May 15, 2001

I've begun to suspect, a mere 10+ years since I was one, that I've no clue what the deal is with teenagers. This isn't a new thought, I know. Parents everywhere say the same thing. And yet, I always thought of myself as fairly hip; I listen to modern music, I'm alert to trends, I shop at Wishbone (extremely hip, expensive store near work)... I never thought I would be someone who just didn't understand the next generation.

I ride the bus every morning with teenagers. Crowds of them. They mostly sit at the back of the bus talking loudly, sometimes playing music, often looking like they know a lot more than me and I'd better watch out or they might tell me some of it. They scare me sometimes, with their knowing looks and low pants.

I don't know how involved I want to get in a discussion of their fashion sense. Sometimes I look at them and I want their outfits.

Sometimes I look at them and want to burn their outfits. There's the scarf tied over the hair, the low pants, the glued-down hair (I haven't had the guts to get a good picture of this yet, but trust me), the puffy oversized jackets, the knit caps, and plenty more...

I guess I don't get their fashion in the same way my parents didn't understand my fondness for off-the-shoulder sweatshirts and legwarmers. However--a word about low pants. Why are these still in style? I saw a boy walking from the bus toward his school the other day; he bent down to tie his shoes and his pants dropped to reveal his bare black butt. I startled my fellow bus riders with my uncontrollable laughter. I just don't know what low pants wearers are thinking.

Fashion aside, I hear things come out of their mouths sometimes that startle me. I'm not really easily startled when it comes to language. I can deal with whatever swear words or ethnic slurs used in friendly way they might use. It's more the content that stops me. I heard a girl and boy talking the other day--"I've never seen anyone die before," she said. "Really?" he said, surprised. It was the "Really?" said with such surprise that chilled me. Then he asked her if she was taking her SAT's on Saturday. Another day another girl was talking to a boy about Oakland. They were saying how much better it was there than here in San Francisco. She explained how she'd seen a boy get robbed (though she used some slang term I can't remember now) on the bus the other day by a couple of kids who were stopping anyone in blue. The boy just nodded, blase, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Then there were the two boys talking about hash. One asked the other if he wanted any, as he knew of a good deal. The other boy said he was going to buy a quarter but he didn't have the money. He had to buy prom tickets. These kids talked loudly and naturally about all these things.

The subjects they're talking about, things I wouldn't have even gotten near at their age, growing up in the Midwest, disturb me. But I think what I find even more bizarre is the contrast between subjects, the easy shifting from startling realities of the world to everyday school small-talk. They're at once average kids and more worldly than I am.

I remember my ex getting upset riding the bus, hearing a couple of teenage girls talking about getting abortions. One of them had had two. Again they spoke loudly and unashamedly, like it was the most normal thing in the world. He railed at the idea of raising kids in the city. I have to admit, I've had my confidence shaken. I don't know what I would do if I was to have a kid while living in SF. I can't see moving away from here. I love the city. I love being able to walk everywhere, to take public transportation pretty much anywhere, to go to any movie I want at any time I want, to have concerts and plays and events all easily within my grasp. And I would want my child to have all these things as well. I always loved the idea of a child growing up in a cosmopolitan area, so different from what I had. But I see now how that could backfire. I question whether being sheltered from a lot of the real world until you're old enough to face it on your own could be a good thing.

Then there are my coworkers. Lillie has three kids, all great kids, one in high school like the kids on the bus. She's very sweet, teaches swimming to kids in the summer, volunteers at a day care center. Teresa has 4 kids, one 19 who still lives at home, goes to art school, and is apparently an ideal son. These kids all grew up in the city and turned out fine. So I know it can be done. Still, I'm glad it's not a choice I'm going to have to make anytime soon.

I guess I'm not a total loss with the latest generation. The above kids I can relate to, and I understand their fashion. My cousin is 17 and we get along well, I love the way she dresses, and she talks about normal 17 year-old things (well, actually she's pretty mature but not in the hash/abortion way of the others I mentioned). I still "get" their music, Eminem and Britney Spears aside. And I don't think they should be dismissed as simply scary.

Even when they're talking about people dying and buying drugs, I see other qualities. They're more mature than they should be, that's certain. But they're not completely gone. They still talk about their prom dresses, they still tease each other about the boys and girls they "like", and they do their homework--even if it is last minute on the bus (I did that, too). I see the normal-ness in them. I see that maybe they're not growing up the way I did, but they are growing up and surviving in a very different world than the one I grew up in. They're still a little scary. But the fact that they still laugh and tease and get embarrassed when their pants fall down shows me that they're also just kids.

A woman who's looking into the future without fear--my coworker Lynn--

Pregnancy Watch 2001


Posted by Alyssa at May 15, 2001 12:59 PM
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