independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Treasure the teenage years, they're all grown up before you know it

Kathy Lette recalls her daughter's 'Attila years' with fond nostalgia now that she's moved out of the home

Cuddles to catfights: Kathy Lette and her treasured daughter Georgie

Living with a teenage daughter is like living with the Taliban. Mothers are not allowed to dance, sing, flirt, laugh loudly or wear short skirts. The tyranny began when my sweet angel turned 13. I was sashaying towards the front door in my high heels when my daughter suddenly stormed after me, shouting, "What the hell do you think you are wearing Mum? You are not going out dressed like that. Go back to your room and change immediately!"

I glanced down in abject humiliation at my pink leopard-skin mini. "But ... I can still wear short skirts, can't I? I mean, my legs are all I've got left."

"It's not the legs, Mother. It's just that skirt doesn't go with your face."

I wilted like day-old salad. Low self-esteem is hereditary; you get it from your kids. Basically, my darling offspring would only have been happy if I'd become Amish and donned a cloth cap while churning my own butter. As Yummy Mummies refuse to give in to Dr Scholl sandals and support hose, modern mothers and their teenage daughters have more wars per day than in the Middle East.

"Thanks for the advice," I told my daughter. "If only I were young enough to know everything." The contemptuous look she gave me said, "Can we just be friends? I'd like to start seeing other mothers."

Why had my darling daughter shape-shifted into a growling, disgruntled, surly heap of hormones, constantly embarrassed by me? I thought back to the time my little girl adored me. It was all hot hugs, fierce kisses, her face a warm smudge against my neck. But the second she hit her teens, it was disdain, contempt and third-degree sarcasm.

Teenagers are obviously God's punishment for having sex in the first place. Once your daughter hits the dreaded teens, having always preferred the natural look, she'll suddenly begin guarding her eyeliner more closely than a Columbian drug lord.

My daughter started bringing home a succession of boys who either smelt of dead rodents, supported entire ecosystems in their hair, looked underdressed without a ski mask or constantly strip mined the weekly food shop from the fridge, uninvited.

So take heed, all mothers of 12-year-old girls – you have one year of cuddles and camaraderie left. A year from now, she will shun your company for that of boys called Spider, Fang and Wolf.

But don't make the mistake of whining that her new beau looks like a hardened criminal – because then the rebellious minx will no doubt marry him.

No. A wily mother must resort to more innovative steps to deter male suitors from staying over too often. I find the playing of Bartók at full volume is very effective. But the way to really curb a boy's lusty enthusiasm is to try to join in the fun.

If you come home to find half naked teens entwined in your living room, the best contraceptive imaginable is to start dancing along to the music.

Some quintessential Mum Dancing Manoeuvres refined during the Eighties can clear a room full of libidinous male teenagers faster than a fire alarm.

That will also trigger a tantrum along the lines of: "You are soo embarrassing"; "why can't you be like other mothers?!"; and "I can't wait to leave home!" accompanied with a door slam or two. All mothers of teenage despots can do is just fasten psychological seat belts. It also helps to remember that you, too, probably turned into Attila the Teenager and drove your own mother mad. I can recall the time I truanted school and ran away to a rock concert.

When I brought home a punk rocker who was pincushioned with studs and graffitied with tats, I remember my mum sighing to my father that whenever I was down in the dumps, I got myself a boyfriend. "Oh, is that where she finds them," I recall him groaning in reply.

Yet throughout all my many wars with my own mother, I never stopped adoring my Dad. The same proved true with my own progeny. Despite endless power tussles with my daughter, her father remained on his parental pedestal. But perhaps it's a psychological necessity for teenage girls to define themselves by breaking away from their mothers? As painful as it is at the time, cutting the apron strings is probably a normal part of a girl's transition to independent womanhood.

And the teen tyranny does come to an end. My darling daughter has just turned 20 and is now the most charming, sensible, compassionate young woman, full of love and laughter. The only trouble is, she no longer needs me at all. Georgie's now moved out to university to study politics and history and is better informed, more intellectually engaged and socially responsible than any adult I know. She is, quite simply, the light of my life. She is totally independent, thriving on life, and I miss her dreadfully.

So, treasure the tantrums and tears of the teenage years, because, believe me, it's awfully quiet when she's gone.

The Boy Who Fell to Earth by Kathy Lette (Black Swan)

Irish Independent

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