I have a teenage daughter. She is beautiful and honest, anxious and brave, smart and silly. She is very much like I was at her age and sometimes the fragility of being 13 comes rushing back to me. To be honest, having a teenager seems impossible, not because her years have flown by, but because mine have. After all, how is it possible that I remember my first kiss, the absolute bliss of making the volleyball team, the pain of my so-called best friend spreading a vicious rumor about me, and that visceral feeling that absolutely no one really “got” me?
Sometimes, when my daughter is feeling chatty—usually on the way to or from school—she’ll say, “Mom, you cannot understand this, no matter how much you want to.” Sadly, she is right. I can’t possibly imagine living in this world, with the pressures of social media, the anxiety of having a controversial president, and the accelerated pace of school, all while enduring puberty and adolescence.
What should we do then, as parents, sisters, aunts and teachers? When I consider this question, a saying that I heard many years ago comes to mind: “I may not have walked in your shoes, but I have been in the shoe store.” I like this saying because it rings true in that I have been a teenager, just not right now. Recently though, I’ve reconsidered this statement.
I was thinking about this saying last week when my daughter decided to wear my chunky metallic 3-inch heels with a pair of jean shorts and a tank top. She’d borrowed these boots before, but that particular day she owned them. She got it. She knew they were amazing boots. After picking my jaw up off the floor because she looked at least 15 or 16, I was secretly pleased that she had the confidence to pull this look off. As we walked down the street to my son’s swim practice, I watched her steal glances at all shiny surfaces, and realized that she was trying this on—this plucky teen girl thing.
What’s interesting to me about this story is that they are my boots. They killed my feet, and they had been buried in my closet for the last year when she discovered them. When my husband asked, “You aren’t letting her wear those shoes are you?” I had replied, “They are ridiculously uncomfortable. Better to let her find out for herself than to try to tell her.” I knew that those boots make me feel amazingly cool—even if I don’t wear them with jean shorts or short dresses—and I wanted her to know that feeling, too. (She proved me wrong, breaking the boots in to the point that I’ve stolen them back.)
So, as I’m trying to navigate this mom-of-teenage girl thing, I’m finding myself marveling at the fact that we indeed are literally walking around in the same shoes, and that despite the fact that we experience the world differently, we can also claim some space as shared. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Find the one thing that both you and your teen, whether child or student, can agree on, can experience, can claim shared experience around, and focus your attention there. Instead of marveling at how different we are, how unknown we all are to each other, why not revel in the shared? Realistically, I certainly don’t know what it is like to be 13 anymore, and she won’t know for many years what it is like to be 44. What we both know though is that those are great boots—and we can both walk in them, in our own way.
This isn’t the first time I’ve learned lessons at home that I also can take into my classroom. I’ve written about body image issues, let Zoey share her experiences for middle schoolers, and psychoanalyzed myself a bit about “Why I Write” in the first place. As you enjoy this last month of summer, consider what lessons from home can be used in your classroom. When we humanize the teaching experience, trust our guts, and share our stories, our students will benefit.