Krista and I have one child, Abby, who has reached early adolescence. We have two others, Daniel and Luke, who are fast approaching.
I remember quite well watching my older sisters navigate the stormy waters of puberty ahead of me, and subsequently took my own turn a few years later. I recall my own emotional turbulence, confusion, questions (e.g., “what’s happening to them??” followed by “what’s happening to me??”), and physical change. I remember the acne. Ah, yes, the acne. It was everywhere—and I mean EVERYWHERE—on my body, like dandelions sprouting on an untreated lawn in springtime.
I recall, too, the budding obsessions (pinball, books, and music) and new attractions (girls). I reminisce and I shudder, because I know that my own personal tumultuous history is about to repeat itself. Three. Times. Over. Oy.
As a 14 year old, Abby is demonstrating all the classic signs one might expect. In this regard, she reminds me most of my oldest sister, Betsy—a little bit headstrong, occasionally defiant, sometimes distraught for reasons I can’t discern and am powerless to elicit using generally accepted language-based techniques. In other words, I try harmless interrogatories like “Abby, honey, what’s wrong?” and receive responses like “Just forget about it, dad, you wouldn’t understand,” followed by dismissive head-shaking, foot stomping and bedroom door slamming.
Luke, at 11 years old our youngest, is not “in” puberty yet. The prospect of Luke as a teenager is terrifying on the one hand and the cause for hope on the other. It could go in one of several directions. Already volatile, perhaps he’ll mature at least to the extent that he’ll develop better perspective taking and the ability to formulate and use techniques to keep his temper in check. Or …. Well, I value my sleep so I try not to think about the alternatives too much. As Jesus himself counseled his disciples a couple of millennia ago, tomorrow has enough worries of its own.
This brings us to the middle amigo, Daniel, who at age 12 is just a couple of months away from entering the ranks of teenager-hood. He presents some unique wrinkles to this whole parenting-to-an-adolescent endeavor. Daniel, you see, is mildly autistic and therefore brings his own unusual, fascinating thought processes and mindset to the table, a way of seeing the universe and interacting with it that we continue to marvel at even as we struggle to fully comprehend it and anticipate its possible effects on his day-to-day life, and ours.
For whatever reason, Daniel now loves watching various YouTube videos on his hand-held device. Once in a while my ears will catch a fleeting expletive delivered by one of the video’s protagonists, and I’ll intervene.
“Daniel, you know we don’t want that kind of language in our home. Do you need to watch something different or do you want me to take away the 2DS?”
“Okayokayokay. I’m sorry. I’ll change it.” He hesitates a few seconds before adding with stunning determination and emphasis, “But I’m pretty grown up now, so don’t make me watch baby stuff!”
On Saturday I walked in the house after hitting a few tennis balls with Abby. Daniel greeted me in the kitchen and remarked, “So, ummm, dad, do you wanna go upstairs and have a talk?!” This is our code for “Let’s go to your room and roughhouse on the bed.”
“Why, sure, Daniel! I have a few things I need to, umm, you know, tell you!”
He smiled and ran upstairs. I followed. When I arrived in the room he jumped from behind the bedroom door, pushed me on the bed, and wrestled me into a face-down position.
“You are so easy to defeat!” he exclaimed with pride. “You fell right into my trap. When will you ever learn?!” A fair question, by the way.
“Oh, really?” I retorted. I executed a spin-maneuver and exchanged places with him. I was now on top of him and in perfect position to disable him with tickles. “I believe the worm has turned, my friend!” I taunted as I continued to tickle his mid-section.
He laughed reflexively as he tried to catch his breath. “Okay, dad! DAD-DAD-DAD, stop! Enough! Stop! You’re giving me an orgasm!”
Huh? What? Did he just say what I thought he said?
I stopped tickling and thought “Oh, boy. Maybe this is one for Krista? No, no. This is dad territory. Suck it up and do your duty.”
“Errr, Daniel, I don’t think that’s what you mean, son. Where did you see or hear that word?”
“I dunno. Maybe the internet. I don’t really remember. I thought it just meant, you know, that I was ‘excited and happy.’ Is it bad?”
“Well, no, but you certainly don’t want to use it in the wrong place or at the wrong time. ‘Excited and happy’ is, errr, on the right track, I guess. Let me explain a little more about what it means and I think you’ll understand why it’s important to use that word properly.” For the next ten minutes or so I attempted to provide a faithful definition and some appropriate context as Daniel fidgeted and blushed. When I finished I looked in Daniel’s beautiful, brown, bespectacled eyes.
“Dad, I promise I’ll remember that! I will DEFINITELY remember that. OK?”
“Great, Daniel. I know you will,” I replied, and wondered how Daniel will handle the onset of acne.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.