Looking back and forward at the Teen Years
James and I recently re-watched The Breakfast Club, after it was referenced in our new favourite film, Pitch Perfect. I remembered it as being a coming-of-age film, typical of the Brat Pack oeuvre, featuring a roomful of teenagers raging against the machine. When I watched it as a teenager, I thought it was the coolest movie in the world. Watching it as a parent, I felt slightly differently about it.
Basically, they are all screwed up and it’s all their parents’ faults, naturally. As a parent, I felt the gentle claws of inevitability grabbing at me, teasing, “One day, she’s going to say, ‘I hate you, mommy!’ and really really mean it. Mostly.” It’s easy to forgot how incredibly traumatic the teen years can be and how very mean teens can be and my darling sweet Baby, who currently gets overcome with joy when she sees a teddy bear, or a cat, or a cast member of Madagascar, has all the angst of being a teenager to come. As do we.
It made me reflect about my own teen years. They were full of the requisite amount of joy, pain, sunshine and rain. I went to an all-girls Catholic school, which was fun for someone like me who has always struggled with religion. On my first day at Catholic school, having been raised a Methodist (ish), I went up to take Communion because everybody else did. I took it all the way back to my seat in the pew and asked the girl next to me, “What am I supposed to do with this thing?”
In my sophomore year, I switched schools, where I quickly fell in with a bunch of good girls: we weren’t the popular crowd, but we were smart, athletic and fun. We called ourselves “The Tutti Ten”, even though there were technically only nine of us, the tenth member being an honorary position held by William MacNamara, who we all loved for his performance in Stealing Home. We were just your average group of dysfunctional teens, dancing in our bedrooms to Madonna, talking about boys, complaining about our bodies, and, of course, taking it in turns to be mean to each other.
I remember when it was my turn to be ostracised. It was in my senior year. It was a particularly tough year for me because my first love had moved away to Colorado to start University. And then I also didn’t get the part of Captain Hook in the school play, which has made me harbour a secret loathing for Peter Pan ever since. Anyway, some time in the second half of that school year, my three best friends in the Tutti Ten stopped talking to me. I didn’t know why, but I assumed that it would blow over like it always did when we had petty spats. Except it didn’t. They completely blanked me from that moment on. They didn’t talk to me at school; they didn’t talk to me at parties; it was like I no longer existed to them. I went my separate way to University and haven’t seen them since.
I’m bringing this up because it is the one most powerful memory of teenage WTF that I have. I mean, don’t worry – I survived. I hung out with the other members of the Tutti Ten (except William) and made new friends. The excitement of University soon dulled the loss of friendship, but to be honest, I still wonder to this day what I did to provoke such a punishment from people I cared for.
It makes me shiver that Baby has all that teenage angst to come and there is absolutely nothing that I can do as a parent to protect her from it, except give her as much confidence as I possibly can. I think confidence and self-belief are the two greatest gifts that parents can try to bestow on their young to help them get through the times when their confidence is dented and their self-belief is in tatters.
Nowadays, it’s especially important because there is even more rubbish to concern parents. At least when my generation were teenagers, parents only worried about sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and eating disorders. Nowadays there is social media, self-harming, nude texting, and more ways for girls to be mean to each other. There are also vampires. Seriously! Some teens are sucking each other’s blood because they want to be like the Cullens. What the what?!
Can you imagine if the characters in The Breakfast Club had social media and iPhones? Anthony Michael Hall would have been constantly trying to friend everyone on Facebook; Molly Ringwald would have been checking her make-up using the camera function and catalogue shopping; Emilio Estevez would be playing Tetris; and Ally Sheedy would be taking Instagrams of her dandruff. Only poor Judd Nelson would have been the same, as he wouldn’t have had an iPhone (unless he stole it). In fact, the whole movie wouldn’t have existed because they never would have talked to each other.
Thinking about this article made me decide something: I wanted closure on the whole senior year conflict, so I decided to contact my old best friends on Facebook – of course, we are all friends on there now – and ask them if they could remember what that whole incident was about. I figured there was no use wondering about it when I could just ask the question. So I did.
Last year, a friend of mine started dating a man who went to my high school’s brother school. He looked at me and was like, “Didn’t we ride in the same limo to the Delbarton prom?” and I was like, “When did I go to the Delbarton prom?” I had absolutely no memory of it; even after some reminiscing, I only vaguely remembered it. After all, it was 21 years ago.
So it should come as no surprise that none of my old high school friends remember. They didn’t even remember that we all fell out in senior year and were apologising for upsetting me so long ago. It’s funny how I just assumed that they would have as clear a memory of it as I do because it was something I consider to be such an important crossroads in my teenage life.
That being said, I’m really glad that I asked. I feel better. For years, I’ve held back from interacting with them too much because I thought there was still this thing that I had done hanging over us and any potential future friendship. But as it turns out, there isn’t. Part of me feels a little silly for hanging onto it for so long, but you can’t help how you feel and I suppose I still have a shadow of that teenage girl I used to be in my heart.
Knowing teenagers, it was probably about a boy. Perhaps it all happened for a reason. Perhaps if I hadn’t gone on a different path from them, I wouldn’t have been at Poly Esthers on that fateful night when I met the man I’d eventually follow to the UK.
Who knows? The benefit of this is that I now have a really great story to tell Baby when she’s a teenager, which I am sure she will choose to ignore. Because at the end of the day, she’ll need to make her own mistakes and have her own experiences. I can only hope that my lessons in confidence and self-belief stick.
And regarding the Breakfast Club? I like to think that on the Monday after detention, Judd and Molly were hot contenders for Prom King and Queen, Emilio and Ally were voted the couple most likely to get married, and they all sat with Anthony in the lunch hall. But then again, I’ve always been a romantic.