Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My five-year-old, the wannabee teenager

My daughter is five years old, but if she could be any age, she would definitely choose to be a teenager.

Clara's eyes glow and her voice gets shaky with reverence whenever I mention someone who falls into the prized category of teen.

When we recently met a new person of said age, Clara turned to me whispering, "So, you're saying she is thirteen years old. So, that makes her a... teenager, right!?" as though being a teenager is the most magical thing one could be.

I am not sure what caused this absolute adoration of anyone between the age of 13 and 19. Perhaps it is because I teach teenagers. Perhaps it is because being a teenager is just close enough to her age that it seems a reasonable reach, more attainable than adulthood. Whatever the reason, Clara is absolutely hooked on the idea of being a teenager.

At some point about a year ago Clara and I witnessed a situation where a teenage girl was being rude and dismissive to her mom. I mentioned to Clara that sometimes teenagers think they are "too cool" for their parents and try to separate from them. I was trying to teach Clara that this is an annoying but necessary and natural stage of development.

Instead, Clara took my use of the word "cool" quite literally. She believes that spouting the word "cool" must be said in direct proportion to the number of times that "teenager" is said.

Whenever I mention someone who is a teenager, Clara turns into this valley girl teen from the 80's spouting phrases I haven't heard in twenty years: "Oh my gosh, like, wow, this is so cool." "Cool, man!" "That's cool, right, mama?"

Clara took me for a trip down memory lane this week when she asked, "Mama, were you cool when you were a teenager?"

"I was well liked. I had friends."

"That's not what I'm asking. Were you cool?"

I did not consider myself to be a particularly cool teenager. I was cool in the sense that I was an individual and followed my own passions. But I wasn't cool like the goth girls who went to raves every weekend or the preppy girls who had their hairs teased to the sky with their matching plaid pants rolled up at the bottom who met up with the boys from the football team on the weekends.

I racked my mind for something that might represent coolness.

"Um, do you know what a prom is? It's a big dance where everyone gets dressed and at the end everyone votes for the prom queen and king."

Before I could finish my story, Clara interrupted, "And you were the prom queen, right, mama? So, you were cool."

"Well, normally the prom queen is the most popular girl, but in my case, I was running against all the popular girls and their votes got split, so I won more by being the nice girl than the popular girl."

"So, you were kind of cool?"

"OK, I guess I was kind of cool."

Clara seemed satisfied with the knowledge of having a mom who was semi-cool as a teenager.

I am still struggling to find the words to explain to my teen-dazzled daughter that sometimes being "cool" isn't actually the point. I want Clara to know that being cool is relative and temporary. As she gets older, I will remind her that being cool as a teenager is usually based upon other teenagers' views whose motivations are often full of insecurity and judgement.

To current and future Clara, always remember that the coolest thing to be is to be yourself.



  1. I think you underestimate your teenage coolness--to these eyes, you seemed entirely cool!

  2. Thanks, Debbie! You have always been cool to me, too!