I owe a lot to Warren Ellis, and that's all you need to know about that.
Warren wrote on his blog that his daughter has just turned 13:
My daughter is now 13. You can tell this by the way she presents herself for dinner at a restaurant wearing red and black striped fingerless gloves, a black puffball skirt and tights, a t-shirt that’s the dilute 2008 iteration of an idea Vivienne Westwood scrawled on the back of a fag packet in 1976, and a pair of boots that appear to have been fashioned from the hollowed-out legs of a particularly unfortunate black bear. Also, by the way I’ve gone from being called “daddy” to being called “shut up, Ellis.”
She wears her mp3 player in the car so she doesn’t have to listen to “old, creepy” bands on the CD player. And then berates me for not listening to “dad music” in the office. Which is also often termed “creepy.” Most things are either “cool” or “creepy.”
Nouns have seemingly become optional: “I need to thing about thing with thing and thing.” Her mother understands every word. I do not. This may be why her mother is “cool” and I am “creepy.”
Warren says that he's loving every minute of it, and since I've been there myself, I can relate. His post reminded me of an old post of mine, that I wrote when my awesome little guys were mysteriously replaced with Pod People:
So this weird thing happened two or three weeks ago: in the middle of the night, some aliens or MIBs or something snuck into my house while we were asleep, and they replaced my sweet, reasonable children with Teenagers.
Overnight, I went from pretty cool to really annoying, and questions that were usually answered with phrases like, "Okay," or "I'll do it in just a minute," or "Yes," were suddenly met with "Whatever." or "GOD!" or my personal favorite, stony silence with the rolling eyes and exasperated sigh.
It's so weird, man. And the thing is, my doors were all locked, and my windows were all closed . . . so my theory is that the Aliens or MIBs or whatever don't actually enter the house. Instead, they use some sort of parabolic mirror to direct a tractor beam through the walls, which we can't see or hear, and they pull the old switcheroo from orbit. I have no idea what they do with the sweet, reasonable pre-teens they take away, though. The current operating theory is that they need their youthful exuberance for fuel or something, but it's just a theory.
I called my mom, and told her how things had suddenly gotten really challenging as a parent, and you know what she did? She put her hand over the phone, and shouted to my dad, "Finally! It's Payback, Rick!" I'm pretty sure I heard my dad shout out something like, "Woo!" or "Yeehaw!" from another room . . .
Anyway, I'm taking a crash course in parenting Teenagers, which is fundamentally different from parenting pre-teens. It's not even like switching from vi to emacs . . . it's more like switching from vi to emacs and someone re-assigned your keyboard and changed the language and now the damn thing reboots randomly and though occasionally it makes sense, most of the time you're so goddamned confused you wonder why you bought a fucking computer in the first place. The weirdest thing is how quickly the pod-people arrived. It really did happen overnight (or maybe in the span of two days, but not longer than that.)
A couple of things I've learned, that I offer up, free of charge, to anyone parenting a teenager, or about to parent a teenager:
- When we say, "no," what they hear is, "ask me again in a slightly different way in about ten minutes, and act like it's the first time you've asked me. Or you could go ask your mom, and pretend that we haven't talked. The most important thing is, you must act as if we haven't had this conversation, and keep asking me until you get whatever it is you want."
- No matter what we as parents do, we are so unreasonable.
- No matter what my parents say, I was never this irrational when I was a teenager.
- Whatever it is they want to do, all their friends get to do it, with their parents' blessing.
- Music is better when it's so loud the bass distorts. (Yes, I realize the irony of my "If it's too loud, you're too old" T-shirt from 11th grade.)
- Even though they may act like they totally hate us, they still love us. It's just that their brains are all fucked up right now, and they need our help to figure out what the hell is going on (but won't admit it, and don't know how to ask for it).
So there's this interesting-and-cool thing happening: naturally, because they're teens, they're pulling away a little bit, figuring out who they are, and pushing against Anne and me as we define their age-appropriate limits, so a lot of the things we used to do together are so lame now . . . except for nerdy gaming. They LOVE the nerdy gaming, and it has become a conduit for me to communicate with them, as well as remain a part of their life. Ryan even told me the other day, "I want to start a club at school that's for nerds to do nerdy stuff, but I want to have, like, Masonic Degrees for nerds."
"What degree are you?" I said.
"I don't know," he said, "But you are a 33rd degree nerd."
I didn't ask him if there was a secret handshake, because I didn't want to be so lame.
I wrote that a little over three years ago, which at once feels like a lifetime ago and just yesterday. I'm not going to pretend that every day in between was unicorns and rainbows, but Nolan is a senior in high school now, and Ryan is in college. I am happy to report that the well-known Mark Twain quote applies.