats, teenagers, you’re off my short list.