Living with teenagers sometimes feels like my home has been invaded by foreigners who speak a different language. All day long, they take photos of themselves, making strange faces at their phones as they communicate with their friends through Snapchat.
To understand them, I’ve had to learn some of their bizarre vernacular. I hear words such as salty (angry), toxic (really, really bad), epic (really, really good), and butt-hurt (annoyed or offended). They use expressions like, “I could mess with that” when referring to something that piques their interest; or they might ask, “is he/she going to throw tonight?” which implies someone’s parents are out of town and they’re going to have a party; and when they want to leave, they will say, “wanna dip now?”
Occasionally, their slang words slip out of my mouth. The other day, I said the word lit to describe something I was excited about. Coming from a mother in her mid-forties, it sounded ridiculous. If I question them about a term I can’t decipher, a loud, squeaky, “WHAT?” will burst out of my mouth, making me cringe afterward because I sound exactly like my mother did when I was their age.
I recently watched a Saturday Night Live skit mocking Duolingo, the app where you can learn new languages. The parody version of the app taught adults how to speak to young children. Although it was funny, I thought it was a great idea. If there were a Duolingo that teaches parents how to talk to their teenage offspring—I’d be down for that (that’s teenage lingo for “I’d like that very much”). I could imagine myself practicing sentences every day like this: “Son, the paper you wrote the other day was sick,” or “OMG, I threw your dad some shade when he forgot to take out the trash.” TBH (to be honest), I sound stupid just writing these lines, and if I attempted to speak that way I’d get laughed at—with good reason.
What about teenage dating? That, too, has its own language, all of which takes place through Snapchat. Here’s one example of how a potential relationship might commence: A bunch of girls are hanging out, brainstorming who they should like next. Someone calls out a name, and when they’re all in agreement about that person, it’s time for the game to begin. If the boy and girl are not friends on Snapchat, she’ll reach out and make a request. If he accepts, then she’ll send the boy a picture of herself. If he snaps back with a photo, the initial dialogue is now open––but timing is an essential strategy and must be used with utmost precision. In other words, the girl will not snap back immediately after his response, otherwise she’ll appear too desperate. So she waits, anywhere from ten minutes to a few hours, before sending a return snap.
The snapping rally will continue until one of them adds words to the picture, i.e. “u gonna go to the football game?” If that happens, they move on to the next step, partaking in a limited conversation while still maintaining adequate time before responding. In some cases, to further the progression, a friend might have to reach out to the boy to clue him in that the girl likes him. The double snap, sending someone two snaps in a row before receiving a response, is a definite no-no, and could be a deal breaker. Leaving someone on read shows the sender that you opened the snap but haven’t responded. If this happens, the person left on read might suffer from a minor case of episodic psychosis. For example, the girl might begin to question if the boy likes her. She will wonder why he hasn’t responded or worry that she said something wrong. She’ll most likely FaceTime her friends to help analyze the situation, discussing it ad nauseam. If he finally responds to her snap, the game will resume. If he doesn’t, then it’s over, and she’ll have to move on from that boy. The third step is face-to-face contact. If the couple gets together in person and all goes well, then they we will be on their way to having an official relationship. Once that occurs, snapping will continue to be their primary source of communicating, diminishing the wait-time rules. As the relationship evolves, they’ll likely add FaceTime sessions to enhance their connection.
This dating methodology is a foreign concept to people my age and older. When we were teenagers, we often started relationships through the telephone, spending ample time getting to know someone by talking to them. Since we didn’t have cell phones, we had to wait until we were home to make a phone call. Spending time conversing with a potential partner allowed us to get to know them through the spoken word. To this day, I’m still a phone talker. When I want to catch up with someone with whom I haven’t heard from in a while, I want to hear their voice. I want to engage in a meaningful rapport. I’m not trying to make a case that my generation’s means of communication and dating rules are better; they’re just different. One day, in the distant future, when my children grow up and have their own families, like me, they will have to learn a new language to understand how their teenagers correspond with one another. Regardless of our ages, the most important lesson is to create human connections, and whether the getting-to-know-you period starts with photos, words, or voice is irrelevant––as long as the end goal is the same.
Telling stories is an integral part of the human experience. We go through life viewing the world through our personal lens, making observations about situations and the people we encounter along the way. Oftentimes, when we don’t see the entire picture, we create inaccurate details in our heads that could potentially give way to negative consequences.
My good friends recently told me a story that illustrates what happens when we judge others without knowing all the facts, and how our perception might change for the better when we are given all the facts.
This is their story:
A man paid his tab at an airport bar and then stumbled and slurred his words as he made his way toward the gate to board a plane. Witnessing his drunk behavior, the other passengers in line snubbed him, and the ticket agent furrowed her eyebrows in disgust when he handed his ticket to her. Shaking her head, she informed him that he would not be allowed to board the plane because he was inebriated. When my friends, who were traveling on the same flight, heard the ticket agent ban the man from getting on the plane, they ran up to the airline employee and told her that it was imperative that he get on his flight and promised to watch over him while on route to Aspen. Why did my friends decide to defend the drunk man? The answer is simple: they had heard his backstory.
While their flight was delayed, the man had grabbed a seat next to my friends at a bar across from their gate. Sipping their wine, my friends chatted with the stranger as he drank a beer and a half. During their conversation, the man told them about a near-fatal rock climbing accident that left him in a coma for weeks. Still recovering from his debilitating injuries, which included massive head trauma, he had difficulty walking and talking––but his condition wasn’t going to stop him from getting on a plane to Aspen to attend the funeral of a good friend, who, at the young age of twenty-eight, had passed away from a sudden stroke. With achy hearts, my friends told the man how sorry they were for his loss and how honorable it was that he was attending the funeral in his condition. Soon after, when the announcement was made that their flight was boarding, my friends walked behind the hobbling man toward the gate to witness the ticket agent berating him. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, the man was permitted to board the plane, with a warning to my friends that they had to be responsible for him. The flight to Aspen was smooth, and the man made it in time for the funeral.
If my friends had not been sitting next to the man at the bar, they never would have heard his story, and they certainly wouldn’t have offered to look after him on the plane. Like the ticket agent, they too might have assumed he was drunk and wouldn’t have wanted him on the flight either. Imagine how different our world would be if we all knew each other’s backstories? Would we be so quick to judge the homeless man on the street or the weary single mother who forgot to take our order at a restaurant or the angry bank teller whose wife was just diagnosed with a terminal illness or the school bully whose parents verbally abuse him at home?
I’m not making excuses for those who treat others poorly. I’m just suggesting that we walk through life with our eyes wide open, using caution before passing judgement and trying to be open-minded about other people’s circumstances so we have a better understanding of why people behave the way they do. By doing this, we might encounter a life filled with more compassionate connections––like the ones my friends made with the man heading to Aspen.
Imagine a world without laughter. Smiling and giggling just make us feel good. Even science backs this up. When we laugh, we release endorphins, lower stress levels, increase blood flow throughout the body, strengthen our immune system, and best of all, we get to experience a natural high that sends us to a better place. For the past week, while I nursed my daughter back to health after she had agonizing gum surgery, she and I had to bottle up our laughs to allow the incisions in her mouth to heal––not to mention it hurt like hell. This was no easy feat, particularly because we share a similar sense of humor and know just the right lines to induce the giggles.
The only thing to do to keep her mind off the pain and discomfort was to watch somber and serious television shows. Together, we binged two and a half seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale. Although there’s nothing funny about a dystopian society where women are oppressed and treated like slaves, I had to bite my tongue from making funny jokes referencing the show. Prior to watching it, I had seen two Saturday Night Live skits about The Handmaid’s Tale, which at the time I didn’t understand, but now that I had seen the show, I wanted to watch the skits again with my daughter; however, that wasn’t an option. When it was time to pick another show to watch, we scrolled through a list of rom-coms, but then we remembered that comedy was too risky, so along with everything else humorous, that too was off limits. I wanted to suggest a documentary on slugs or a comparative study about paint drying, but I kept my jokes to myself in case a smile burst forth.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that she was banned from laughter, could barely eat, had difficulty sleeping, looked like a chipmunk with her swollen cheeks, and was in perpetual pain—we were subjected to sobering television. And, as for me, I became her Martha (a reference to The Handmaid’s Tale), slaving to her every need and feeling sympathy pangs for her suffering. I tried to help put her situation into perspective, lecturing her that she was going to be okay, she was going to heal, and thankfully, this wasn’t a life-altering condition. She heard me, but my words didn’t ease her discomfort. Under any other circumstances, when she’s upset about something, I can make her laugh at some point, adding light to whatever teenage drama she is experiencing at the time. Not having the freedom to release a good chuckle made her recovery that much more trying, and it broke my heart that she wore a perpetual pout on her beautiful face, like petals of a flower struggling to bloom.
Without the sweet taste of laughter, life had become bland as we swallowed our grins and giggles, waiting for the day when we could let it all out. Meanwhile, to combat the dismal mood in our home, we looked for joy in other ways. Holding her hand or rubbing her back, I told her how much I loved her. Sitting outside, we admired the mountain scenery, smelled the fresh air, and basked in the warm, summer sun. Even though she couldn’t bite into a sandwich or a chip and was limited to a soft, mushy diet, she could still lick a spoonful of Nutella and a dish of ice cream with salted caramel chocolate fudge. Smiling on the inside, I watched her savor the treats. In time, she will heal, and when she does you better believe that she and I are going to laugh so hard we double over from a stomachache. And when that moment arrives, it will be the most delicious pain we’ve ever felt.
Are some people born luckier than others? Is life a series of chance encounters, or do we have more control over our circumstances than we think? And if so, can we turn our luck around? Recently, I had to ponder these questions after having an experience that most people would probably consider unlucky, but as I reflected on what happened, I also had an opportunity to change how I viewed something that, although somewhat trivial, felt unfortunate in the moment.
The other day, I had to drive my son to lacrosse practice in Denver. With a spring snowstorm blanketing the mountains, it wasn’t an ideal day to drive, so we gave ourselves plenty of time. I drive an electric car, which means I need to stop for about an hour outside of Denver at a charging station by an outlet mall in a small ski town. Despite the bad weather, we were making great time. We got back on the road after charging the car and found the highway closed due to a multi-car crash. We were rerouted along a one-lane, windy, narrow pass and got stuck behind a truck driving ten miles per hour. It was frustrating to say the least, but since there was nothing we could do to help our cause, we chose to look at the bright side. Although it took us double the time to get to Denver, we were safe, and thankfully, we were far from the accident. We later found out that my son’s friend, who was also driving to Denver, left after us, and therefore missed the detour. Was he luckier than us? At first glance, it might appear that way. Or, were we lucky that, even though it took us a long time to get to Denver, we weren’t involved in the crash? The jury is still out on that one.
The following day, we were faced with another major obstacle driving back to Aspen. As usual, we stopped along the way to charge the car, and then we drove through a whiteout in Vail. With only an hour and twenty minutes left in the drive, the last stretch of highway that veers through a canyon had closed. The traffic officer standing in front of the barricade told us that debris had fallen on the road and it could be closed for two days. When I asked him how to get back to Aspen, he told us, with a sucks-for-you grin splashed across his face, there was only one other way to get there, but it would take an extra six hours. To make matters worse, my car would never make it without another charge. My son wanted to cry; I wanted to cry. But what choice did we have? Crying wasn’t going to get us home, so we sucked it up, laughed about our ridiculous luck, and drove all the way back to the charging station to try and come up with a better solution.
To alleviate some of our pain, we stuffed our faces with Chipotle and candy from a nearby 7-11 store. Pigging out didn’t solve our problem, but at least we were able to kill an hour while the car was charging. We looked up an alternative route on Google maps, which seemed much faster than the one the traffic officer had told us about, and we decided to check with the man working in the information booth before getting back on the road. It was a good thing we spoke to him because he informed us that the pass Google maps suggested was closed for the winter, so our only option was the long way––the six-hour route. We were not feeling lucky at that moment, but right before we walked out of the tourist office, another man stepped inside who was also trying to get to Aspen. The traffic app that he was looking at stated that one lane had opened on the highway where the debris had fallen. He said there would probably be a lot of traffic, but it would be much better than driving the roundabout route on backroads, passing herds of cattle. So, we took our chances once again, and this time, luck was on our side. We flew home on the traffic-free highway.
Was our journey back to Aspen another case of bad luck? Well, it definitely seemed that way initially, but instead of getting angry, we chose to deal with it as best we could. I had a lot of time on the drive home to contemplate what had happened to us, and in the big picture––a detour, traffic, extra time on the road—isn’t bad at all. So much worse could have happened. We could have been hit by the boulder that had fallen on the road. We could have been hit by another car. We could have slipped off the icy road and landed in a ditch. Had we been driving in a gas car, we wouldn’t have driven back to the charging station, and most likely, we would have taken the long way home. But none of those bad things happened. Why? Because we were lucky. The man who came into the tourist booth a minute before we left to tell us one lane on the highway had opened also added to our luck.
The lesson in all of this is learning how to handle the shit that comes flying in your direction, especially when it makes you feel unlucky. Maybe luck stems from your attitude and the choices you make about a seemingly bad situation. The next time something unfavorable happens, it’s up to us to decide how we want to deal with it. We can either be the victim of our circumstances, or we can dig deep and become enlightened by them. We can laugh, or we can cry. We can be angry, or we can rise above and focus on what we’re grateful for. And I know, unequivocally, that I have a lot to be thankful for––because I am one of the lucky ones, and if anything, believing that is enough to make me feel better regardless of what happens.
Naturally, as my daughter is finishing her junior year in high school, college talk has been dominating much of the conversation in our house, which of course, brings me back to my own college experience, nearly one quarter of a century ago. I know I sound ancient, and even though my memory of much of it has been skewed over time, I still consider those four years to be one of my biggest metamorphoses.
As I reflect on my college days, there are certain things I wish I could do over, if only I had a crystal ball and knew where my life would take me. I remember having to choose a major, even though I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. Having been interested in politics, I chose political science, an area of study that did nothing for me as far as pursuing a career. At seventeen, my daughter is expected to get a sense of what she wants to focus on when she gets to college, but does she really know? The idea is to pick a good liberal arts school, and from there, she can figure out what she wants to major in. But again, will she ever really know? I didn’t. Like me, so many people who thought they knew what they wanted in college ended up in jobs totally unrelated to their majors. If you’re one of the lucky ones who knew exactly what you wanted to study and have used what you learned from your undergraduate degree to help your career, then kudos to you––I’m jealous.
I think Israel does this college thing right. Following high school graduation, there is a mandatory draft into the military for eighteen-year-olds. After serving their country for a few years, these young men and women sometimes wait another year or two before applying to college. By then, their brains are fully developed, and they might be better equipped at choosing a course of study that will serve them well in their future careers. What if, instead of sending American students into the armed forces after high school, they head to a community service program similar to the Peace Corps, where they are assigned a station somewhere in the United States or abroad to help communities in need? This type of learning would be invaluable, giving young adults an opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge about human nature, cultural differences, education, the environment, agriculture, and so much more. Upon completing their two- to four-year assignments, these twenty-year-olds might have a better sense of themselves and what kind of career they might want to pursue. From there, they can apply to college, which would hopefully serve as a stepping stone to what they want to do after earning their degree. Instead of rushing to college after high school, with all the mental and financial stress that goes with it before and after, my radical proposal would give students an opportunity to grow as people, connect with the world around them, become more compassionate along the way, and then use that to propel them into their next phase of life.
I know I sound idealistic, and some may think even ridiculously unrealistic, but as I reflect on what I gained most from college, it had more to do with the person I became rather than the subjects I studied. I spent those four years as an undergraduate questioning life, who I was, my greater purpose, what I liked, and who I wanted to be. Even though contemplating the meaning of life was never answered, it was the act of questioning, experimenting, occasionally pushing the limits, and the philosophical discussions I had with my friends that led me to a better understanding of myself. At twenty-one, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science, but more importantly, I left school sure of myself and more comfortable in my skin than I was when I started.
To this day, two of my college roommates are like sisters to me. Together, we grew up during those four years, and like clay, we softly molded into our future selves, while leaving plenty of room to manipulate our sculpted persona through the years. I am blessed––not everyone remains this close to their college friends so many years later. Unfortunately, since we live in different parts of the country, we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like, but thankfully, distance has not impacted our friendship. We’ve stood by each other through every major milestone––marriages, childbirths, and family deaths, offering advice during difficult times and cheering for our children’s successes––and we’ll continue to remain in those same roles until the end.
So, wherever my daughter ends up in college, and whatever she decides to study, whether, or not it helps her in her chosen career is irrelevant. In the grand scheme of things, those friendships that I made in college laid the foundation for all my future relationships, teaching me the importance of rooting for the people you care about, always having their backs, accepting and embracing their differences, loving them for who they are, and allowing their individuality to complement who they are. If there’s one thing I would like to be remembered for when my time on Earth has expired, it will have nothing to do with what I studied in college or the careers I’ve had, but rather, it will be that I led an abundant life, filled with long-lasting, beautiful, and loving connections.