What stands six feet tall, consumes twelve to sixteen meals a day, washes occasionally, and inhabits a room best suited for an aftermath scene from the movie Twister? If you are somewhere between the ages of thirty-five and midlife-crazy, this description has caused you to bite your lower lip. Yes, I’m talking about yourvery own personal copy of the echo boomer; that teenage life form who threatens your sanity while you cruise through your personal mid-life adventure.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a card carrying boomer dad and proud of it. But there are so many ups and downs in this journey, that the whole experience makes a roller-coaster’s triple loop seem as tame as a Merry-Go-Round. Believe me, I’m not trying to steal Henie Youngman’s material when I plead, “Take my son, please!”
Let me invite you to drop by our humble abode? You can be a fly on the wall and observe the goings on. I’m hoping you might see parallels that reflect some of the dynamics of your situation. If not, maybe I should be seeking professional help.
The first thing you should know is that in our house most conflicts boil down to problems of memory and logic. The following real life dramas illustrate a profound deficiency in both.
It’s cold. It’s January. The whole family is confined to barracks.
“Matthew, you’d better start bringing your binder home so you can study for exams,” the good wife suggests to the fifteen year old.
Seeing that this is his second day back to school after the Christmas Break, and exams begin in two weeks, her bold suggestion sounds like a prudent course of action to me.
“Ya, right,” the boy announces. A swash of hair dangles across his face concealing his eyes. His posture can best be described as post dinner slump.
Somehow this response fails to convince me. Now, there has been any number of excuses regarding the unavailability of this binder. It’s become a kind of a Find Waldo Puzzle to us. I think it’s about time to put on my father hat and do some pontificating.
“Matt, you know you’ve got to get those marks up,” my voice is a low authoritative drone. “I want that binder home tomorrow.”
“Uh, I got kind of a problem there, dad,” he replies sheepishly.
“Why wouldn’t you be able to bring your binder home tomorrow?” I try to leave all sarcasm, innuendo, and downright pessimism out of my voice.
“You’re telling me that you can’t open it?” I ask. I might as well toss the ball back into his court and see if it rolls.
“Ya, you see I forgot my locker combination over the Christmas Break,” the boy replies with a smirk.
Mother, always one to get her two cents in asks, “So how did you get your work done in class today?”
“Easy, I just borrowed some paper from my friends.” The broad smile on the boy’s face beams triumphantly. He’s obviously proud of his problem solving skill.
I pause to ponder all of this. Each time I see that binder, papers are jammed in helter-skelter with their tattered edges protruding from all sides. I can picture Matt binderless, his pockets bulging with rolled up mass of loose leaf paper. I wonder how long he’ll wait to get help with his little problem. Heavens, I can see him leaving that binder in solitary confinement until the night before his first examination.
“Now listen, Matt, when I was in high-school the custodian would cut your lock off if this happened.” I decide to offer a constructive alternative.
“So, it happened to you too, eh Dad?” My how that boy picks up on the obvious. I choose to ignore the question.
“Listen, you get that lock cut off tomorrow.” I speak in full autocratic mode. “And get that binder home!”
“Okay, okay! I’ll do it tomorrow. Chill will ya!”
I can feel it coming. Here’s where I transform into a parachuting parent. It’s bail out time. The words fly out of my mouth like speeding bullets.
“That would be cool, Dad.” He pats my back for effect.
Gawd, I’ve shot myself in the foot again.
Let’s fly forward twenty-four hours. I’m driving home, kind of in a stressed out stupor, when “zap”, I remember the lock. I put the van into a three-sixty and hustle off to the hardware store. Yes, that’s where I bought the last lock that the first born needed; the lock that was a replacement for the one that mysteriously disappeared in December. Egad, that’s a whole other story.
Swinging into the driveway, I look through the front window to see the lad bouncing up and down in air band mode. It seems he’s found a use for that old six string in his room. I’m relieved that he remembered his house key. I’m sure he could write a book called 50 Ways to Break into Your Own House.
Bounding through the doorway with lock in hand, I’m ready to confront the boy with the big question. I’d might as well go for the gold.
“So, did you get your lock cut off today?”
“Hey, Dad, you got the new lock, eh!” he replies. “But guess what?”
“No guesses, just tell me.” I goad. You see, I’ve been down this road before.
“See, I got my lock open today, Dad. I just stood there spinning the dial until…wham, it hit me. I remembered the combo!” The broad smile he offers is infectious. “Isn’t that great, Dad?”
“Ah, ya, that’s great.” I plunk the new lock down on his desk. “So you’ve got the binder then?”
“Well no, ya see, I put my binder in Dustin’s locker at lunchtime, and he had to leave early for the dentist, and…Ah…I forget to get it out before he left.”
The look on his face would bring tears to the eyes of Attila the Hun.
“You did what?” I moan. The boy has managed to put my blood pressure on medic alert.
“Just kidding, Dad,” he blurts. He holds up the elusive object at just about eye level.
I’m ready to throw my hands up in exasperation when “foot-in-mouth” disease strikes me again. My mouth opens to spout these profound words.
“Well, you keep this lock in case you need it.”
Somehow I know these words are prophetic. His final comment ices the cake.
“Okay, Dad, I’ll take it to school tomorrow and put it in my locker.”
I think the current music scene best illustrates the gap I’m experiencing as I attempt to relate to the new pop of this echo boomer of mine. Join me while Matthew, hovering over the stereo, transfers some of his CD’s to audio tape.
“Gee, Matt, I kind of like the sound of that group,” I say. “What are they called?”
“Ya, they’re called Chicken Lips, Dad.” he responds.
“Are they some kind of new group?” I ask.
“No, Dad, they’re an old band.”
I pause to ponder this. Now does he mean old as in the age of the group members, or old as in the length of time the band has been recording together? I think I’ll try the direct approach.
“You mean the guys in the group are old, or do you mean that the group has been around for a while?”
“Ya, Dad, like they’re old. This is their second CD.”
“So, what you’re saying is they’re really kind of new.” I prod.
“No, Dad, they’re old you see, cause most groups disappear after their first CD.”
“Oh!” I blurt.
And, to think I still have my original copy of the record, “Hey Jude”, hanging on the rec room wall. Now a group that’s been around for thirty years seems like an old group to me. I can’t imagine a music scene made up entirely of one-hit -wonders.
Now, you might think that there are a whole variety of differences between this teen phenom and his father. We’re always bumping up against one another in one way or another. Yet through the trials and tribulations of our relationship, once and awhile I’m struck with a profound revelation.
We’re travelling by car to one of his basketball tournaments in the early spring. I’ve made a deal with Matt. We listen to the Beatles Anthology on the way there, and to his “alternative” music on the way back.
“Dad, you really know all the words to those old songs, eh!” he says. I’ve been singing along to the tunes as we drive along the misty highway.
“Ya, we used to sing along with them at parties,” I comment.
“Wow, that’s cool dad!” The look on his face tells me he is genuinely impressed. Perhaps I can make a point here.
“Can you picture yourself in twenty years driving along with your son and singing some of the songs you’re listening to?” I ask.
“Sure, dad.” he responds.
“You mean like, ‘She’s lump, she’s lump, and she’s in my head. She’s lump, she’s lump she might be dead’, ” I sing jovially.
He pauses to reflect on this one.
“Somehow I don’t think so,” I chuckle.
“But dad, didn’t the Beatles sing that song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!”. I notice his eyebrows are just about touching his hairline.
“Uh, ya,” I stammer.
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone
Okay, maybe we’re really not that far apart in our musical experience. The songs and the groups may be different; but the way each of us looks at the music culture we are experiencing is remarkably the same at any age. The music is a backdrop to our life. Matt I live in the same movie; it’s only that our soundtracks are out of sync.
You know it just might be the music has helped me retreat from my state of denial.You know, “Is that kid in the next room biologically mine?”
You see, like it or not, genetics have played an important role in all of this. I have to admit that Matthew’s teenage years parallel my own experience in many ways. I had psychedelic rock; he has his alternative music. I dressed like a flower child; his wardrobe is definitive grunge. I let my hair grow long; he shaves the sides and back of his head into a buzz. I had locker problems in high school-ditto for Matt. I drove my parents crazy; he follows suit at Formula One pace.
It is becoming more obvious to me that in many ways our experiences are more alike than they are different. Perhaps it is our like-mindedness that is the catalyst that so often causes us to clash. You see growing up is, and has been, a tough road for both of us.
So what do we do as parents?
Researchers tell us that echo boomers have been earmarked by marketers as a focus group for advertising. USA Today reports that the sons and daughters of baby boomers are even becoming the target of infomercials. There is much money to be made in the 95 billion dollar North American teen market. Have you checked your bank balance lately?
We must, as parents, avoid getting caught up in all this media hype. You see folks, your kids are probably quite normal. They reflect your existence in more ways than you care to admit. Try looking at your child through the lens of your own teenage experience while continuing to provide them with a fertile environment to live and grow. Your child may become as annoying as those dandelions on your front lawn but, if you put away the weed spray and let that flower reach for the sun, junior will probably turn out as well as you did. Hey, the only thing you have to lose is your sanity.