Friday, May 22, 2009

Teen Thoughts

If I had to describe the worst fear of a teenager, it would not be death or failing in school, or coming down with a terrible illness. It would have to be embarrassment. I distinctly remember embarrassment as being the central emotion of my life for about seven or so years during the teenage period. And as I've already confessed, even when I was alone as a teen, I worried people might be watching me.

I think if you want to write YA, and a lot of folks who read this blog do, you have to really connect with those emotional memories to write authentically. I am keenly aware of my own boys' sense of embarrassment. The thing we forget is the acuteness of that embarrassment.

This past week, my car broke down and the dealer gave me a loaner car. Emma just loved it; it was a luxury car and she drove with me, stretched out in the back, happy as could be. I went to pick Christopher up at school, and he waved me on frenetically, then turned away as if he didn't know me. Because I try not to embarrass them (they don't believe this, and think I lunge at every opportunity to do just that) I drove home. That's when I saw the giant letters in the back: HOLMAN BROTHERS AUTO LOANER in neon tangerine. It took me a while to see that; he spotted that like an eagle would spot a weakened field mouse.

Last night was the spring concert at Philip's school. He used to play tuba. But mono and constant throat problems caused him to switch to percussion. Thinking he would play the drums at the concert like he did at rehearsal, off he went into the night. Of course, my husband and I went to the concert, along with a few of Philip's friends.

I am sitting in the audience when I get this frantic text: "Mom, can you say I'm sick? I can't do this." Now Philip is not one to shy away from the stage, but after several texts back and forth, I still didn't get what was going on. I could barely read them in the dim light, and I had to sneak reading them since they had already told us to turn off our cell phones. I couldn't imagine why he was hesitant to play.

After a few numbers, the band played again. This time, we saw Philip. Now he's a really big kid, I think the tallest in his grade, with long, straightened hair and his beloved piercings. He likes people like Kurt Cobain and the young Ozzy.

So there he stood in his shirt and tie, only he wasn't playing the drums. Apparently, a lot of boys played the drums, far more than ever played the tuba, and Philip has just begun percussion, so he was switched for the performance. He flicked his hair back and struck a note: Philip was playing "the bells" -- an instrument that sounded like something that would summon fairies. I watched his face redden to the point where I worried about aneuryism.

He was silent on the way home. I finally said to him, "So that was good, your concert."

"Mom, I am never doing that again. Ever. I am dropping out of band."

He means it. It wasn't a bad night. No one said anything to him. A girl told him how "cute" he looked up there. She told me and my husband. She clearly meant it. But to him, that one hour would define his future.

I thought of explaining persepective to him, at least trying, but then I remembered. As a teen, you don't have it, and more importantly, you don't believe in it.


Bish Denham said...

Oh the angst of being a teen. I'm so glad to be long past it. I was a loner and I was teased. But very little embarrassed me. In fact I often went out of my way to embarrass people around me by pulling some kind of harmless stunt. I loved taking an invisible animal into restaurants and feeding it under the table and telling it to behave itself.

Piloting The Ship Of Fools said...

That weakened field mouse simile just cracked me up!

I'm pretty impervious to embarrassment now, but I will never forget how keenly I felt it from years 12-18. I once burned the skin off the roof of my mouth rather than spit out a scalding mouthful of soup. I knew the mucous membrane would grow back, but the embarrassment of spitting out soup in public would have killed me. And the embarrassment-inducing potential of my parents was just surreal. My father would happily read The National Enquirer in the supermarket while my mother would loudly talk about Being a Republican. (shiver)

We had to rent a car here too, and it was an awful clinker. The first thing my foster daughter said when she saw it was "I am SO NOT RIDING TO SCHOOL IN THAT!" She did though, bless her: it was either that or take a dolmush, then climb the kilometer-long hill to school.

Mary Witzl said...

Anne, the above comment is MINE! The person I share my laptop with inconsiderately goes and leaves HIS name on it. Sigh...

Anne Spollen said...

Bish, you were the rare exception! But it sounds like you had some creative ways to make fun of the whole teen angst thing. It's funny now, but back then...

My kids think I am close to insane because I do yard work in my husband's old clothes (but does it occur to them that those strapping boys shouldn't let their 5'4" mom carry branches and lug leaf bags while they're watching music videos? Not a chance) You do become impervious to embarrassment.
I think it's because you get some kind of perspective.

The soup story is perfect -- it shows the exact flow of teenthink. And my husband is a Republican. A friend of mine asked me, very seriously, "Did you know Phil was a Republican before the wedding?"

Katie said...

Oh Anne! I just laughed out loud when I read that poor Philip lit up the stage with his bells! Oh lawsy! what a great story!!!

adrienne said...

Oh, poor thing. I think it's so funny that he tried to text you to get out of it.
My son is only eleven and he already thinks everything my husband and I do is embarrassing. We've got a long ride ahead of us...

Colorado Writer said...

Isn't it weird how a mother can be embarrassing just by standing silently to the side?