If college was my Renaissance, high school was my Dark Ages. While there were some bright spots, I mostly loathed my four years of high school. It’s not that I was picked on, but I danced to a different drummer than most of my classmates.
As a 30-something, I’m blissfully disconnected from high school in my daily life. The only younger demographic I typically interact with is toddlers, and that’s fine by me. Over Rosh Hashanah, though, I found myself face-to-face with some teens at the synagogue where I grew up, attending nursery school, day camp, and religious services.
I wish I could say it was an uplifting experience, but “horrifying” is a more accurate descriptor. If I were still a teenager, I wouldn’t say that. But I’m now a mother, and that changes everything.
Lila had been tugging at my top in morning services, so I figured we should exit discreetly. The only suitable spot for nursing was the ladies’ room lounge. Surprisingly, we had company. Four teenage girls were schmoozing, sprawled across the couch and chairs, so I snagged a small chair in the corner, away from the door. My nursing cover in place, Lila quickly disappeared for her snack.
Who knows how much Lila understood of the conversation around us? I was mortified by much of what I saw and heard (while trying to pretend I wasn’t listening, but really, it was a tiny space). These four girls were all in revealing dresses and sky-high heels. If I’d seen them on the street, I would have guessed they were going clubbing, not repenting at High Holiday services. They briefly discussed their Chemistry homework–so they were likely 10th graders–but mostly, they were gossiping about who was hooking up with whom.
Okay, that’s not news, but it made these sweet-faced girls seem more adult; Lila and I don’t typically chat about hooking up. However, pop culture’s obsession with sex and young women’s sexiness has evolved from background noise to a blaring siren for me since Lila’s arrival.
This foursome also compared notes about the camps where they’d been counselors this past summer. One girl said she’d been counselor for the “OBs” (oldest bunk campers), explaining that below that were “SOBs” (second oldest bunk) and “Froshwhores.” Froshwhores. This is what female campers somewhere out there call themselves. Is that supposed to be funny or empowering? I found it kind of sad.
Lila poked her head out of the cover at this point, alerting me that she’d finished. I figured I’d collect our things and leave quickly, but the OB counselor spotted Lila. She kvelled and asked several questions about her. I wanted to be polite, but I was rattled thinking that this person–or someone just like her–could be Lila’s babysitter or future counselor, filling my toddler’s head with all manner of precocious thoughts.
All things considered, I got off lightly. Lila doesn’t yet have the vocabulary to ask me to explain the big girls’ conversation. She also doesn’t have strong opinions about clothing or the wherewithal to insist she won’t go to synagogue unless she can wear an outfit I consider totally inappropriate. But what happens when she does?
I’ve been told that parenting has two truly challenging times: when kids are really young and when they’re teenagers. Having spent the last 16 months learning the first part, I think I’ve gotten the hang of parenting a wee one.
After overhearing this conversation among typical teens though, I’m now more afraid of that latter part. It makes me wonder if it’d be easier to be Orthodox or Amish . . . Perhaps the key remains always working on the relationship, teaching your child your family’s values and to respect herself enough to withstand peer pressure’s (inevitable) worst suggestions. Thankfully, I have a few years to prepare. And when the time comes for Lila’s teenage rebellion–well, hopefully, I’ll be both older and wiser by that point.